Divine guidance

When I started this blog, I was pretty nervous. I had been having all these spiritual experiences and I even “heard” that I should start a new blog and what the name and focus should be. Would people think I was weird? Way out there? Crazy?

But at some point it became scarier NOT to do it, so I did it.

After I started writing about my experiences, many people showed up telling me – confidentially – about similar experiences in their lives. I felt honored that they would share those with me, plus it made me feel a little less nutty.

As for me, I began to trust that when I got those messages, and if I followed them, they would take me someplace good. I began to rely on them.

I haven’t heard any messages recently. I kind of miss them. Plus, now that I have relied on them, it is a little scary to do things without them. There is a certain security to knowing that someone is guiding me, that they have my back, that it isn’t just me on my own out there.

As I began to realize this, a few friends appeared to tell me about the messages they recently received and the miraculous happenings in their lives, how they are connecting with something bigger than we are. I am again honored that they would share this with me. And it helped me to remember that something doesn’t have to happen to me personally for it to exist. And maybe sometime I’ll get those cool, instructive messages again. Or something else!

In the meantime, I like that these connections exist for my friends and family, and I can bask in that. And going into my CT scan tomorrow, I feel like someone has my back, even if I’m not hearing them.

I hope your guidance, wherever it comes from, takes you someplace that makes you smile.

Love,
Marie

Icon with myrrh streaming

Myrrh-streaming icon

Myrrh-streaming icon

A friend told me about an icon with myrrh streaming* to be shared at a local Greek Orthodox church at 8 a.m on Saturday. She explained that they first have a religious service, then share the oil.

I didn’t hesitate to put it in my calendar.

Never having been to a Greek Orthodox service, or even heard of “myrrh-streaming,” I did not know what to expect, how to act or dress or anything. But I walked through the door and the kind demeanor of the nice young man selling candles in the entry hall immediately made me comfortable.

I entered the church and took stock. Most people were standing. The pews were arranged two deep around the perimeter of the room. Each one accommodated 5-6 adults and there were maybe 20 of them in total. Not a lot of seating so I’d better grab one now. I sat at the end of a pew in the back nearest the door.

The main sound was the harmony of three men beautifully singing praises. I tried to lose myself in their music, but I felt restless inside and couldn’t seem to ground myself. So I decided to look around and learn.

Compared to the churches and synagogues I am used to, this church was small. It had a high ceiling with wooden beams, icons on the wall and on stands, and tall narrow windows, feeling a bit like a modern European church. In the front of the room stood an ornate wall with a door in the center, through which priests would periodically walk. When I caught a peek through it, I could see movement and action behind the wall as if they were performing the religious rituals of the service, but I guess it wasn’t meant for the congregation to overtly witness.

Down the center of the room formed a line of people, delineated on either side with red velvet ropes. In front of the line was an icon on a stand, though I didn’t know if it was “the” icon that we had come to see. When people reached the front of the line, they would bow (some would kneel or throw themselves on the floor), and then, after a moment or two, stand close to the icon and appear to kiss it. (I later learned they generally were not kissing the icon but smelling the scent of the oil.)

I noticed that whenever the name of Jesus or the Holy Spirit was mentioned, everyone made the Sign of the Cross, and that it was “backwards” from the way I was taught. Also, when they did it, they held their fingers in a particular pointed way. To be respectful, I tried to imitate their form and practice, though I didn’t keep up with all the crossing.

Over time, the room slowly filled, and about 45 minutes after I arrived, a grandmother (age 82), her daughter (around my age) and her teenage granddaughter caught my eye. It looked like the daughter was searching for a seat for her mother. I motioned to the daughter that they could sit with me, and they did.

After awhile I started talking with daughter, who asked me lots of questions like, “What is the line for?” and “Do you know what is going on here?” I learned that they were Catholic, her mother was recently diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, and they drove for two hours to come here. I learned that they were Italian and her mother is from Italy, not far from where my mother is from.

I shared that I also was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and because I was having a really great-feeling day and I had lots of energy, she looked shocked. (That is always gratifying, that I can still pull off looking normal!) We talked about Dana Farber and treatments and faith.

