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How to thaw a frozen heart

Ever have frozen pipes?  Us hardscrabble New Englanders are used to dealing with them, but 2017 is shaping up to be colder than average, and soon people all across the country may discover the joy of waking up, heading to the sink, turning on the tap, and getting a fine, rushing stream of nothing at all.  Bah.  I suppose you should have checked the weather report last night, and you should have left the cabinet doors open and left the faucet running just a trickle. Or gosh, you should have invested in some pipe insulation or heat tape when the home inspector said it would be a good idea.  But you didn’t, and now here you are.

Moreover, you need to do something about it quick, before the ice in your pipes expands and bursts and floods your basement and walls.  Then you’ll have more than no water to worry about — you’ll have water damage, corrosion, mold, and alligators.  Basement alligators.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander:  when my pipes freeze and I have to send my husband, who is from Los Angeles, down to the basement to deal with it, you do not want any part of those burst pipe basement alligators.  They do not fool around.

So, your pipes are frozen.  What do you do?  Oh, it’s simple.  You dedicate the next several hours of your life to one of the most mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly tediously activities known to man:  you sit there with a hairdryer, heating up the pipe.  You could use a blow torch, which is hotter and faster, but then you will hot and fast a hole in your pipe, and your pipe will no longer be frozen, but it will no longer be a pipe, per se, either.

You sit and you sit, and you heat up that pipe.  Is it working?  Who knows?  If you are in the basement (which is where the frozen part probably is), you will be haunted by the fear that you are not aiming the heat at the right spot.  Somewhere in there, up in the cobwebby shadowland of joists and timbers, there is the spot of evil, the point where everything is getting held up, the coldest little nubbin in the universe, which is making everything miserable, unworkable, intolerable, frozen.  You think you are probably heating it up, and making that little gob of ice smaller and smaller, but what if you’re not?  What if the real trouble spot is icing itself up more and more as you speak, and you’re sitting there like a moron, concentrating all your time and effort on a bit of pipe that is fine?

Do not switch tactics.  Do not move.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander who has done this at least once, several years ago, and then realized that, even if your husband doesn’t want to do it, he kind of has to, and so it’s his turn from now on:  stick with the spot you picked.  Sit there.  Blow with that stupid old hair dryer.

And eventually, it will happen:  WHOOSH.  The water will come on.  I promise you. Just when you are about to give up — or maybe when you have given up, three or four times already, and then glumly, grudgingly, hopelessly gone back to the dreary task, it will happen.  It will work.  The blockage will clear, the ice will melt, the water will flow again, and life can go on.  You will have running water again.

Oh!  You thought I was talking about the pipes, didn’t you?  Yes, well, that too.  But I’m talking about prayer.  I’m talking about suffering and pain, and despair, when everything is blocked up and impossible, and the water won’t run, and the day can’t happen.

I’m talking about the seemingly foolhardy effort we put into fixing our lives, sitting there in the dark, wishing and praying and hoping with all our hearts that our stupid little hot breath of air is actually going to make a difference. We’re not even sure if we’re aiming it in the right direction. What if I should be doing something else, instead? What if all this effort is wasted?  What if I’m not having any effect at all, when I go, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary?”  Should I try something else? Should I even bother?

Take it from this hardscrabble Catholic, who cannot, after a certain point, palm everything off on her husband.  Do not move. Do not switch tactics.  Keep on praying, keep on pointing your feeble little stream of air at that invisible clump of ice.  It will melt, I promise you.  It will give way.  And the water of life will come  rushing back, WHOOSH.  And life will go on.  And you won’t have to even think about the alligators again.  Not until next time.

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This essay was originally published in the National Catholic Register in 2014.
Image by Lara Danielle via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Catholic Weekly

Can we celebrate Christmas as Syria burns?

Trying to tamp down the guilt that rose like a cloud of evil dust, I mentally ran through my week, comparing it to the week that my brothers and sisters have endured in Aleppo. I shouldn’t have bought any presents, I thought. How could I even dare? How can we light our Advent candles and sing “O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel?” We are not captives. We are healthy, wealthy, safe, pampered. Our walls our intact. We are home. Our children are with us, safe and warm in bed. The Syrians, they are the ones who need rescuing, Lord. Lord, isn’t there something I can do?

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly here.

