Tag Archives: Grace

Help with Gratitude.


I wrote this post for Thanskgiving. Please mock me, because it is super late, but I just couldn’t post it right away.

This has been a difficult post for me to write, and I have to warn you, it is long.

 On the Monday morning (before Thanksgiving), my father had a serious stroke. It started with sudden double vision and quickly progressed not only to inability to move the left side of his body, but also ignorance of its existence.

My dad, who has run every other morning for the past 30 years of his life, could not walk. My dad, who loves good food and wine, could not swallow. My dad, who loves to read everything from Homer to Henry James, could not see straight. My dad, who teaches not only his students and in class, but everyone and always, could not speak.

I found out all of this on Monday evening, and I can say, bar-none, it was the worst feeling I have ever had. Yet as my mom described all of this over the phone, I received the first of a series of calls to GRATITUDE.

This is the story and the list of things I am grateful for this year.

My parents’ marriage

When he suddenly developed double-vision, the first thing my dad did was call my mom and tell her that he needed her to come. And she did. Immediately. When she got there, she knew something was wrong and was about to take him to the Emergency Room. However, seeing that he had lost his left side, she called UD campus safety for an ambulance instead.

UD Campus Safety

Rather than simply calling and directing the ambulance to the correct building at UD, the head of campus safety rushed up to see and help my dad. As soon as he got there, he called back to warn the EMTs that it was a stroke so they would be as prepared as possible.

Dallas EMTs

When they arrived, the EMTs knew not to take him to the nearest hospital or to the the hospital where his GP practices, but rather to the Parkland stroke center.

A Forest of Neurologists

Because of the advance warning of a stroke, my dad was met at the door of the hospital by no fewer than 10 neurologists whose sole responsibility was to figure out the exact time and severity of onset of his stroke BECAUSE…

Miracle Drugs

No. Really. There is a drug that I do not understand, but if taken within a 3 hour window of stoke onset can work miracles. Outside of that window, it is extremely dangerous and can make things worse.

God’s Timing

My dad made the window. But, lest you think that 3 hours is plenty of time, let me stress something: he BARELY made the window. Moreover, if he had been taken to the ER, they would not have had access to this drug. If he hadn’t been taken directly to the stroke center, they would not have had access to this drug. If they hadn’t known he was coming, the neurologists would not have finished the necessary tests in time and they would not have had access to this drug. If my mother had not had the courage to say yes to this drug, he would not have had access to this drug.


Remember Dr. Roper? The professor who has been so important both to my and to Teresa’s lives? He has the office down the hall from my father, so when he found out, he called his wonderful wife, who sat her two sons down and began to pray a novena for my father. My mom has the exact time-line, but that is when the miracle medicine began to actually work and my dad began to come back. (Also, my mom would like for me to add that Dr. Roper was also at the Emergency Room 10 minutes after she was, making ready to help in any ways necessary.)

My dad

Since that time, my dad has recovered completely. He can read, walk talk, speak Italian, and see. (Actually, just as the double vision was the first to come, and it was the last to go. His double vision finally went away just as he was looking at my mother, and so, paraphrasing something he said after they first met, he said,“You are (the) one.”)

The Church

On Tuesday, priest from my parents’ church came, expecting to perform Unction for the Sick. Instead, all there was to do was simply say prayer after prayer of thanksgiving. Because there he was.

My mom said something last night, and it seems so important: “The church understands that we need help with gratitude.”

Really, you would think my father sitting there reading and smiling and talking would be reminder enough of gratitude. Yet, I cannot help realizing that “needing help with gratitude” has two meanings.

1. Employed, blessed, loved, and sheltered as I am, I constantly forget to be grateful.

2. Even when we remember to be grateful, sometimes it is so terrifying to know how. Gratitude is frightening.

Somehow I always forget the root word of both “grace” and “gratitude” is gratis – free gift.  

 There is nothing more frightening than to receive a truly free gift and to really feel the freeness and unmerited-ness. To be truly grateful.

There is a wildness in God’s mercy and grace. 

I think that is why it is so important to have a day set aside for Thanksgiving. Real gratitude is terrifying. In giving thanks, we are placing ourselves in the hands of God, to receive his gifts, awesome  (and I really mean the “AWE” part) though they be.

It should be easy for me to simply accept the simplicity of by blessings this year: my daddy is still here. Yet, that is not enough.  I think that there is a wild and terrifying abandon in real gratitude, reflected in the benediction of Job:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21

So, in this Year of Faith and season of preparation and thanksgiving, I would like to ask your help with gratitude. For the Grace of the Lord is free, unfettered, unmerited, magnificent, and there can be only one response – gratitude.

In my conversion to Catholicism, there was a professor who would repeat over and over “100% grace. 100% human effort” as his explanation for salvation. I totally agree, but sometimes, I think that the human effort part is the effort to recognize everything as a gift and a potential grace.

Happy (BELATED) Thanksgiving and Blessed be the Name of the Lord!


Oh the Humility!


Hello there. Excuse me as I completely fail to explain my two and a half month absence from the blogosphere (aside from saying “Teaching is time consuming.”)

This is my very special attempt to jump back in. Bear with me, it’s gonna be rough at first.

Teaching is a heady thing. For instance, on Thursday I received an unusual amount of compliments.

If I were a naturally humble or sane person, this would not have been a problem. Unfortunately, I am neither humble nor sane, so every one of those suckers went directly to my head. From compliment to ego-trip in less than 8 seconds! There might as well have been bouquets and tiaras so far as I was concerned.

Teacher of the year! Coming through! I am making a difference! I am molding the minds of young people!

Anyone who knows me at all should know what comes next –  HUMILITY FACE PLANT OF DOOM!

Which brings us to Friday.

