A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE

Note: this is my Catholic Free Press column for December; it is also running on Catholicmom.com.

Here’s an except:

Pressure!

By Eric Mueller (2003) via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a lot of pressure applied to people during the holiday season to conform to some artificial standard. Society tells us to behave in one way while the opposite is preached by our Church. Newlyweds are expected to be present at all the family gatherings despite the impossible logistics. The financially strapped are supposed to spend, spend, spend. The domestically challenged must entertain and cook up a storm. Those still licking wounds from Christmases past are supposed to act like they were never wounded. The lonely should not be lonely and the grieving should stop mourning and put it behind them.

So how can we be of help? And what if we fit one of these categories — can we be kind to ourselves?

Read on …

Continue reading “A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE”

Advertisements

November remembrances: Guided from darkness to light by those who have gone before us

My November column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom:

With November comes the descent into the cold and darkness of the forthcoming winter. After an extended period of warmth and sunshine it is difficult to see the barren trees and lifeless gardens. Birds are flying south and chipmunks are scurrying about, gathering nuts for the winter before setting into hibernation. Nighttime exceeds the daylight hours; many of us will only see the morning sun as we head into work only to be greeted by darkness when we go home. The world around us is preparing for winter sleep. November feels like death.

Artur Rydzewski, “Cranes migration,” Flickr Creative Commons

Darkness into light

Yet, come December 21, the trend changes. After the shortest day of the year, daylight begins to increase. Ice, snow and cold engulf us and yet, each day is a little longer. The silence of January is replaced by birdsong in February. By March 21, we are celebrating the coming of spring.

Nature is a sign of God’s promise to those who believe in Him. Each year the seasonal cycle reminds us that even as we descend into darkness, we emerge again into the light.

Du Ende, “Dusk,” Flickr Creative Commons

Pondering heaven

The Church has designated this month of November as a time to pray for our beloved dead. It can be a difficult and somber time as we are reminded of our grief. Yet at the same time, it is a time of hope, the recent Feast of All Saints being the perfect example. We celebrate those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and who intercede for us. The readings from the day’s liturgy help us to focus on the glory that awaits us if we continue to persevere. Although no living person has seen heaven, still, it is enjoyable to ponder on the mystery even as a clear picture eludes us. Our hope is based upon the promise that we will rise, as did Christ, in a glorified body, freed forever from suffering and sorrow. Sainthood is the eventual end, and beginning, for all believers.

Moving through our season of darkness

November reminds us that all must pass through the winter of suffering and death first, along with the purification of Purgatory. There is no way to avoid these winters even if we are fortunate enough to die in our sleep. We are aware of the aging of our bodies with all its aches and pains. The mind becomes dulled and emotions are magnified. Disease exacts great suffering. We lose family and friends to death and feel increasingly isolated as our world becomes smaller. Those who care for aging loved ones suffer as well, often feeling powerless in the relentless march towards the inevitable. Clinging to the hope given to us by God becomes the existential challenge. Truly there is martyrdom in aging.

Billie Greenwood,
“In the Winter of My Life, I Bloomed,” Flickr Creative Commons

It is a journey from death to life even as Christ suffered on the cross and died. He endured the agonies of mind, heart and body. He also rose to life again in a glorified body. While many of us will need to go through a period of purification after we die in order to prepare for sainthood, we can find comfort in the fact that many living souls are praying for us and holding us close to their hearts. Springtime will come.

Remembering those who have gone before us

November reminds us of the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. We can actively pray for them and help them through their journey of Purgatory. They can know the comfort of our companionship through their suffering.

Remembering those in our midst

November also reminds us of the need to draw close to our suffering elderly. As difficult as it can be to confront aging and the dying process, there is a profound sacredness in offering our love and care. They are going before us, acting as our guides. Those who cling to the hope of God’s love demonstrate how to let go of life while remaining engaged in it, entering into the unknown of death with courage and grace. No lesson is more important.

November is a month of grey skies and blustery winds. It is also a month to ponder the greatest of all mysteries – life, death, and resurrection. As we pray for those living and those gone on before us, let us embrace these mysteries in all that we do.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; photo by Susan Bailey

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Living with thorns in my side

This is my latest column in the Catholic Free Press, also running on Catholicmom.com.

Why is it that some wounds remain even when one has been healed? Several years ago I lost my singing voice due to acid reflux. I gave up singing thinking I would never do it again but after three years of rest, my singing voice returned (and I am sure St. Blaise had something to do with it). I happily joined the adult choir at my parish and took on cantering duties. I feel deep gratitude that God restored his gift back to me.

Accepting fear

Yet I had a new and most unwelcome guest with me whenever I sang—fear. I had never experienced stage fright before I lost my voice and now it is my constant companion. It causes me to break out in a cold sweat and I become tremendously self-conscious. Sometimes when my head and heart feel confident, my body still responds with that fear welling up deep inside of me.