“My mother’s faith is rock solid.” We looked over at her mother, deep in prayer. She poked at her mom.

“Don’t bother her!” I said.

“She prays all the time. If I want to talk with her, I have to interrupt her.”

We laughed and she continued to talk to me.

“Since she was diagnosed, I have to say that I grew away from my faith,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel like there is anything for me there.”

I can relate to that. I’ve been in that place. I knew that she would find her own way out, and we talked a little about it. My position (which I shared with her) is that it doesn’t matter if you can feel it – God and all kinds of spirit beings are around you and ready to support you the moment you ask for it.

“I know they are there, even if you aren’t feeling it,” I told her. “Whatever you do is okay.”

She stopped and looked at me. “I think that you are why I was meant to come here.”

We chatted off and on during the service (which was over three hours long!). We learned that the line was to see and touch “the” icon, so we eventually joined the line. She shared that she had high anxiety about what to do when she got to the icon (not unusual), so I told her to follow me and just do what I do. (I’ve been in enough of these situations, and have been observing behaviors in this room for almost three hours, so I felt comfortable.) Once I reached the icon, I found myself praying for her mother and had to remind myself to pray for me too! I did get to see and smell the oil.

At the end of the service, we joined the line for the final blessing from the priest. As we waited for our turn, the grandmother said to her daughter, “Go light a candle for me.”

“I don’t know how to do that!” her daughter shot back. “Why don’t you do it?”

“I’m busy,” said the grandmother.

I had to laugh out loud. At 4’10” and just under 70 pounds, she was still a force.

We finally reached the head of the line, where the priest rubbed the oil on our forehead and palms. Blessed, we parted ways.

May your day be filled with blessings and love, and a lingering, beautiful scent,
Marie

*For a description of myrrh streaming, you can check out this article. The icon we visited was the one from St. George’s in Tyler, PA – if you want, just skim down to the point in the article to learn more about it. They describe the service as 40 minutes – I don’t know why ours was so long.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thom-nickels/st-tikhon-monastery_b_4112040.html

A bend in the road, or a new road?

As my friend Shira used to say, “I’m not sure if this is a bend in the road, or an entirely new road.” Either way, I’m along for the ride.

These two weeks were unbelievably difficult. It was almost a week after chemo before I got out of bed and downstairs. And even then, I didn’t travel further than our back patio and just plopped myself there.

In addition to the pain of my belly button slowly ripping open, I couldn’t get clear answers on how to deal with it. I had other pain that only a bath could resolve, so I was bathing every two hours, even through the night. The abdominal tumors hurt like crazy.

And on Friday night, I had a bowel obstruction. Normally, those are painful. This was my worst yet, and left me screaming in pain.

In the midst of the intense pain, I noticed that I was screaming two things. One was, “I can’t do this anymore.”

I found my limit. I never labeled my pain a 10 because I figured that it could get worse. This was an 11. I could not imagine enduring a worse pain than this. I wasn’t even sure I could endure this.

The other thing I screamed was, “I can’t do this alone.”

And I can’t.

First and foremost, I have to acknowledge my husband, about whom I rarely write. He reliably takes care of his day job as well as taking care of the kids and me and the household. Each one of those is big in a regular life. He comes home from work, figures out a plan for dinner (on the days when someone hasn’t brought it), determines which child needs to do homework and who needs to get exercise or go to their after school sport, then helps get them both ready for bed and asleep. He makes sure that I am doing okay, have whatever it is I can eat that day, and runs to the store or pharmacy if I needs something. Beyond the logistics, we have the emotional complications for the kids, my often-intense daily needs (I do not suffer in silence), taking care of the medical side of my issues, and the random things like end-of-school events, a flat tire or the house internet going down. He doesn’t get a spare moment to himself. Without him, none of us would function. At all. He is carrying all of us every minute of the day.

