Friday, 31 December 2010

The New Year's Resolution

It is the feast day of Mary, Mother of God. It is also New Year’s Day. Mum, Dad and the children have just returned from early Mass. They are sitting around the table eating a late breakfast. Kate has made pancakes. She is not the oldest of the Angel children.  Edward is fourteen and two years older than Kate, but he doesn’t like to cook. So Kate is in charge of making all the cakes, biscuits, desserts and special treats. And of course, a feast day is a special day. It is the right day for pancakes.

Today is also the very first day of a brand new year. Everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. Dad is the only member of the Angel family who has made resolutions.

“I have decided I have got to lose some weight,” says Dad patting his tummy. “I ate far too much Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and mince pies... All my clothes are feeling tight around the middle. And,” he continues, “I am going to get more exercise. I have spent far too much time, this summer, sitting on the sofa watching cricket matches on TV.” 

Everyone is glad it is Dad and not them who has made New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight and exercising doesn’t sound like fun.

“Well, how are you going to start?” asks Mum.

Dad looks at his empty plate. He licks his lips to get the last taste of maple syrup. “From now on,” he says, “there will be no more pancakes for me. I’m going to eat less fattening food, like grapefruit.”

Kate screws up her face as she thinks about the sharp taste of grapefruit. “I’d rather have pancakes,” she says.

“And I’m going to start running again.” Dad turns to Mum and asks, “Do you remember when I used to be able to run for miles?”

Mum raises her eyebrows. “You were a lot younger then. And anyway, you haven’t got time to run for miles.”

But Dad isn’t listening. He is miles away. He is dreaming. “Perhaps,” he says, “I could even enter a marathon.”

Breakfast is finished. Celeste and Lizzie start to clear the breakfast table. Celeste is almost seven years old and Lizzie is five. Mum thinks Celeste is one of the little girls.  But Celeste doesn’t want to be little like Lizzie and Annie. She wants to be a big girl like Kate.

Edward fills the sink to wash the dishes. Kate hunts for a tea towel and ten year old Joe grabs a broom. Annie is sent outside to shake the table mats. This is just the right job for a two year old.

Mum is helping too, but Dad has disappeared. A few minutes later he is back. He is dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. He has running shoes on his feet.

“There’s no time like the present,” Dad says. “The sooner I start exercising, the faster I will get fit.” Dad pulls on his cap and, with a big smile, he heads out the door.

Mum shouts, “Be careful! Take it easy.” Shaking her head, she goes in search of her book. She has a much more restful day planned.

About ten minutes later, Dad is home again. He is looking green in the face and he is clutching his stomach. “I forgot something important,” says Dad. “Never run just after eating. Oh! I feel so sick!” He lurches off to the bedroom to lie down.

Dad is soon feeling better, but fortunately he decides he has had enough exercise for one day. Perhaps he will just have a quick peek at the cricket on TV. Surely he has earned a bit of a rest? Edward and Joe join Dad on the sofa. They watch the players hitting the ball and running between the wickets. They know that cricket matches can go on all day. It is going to be a very relaxing New Year’s Day for everyone, even Dad.

It is time to prepare the dinner. Mum is going to roast a chicken and some vegetables. Kate is making a special dessert: chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is Dad’s favourite dessert. Delicious smells pour out the kitchen door and everyone’s mouths water at the thought of dinner. Dad’s mouth is watering too.

“I think I’ll just chop myself a bit of salad,” says Dad when it comes time to serve up dinner.

“But what about my special meal?” Mum asks. “I’ve spent a long time cooking it. Don’t you want any?”

“And there’s your favourite dessert too, Dad,” adds Kate.

Dad thinks about the crisp, brown, moist chicken and the ooey-gooey mousse. “No,” he says firmly. “I have made a resolution. I have to stick to it. I can’t give up on the very first day.”

“But it’s a feast day,” persuades Mum. “You have to celebrate. Have you forgotten it’s the feast of Mary, Mother of God?”

“Well…” says Dad thinking about it. “Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day for dieting.”

Mum serves out the delicious meal and everyone enjoys it immensely, especially Dad.

Mum is woken up very early next morning. It is still dark when she hears Dad thumping and bumping around the bedroom. “What are you doing?” she whispers.

“I’m going running,” replies Dad. “It’s the best time of the day for exercise. Later it will get much too hot.”

“But it’s dark,” says Mum. “What if you stumble and hurt yourself?” But Dad is not listening so Mum snuggles back down in the bed and drifts off back to sleep.

Some time later, Mum is woken up again. There is a strange noise in the bedroom. It is a puffing, panting, wheezing noise. Dad has returned. He is lying flat on his back on the bedroom floor, gulping for air.

