Monday, August 31, 2009

Facing Adversity

This week I am featuring a set of brief devotionals to go along with the daily mass readings.

“But he passed through the midst of them and went away.” Luke 4:30

If we are living in God’s will, we are going to make people angry from time to time. In fact, persecution for your goodness is often a sign that you are doing something right. In today’s Gospel reading, it almost seems as if Jesus is trying to make the people upset with him. At first, they are praising him for his virtues. But he was not there to tell him what they wanted to hear. By the time he is done speaking, they are ready to throw him off a cliff. Are we willing to face adversity for telling the truth? And when it comes, how do we deal with it? Can we “make like a duck”, brush it off and continue on our way?

Prayer: “Lord, help me to face persecution for your sake.”

Painting by Carl Block, 1875

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Sunday, August 30, 2009


As I read the second reading in church this morning, it seemed the perfect words for me on my birthday. I was not planning on writing today, but it reminded me that I had something planned for this week. You see, last winter I prepared a week's worth of brief devotionals as a sample to send to a Catholic publisher of daily devotionals. I picked this week's readings because it started with my birthday. It was rejected by them, so you will get it for free. Look for six more brief devotionals to go with the daily readings this week.

“He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” James 1:18

To the ancients, the firstfruits were the earliest grains, symbolizing the genesis of an abundant harvest. The Creator only gives what is good and perfect, wanting His people to have a fruitful life. God gives us His Word that we might have both Truth and Life. When we accept his Gospel message as Truth, we are reborn, becoming the firstfruits of His Word. When we incorporate the Gospel into our way of life, we become a living testimony to the goodness God wants for us. When others see that we are content and peaceful, they might ask, “What is your secret?” Through His grace you will then have the courage to give credit where it belongs. If you know God’s Word, you will have an answer ready that will glorify Him.

Prayer: “Help me to be a living example of your Word.”

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Fathers and Daughters

Loren Christie inspired me with her post “Golden Promises”, which was about the innocent promises that children make their parents. It made me think of a conversation I had with my Dad when I was about eight years old.

Dad worked long hours during the week, but he and I used to spend most of the weekend together. It would be several years before I was granted a little brother and sister, so he did all the things with me that dads typically like to do with their sons as well. Together we built things (much to my mother’s chagrin, as he taught me how to use a circular table saw when we built a deck together), painted, went to the hardware store, mowed the lawn (also against mom’s wishes, due to accidents she frequently saw in the ER where she worked as an RN), and cleaned the gutters on the roof (also not mom’s favorite place for me). When he bought his first Radio Shack computer, we read the manual together and learned BASIC programming. To this day I take pleasure in doing these sorts of chores (good thing, as Kevin is not a handyman), with Dad accompanying me in my thoughts. Today I am sure I would not want my kids handling power tools or going on the roof; but I am glad my parents allowed me to master these skills.

Dad also liked to challenge me in every way he could. When we went bike riding, he would often race ahead of me, so I could barely see around what curve he had gone. This is the sort of thing that would never have worked if we didn’t trust each other. He trusted that I would ride safely, and I trusted that he would never go so far ahead that he would lose me.

One day, riding side-by-side, I told him that I loved him.

“But do you like me?” he asked, half-joking, half-serious.

“Of course! Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, sometimes when kids get older they don’t like their parents anymore.”

I was shocked.

“That’s terrible! I will always love you, and like you too.”

That was my golden promise, and one that I kept. Sure, there were times when we would get mad at each other, but the love, the friendship, and the mutual trust have always remained.

Me, my sister Joanna, and my Dad Mark Gerold during our recent visit in Tennessee.

The father-daughter relationship is so important to both a man’s integrity and a girl’s self-esteem. Studies show that girls who have a good relationship with their fathers do better in life and keep out of trouble such as drugs and pre-marital sex. Having the approval of their fathers, they do not have a high need to seek it from their peers. Having the love of a man in their life, they do not need to find it in the arms of a young man. Their experience with their own fathers will translate to their view of their Heavenly Father and whether they see the universe as malevolent or benevolent. Finally, they will tend to seek a mate with similar characteristics.

When a child grows up to be happy and well-adjusted, with healthy adult relationships, this helps the parent to progress in a positive way through the adult life stages discussed by psychologist Erik Erikson. In middle adulthood, ages 40-65, the basic conflict to be resolved is generativity vs. stagnation, with much depending on the important event of parenting. One needs to feel he has satisfied and supported the needs of the next generation. If his daughter is not happy, he stagnates. In the stage of maturity, ages 65 and on, the conflict is between integrity and despair. The satisfactory outcome is of a feeling of fulfillment in one’s life in generation.

