Archive for the ‘Faith & Sprituality’ Category

Monumental…the Movie

Monumental MovieTonight I saw Kirk Cameron’s movie “Monumental.”

The showing was a one-night “live” event, with Kirk (from a viewing party in his living room??) on real-time video feeding into 550 theaters across America.  It was like he was right there…in our theater…only he wasn’t.  He had a buffet of salads on his dining room table.  We had sticky floors and the smell of stale popcorn.

You would think that a low-budget documentary is not going to draw a crowd.  But, walking in 2 minutes past showtime proved to be a BIG mistake.  I lacked the personal responsibility to be punctual and plan ahead for dinner.  This banished me to the 2nd row….with a bunch of sweet potato fries smuggled inside my purse.

The place was totally packed.

Without giving away the movie, Kirk traces the footsteps of the Pilgrims…from England…to Holland…back to England….to their ride on the Mayflower to Plymouth Rock.  The film’s overarching message is that the United States is headed for moral, social, economic, and political disaster if we don’t get back on track and hold up the principles that America was founded upon….particularly religious freedom and Christian beliefs.

To me, the film was not particularly entertaining, but then again, it wasn’t meant to entertain.  It was meant to deliver a message….a call to Americans to take personal responsibility for their own lives and the State of the Union and to demand that our government base American law on the country’s founding principles.

Personally, I believe that government should reflect the will of the people.  Once, the collective will was a strong, consistent message.  Then came the 1960s…and the 70s….and today the messages sent to Washington DC by the “will of the people” are many….and mixed…and confusing….and some would say, interpreted in public policy in ways that are screwing up our country.

I know Kirk’s position…that a government based on biblical “law” is the way to go.  For me, I think that there IS a strong “collective will of the people” brewing but too many are sitting back, watching Dancing with the Stars, and waiting for someone else to voice it.

Our Constitution is about the rights of free people.  Many people fought and died for these rights…for the benefit of their descendants…that means me and you.  If these rights are weakened and lost, it will be because we didn’t defend them….we didn’t continue to demand them…we didn’t express our will.

Do you have strong personal convictions?  Do you express them, or keep them to yourself?

# 5 – Finding Hell in a Drawer

Continuing on with the Battle of the UNs, I backtracked to complete Task #5…the purging of a closet or drawer as suggested by Sidney.

IMG_2556There is one particular drawer in my house that was nearing an overflow explosion of great proportions.  It’s the one that I fill with papers that are “not important enough for the safe deposit box, yet way, way, wayyyyy too important to mix in with anything else.”

I purged its guts onto the floor…

and started to to rifle through the contents. 

Among paperwork about insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other legitimate important-ness, I found THIS little gem:


Seriously.  There it was.  Right under my Social Security Statement.  This little 23-page pocket guide to hell was stored in a drawer side-by-side with the Social Security Administration’s verification that I earned $3.35/hour in the summer of ’88 working as a “salad bar girl” at the local rural airport.   

I have no CLUE why this pamphlet was in my “important stuff” drawer.  I obviously put it there, but why?

Did I have a good reason to think that my soul was destined for eternal destruction?  If so, did I honestly believe that having a pocket manual to punishment was going to make things go a little easier?  Did I need directions for the damned? 

I want to read it, but sub-headings like…

  • Where is Hell Located?;
  • Punishment by Cold; and
  • Greatest Pain of Hell

…have me a little freaked out tonight. 

Plus, I  hate the cold and I don’t particularly want to know where Hell is located…although I have a pretty good idea that it’s somewhere near the storage locker at an airport salad bar in Pennsylvania.

In my own belief, I think that there definitely is a Hell and that the choice to go there is made during life, primarily by outright rejecting God.  I can only assume that’s the point of the pamphlet and the reason why I decided to throw it in the important drawer.  After all, what can be more important than a reminder that after this mortal life, there is more yet to come?

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Thanks again to Sidney and her suggestion to purge a drawer.  Half of the contents were trashed, the other half were organized, and one little hellish pamphlet was…ahhh, I have no idea what to do with the thing…but I’m sure it will find a new drawer and shock the next person who finds it there.