“Are you all right?” asks Mum. She is very concerned.

“I’ll be fine in a minute,” Dad reassures her. “No pain, no gain.”

Dad is feeling much better by breakfast time. In fact all that early morning exercise has made him incredibly hungry. As he enters the kitchen he is thinking, “Toast and honey and perhaps some porridge with brown sugar.”

Mum is spooning out the porridge but she doesn’t hand a bowl to Dad. Instead she points to his place at the table. Waiting for him is half a grapefruit, a nice healthy grapefruit. There’s not even a sprinkling of sugar on it.

“I’ve been thinking,” says Mum. “I am really proud of you trying to lose weight and attempting to get fit. It can’t be easy when we keep offering you delicious things like roast chicken. From now on I will serve you exactly what you want.”

Dad digs his spoon into the grapefruit. He is thinking that what he really wants is a big bowl of porridge.

Dad works hard at his New Year’s resolution. He gets up early every morning. Sometimes he just wants to stay snuggled up next to Mum but he struggles out of bed, pulls on his running gear and heads out the door.

And every morning, he ignores the porridge pan and tucks into his grapefruit. Mum is making him lots of salads and Kate never asks him if he would like some cake when she is cutting up slices for everyone else.

Mum and the children soon notice a few changes in Dad. His face is looking a little thinner, his belt no longer bites into his  tummy and when he comes in from his running, he no longer pants like a bellows.

But they have also noticed another change. This change is not so good. Dad no longer smiles and jokes, especially at meal times. He is very irritable. He doesn’t seem to enjoy anything anymore. In fact, Dad has become a bit of a bear with a sore head.

“Are you feeling okay?” asks Mum. She is worried about Dad and decides she will have to do something to fix the problem.

That evening everyone gathers in the lounge. Dad notices all the strange looks and wonders what is going on. “We’d like to congratulate you,” says Mum. “You have really stuck to your New Year’s resolution. You have shown so much perseverance and self-discipline. You are an example to all of us.”

“We couldn’t do what you’re doing, Dad,” says Kate.

“No, you’ve been terrific,” adds Joe.

“Think of all the cake you’ve missed out on,” says Celeste.

“But we’d like our old dad back, please!” begs Lizzie.

“Your old dad?” asks Dad puzzled.

“Yes, the fun dad,” explains Edward, “the one who jokes and laughs and enjoys life.”

“You’ve got a bit grumpy lately,” says Mum gently. “You’ve had a lot to deal with. It can’t be easy exercising and watching what you eat. You’ve done it all on your own.”

“You want me to go back to normal?” asks Dad. “You want me to undo all that hard work?”

“No,” says Mum. “We have another plan.” Mum sends Dad off to the scales to weigh himself. He comes back with a grin on his face.

“I’m back to my normal weight,” he says.

“Then you don’t need to diet anymore,” says Mum. “All you need to do is eat balanced, healthy meals. We all need to eat balanced, healthy meals. Everyone eats far too many cakes and desserts and biscuits. I am going to try out some new healthy family recipes. It could be fun.”

“That sounds great,” says Dad. Already he is feeling much more cheerful. But then he remembers his running. “If I give up running, I’ll never run a marathon,” he says.

“Do you really want to run a marathon?” asks Mum. “You did all that years ago. Perhaps it’s time for something new. You can still exercise but in ways that are more fun.”

“We could go swimming together, Dad,” suggests Edward.

“And bushwalking,” adds Joe.

“You could push me on the swing,” says Lizzie.

Dad is thinking. “I have an announcement to make,” he says. “I have decided to change my New Year’s resolution.”

“Is that allowed?” asks Celeste.

“Of course,” says Mum quickly.

“This year I resolve to spend more time with my family. We are going to do lots of things together. We are going to go camping and bushwalking, swimming, maybe even fishing. We are all going to be fit and healthy. Most important of all we are going to have lots of fun and enjoy being a family.”

Dad is feeling very happy, much happier than he has felt for a long time. He thinks about how fortunate he is. He has a beautiful family: Mum, Edward, Kate, Joe, Celeste, Lizzie and Annie. He has a family that cares very much about him. He just knows they are going to have a wonderful year together.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gazing Like a Little Child

Nine huge Christmas trees, dripping with tinsel and flashing lights, filled the church. Gemma-Rose’s eyes grew wide and round as we walked up the aisle. And then we noticed the nativity scene. Mary and Joseph were in the stable looking lovingly upon the baby Jesus. In front of the stable was a flock of sheep. All this we expected to see. But then as we watched, the sheep began to move. Around and around they slowly glided in a perfect circle.