One day while leading a song for the congregation I felt a sense from God that I was to walk side by side with this new companion for the rest of my singing days.

Does this mean my healing which I believe I received through the intercession of St. Blaise was somehow incomplete? No. There’s a reason why the fear is present. And it relates back to St. Paul.

Running side by side with a marathoner

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. St Paul the Apostle, Flickr Creative Commons

I love St. Paul; he is a part of the entourage of saints to whom I pray for intercession each day. On my holy card he stands tall, a long sword by his side. Paul was fearless because of the armor provided to him by the Lord. His wisdom and clarity guide me on my spiritual journey. At times he has run beside me, urging me on through this marathon. He will be with me at the finish line.

Paul however had a thorn in his side. While he never revealed the nature of this thorn, still he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that the thorn remained despite his pleas to the Lord to remove it. God’s reply to his prayer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus St. Paul declared, “I am weak, then I am strong.”

Reflecting on these verses, I accept my companion of fear and use it as a reminder that God is in control of all things and that through our difficulties he works out his plan for the good.

More than one thorn

Andreina Schoeberlein Thorn in my side, Flickr Creative Commons

How nice it would be if there were only one thorn but there are others. One thorn in particular has me running to the Cross every morning asking for forgiveness for a particular sin. If only I could live with this thorn and not sin, but thankfully, forgiveness is just a prayer away. With God’s grace, someday that thorn will not lead to sin.

A friend’s thorn

I think of the thorn my friend Jackie must endure. It is deep and heavy, a true cross to bear. Her thorn requires her to lean on Jesus every step of the way. Someday I may have to endure such a thorn. It frightens me until I am reminded to stay rooted to the present moment and cling to Jesus.

I must remember to invoke St. Paul the next time one of my thorns trouble me. I can’t think of a more capable and understanding companion.

Sing about grace

If you want to be reminded of God’s promise that his grace is sufficient, listen to Matt Maher’s wonderful song, “Your Grace is Enough,” found on YouTube. The melody will stick in your mind in an instance. And in singing that line “Your grace is enough, your grace is enough, your grace is enough for me,” perhaps your thorns will become easier to live with too.

 

Save

Save

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

How brush and paint revealed the freeing power of the Holy Spirit

Recently I was asked by The Catholic Free Press to cover a painting class at St. John the Baptist in East Brookfield, MA (see Artwork unveils many colors of God)

Paint and prayer

It was not the usual “Paint with a Twist” class where there is wine served in a party atmosphere. Instead, we would be praying with words, song, brush and paint.

Reluctant to participate

The teacher had to cajole me to participate as I was concerned about covering the story and taking photographs.

I had not painted since high school and had long since forgotten how to create art in that fashion. My memories consisted mainly of my frustration at painting because I micromanaged the process rather than allowing that process to direct my brush strokes. By the end of high school I had given up on it.

As I found myself in front of that blank, black canvas, I wondered how I could ever be able to paint again. In the end, the distraction of covering the story proved to be a blessing. Continue reading “How brush and paint revealed the freeing power of the Holy Spirit”

Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me

There is no doubt we are living through difficult and uncertain times. As someone who seeks peace at any cost, I find myself confronted more often than I’d like. Civil discourse and reason have been replaced with hot emotions and shout-downs. I’ve found myself editing my Facebook news feed to filter out all political discussion. Surrounded by those who feel differently from me, I do my best avoid debate because I don’t think well on my feet. I am cordoning off a part of myself as protection. Continue reading “Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me”

From the pen of an empty-nester: The season of comings and goings

NOTE: This is my upcoming column in the Catholic Free Press (for Friday, January 13) and it is currently running on Catholicmom.com.

Before I share my column, a few words.

It’s been a while since I’ve written regularly for this blog and this is because I am involved in a mammoth writing project which you can find out more about here.

from http://nextcenturypublishing.com/
from http://nextcenturypublishing.com/

This is the book I was working on when I was offered the opportunities of River of Grace and Louisa May Alcott Illuminated by The Message; these works (thanks to excellent editors and publishers) taught me how to write professionally, making this new book possible. It is the work of my heart, the book of my life. And it being all consuming, it’s been difficult keeping up with my two blogs.

A new direction for this blog

While prepping for River of Grace, I read a book of essays about the adjustment to an empty nest (I had originally intended to include a chapter on that subject). In writing for Catholicmom I thought I might focus on being an empty-nester as I have many thoughts on this stage of life; I will share those columns here as well.

rpphotos I'm beginning to feel the empty nest syndrome, Flickr Creative Commons
rpphotos I’m beginning to feel the empty nest syndrome, Flickr Creative Commons

My first column, “The Season of Comings and Goings”, was published this week on Catholicmom and I invite you to read it:

Another Christmas has come and gone. The tree is outside on the deck for the birds to enjoy; the wreath, brown and dry, is feeding the soil on the other side of the fence.