#8 – Pow Wow WOW

Have you ever had a once in a lifetime experience?  You know….a WOW moment that would be very difficult to duplicate.

This past weekend while on a girls trip to New Mexico, we came upon an authentic Native American Pow Wow.   The only word that can describe it is WOW.

Taos Pow Wow 1 Taos Pow Wow 2

Taos Pow Wow 3

The trip was very spontaneous.  When we found out that a Pow Wow was happening about 60 miles from where we were staying in Santa Fe, we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and headed north…following the sound of a beating drum. 

Taos Pow Wow 4 

The goose bump part was the opening speech, introduced in English but delivered in one of the Pueblo languages.  Everyone was very quiet, listening with intensity to the words being spoken about culture and tradition and spirituality.  I couldn’t understand the words, but the aura of the crowd was unmistakable. 

Taos Pow Wow 5 Taos Pow Wow 6 Taos Pow Wow 7

Like any traditional fair or festival, there were arts and crafts for sale…

 Taos Pow Wow 20

good food…

Taos Pow Wow 15 Taos Pow Wow 9

and lots and lots of dancing.

 Taos Pow Wow 11Taos Pow Wow 12  Taos Pow Wow 13

And then it got dark under the arbor and it was time to pack our moccasins and go.

Taos Pow Wow 10

Absolutely amazing experience.

Regarding #8 in my battle of the UNs, “Travel and Make it Worthwhile” suggested by Jo, I declare you complete.  The UNs are definitely leaving my life.  I’m going to backtrack and complete #5 and #6 this weekend so that I can finish up all 12 tasks before the end of summer!  Also, it’s time for me to get back on a regular blogging schedule.   The recent spurt of travel is now over…back to regular programming. 

Have you ever been to a Pow Wow or experienced a traditional culture up close? 

If you liked this post, you may also like Folking Around.

#4 – Beautiful Intrusions

Over the weekend, I accomplished Task #4 in the battle of the UNsCelebrate the Happiness of Someone Else.  While doing so….enter stage right…a life lesson called Beautiful Intrusions.

To celebrate the happiness of someone else, I planned to crash a wedding on Friday night and attend a wedding that I was formally invited to on Saturday.  Friday night was an epic fail but Saturday was the real deal…



The Wedding Cake:  Slice me! Eat Me!  Smash me in someone’s face!

As if the wedding cake wasn’t enough to give every guest a giant sugar rush, a tradition in this part of the country is to have a cookie buffet at wedding receptions.  The family of the bride and groom made home-made cookies….enough for every guest to eat several hundred dozen.  Sugar + open bar + a DJ not afraid to play Thriller and the Village People’s YMCA absolutely made the UNs temporarily disappear.

Cookie Buffet The Cookie Buffet.  Pick me!  Eat me!  Take me home for later!

During the wedding service, the preacher mentioned something about Beautiful Intrusions.  He said that in a Christian marriage, God intrudes into your human relationship.  I thought about this statement and decided that it’s true.  Sometimes God is invited to intrude into our lives and sometime’s not, but each time He enters the picture, the intrusion is beautiful whether we immediately realize it or not.

The day after the wedding, my dad, sister, aunt, uncle, and I went to the graveyard together to visit my mom’s resting place.  It was the first time I had been there since her death in March.


Standing above my mother’s grave…seeing her name  perpetually inscribed on the surface of a stone…I remembered what the preacher said during the wedding about Beautiful Intrusions

At the end of a life, God forcefully intrudes.  He takes someone away from our grasp.  Sorrow runs deep.  It seems impossible to see any beauty in the icy feelings of reality…a life alone without the person we love.

So, as the five of us stood at the cemetery, watering flowers and feeling the intensity of our own pain and loss…I thought…but what about her?  Where did she go?  Did her tiny ship lower its anchor in a more beautiful place like I wrote about on the day she died?  Is the pain of her long illness gone?  Can she hear music more lovely than Thriller and the YMCA?  Is she…could she be…is it an impossible concept to believe that she is looking down on us and is…happy?