Our family is grateful to the folks with whom we interact every single day, who understand what we are going through (HUGE for us, that understanding) and lighten the load in a million ways. When my son couldn’t find his gym shirt, someone kindly understood that I could not make it to the school lost and found. So they searched for me and, when they didn’t find it, they provided one for him. Huge. Friends take the boys for playdates, or show up with food or flowers or a fun story, or send an email or text at the perfect time, share their medical advice and experience….the list goes on. We are grateful for fabulous support at school, a fantastic close-knit neighborhood, family who show up when we need them without question and take over for a bit and make it look easy, and friends who are willing to go the extra mile.

Even with all this support, there are times when it seems like it is just me by myself, like Friday night when I was lying on our bathroom floor, sick beyond all belief, feeling like this has to be the end of the road and partly wishing that it was so that the suffering would be done. And from that rock bottom place, I pray for help and then am able to give thanks that I am not truly alone there, either. In those moments in the middle of the darkest night, I give thanks for my connection to God and to all of you.

If you sometimes feel alone with your problems, and even if you don’t feel like you have a relationship with any higher being, I hope you are able to tap into the connectivity of us all and draw some strength from that. In my experience, it doesn’t make the suffering go away, but it does shift my relationship to it somewhat to make me feel less alone, and I wish that for you. As well as an understanding friend.

Love and blessings,
Marie

The Power of Prayer

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes. They make a world of difference. I will give you three examples from the past seven days.

#1
Years ago, when I initially (thought I) finished chemotherapy, I had a ring made in commemoration. Heavy and beautiful, it was meant to remind me not only how heavy the process was, but also how beautiful life became.

Over a year ago, we were going on vacation so I hid it somewhere in the house, then  promptly forgot where I put it. Since that time, I searched the everywhere. I would wake in the middle of the night with new ideas. But never found it.

As you may suspect, I pray to God and a myriad of saints. Among them is St. Anthony, to whom I pray for my healing and the healing of my friends (providing a long list of names and specific healings for each).

Last Friday morning, I suddenly remembered that somewhere I heard that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items. So, I threw in an extra prayer to help find the ring.

Less than 30 minutes later, I heard my husband call out, “Look what I found!”

#2
On Thursday, I had a CT scan and I appreciate your prayers for good results. The following Tuesday, I met with my doctor to get the results. These meetings make me feel like Alice in Wonderland: I walk into the office feeling my normal size, information is shared, and I leave the office feeling larger or smaller.I suspect that is why they take your weight before you see the doctor.

The good news is that, in spite of skipping two of my last three chemo treatments, I learned on Tuesday that all tumors are smaller. Woo hoo!!! Thank you for your prayers to this end!

#3
When I returned to Dana Farber today to get my pump disconnected (I’m connected to chemo from Tuesday – Thursday), everyone was very nice. I even saw my friend Chuck, which usually makes me happy. But I had just spent three days vomiting and was on the verge of more. So instead of talking with Chuck, I found a seat away from everyone and collapsed into silent tears.

“God, I just need to know that you are here.”

I felt a hand on my leg and looked up. I feared that it was Larry, a well-meaning man who visits each person in the waiting room asking if they need anything. I don’t mind him but didn’t want to see him right now.

Instead, I saw a young woman with dark skin and a kind face. I saw a tear falling from one of her large, beautiful eyes. She said that she could feel me in her heart, and she asked if she could pray for me.

She placed her hand on my leg for a long time and prayed outloud, certain of my healing, peace, grace and all good things through God. I felt calmer, more relaxed, and less like I was going to lose my insides.

At the end, I thanked her and she asked if she could hug me. I warned her that I had not bathed for three days but she laughed and said, “You are filled with the scent of God, more beautiful than the most beautiful flowers. Honestly, that is what I smell.”

God bless that amazing woman. God bless all of you. I am constantly in awe of the power of prayer, and thankful that you include me in yours. May your life be blessed, always.

Love,
Marie

Heart explosion

Much of this weekend was spent in religious services, which also means that much of the weekend was spent with me tearing up from all the beauty.

On Saturday, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of our friends. Let me start by saying that I love the Jewish faith. I happily immerse myself in the prayers, the songs, the cadence of the words. I adore the history, the rituals, the intellectual leanings and conversations. I admire that one practices certain holy days at home with family and others in community at the temple. At one point in my life, I studied, just a bit, toward conversion.