After a short time, the sheep came to a halt and our attention was caught by one sheep in particular that towered over the others. There were some giant shepherds too, while others were smaller than the sheep they guarded.

The Three Wise Men were to one side. They were still on their way to the stable where Baby Jesus lay in the manger. These Magi were dressed in magnificent gold clothes and, unable to wait, one was already down on his knees as if presenting his gift. Between the worshipping Magi and the revolving sheep was a huge reindeer.

A red light suddenly illuminated the plastic bonfire where shepherds might warm their hands. The sheep once again came to life. Nose to tail they followed each other like sheep, around and around the turntable. Then the fire flames died as the red light went out and once again the sheep became lifeless.

A bell rang, the sacristy door opened, the priest entered the church and Mass began.

Gemma-Rose reluctantly returned to the pew, we opened our hymn books and soon the church was filled with the sound of joyful voices.

As we sang, the lights from all the trees flashed and twinkled. Red, blue, green and yellow lights chased each other around the branches of the pine trees, sometimes slowly, sometimes at a frantic pace. None of the trees worried about keeping in time with its neighbours.

I remember how magical and special Santa’s grotto seemed to me, all those years ago, when I was a child. To my girls, the church, where we attended Mass on Boxing Day, gave them the same sense of awe and wonder. Later I wondered why the girls had been so affected by the decorated church.

Hadn’t they noticed that the nativity figures were odds and ends from various sets of different sizes? They’d noticed there wasn’t a donkey but why did they accept the huge reindeer substitute? Perhaps they should have questioned the value of the gliding sheep? Why didn’t their heads ache with all the flashing lights? Weren’t they distracted by the out of time twinkling?

Is it that children have no taste? That anything satisfies them?

Or is it that I have become too sophisticated? Do I think there is no beauty without perfection and am I too quick to find fault? Am I too slow to see the magic? Have I forgotten how to be a little child? Perhaps I have lost my sense of awe and wonder.

I’d like to thank the priests and brothers of the Pauline Fathers Monastery for putting together a truly magical nativity scene. Thank you for climbing up to the tops of all those enormous pine trees to ensure that every branch is festooned with tinsel and lights. Thank you for creating a scene that filled my children with a sense of magic and awe and wonder.

I look around our lounge room at all the beautiful decorations. I notice our magnificent Christmas tree with not a branch out of place, the softly glowing lights evenly distributed, their wires hidden by the cleverly placed tinsel. And I make a decision. Tonight we are going to put the lights into flashing mode. The lights are going to flash and chase and slowly fade, and then flash and chase again. I am going to become like a little child and rediscover the magic of simple things, and regain my sense of awe and wonder.

And perhaps the flashing lights will not make my head ache after all. Because it won’t be the lights that I’ll be watching but the lit-up faces of my children, my children who are still young enough to see the beauty in simple things.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Love All Wrapped Up in a Gift

 “What is Santa going to bring you for Christmas?” Gemma-Rose looks up at the older lady and doesn’t know what to say. Should she tell her she doesn’t believe in Santa? Mum brings the presents in our house. And Gemma-Rose has no idea what she wants anyway. She knows she will get some presents but she has been much more concerned this Advent about the presents she is giving, rather than those she will receive.

“I can’t wait to see Dad’s face when he opens my present,” says 18 year old Callum. His eyes light up, and a smile appears on his face. He is still a little kid at heart. He is looking forward to Christmas just as much as his younger sister, Gemma-Rose. He almost tells me what he bought for Andy and then changes his mind. Perhaps he can keep his secret for one more day.

The other night Gemma-Rose was upset. “Sophie says she has a really exciting present for me. And I think my present for her is rather ordinary. I wish I could give her something exciting.” Then I remembered a huge plastic Christmas novelty pen I had in my present box, and I offered it as an addition to Gemma-Rose’s gift. She dried her tears and now she can’t wait to see Sophie’s face on Christmas morning.

That is what I love about Christmas: the spirit of giving. I am sure it is the same in your home too. Everyone is looking forward to making others happy. Don’t we receive so much back when we do something special for someone else? Our hearts fill with love and we feel so warm and joyful.

And we won’t just end up with warm feelings. I am sure we are all going to end up with a huge pile of gifts that will make our eyes open wide and put huge smiles on our faces because everyone has gone to so much trouble to ensure this happens. Those gifts will represent the love we have for each other. They will have been chosen with great care after much thought. Money and time may have been spent buying them. Or lots of effort put into making them. Every carefully wrapped gift, every “Mery Cristmas” card and every paper heart cut out and decorated with the words, “I love you”, will be treasured. When we receive our gifts on Christmas morning we are going to know we are loved and are very special to those around us.