The Bible has some words specifically addressing fathers and daughters. In the book of Sirach, fathers are charged with the protection of their daughter’s innocence and reputation:

Sirach 42 (NAB)
A daughter is a treasure that keeps her father wakeful, and worry over her drives away rest: Lest she pass her prime unmarried, or when she is married, lest she be disliked;
While unmarried, lest she be seduced, or, as a wife, lest she prove unfaithful; Lest she conceive in her father's home, or be sterile in that of her husband.
Keep a close watch on your daughter, lest she make you the sport of your enemies, A byword in the city, a reproach among the people, an object of derision in public gatherings. See that there is no lattice in her room, no place that overlooks the approaches to the house.
Let her not parade her charms before men, or spend her time with married women;
For just as moths come from garments, so harm to women comes from women:
Better a man's harshness than a woman's indulgence, and a frightened daughter than any disgrace.

And you dads thought it was all in your head. There is a very good reason you feel so protective of your daughters. God has commanded it to be so.

There is definitely something to be envied in the father’s relationship with his daughters. I can see that special indefinable quality between my husband and our daughters. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is very different from what I have with them, just as my relationship with our son has a tenderness that by nature is different from what he has with his dad. My job here is to step back and let what they share grow.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

"Wives Should Be Subordinate..."

“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” Why would an independent-minded woman like myself enjoy this scripture?

I happen to love this entire passage because it presents a view of a whole, holy family with two parents at the head who cherish and honor each other. Just as we should obey Christ because He loves us and wants what is best for us, we should obey our husbands who likewise receive a lofty charge. They are to act as Christ, loving their wives with their entire hearts and bodies, protecting them from all harm whether from themselves or from others.

This is quite an undertaking for a man to act as a man of God and yet let himself take on the tasks of being a man of the world, exposing himself to the dangers that he does not want his wife to take on for herself. The wife who can be humble enough to allow him to be his protector stands in a place of grace, innocent in mind and body, and able to concentrate on keeping her family “in the world, but not of the world”. She must be able to trust in her husband entirely, praying daily that God will give him whatever grace he needs to keep on with his duties.

Like a good king who loves his people, the man who cherishes his wife will not abuse his God-given authority. In most things he will ask her opinion and respect it. He will only “put his foot down” when he really thinks it is important. Family decisions will be made jointly, with him having the final say.

I often feel quite lucky in that I found a man who is likeminded with me, and we rarely have cause to disagree on anything. If life is properly prioritized, discord should be kept to a minimum. Any two people who love each other and have Christ as that “third strand” to make their rope strong, should be able to adhere to this Biblical passage and benefit from it.

Ephesians Chapter 5 (NAB)
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 6
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
"For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mountain Ranges Revisited

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

- from America the Beautiful, Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward

I spent most of the last week among various mountain ranges, from Tennessee to Pennsylvania. I love living near the ocean, but traveling through all the various terrain America has to offer really puts me in awe of God's creation. I have written about my surreal experience going through the Shenandoah Valley at sunrise on my way to Tennessee. On the way back I passed through it at sunset for an altogether different experience. Although I was on the wrong side of the car to take a good picture of either sunrise or sunset, I have selected a few of the many beautiful shots I got to offer a sampling of what we saw on our return trip.

Leaving western Tennesse, the Cumberland Plateau:

Cows graze comfortably in between the interstate and the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, as seen from Tennessee:

Sunset over the Shenondoahs tinted the entire sky of Virginia in wondrous colors:

We even passed directly under a rainbow in that same valley, as seen on the left side of this picture:

The Pennsylvania mountains welcomed us with bright green valleys in the morning:

And, always a great sight welcoming me home to New York, Manhattan as seen from the George Washington Bridge:

I love all of America, but most of all I love New York, and appreciate it all the more after having spent time elsewhere.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shenandoah Sunrise

I was in “the zone”, a very pleasant place in which the brain is undecided between either sleep or wakefulness. The previous day I had gone swimming in the rolling waves of Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton. Every time I tried to go to sleep, I would picture myself floating on those waves, and I could feel the beta waves switching on. Even though I could not fall into a deep sleep, I would open my eyes feeling more wakeful.