If the answer to any or all of those questions is yes…then at that very moment…as I processed the reality of seeing her name and date on that stone…I quietly and tearfully celebrated the happiness of someone else…in the truest and most emotionally difficult sense possible.

Task #4, I declare you complete.

Have there been any Beautiful Intrusions in your own life?

Which Side Are You On?

So many times in life we find ourselves standing in the middle of a conflict, being asked to pick a side.    I like to maintain peace and take the middle ground…to hold hands instead of going head-to-head with side picking. 


Sometimes, however, it’s impossible to stay in that peaceful place.

When taking a position on any serious topic, most people believe that their decision is based on fact.  In reality, picking a side can be as random as putting on a blindfold, spinning in a circle, and doing the ol’ Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe routine. 

That got me thinking….how does God pick sides?  That might seem like a silly question because the easy answer is that God always selects the correct side.   So, let’s toss out a difficult question to God…because we can do that here in blog land. Cue the heavenly angelic harp music….

Dear God.

In war, both sides ask for your help. Which side will you help and why?


Stop the music.  Interesting question, isn’t it? 

I don’t have a hotline to God’s throne  so I couldn’t get a direct answer (drat!).  The below reflects my opinion and imagination about what God would say.


God does not pick sides.  He helps every person individually, giving each person exactly what he or she needs to reach heaven. If a person rejects that help, for example by being a terrorist or murderer, then they no longer have God’s help…not because God took it away, but because they rejected it.

Although wars usually have only two “sides” (and sometimes more), God is interested not in “sides” but in the individual people involved.  He is watching each and every single soldier and civilian involved in this war, regardless of which “side” they are on, and offering love and assistance to each person there. 

The question should not be “which side is God on?”  Instead, the better question should be “who is on God’s side?”

When standing in the middle of a conflict, how do you chose which side to take?

Have a WONDERFUL week!

For everyone who submitted a suggestion for The Beating of the UNs, thank you so much!  The collection of ideas is AWESOME and we created it together, which is a double dose of awesomeness!  I’ll soon be posting a separate page to keep track of the 12 tasks and providing updates as these tasks progress and complete.  Stay tuned…

T: Taking Time for Tears

When I began this A-Z Challenge, my mom had just died.  I needed a distraction from the grief…and this challenge has been a good distracter.  I’ve been able to joke around here, let my mind wonder, and take a timeout.

When a tragedy hits your life, the how to deal with it part is up to you.  Everyone’s process is different and if anyone says they have a sure-fire way to get past the grief, I’d  have to disagree.  There’s no prescription.  There’s no timeline.

After the funeral was over, I didn’t want to think about what had just happened.  I kept my mind busy.  Blogging 6 days a week instead of 2 or 3 added that extra level of busy that I needed.  And then came yesterday…when I decided that I WAS ready to think about it, write about it…

…and to try and understand the one thing that has been haunting me these past 4 weeks.  THIS:

Akiane Kramarik: Infinite-Eye

Source: Akiane Kramarik

Allow me to rewind…to 4 weeks ago, today.

My dad phoned, saying that I needed to come home right away.  When I arrived, my mom was clearly dying, in a hospital bed, in the middle of our living room.  A priest was there giving Catholic Last Rights.  Also in the room were hospice  nurses, a social worker, and a few other people.  It was a chaotic scene.

A short while later, my mom was struggling for breath.  One of us grabbed her hand, started to cry hysterically, and yelled “Don’t go!  We need you here!  Don’t leave us!”

Her breathing calmed.  She opened her eyes wide, and stayed that way for 2 1/2 days, never closing them, rarely blinking. 

“What is she looking at?” we would ask.

“Oh, she’s probably not seeing anything; she might be blacked out.”

“But why doesn’t she close them for even a minute?  She’s been awake only 6-8 hours a day for the past year, and now she can’t sleep at all?  It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” the nurse would say.  “It happens sometimes.” 

We’d repeat this conversation many times.  My sister, dad, and I would take turns sitting up with her over those 60+ hours, feeling guilty for sleeping when she was awake.