Is Christmas about presents? Yes, I think it is. Our greatest gift was given to us at Christmas: Jesus. We know God loves us so very much because He gave us the gift of His Son. I used to think presents belonged to the commercial side of Christmas. But now I think our presents to each other represent our love. It would be far easier to eliminate presents from Christmas. Think of all the time and money that would be saved. Think of the crowds of shoppers we could avoid. We wouldn’t have to find time to wrap the gifts. Or stand in the queues in the post office. But we make all these sacrifices because we love. And by showing our love for each other we are really showing God just how much we love Him.

I hope your eyes will light up and I hope you have a huge smile on your face on Christmas morning. I hope you will feel warm and loved and very special as you open your gifts. I hope your heart fills with love, that great love God has for you, the best gift of all. Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do...

The other day, I visited the blog Fear Not Little Flock to read The Priest’s Wife’s latest post. But when I arrived, I realised my daughter, Imogen had beaten me to it. There in the comments section were her views on Christmas books for children. Her views? I was about to comment on my views. I felt rather put out. Doesn’t this blogging game belong to me? What was my daughter doing on a Catholic Mothers blog anyway? She’s not a Catholic mother. I am. And how did she find her way to Fear Not Little Flock in the first place? The same way I got there. She’d been reading my blog and followed the link.

My children are always looking over my shoulder, watching what I’m doing. They think anything I can do, they can do (maybe even better). I get out my knitting and soon there are four pairs of needles clicking along side of me. I start a journal and before long there is a request: “Can I have an exercise book please, Mum? I’ve decided to keep a journal?” I write a book and immediately I find my children at their computers tapping away as they write their own bestsellers. I sew myself a skirt and someone asks, “Can you buy me some fabric, Mum and teach me how to use the sewing machine?” I learn how to download ebooks to my ereader. They watch carefully and before I know it, they have their own ebook libraries on their own readers.

And when I created my blog, Imogen and Charlotte decided they were clever enough to create one of their own too. I decided to use my blog to write stories about Catholic family life. And that is exactly what my daughters thought they’d write about too. But I have to admit their blog has one thing my blog doesn’t have because there are some things they really can do better than me.

Actually there are plenty of things Imogen and Charlotte can do far better than me. They can sing. They can play the piano. They can do CPR and know how to use a defibrillator. They can swim butterfly and dive properly. They can use Gimp and they can draw.

It is the last two skills my daughters are using to good effect on their blog. They are designing beautiful, cute little girl paper dolls which can be downloaded by fellow paper doll lovers.

I have wonderful memories of playing paper dolls with my sisters. We’d spend hours tracing around our dolls, designing new clothes, colouring them in and cutting them out. We had so many paper dolls we frustrated our mother with all our mess. “I’ll throw them in the bin if I find them all over the floor again,” she’d threaten. But she never did throw them out. She knew we had such great fun with our dolls. A few sheets of paper, a pair of scissors and some pencils kept us entertained and quiet for hours.

My own girls love paper dolls too. When Sophie and Gemma-Rose have nothing to do they often ask, “Can we download some paper dolls from the Internet, please Mum?” But now they don’t have to go searching for dolls. They have their own personal paper doll designing team: their sisters, Imogen and Charlotte.

Charlotte designed and drew Annie Belle who is a very cute little girl doll. Each downloadable paper doll page comes with a themed set of clothes. There is a different theme for every page. Sometimes the Annie Belle dolls have different hair styles but they all have the same body shape. So clothes can be swapped between dolls.

The other day, Imogen and Charlotte uploaded a new Annie Belle page. This one has a Christmas theme and includes two dolls. Charlotte has given Annie Belle a cousin called Rosa. Annie Belle and Rosa have special clothes for Christmas which they will wear as they decorate their very own Christmas tree (drawn by Imogen).

Each Annie Belle paper doll page comes in two versions. The dolls and clothes on the coloured version are all ready to be cut out and played with. The black and white version is for those paper doll lovers who prefer to colour in their own clothes.

Coming (hopefully) in the next couple of days is a set of nativity paper dolls. Gemma-Rose requested a camel to go with the Three Wise Men but I wonder if Charlotte was able to draw one. I will have to visit the blog to find out.

So if you know a little girl who enjoys playing with paper dolls, please visit my daughters’ blog: Paper Dolls by the Serendipity Sisters. Imogen and Charlotte will be so thrilled if you stop by. In fact I bet they jump up and down with delight if they see their page views have gone up. And if you download something they’ll shout with excitement. Of course, I never go crazy, jump up and down and get excited when I realise I’ve had some visitors to my blog. I am far too dignified to do that. Or am I?

