God showed Himself to us after Sept. 11

Sudden pandemonium. First Tower One, and it felt like a dream. Then Tower Two, and it felt real.  The Pentagon got hit, and it appeared the country must be under attack. Finally, a fourth plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. In a matter of moments a quiet, clear day became one of the most recognizable dates in American history.

More than 3,000 people died that day, people who had done nothing to provoke the aggression that ended their lives. Many more people lost loved ones and were left to live with the terrible grief produced by sudden and unjust loss. 

In those early hours of pain, fear and confusion it appeared a nameless, faceless, heartless enemy had penetrated our defenses. As often occurs in difficult times, some began to wonder, “Where is God in all this?” At some point, tragedy tests faith. Sept. 11, 2001, was such a day.

Remembering to always give thanks

I had breakfast with an old friend recently. Our food arrived piping hot at the table. I happily spread butter on my English muffin and tasted the first forkful of my omelet when my friend quietly asked me if I would feel funny saying grace together in a public place.

Grace? “Yeah, sure,” I managed to garble with a mouthful of food. After the usual Catholic blessing he began eating his meal and I, slightly embarrassed, continued mine.

My parents taught me well, but through the years, to my dismay, I have lost my consistency in saying grace before every meal. At home before family meals we say grace and give thanks, but I do not always remember to do the same when the meal is on the fly.

As a busy mom, I bought my kids plenty of drive-thru, carry-out and curbside-to-go meals. When tossing them a bag of burgers and fries from the front seat of the car, I rarely paused long enough to remind them to say grace. I’ve grabbed a sandwich at the local deli and eaten Chinese standing at my kitchen counter, without any thought of asking God to bless the meal.

We all need to have, and be, good listeners

If human beings came with an instructions manual, somewhere in the first chapter it would read: Find a good listener. 

Everyone needs listeners. We need people who will let us finish our sentences. Good listeners help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. They recognize the fear beneath the anger and the hurt behind the fear.

A good listener can help us sift through the two or three bad ideas to find the good one hiding in the back.   Good listeners help us find the humor in frustration and the silver linings in disappointments. Good listeners help us make good decisions. They help us identify options and their consequences. 

It’s been said that every day we experience at least one meaningful event that has a significant impact on our lives. Good listeners help us recognize the experiences that should not be overlooked.

In that instructions manual it would also read: Be a good listener. Listening will help you contribute, connect, heal and learn.

Double the blessings: How a family grows

This is it. This is the month that set the orbit for our entire year.

We are gearing up for two events, which will happen in the span of a week, the blink of an eye: My younger brother, Tony, is getting married and my older sister, Angie, is having a baby.

The countdown we launched last winter, the number that felt so big and distant, is rapidly dwindling. Now we are scurrying around, setting things in place, whitening our teeth and watching our waistlines — especially Angie’s.

There is a headcount to finalize and a nursery to complete, plus final check-ins with the deejay and the doctor. We will try to keep it all together, but it is all so tightly wound: steamed dresses and high hopes, shined shoes and tangled nerves.

Iraq veteran finds welcome, vocation upon return

A year or so ago I got a letter from a man with whom I’d first begun corresponding shortly after his tour as an infantry lieutenant in Iraq. We began by discussing various questions of just war theory, but then our letters touched more and more on my young friend’s vocational discernment, for he had left the service on completing his deployment in sunny Mesopotamia. In his August 2008 letter, he sent an account of his homecoming and asked whether I thought it could be published somewhere, because he wanted to “thank the American public.” I couldn’t find an outlet for him, but on re-reading his letter, it occurred to me that I could help him say “thanks” by reprinting parts of it here.

So ...

“We were slowly coming together in a mass formation, rather numbly, in a dark parking lot. The usual chit-chat and murmur of side-bar conversations was conspicuously absent. We had just spent the last couple of days in a series of hangars and airfields and airplanes traveling back from the Middle East and it was now almost 2 a.m.; that was certainly one of the reasons for our numbness.

Share food and share Jesus, our bread of life

Many of us are fatter than we should be. We’ve heard that a million times.

We wage a battle that often leaves the troops scattered and humiliated, or perhaps more aptly, chubby and bloated.

‘Julie & Julia,’ a movie featuring the life of the famous chef Julia Child, is getting good reviews. Nora Ephron, the director and a connoisseur herself, said that the flick may, she hopes, bring back butter.

Remember butter? We always ate it when I was a kid. Then margarine came along and was cheaper. Then cholesterol came along and some thought margarine was healthier. But then trans fat came along.

Well, you get the picture. We all love to eat but sometimes we’re not sure what to eat.

Food: You can’t live without it, but sometimes it’s confusing to live with it. So we have a love/hate relationship, loving ourselves for that fresh broccoli we bought from the farmers’ market, hating ourselves for that empty bag of spicy nacho chips.

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