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Image: By Ahill34 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Don’t bother lying to God

When my mother was a new Christian, she was in with a crowd that put great stock in outward appearances. Since she had many more kids and much less money than everyone else, she felt horribly self-conscious about her house, which was shabby and cluttered despite her constant housekeeping. She got in the habit of saying, if someone stopped by, “Oh, please excuse the house. We’ve been away all day and I haven’t had a chance to tidy up!” or “Sorry about the mess around here! The kids have been sick and I’m so behind.”

Then one day, she just got sick of it. The smarmiest, must judgmental neighbor of all happened to drop in, and she said, “Well, I’m sorry about the house. This is how we live.”

I wish I knew the rest of the story. Did the judgy woman gasp and flee? Did she tell everyone that Mrs. P. lives like a pig and isn’t even ashamed of it? Did she (it’s possible) think, “Wow, that’s kind of refreshing. Someone just told me the truth”? It’s possible that the woman was even grateful that someone trusted her with some difficult information. It’s possible she went away and asked herself why it was that people felt they needed to lie to her.

Telling the truth is says something about us, and also something about the person we’re talking to. When we tell the truth, its a risk to ourselves, but also a great compliment to them.

The older I get, the less patience I have for people who try to shine me on. It feels rude to be lied to. Do you think I’m too dumb to know the truth? Too weak? Too shallow? Who has time for pretense? There’s so much nonsense in the world that we can’t get around. Why add to it by pretending to be someone we’re not?

I’ll tell you something. God is even older than I am, and he has even less interest in hearing lies. My brother Joe tells about a priest who had a big problem. And he was mad. Mad at the world, mad at his situation, and mad at God. So every day, he went into the adoration chapel, knelt before the Sacrament, and told the truth: “I don’t love you, God.”

Every day, every day he did this. Until one day he said it, and he realized it wasn’t true anymore.

I’d like to know the rest of that story, too. I do know that it’s never useful to lie to God. It’s never useful to lie to ourselves about what our relationship with God is. It’s never useful to run away from God, and refuse to talk to him, if we feel like we can’t say the right things or feel the right things. No one has time for that, and it’s an insult to God to even try it. If you feel like you have to hide, then tell him that. If you feel that he’s not fair, tell him that. If you aren’t even sure he exists, tell him that. There’s no time for anything less than the truth.

Utter honesty is a luxury we do not always have with the rest of the world. Civility, duty, and charity often demand that we reserve such blunt honesty from other people, at least most of the time. So do what you need to do when you’re presenting yourself to the rest of the world. Sometimes it’s appropriate to lay it all out there; sometimes you will want or need to be a little more guarded.

But not with God. Never with God. Go ahead and tell him, as you open your front door, “This is just how I live.” It doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of changing things, if that’s what needs to happen; but God will not help you change until you are willing to talk to him about where you are. He is a gentleman. He only comes in where He is invited. Honesty is an invitation he always accepts.

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Image By Miguel Discart (2014-04-05_14-13-49_NEX-6_DSC08220) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Uncategorized

What to do about refugees?

Betender_Mönch_bei_Kerzenschein

Pray. Pray!

Maybe you don’t need a reminder, but I do. Almost none of us are in a position to do anything else. We can vote, we can argue, we can maybe collect money or baby carriers or signatures or other signatures or bug-out bags – but if you believe in God, then doing any of these things without praying is like shopping for furniture when you’re homeless. Prayer is where we ought to live, where we ought to start our day from and where we come home to at night. Prayer is the foundation under our feet and the roof over our heads. Going it alone, without prayer, turns us all into refugees.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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image:  in the style of Godfried Schalcken (http://www.bassenge.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Uncategorized

St. Bernard, pray for . . . wha?

bee-649952_1280

 

 

Speaking of distraction from prayer, that narthex is where parents of small children often find themselves when they’re fulfilling their Sunday obligation in the most basic way: by being bodily inside the walls, even if we can’t catch more than a second or two of actual prayer time. Our parish is pretty kid-friendly, but it’s only courteous to take a truly bonkers kid out of earshot until he calms down, so the narthex is the place to be; and that is where St. Bernard stands, too.

One mother I know keeps her kid happy by carrying him up to the feet of the statue, finding the bee, making contact, and going, “BZZT!” Kid laughs, forgets to wreak havoc, everyone’s happy. Honey sweet, indeed.

We can draw a few things from this…

Read the rest at the Register.