When I have published this post, I am heading over to Twitter. I joined up the other day. Apparently, a snippet of this post should appear as a tweet for (all) my follower(s) to read. (Dave, are you interested in paper dolls?) At least I hope a tweet appears. Did I set everything up correctly? I shall soon see if I am as clever as I think I am.

Imogen, if you are reading this, under no circumstances are you to open a Twitter account. This is one thing I am going to keep to myself. You might be able to write a book and sew your own clothes and create a blog just like me. But I am going to be the only member of this family who knows how to tweet.

I can just imagine it: I sign myself into my Twitter account, ready to catch up with whatever is happening and there waiting for me is the latest tweet:

“Hi Mum! Anything you can do, I can do…!"

Since writing this post, my daughters have created more blogs. Please share their stories:
Imogen at Dancing with Dragonflies
Charlotte at Charlotte's Web
Sophie at Sophie's Sea Bed
Gemma-Rose at Windy Island

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A Mother-in-Law's Prayers

Shortly before Andy and I were due to be married, my future mother-in-law took me aside and said, “You don’t really want to marry my son, do you?” I heartily assured her that I did. I am sure Andy’s mum was hoping for a good Catholic girl for her son. Instead he was marrying me. I told Andy I wanted to marry him but I would never become a Catholic. Andy followed his heart and married me anyway.

Looking back, my mother-in-law must have prayed earnestly for me. Over the first years of our marriage, my heart gradually softened and by the time we’d had our first child, my thoughts were turning to God: did I want our children to be baptised and if so, would they be baptised in the Catholic Church? I phoned our parish priest and told him I needed to know more about the Church in order to decide if baptising our children was the right step to take. After reading a selection of books and literature provided by this priest, the baptism went ahead and before too long I was taking part in the RCIA program of a neighbouring parish.

The overwhelming feeling I had at this time was a yearning to belong. God was calling me. I would sit at the back of the church watching the congregation celebrate Mass and feel I was on the outside. I wanted to be on the inside, with our family worshipping together as part of the Church’s family. So Easter 1991, I entered the Church.

The first five years of being a Catholic were fraught with difficulties. Many times I wondered if I’d made the right decision entering the Church. If you have read A Confession about Confession you will understand a little about these problems. But with the help of caring friends and good priests I came through this trial and I have come to love our Faith and feel very grateful I was called into the Church family.

I think about my own children. We have three young adults in the family. Soon they will be thinking about marriage themselves. What do we want for them? Do we want our children to have ‘good Catholic’ spouses. Some say it is better for a Catholic to marry a Catholic. This is the best foundation for a successful marriage, the best environment for children to be brought up in. And I can see this is true. But does God always want us to take the ideal path?

Some time ago, my eldest daughter said to me, “I’m going out with someone really special. He’s not a Catholic but that’s OK isn’t it? You weren’t a Catholic when you married Dad and everything turned out fine for you.” Yes, Andy and I have a very blessed marriage.

What could I say? How can I refuse to welcome a non-Catholic into our family when I was welcomed? So many of my friends are converts married to cradle Catholics. So many of us have been drawn into the fold through our marriages. All of us accepted, despite our lack of Faith.

I am sure, twenty-seven years ago, when Andy and I were married, the future did not look very promising to his mother. How were we to have a successful marriage and bring up children in the Faith when I was so set against the Church? But God had plans for me she couldn’t see. I couldn’t see them myself. But Andy’s mum quietly accepted our decision. She welcomed me. And then she must have prayed constantly for me. Finally, she was rewarded with her ’good’ Catholic daughter-in-law and the knowledge that Andy and I have a strong and happy marriage.

So I am not praying that my children will marry ‘good’ Catholics. No, that is not my prayer. Rather I pray they all do God’s will. If they end up choosing non Catholic spouses then I will remember my own experience. I will welcome them into the family and, like my mother-in-law, I will pray. I will have confidence that God will bless their marriages. And who knows what the future will hold?

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Andy had not had the courage to follow his heart and marry me. Where would I be today? Perhaps, still outside the Church.

Congratulations on your engagement Felicity and Graham.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Confession about Confession

“I’ve got some good sins to confess today,” announces Callum. He and Duncan are racing up to the confessional. They want to be first in line.

Good sins?” I repeat in dismay. “You shouldn’t have any sins!”

But I know what Callum meant. Sometimes sins are so obvious. They come to mind after only a short examination of conscience. Confessing them is very straightforward.

I was telling this story, which happened some years ago, to Father S. “Adults find it so much more difficult to work out what their true sins are,” I observed.

“Perhaps they don’t want to look too closely,” suggested Father. “We are all good at not seeing things which make us uncomfortable.”