On Friday, I agreed to play for the faculty in a Varsity v. Faculty volleyball game. Not to brag, but I have (had) a mean serve. Also, because I am not short I have (ahem HAD) a decent spike. So, of course, I was teasingly trash-talking my students. Because I am Awesome Teacher-Lady who  can do no wrong and at one time  was not entirely uncoordinated! Obviously.

Then they trounced us.

I was not happy.  And amidst my unhappiness, I realized that the fall had only just begun. Not only Because I  cared (a lot) and wanted to win (a lot) and bragged (A LOT), but also for some thing even worse.

You see, I realized that Normal-Me has a solid set of evasions for just such an embarrassing occasions.

Option #1, we have the itemized list of all the reasons this was a ridiculous contest:

  1. They had been practicing for 6 months.
  2. We did not know we had a team until the day before.
  3. The other teachers didn’t communicate.
  4. My shoulder went numb.
  5. One of the male teachers kept stealing my spikes.
  6. Etc.

Or Option #2, the classic: “It’s not like we were really trying.

Yes. You can hate me, because that option actually occurred to me. It occurred to me to pull the “not trying” card on a group of 17-year-old girls. Whom I teach. Whose minds and emotional well-being is at least partially under my protection. (Did I mention that  I do not like to fail? I do not like it at all.)

You see, the real problem with all of this was not the volleyball shame, but the panic-inducing pride that took over my brain. Fortunately, I am a teacher. And you know what is the best and worst thing about teaching? My students’ faces.

The are like tiny post-it notes reminding me exactly how terrible of a person I am for considering the options above, and how much more terribleI would be if I used any of the options above. Which I probably would, if they were not my students. Curse their tiny impressionable faces for alerting me to and protecting me from my tendency toward  sin, pride and general badness!

How, you might ask? By noticing.

Please imagine Eyeore saying this.

That is what students do. That is ALL students do. No more, and no less. Try though I may, I do not mould their minds or make them who they will be; wish though I might,  they are not oblivious or impervious to my failings. They simply notice what I say and do. 

So this is the blessed and stinging enforced humility on my plate for tomorrow. I get to go in and try to say: “Congratulations! You destroyed us. Yes, I apparently have lost all skill at volleyball, along with the sensation in my right shoulder. Also, I seem to have totally misinterpreted the passage we talked about on Thursday. Now please open your books and try to remember a fraction of the material we talked about on Friday.”

That really should not be hard, but it is.

So, thank God for teaching and for my students. May they never be in as desperate need of  a spiritual smack down as I so frequently am. Because humility FREAKING STINGS! 

Frying Pans of Grace


There are already 4 drafts of this post. Just so you know, it was going to be a big confessional post about how very anxiety-ridden and transitional and un-free my life feels right now.

I even had a whole section on my nightmares about my upcoming teaching job. (I may find a use for that later. Suffice it to say that I, she-who-never-ever-remembers-dreams, have spent the past 2 months remembering nightmares from every night, and fantasizing about jumping onto every train, plane or automobile I see… so long as it is going far. Isn’t that just exactly the quality you look for in your children’s future teacher?)

So, this is the slightly less confessional version:

Growing-up is scary. Cliche, I know. Bear with me. In the past week I have had the dubious joys of moving away from my hometown for the first time, owning my first car, renting my first non-collegiate apartment, and starting my first salaried job. All of these things fall under the headings of “BIG GHANGES” and “BINDING CONTRACTS” and as such “REALLY FREAKING SCARY.”

I think that even in my somewhat stunted idea of adulthood, I understood that being adult meant less freedom. I couldn’t just pick up and leave if I wanted to. But as “That Girl” – you know the one, the one who never left her home town, and went to a college where both her parents worked, and never intentionally broke big rules – the idea of those kinds of roots and confines never bothered me. I never really wanted to pick up and leave.

Until now. Because the really scary part of choosing independently to bind your self to a place, a job, a community, is that you are responsible. If you mess up, no one made you.

See? Scary!

That was the confessional part. Here is the part where God smacked me with some Frying Pans O’Grace (Pretty much the only instruments of Grace that I notice… I can be a little thick.)

What is the thing that Angels say ALL THE TIME?

Now to my pathologically guilt-ridden mind, the first thing this suggests is that I should feel terrible because I am just a scardy-cat ALL THE TIME.

Enter Frying Pan #1. The fact that they say it all the time probably means that it is normal to need reminders. God’s World is not a placid place. God’s Angels are not floaty cherubs who lay around on clouds being un-intimidating. God’s Son calls us to extraordinary things, that a sane mind would run from, screaming all the way.

Sure, in my case, the “Extraordinary Things” are things like binding myself to a single place, and taking responsibility for the education of specific children, and paying rent. (YESTHATISEXTRAORDINARYTOME). Still. To do this requires a specific kind of insanity.

Enter Frying Pan #2. (Also known as Jennifer Fulwiller of  “Conversion Diary”).

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/do-you-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-changing-diapers. PLEASE Read Jen’s blog post, for a phenomenally eloquent description of the “Both/And” of diaper changing.

As Catholics, we are called to view reality as it really is, not as it seems. And reality is always “Both/And.” It is sacramental. Just as the Eucharist is both Bread and Our Lord, so also are our lives Both/And.

Teaching is both a repetitive, anxiety-ridden, service centering on lesson plans and classroom, and an adventurous opportunity to serve and shape children into faith filled, thoughtful adults. Growing-up is both the agonizingly slow experience of deliberately planting yourself and staying still long enough to grow roots and the terrifying adventure of being vulnerable in a way that only still things can be.


So, to be afraid is natural when you are having to see the world as “Both/And”… it is super intense! However, natural though it may be, we are also called to “Be Not Afraid!”

For Christ is not fear. He is the “Both/And” of Absolute Adventure and Absolute Peace.