I opened my eyes and the previously black sky had turned dark blue. It was 5:45 AM and my travel companion informed me that we were passing through the Shenandoah Valley. Straight ahead of us the morning star was visible. As I looked around, I could faintly see the darker outline of the mountains all around me.

“Oh wow, this is definitely worth staying awake for,” I said, and watched in awe over the next fifteen minutes as the sun rose over the mountain range. First the sky turned lighter and lighter shades of blue. Then the pink started to tinge the edges of the peaks. Various shades of rose came and went until the entire sky was light blue, and the moment was gone.

I finally felt safe to go to sleep, and got a power nap for a half hour; it was the only sleep I had gotten in the past two days. I woke up with an amazing second wind and took over the driving for the second half of the 900-mile drive from Eastern Long Island to Western Tennessee.

“Are you okay? Do you know where you are?” my friend asked me.

“No, I don’t know where I am, but this does,” I said, gesturing to the GPS, my Valentine’s Day present last year.

“And you’re fine with that?” she asked incredulously.

“Yeah. Absolutely.”

That image would hold me out for the rest of the day. As I felt the monotony of the GPS’ telling me to stay on I-81-S for another several hundred miles; of being in Virginia for several hundred miles; and of driving through endless hills and trees and cows for several hundred miles, I would bring forth that image of the sun breaking the day over the mountain range.

Click here for my article “Top 10 tips for long distance driving with children”.

Click here for my article "10 tips for vacationing in the home of a friend or family member".

Click here for my article "10 things to pack for a day trip"

Click here for my article "Tips for an impromptu hotel stay"

Monday, August 10, 2009


On Friday evenings we go to the library for our summer reading club prizes. This week my three-year-old won a little pink pail and shovel. “Just what we needed to go to the beach!” I told the librarian. My poor kids have been taking empty chlorine buckets to the beach because none of the stores I frequent carry pails and shovels.

She lifted up her pail and shovel and asked, “We go to the beach now?”

“Not now, honey,” I answered, wishing that I had time to take them that weekend. The salty air would help with clearing up my allergic cough.

She carried that pail and shovel around the house and yard with her all weekend, repeatedly asking until bedtime, “We go to the beach now?”

So finally Monday morning comes around with promising weather and nothing on our schedule. We go to Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, carrying nothing but a jug of water, lunch bag, and towels.

I’d spent the morning answering emails and telephone calls and, with my cell phone turned off, I felt free of electronic communications as soon as I left the house.

My husband has been joking that I am going to be sucked into “The Matrix” because I have been spending so much time on the computer. Now that I have my laptop with wireless internet, I can keep it on all the time and go back and forth between that and household business whenever we are in the house.

I carried it upstairs to my desktop computer one night so I could copy my favorite websites from one to the other. I started to get confused working with two computers at once, typing on one keyboard and wondering why it wasn’t showing up on the right screen. That’s when Kevin came up the stairs and made his Matrix joke.

My husband hates computers, the internet, and cell phones. Never mind that he now needs the computer to run his business; he has me to take care of that end. I also forced him to get a cell phone after he got a flat tire in Deer Park at 9:00 one night and had to walk three miles to find a working pay phone.

Our “best man”, Ted, who works in management for the software business, is up on all the latest technology. He laughs at Kevin’s beeper. “You have to make the technology work for you,” he says, as he lays his Blackberry on our kitchen table. A call comes in; he looks at the caller id and ignores it. “See?” Then he explains why “peoplepc” is not an acceptable email suffix for professionals and convinces me to switch over to Gmail.

Really I am an outdoor girl at heart. The computer is just a tool for my writing. I wish I could sit up in a maple tree, as I used to do when I was little, pen some stories into a notebook, and send them anonymously to a publisher, like Louisa May Alcott. Things don’t work like that anymore.

I used to think that it would be great to have a laptop and sit at the beach and write. But once I get there, I am happy not to have it with me. We sit on the white, rocky sand and stare into the face of a white pigeon. The sky is a light blue with puffy little white clouds here and there. Little boats sit beyond the buoys and I wonder who is on them. The older three kids plunge into the water and my three-year-old, shovel and pail in one hand, holds her other hand out to me. We go down to the water. She dares herself to go up to her neck and a speeding boat sends a wave that spills into her mouth.

“Are you okay?”

She laughs in response.

And I realize I haven’t coughed once since we got there.