Gemma-Rose and I had gone to ask Father if she could make her First Confession. “I think she is ready. She knows what she needs to confess but she is just a bit nervous about the whole procedure. She’s afraid she might forget what she’s supposed to do and say.”

Father reassured Gemma-Rose: “There’s no need to be anxious. I’ll help you.”

What a difference to my experience when I entered the Church almost 20 years ago.

I had attended all the RCIA classes. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. But no one mentioned confession. A date was set for my entry and I went to see Father M. “Can you help me with confession, Father? I really don’t know what to do. I’ve never even seen a confessional.”

“Don’t worry about confession, Sue,” Father replied. He didn’t add, “I’ll help you.” Rather he continued, “Your entry into the Church is a joyful occasion. We’ll talk about confession at a later date.”

I can hear your horrified shouts. I entered the Church and received Jesus for the first time without going to confession! I am filled with horror too. But all those years ago, I just didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. I trusted the priest.

Immediately after becoming a Catholic, we moved house and moved parish. I still had not been to confession. I knew when confessions were heard but I didn’t have the courage to go. I needed someone to take me by the hand, show me the confessional and explain each step of the Sacrament to me.

In the end, I rang the parish priest Father G, and made an appointment to meet with him to discuss all the things that were worrying me.

“I’ve never been to confession, Father and I feel so uncomfortable and need help.”

“You entered the Church but you’ve never been to confession?”

I felt like I had committed a huge crime. Father probably thought that I’d got into the Church under false pretences. I wasn’t worthy enough to belong.

“You should never have been allowed to enter.”

I wanted Father to take me to the confessional and explain everything and hear my confession. Instead he told me he had another appointment and gave me some pamphlets to read.

I went home in despair. I still didn’t have the courage to go to confession and now I couldn’t go to Mass either. I couldn’t face the priest again. I stopped going to Mass completely. But there was a huge, sorrowful hole inside me. I needed God. I considered converting again just so I could go to church once more. Perhaps the Anglicans would have me. They didn’t worry about confession. But in my heart, I wanted to be a Catholic.

We moved house yet again and I made friends with a very dear Catholic who listened to my story with great compassion. She didn’t judge me. She just wanted to help. “I’ll ring Father P, “she announced. “We’ll soon have this sorted out.”

And within hours I was at the church telling Father P my whole sad story. I cried as I told him about how excited I was when I became part of the Catholic family. And how quickly that feeling turned to despair and unhappiness.

Father P was wonderful. “God allowed this to happen,” he said. “It isn’t your fault. Perhaps there was a reason. Anyway, we can soon put things right.”

Minutes later I had made my first confession. I flew out of the church to rejoin my new friend who was playing with my little ones in the presbytery garden. There was a huge grin on my tear-stained face. My soul was crystal clear. My heart was light. Life was suddenly so very beautiful. I couldn’t wait to go to Mass and receive Our Lord worthily and to say, “Thank You.”

I am so glad my children have been able to look forward to their first confessions with eagerness. They have never worried about ‘getting something wrong’. They know that confession is a real gift.

But back to Gemma-Rose: She was preparing for her First Confession. She examined her conscience and decided to write a list of her sins. ”I can read it to Father and then I won’t forget what to say,” Gemma-Rose explained to me.

“Do you want me to help you write the list? I could spell the words for you.” She is not a good speller at all.

“No, thank you. It’s my confession!” came the reply. “I don’t want you to know my sins.” She started writing and soon had her list finished.

Yesterday, Gemma-Rose made her First Confession. Andy had to open the confessional door for her because she was too short to reach the handle. He left the door ajar so she could get out again and then returned to the pew. A few minutes later, our daughter appeared with a huge grin on her face. She looked like a girl with a crystal clean soul.

Later I asked Gemma-Rose if it had been difficult. “Oh no, Mum. Father helped me. It was easy. The hardest bit was trying to read my list of sins. I couldn’t work out what I’d written.”

I could just imagine it: a long silence in the confessional while she tried to decipher the strange looking words. What if Gemma-Rose had decided to push the list through the window to him, saying, “Father I can’t read my sins… Can you?”

What would he have said?

PS No disrespect is intended towards the priests. My inexperience and inability to explain my needs may not have helped the situation

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Link in the Blogging Chain

I sign into my Google Account and head straight for my blogs’ dashboard. My mouse hovers over the STATS tab and stops. I had resolved not to look at all the facts and figures.

“Success of your blog is totally in the hands of Our Lady,” I tell myself sternly. “Does it matter how many page views you have or how many people are following your blog? Pride comes before a fall, you know!”