“I think she’s looking AT something,” I said.  “It doesn’t seem like she’s blacked out.  She looks mesmerized.  Dad…I think she’s seeing ….um…I think she’s seeing angles, or heaven, or whatever’s on the other side.”

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back [Book]“I don’t know,” he said.  “It could be anything.”

Cut back to yesterday, Good Friday.  Along with a condolence card, my friend Amy sent me the book “Heaven is for Real,” by Todd Burpo.  With Easter almost here, I decided to read it.

I won’t spoil the plot, but the book is about a little boy who swears that he died went to heaven for 3 minutes while in surgery.  He describes heaven, its colors, and certain set of eyes.  The book includes a black and white portrait of the person with the eyes. 

After reading the last page, I turned to the picture. 

I saw my mom looking back at me…the eyes were HER eyes…the eyes that she had during those last 2 1/2 days.  And that’s when I cried. 

As strange as it may seem, I believe that my suspicion was true.  She was looking at something so indescribably beautiful,that she never again wanted to be in the dark.  She was ready for the place where darkness never comes.

And there you have it.

Have a Blessed Easter, everyone.

F: The $5 Friday Fish Fry

In and around the City of Pittsburgh, the Friday Fish Fry is a long-standing tradition during Lent.  There is a big Catholic church down the street from my house.  On nearly every street corner there’s a sign advertising their Fish Fry.  If you happen to miss those signs, there’s a huge banner hanging at the main intersection.  Does your neighborhood get bombarded with Fish Fry signs, too? 

Upon leaving my town and going to the next town, there are more signs, for more Fish Fries, at other churches…and fire halls…and restaurants…and markets.  Cost of each: around $5.

Fish Fry Sign 1 Fish Fry Sign 3

Fish Fry Sign 4 Fish Fry Sign 2

No matter where you go, the fish is always Cod.  Never Halibut.  Never Mahi-Mahi.  Never Tuna, or Swordfish, or Salmon, or Shark.  I guess those fishes cost more than $5 or don’t taste good fried.  Plus, Cod rhymes with God so that makes it easy to remember what’s on the menu.

I don’t write about my religion very much because if you’ve read my About page than you know that I hate it when people define me based on a stereotype.  Nonetheless, my religion is Catholicism so I understand the concept of fasting on Fridays. 

Fasting from meat 1 day/week during the 6 weeks of Lent is supposed to be an expression of self-sacrifice.  In today’s super-sized culture of massive consumption, I think it’s good to deny yourself of over-indulging once in a while.  Humans are resilient.  We live happily in many places of the world with very little.  Life can go on for a day without iPhones, and Facebook, and manicures, and yes…even meat.

Personally, I like that fish is so readily available here during Lent.  If I had to pull it out of the water myself, I’d probably starve to death.  I tried to catch a fish once.  All I ended up with was a tangled line and a dead worm.  Do worms count as meat?

Tracy Fishing

Do you ever practice self-denial?  What indulgence would be the most difficult for you to do without? 

Tomorrow’s post based on the letter G will not rhyme with Cod.  Be sure to check back!

If you liked this post, you may also like The Case of the Smoking Salmon.

Journey to Another Shore

 I plan on writing a long post this weekend about the events that have occurred here over the past few days.  My mother passed away peacefully yesterday.  She was 63.

There has been an outpouring of kind words and deeds from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers, not only in these past few days, but over the past several years.  About two years ago my father made the decision to care for my mom at home instead of confining her to a care facility.  This took the love, dedication, and sacrifice of so many people, and we were truly blessed to have them all in our lives. 

As my mother took her last breath, her hand was on her childhood prayer-book.  Our immediate family was gathered around her saying the rosary.  The rosary always comforted her and she passed to the other side in such peace.  I do not know who wrote the following passage.  It was sent to me by a friend, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I stood watching as the tiny ship sailed out to sea. As she disappeared from sight a voice at my side whispered, “She is gone”. On the farther shore, friends gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation. Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and at the very moment when my companion had whispered, “She is gone” a glad shout went up in joyous welcome, “Here she comes!”


Photo © Andrew Williams.

Are there any inspirational quotes or sayings that are special to you?