“Be still and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:10

Moses before the Burning Bush
Domenico Feti, 1613-14
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Mystery of Human Suffering

On my way to Home Depot, kids at home with my husband, I blasted the Rocky IV soundtrack from my minivan. Totally uncool, I know. Every time I listen to that I relive memories of me and my dad from when I was little and we would watch the Rocky movies together. He would get all pumped up and start lifting weights. Even after his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, he would continue his weight lifting.

When I came home from a semester abroad, my parents surprised me with the diagnosis. At 18 years of age, I had been studying some atheistic philosophers and stunned my parents in return with the report that I had become an atheist. This was the clincher of my intellectual decision. How could God allow this to happen to my father?

As his disease progressed, he became unable to maintain his physical strength. Once the co-owner of a home building business, later a sales engineer in Manhattan, and always a work-a-holic, it saddened me to see him unable to work as he used to. I still love to build things and stain the house and decks because it reminds me of the work we used to do together.

But Dad never lost his faith. He continued to read his Bible every night. During times when he was unable to read, he would listen to the Bible on CD. He never stopped praying the prayer to “remove this mountain”. And eventually I would come to renew my faith, which reformed with even more resolve once I had performed this debate within myself for several years.

As I prepare for a visit to go see him with the kids, I wonder how it will hit me when I see him again. Every time I see him, years between visits, he looks worse and the change is hard to swallow. Last year at my sister’s wedding, my son took one look at him and cried.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
touches on the Mystery of Human Suffering. It is one of those facets of our faith that defies logic, and the Church has no real explanation except that all will be revealed in the end of times.

In EXCERPTS OF THE LECTURE GIVEN BY CARD. JAVIER LOZANO BARRAGÁN "Pain, an enigma or a mystery?: THE THINKING AND THEOLOGY OF JOHN PAUL II: A Christian understanding of pain and suffering", the profound observations of John Paul II are explained quite succinctly. For anyone wrestling with this mystery right now, I highly recommend reading this short and quite readable document here.

In His Holiness’ own words:

"4. The image of human suffering is reflected in the Shroud. It reminds modern man, often distracted by prosperity and technological achievements, of the tragic situation of his many brothers and sisters, and invites him to question himself about the mystery of suffering in order to explore its causes. The imprint left by the tortured body of the Crucified One, which attests to the tremendous human capacity for causing pain and death to one's fellow man, stands as an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age: of the countless tragedies that have marked past history and the dramas that continue to unfold in the world. Before the Shroud, how can we not think of the millions of people who die of hunger, of the horrors committed in the many wars that soak nations in blood, of the brutal exploitation of women and children, of the millions of human beings who live in hardship and humiliation on the edges of great cities, especially in developing countries? How can we not recall with dismay and pity those who do not enjoy basic civil rights, the victims of torture and terrorism, the slaves of criminal organizations? By calling to mind these tragic situations, the Shroud not only spurs us to abandon our selfishness but leads us to discover the mystery of suffering, which, sanctified by Christ's sacrifice, achieves salvation for all humanity. Death is not the ultimate goal of human existence."

(For entire document click here.)

Good is always greater than evil and I can only comfort myself in that, for all the bad we experience on this earth, we cannot begin to imagine the majesty of the goodness that we will feel in Heaven.

Christ Carrying the Cross Attributed to Marco d' Oggiono
Italian, about 1495 - 1500

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flag me as a Fish who opposes Obama's Health Care

My bold and courageous friend Leticia Velasquez has written a post on the Aug. 6 publication of her blog turning herself in as someone who is opposed to Obama's health care system. My own post here serves to put me on the record of someone who is adamantly opposed to Obama's pro-choice health care program that would put my tax dollars to work aborting unborn babies; deny people such as my father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, the health care that they need to optimize their "quality of life"; and force health care providers to participate in abortions even when it is against their conscience.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Joachim Beuckelaer
Netherlandish, Antwerp, 1563

Friday, August 7, 2009

EcoStore USA Blog Giveaway

Today I am hosting my very first blog giveaway!

A while back, a representative from EcostoreUSA asked me to review some of their products. They make all-natural, plant-based body care products for the whole family. I requested some baby body wash and baby moisturizer. I have been using them all summer and am very happy with the results.

At the beginning of the summer, my youngest child had some small patches of dry skin behind her elbows and knees from frequent swimming. I noticed an immediate difference after bathing her. The body wash was pleasant smelling and felt nice on the skin. Afterwards, I rubbed the moisturizer into the trouble spots. Within a few days they were gone.