“No, you are quite right, Sue," I reply. But before I can stop myself, I have clicked onto the tab and am eagerly looking at the latest numbers.

“Wow! I have a new follower!” I shout to my kids. I jump about with delight.They shake their heads. They think I have gone a bit crazy. “Someone wants to read my stories!” I feel excited and happy and rather relieved that I am not writing just for myself.

Yes, success shouldn’t really matter. But somehow it does.

Why are we all blogging? Are we looking for popularity or rather, are we trying to make connections and share experiences and help each other? And the more people we connect with, the more we share.

There is a famous quote of Blessed Cardinal Newman, which sums this up: “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons”.

So yes, success is important. But so is humility.

The other day, I came across a great article, Blogging - An Opportunity to Build Humility. It was written by The Priest’s Wife and can be found on the blog, Fear Not Little Flock. Isn’t that an intriguing name: The Priest’s Wife? How can you be a priest and have a wife? I just had to visit the blog and find out. I was drawn in by the name and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a very interesting blog. Go take a look.

Another blogging name that has grabbed my attention recently is Abba’s Little Girl. Now I was a young person in the eighties. I remember ABBA: the glitter and high heeled boots, disco lights and catchy tunes. You are all thinking of Our Father Abba, I am sure. But me? I am a sad case. Abba’s Little Girl has won a 2010 Top Catholicism Blog Award, sponsored by Online PhD Programs. I suspect she is very clever.

I think about my own blogging identity. It really is rather ordinary, isn’t it? It’s just my real name. Maybe I should have thought of something more eye catching. Perhaps I could have been Elvis’ Wife instead of plain Sue Elvis. Elvis’ Wife? Would you be tempted to find out more?

And maybe I should have chosen a more controversial topic to blog about. Something that would get people debating and protesting and feeling passionate about. Think of the comments! Or maybe, something clever…

But all I have to offer is my little stories.

I promise not to get too proud if you click on the Follower button and boost my numbers. I will get excited and I will jump around and my children will shake their heads. But I will try not to feel self important. Instead I will say, “Another connection between people. Another link in the chain that God is constructing between us all. Welcome, friends."


PS If you’d like me to add a link to your blog, please let me know

PPS Apologies to The Priest’s Wife and Abba’s Little Girl for using your names.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Empty Shoes

Last year, St Nicholas forgot to come. Sophie couldn’t believe it. Her face fell as she peered into her shoes…nothing. They were as empty as they’d been the previous evening. There was nothing in any of the shoes, from the giant black boots at the head of the line to the small buckle-ups at the end.

‘You’re up much too earlier,” I said hastily. “Back to bed. St Nicholas probably hasn’t got here yet.” The girls dived back under their blankets.

Rustle! Rustle! Rustle! Rustle!

Some time later: “Is it time to get up yet?...Wow! Look! Two sorts of chocolate coins!”

We never intended the children to believe that St Nicholas really fills children’s shoes with gold coins. It all started off as a bit of fun. I thought we were all aware that it was a pretence. But somewhere along the way, the younger girls grew up thinking the chocolate coins were actually delivered by the patron saint of children. I suspect their older brothers are to blame. They couldn’t resist bringing a bit of magic into their sisters’ lives.

We all want to create a bit of magic for others. When I was growing up, my mother provided many magical moments for me and my sisters. She was good at playing the Santa game. She could always come up with answers to such tricky questions as, “Why is Santa wearing glasses? He could see perfectly well when he was in that other shop.”

A few weeks before Christmas, my mother would take us to the department store in the city to visit Santa. We’d whiz up to the top floor in a special rocket elevator complete with flashing lights and buttons of all descriptions. “Next stop Santa’s grotto!” announced the pilot. The doors slid open and with eyes wide, we emerged into a wondrous, snowy land. Pixies and elves were waiting to greet us. Where was Santa? He couldn’t be seen. He was deep inside his fairy tale grotto. My sisters and I joined the queue of other excited children. Soon we on our way down a sparkling, twinkling, magical tunnel that led to Santa’s enormous chair. Finally it was our turn to climb up onto Santa’s huge lap. We told the very plump old man what we wanted for Christmas. He told us to make sure we were good girls before giving us each a little gift. Of course, we were all very determined to be as good as possible, at least until Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve my mother would help us pour a glass of milk for Santa. We’d add a plate of biscuits in case he felt hungry. And a bunch of carrots for the reindeer. We put everything on a tray where Santa would be sure to see it. Then it was off to bed early because everyone knows Santa doesn’t come until all the children are asleep. How difficult it was to settle down! But finally our eyes would close and we’d be dreaming of pillow cases bulging with presents. One year I woke in the middle of the night and I was certain I saw Santa’s black boots disappearing through the doorway. At the end of my bed was a huge stack of gifts.