All the lights are wrapped up (with their extension cords this time!) and put away.

And the letdown after Christmas begins. Every ornament carefully placed in the box, each stocking taken down reminds me of the family time I still crave and so cherish.

manger

Continue reading …

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Click to Tweet & ShareFrom the pen of an empty-nester: The season of comings and goings http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Q1

em space

 

 

just-cover-225x222

 

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Save

Save

Save

Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

p1080888
(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at lightsong60@gmail.com or call 508-335-1043.

 

SaveSave

Save

Click to Tweet & ShareDedicated singers ease the journey home http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1P2

em space

 

 

just-cover-225x222

 

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Save

Save

Groundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again

groundhog-day-chris-piascik-flickr-creative-commons
Groundhog Day Chris Piascik, Flickr Creative Commons

I never could sit through “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Relive the same day over and over? No thank you. And yet, I can’t get away from my own Groundhog Day – the weakness in my life that haunts me, again and again.

What’s yours?

How many of us have those physical “weak spots” in our bodies that constantly succumb? The sore throat that signals a cold. The leg once broken, now chronically stiff. The back that aches simply by standing in place too long.

Spiritual weak spots

st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons
st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons

There are spiritual “weak spots” too, brought back to life again and again by circumstance. Mine is managing money – we always seem to be short. The same financial problems repeat themselves endlessly. Right now we’re going through a season of endless hits – dental bills, medical bills, car repairs. I climb two steps up the slippery slope only to slide back down another ten. It is death by a thousand cuts, wearing me down, making me tired and discouraged. Frankly it’s boring, eating away at any desire to approach God and ask again for the grace to continue in the battle.

St. Nicholas, patron saint of finances, must be sick of hearing from me.

The scars of repetition

It’s not like I don’t know why these things happen. We are poor money managers because making lots of it has never been a priority. We accept that. Decisions were made to favor other aspects of our lives rather than money. But the security of having enough would be nice!

Once upon a time my husband and I were polar opposites – he, the spender; me, the penny-pincher. The last major financial challenge forced us to meet in the middle and come together as partners. Learning to work as a team surely helps and I am grateful for that lesson learned, but it didn’t come without scars. Scars of shame at my own stupidity. Scars of loss when we’ve fallen short of meeting our obligations. Scars from feeling the need to keep our money problems a secret. Those scars make it hard to trust; I am stuck.

Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons
Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons

These periodic problems with money only fuel the desire to penny pinch and that’s the deepest wound of them all. I am small-hearted when it comes to giving money because I just don’t trust that God will provide what we need. I can trust the Lord in so many areas of my life but when it comes to finances, the well runs dry.

I am guessing this is why the cycle repeats itself — God still has something to teach me. Along with the lesson of learning to work in tandem with my husband, I have also learned not to ask God for money to “fall from the sky.” Instead I ask for fortitude, wisdom and patience. I’m guessing I also need to ask just as diligently for healing. And I’m learning to ask others to pray for me.

paul writing--featuredAs St. Paul was not freed from his “thorn in the flesh” after petitioning the Lord, I doubt I will be freed from mine of the spirit. But I can take a lesson from this favored saint who accompanies me on my marathon journey to God each day: accept it and rejoice in it. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:10, when I am weak, I am strong. Because I depend on God’s grace, not my own strength, to get through each challenge no matter how often it repeats. God’s strength never fails.

It could be Groundhog Day every day but God’s grace will prevail. He will test me, prune me, yank up the weeds, teach me. And I will grow stronger through him and closer to him.

Originally published in The Catholic Free Press, October 14. 2016
copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey

 

Save

Save

Click to Tweet & ShareGroundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1OQ

em space

 

 

just-cover-225x222

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available! Purchase here.
Join her at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA on Monday, October 17 from 8 to 9 for a Marian concert to benefit Haiti. Free admission, free will offering to be taken up. Songs from “Mater Dei” will be featured.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

Save

Save

Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady

In honor of the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, here is my September column for The Catholic Free Press. I have an exciting announcement at the end of the post.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

madonna-and-childRecently while driving to work I listened to a song about Our Lady of Gaudalupe, I felt a surge of emotion and recognized a feeling I had not experienced in a very long time – Mary’s special touch of peace. I felt elated quickly followed by regret that I had been so negligent in my devotion to our Blessed Mother. It’s so easy to rattle off a “Hail Mary” without a thought! Continue reading “Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady”

A little grace from a BIG God

old poolRecently I lost something I truly loved.

It was a minuscule loss when compared with the suffering of so many around me and across the world. Embarrassed at how much it upset me, I turned to God in prayer and asked for detachment. The prayer was swiftly answered in a way only God could imagine.

So what did I lose? Continue reading “A little grace from a BIG God”