Here are the details for the blog giveaway:
* One winner will receive a $25 gift certificate to EcostoreUSA sent via email
* Please leave a comment on this post with your full name and email address.
* Sign up for the No Nasty Chemicals newsletter which can be found at the Ecostore USA blog
* Feel free to follow Ecostore USA on Twitter or Facebook
* Ecostore USA is offering an amazing Back To School Sale that is truly the Eco sale of the season; details can be found on their website.

The winner will be picked from a random drawing on August 22, 2009

***Read my Examiner article on eczema in children here***

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The landscaping in my neighborhood is fairly nice, and people are proud of their curbside appearances. But every August as I walk around, it seems that many properties start to take on a disheveled appearance. Stray overgrown branches stick out of formerly-perfectly-round bushes. Fried bulb shoots that should have been removed remain in place. Grass sneaks into the garden sections.

This week I am really focusing on my home because I have a houseguest coming. As the day approaches, I see my home more and more through a visitor’s eyes. I walk up the approach to my home critiquing: Is it manicured? Is it welcoming? and I realize, to my horror, that I have really let things go this summer.

It was a good day for yard work yesterday, sunny but not too hot, so I set about early in the morning weeding the front gardens, trimming bushes, and transplanting marigolds to the sides of the driveway. I looked at the cable that lay across my lawn; the wireless installation people had said they would be back to bury it. I worried that my husband might run over it and decided to mow the lawn myself.

I had to move the cable several times, each time marking its position with red toy bowling pins so I didn’t make a mistake when my brain went into auto play. When it was done, I was proud of my 45-degree angle cut. It really only took four hours to restore the front lawn and gardens to a presentable look, because most of my gardens are low-maintenance.

If I was superwoman I would weed the vegetable garden in the back, but now it looks like I should just let my husband mow over it. The raised beds are still looking okay, so I will put weeding them on my to-do list for the week.

While working in silence (the kids were playing inside), I thought about all the other areas of our lives that need maintenance. Friendships, family relationships, intellectual life, emotional life, spiritual life, physical fitness, health and nutrition. All the above require tending to on a daily basis. Skip a day here or there and your body/friends/brain will forgive you. Keep letting it slide and you get to a point where it seems like an impossible task to get back to where you were.

I was looking for the Gospel parable in which the sower throws his seeds where the weeds choke them out. But I came across this little-known passage that compares one’s spiritual well-being to farming, along with the results of going the wrong way.

Job Chapter 31 (NAB)
But what is man's lot from God above, his inheritance from the Almighty on high?
Is it not calamity for the unrighteous, and woe for evildoers?
Does he not see my ways, and number all my steps?
Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus will he know my innocence!
If I have walked in falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit;
If my steps have turned out of the way, and my heart has followed my eyes, or any stain clings to my hands,
Then may I sow, but another eat of it, or may my planting be rooted up!
If my land has cried out against me till its very furrows complained;
If I have eaten its produce without payment and grieved the hearts of its tenants;
Then let the thistles grow instead of wheat and noxious weeds instead of barley!

Lord grant me the grace and foresight to keep all the areas of my life, especially the spiritual one, well maintained.

Painting: “The Sower with Setting Sun“, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, August 3, 2009

Manna from Heaven

I have always wondered why God made the Israelites go hungry before He finally sent them manna and quail from Heaven. This was the topic of this Sunday’s Gospel and, not being able to understand the priest’s thick Jamaican accent, my mind wandered off as I created my own sermon.

I thought about my own meal schedule: 8 AM breakfast, 12PM lunch, 4PM dinner, 8PM dessert. If the kids ask for a snack in between, I will usually say yes to a piece of fruit if it is more than an hour before the next planned meal. Within that hour I usually say no. I don’t want them to ruin their appetites for the nutritious food I have planned. I am not being cruel. I really know that a regular meal schedule is good for them.

Was this the case with God and His People? I cannot believe He would punish them for their grumbling by making them starve to death. Did He just want to make them wait a little longer so they would appreciate his sustenance all the more?

Do you ever have dinner just about ready and the kids start nagging you that they are hungry? Do you get a little annoyed? Or are you pleased that they are hungry for the meal you have slaved over? God had probably planned this little miracle for them all along. Maybe He was annoyed at them for complaining; or maybe He just wanted to hear them ask; or maybe a little bit of both.

Exodus 16 (NAB)

“11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the LORD, am your God."

13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,

14 and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. “