Yes, I have some very magical memories of Christmas because of the efforts of my mother and father.

When Andy and I had our own family we wanted to provide an exciting and magical Christmas for our children too. We started off trying to celebrate in the same way I’d known as a child. But, unlike my mother, I wasn’t very good at pretending games. I felt sure I’d forget something and then my children would be so disappointed. I didn’t want them to become disillusioned when they realised everything was not really true. I wondered if we could have an exciting and magical Christmas without keeping up the myth of Santa.

When our first children were very young, I became a Catholic. A whole new world opened up for me. I discovered something far better than the magic of Santa. It is the miracle of Jesus. The thought of God, the Creator of the World becoming a little baby and being born on Christmas Day is just beyond comprehension. The myth of Santa just pales into insignificance. We didn’t need to pretend to believe in a myth. We could believe in the Truth.

So we swapped all the Santa traditions for the traditions of Advent and I hope our children will treasure their Christmas memories just as much as I treasure mine.

I think that Santa can have a place in a Catholic celebration of Christmas. We all know the myth has its roots in a real saint. And there are so many aspects of a Santa Christmas that find an echo in the Catholic celebration: the anticipation, the waiting, the hope, the gifts, the love, the charity, the excitement, the work and sacrifice involved…If I’d had my mother’s skills at pretending…

But I can’t even remember to fill a few shoes with chocolate coins on St Nicholas’ Eve. What if I forget to do this task before I go to bed tonight? What will I say if, once again, my girls discover empty shoes on St Nicholas’ Day? Well, I could come clean and confess my forgetfulness and admit I don’t make a very good saint. How will my girls cope? Will they feel as empty as their shoes when they discover they believed in a myth? Of course not. They have something much better to believe in: the Truth. And that is all they need to have a truly magical Christmas.

Thank you Leanne for your post, Do You Believe? As you can see, it got me thinking.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Memories of Magi

I hear someone outside my bedroom.  Fingers appear under the door as they push a scrunched up piece of paper into the room. There is a giggle and then the sound of footsteps retreating down the hall. I tumble out of bed and retrieve the message. On the paper are the scrawled words:

I found the Wise Men at 6.05 am, Sophie

I smile as I open the door. “You win, Sophie!” I shout down the hall.

It is Advent and the Three Wise Men have started their journey. They are following the Star and are on their way to Bethlehem. They are seeking Baby Jesus. Where will they stop before reaching their destination? No one is certain. Today the Three Kings are resting in a concealed spot behind the TV. Tomorrow they could be on the window sill peering out at the rain. Perhaps they will climb high above us onto a blade of a ceiling fan. They might journey into the kitchen and be discovered sitting in a saucepan or maybe they will venture into the fridge seeking relief from the summer heat. Yes, no one knows for sure where the Three Wise Men will be found on any of the days leading up to Epiphany.

Each day it is a race to find the location of the Magi. Each child wants to be the first to report, “I’ve found the Three Wise Men!” Sometimes someone will write me a note stating the time of discovery. This can be used as evidence if a friendly dispute arises. Of course, winning isn’t everything. The Magi will remain stationary long enough for each child to find them. And coming second or third or fourth or…is almost as good as being first. After all there are no prizes to win. It’s just for fun.

I am amazed at how much our children enjoy this game. Even our young adults join in though they might complain, “Hey Mum! You moved the Wise Men while I was at work. Is that fair?” Mention Advent and someone will shout, “The nativity scene! The Jesse tree! The wreath! The Three Kings!” Our children’s eyes light up as they remember past years as we’ve prepared for the Christmas season. Yes, they have many enjoyable memories of family traditions and can’t wait to repeat them all over again.

Have you been following the Holy Heroes Advent Adventure? Yesterday these words on the Holy Heroes site caught my attention:

Your children will remember these traditions for the rest of their lives.

They will establish beautiful family memories.

And when they grow up and encounter difficult times or if their faith becomes weak, the memory of the love around these traditions may be just what leads them back to God.

A few weeks ago, I was pondering the question: does it really matter if we forget what happened in the past? (Capturing Memories Forever) Perhaps memories are important after all.

Recently my friend Leanne, sent me a touching story containing these words:

Circumstances or people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your precious memories…So don’t forget to make time and take the opportunities to make memories every day.

This Advent and Christmas we shall be taking lots of time to make precious family memories. I hope these memories will bind us close now, and will draw us back together if any of us should ever stray.

And because I know my memory is not very reliable, I’d better keep writing in that journal of mine. Who knows how all those captured memories will be used in the future. They could prove to be very valuable indeed.