So in addition to the honor of being invited to share in this very special day with friends, I looked forward to the service itself.

Still, I arrived ten minutes late. Plus, my laryngitis turned into a chesty cough, so I slid, hopefully unobtrusively, into a seat in the last row on the side, away from everyone else.

From that position, I settled into watching the bar mitzvah boy lead the service. Clear and composed, he obviously prepared well for this day. The rabbi and cantor surrounded him with infectious joy, smiling throughout the service and, at times, almost lifting themselves off the floor. Their phrasing and tone was consistently positive and upbeat. Though I entered a bit grumpy and sat on the sidelines, I couldn’t help but be quickly drawn into their current of happiness.

The service itself focused on our interconnections, God’s loving kindness, gratitude for the simple things, making this world a better place, and all those other topics that slide right into my heart and make life feel warm and wonderful and full of possibilities and love.

Because the Hebrew words and the corresponding actions do not come automatically to me, I watched others for guidance throughout the service. What page are we on? Was it time to sit or stand, bow or close our eyes? Do we all sing or is it just the cantor for this part?

As I looked around for hints, I saw so much more. The husband and wife sitting in front of me, with their school-age son between them. Each of the three of them wore a yarmulke and prayer shawl, clearly reverent. They also clearly shared a strong bond of love. The family of the bar mitzvah, each one beaming so strongly I would not have been surprised to see light pour out of their faces. The woman across the aisle from me, heartily greeting everyone who came her way as if each were a long-lost friend. The husband near the front, who tenderly put his arm around his wife at various points in the service. The son who held his mother’s hand when she need to take a few steps, and her smiling response. The sisters who read from the bimah together, supporting each other with smiles and a few giggles, then, when they finished, putting their arms around each other. All these connections demonstrating deep love and joy brought tears to my eyes.

In the midst of this crazy love, I realized that I didn’t want this service to end, and suddenly worried that it might be coming to a close. Right then, the rabbi had us pause, take a deep breath, and hold onto the beauty, sacredness and awesomeness of the moment we just all experienced together. My heart expanded until it was about to explode and I could have screamed with joy (if my voice were back to normal).

I woke the next morning in some pain (unrelated to the bar mitzvah), but dragged myself and a thermos of tea to Sunday Mass. I am almost always touched by the Mass and, after Communion, often moved to tears.

Again, I was late. I was thrilled to see that this Mass would be led by a priest who also spreads kindness, joy and acceptance. As I eased into the Mass, his infectious and joyful demeanor helped to move my focus from myself to the service itself, and I felt my own pain  dissipate.

Midway through, I remembered yesterday’s advice of the rabbi. Inhaling deeply, I took in the awesomeness of the moment. Ahead of me and across the aisle to my left sat, side by side, three teeny grey-haired ladies wrapped in wool coats and hats and the comfort of a long friendship. Just then, an older man entered alone and sat a few rows ahead of me, shoulders slumped but relieved to be here. Directly in front of me, a mother and teenage daughter periodically leaned toward each other, touching shoulders as they gave the usual Mass responses. The toddler directly across the aisle sat so quietly and attentively on his father’s knee; I admired the peace between them. The pianist wore sunglasses that made me think of Ray Charles and I giggled inside. With each sight, my heart expanded. When my eyes fell upon families who have children the same ages as mine, I realized how much they have helped me to grow and to feel a part of this parish, and my heart expanded yet again.

Both days, it felt as if God’s love was running through all of these connections, then through me, eventually pouring out through the tears that landed on the lens of my eyeglasses.

It doesn’t stop there. I feel this connection with you, when you read this or write or pray for me or even do something kind for someone else. It expands my heart to exploding. I overflow with tears, and my smile could break out of my face. Thank you for all that you do to make my life, and this world, a better place to be.

Love,
Marie

Returning the way I started, with some changes

I love it when the universe works in sync.

Two weeks ago, when I boarded the overnight flight to Brazil, my footrest wouldn’t retract fully. A minor complaint in the scheme of things, for sure, but I noticed it. The mechanics were not able to fix it and my choice was to either delay the flight for the repair or take the seat as is. You know me: I took the seat as is.

Last night, when I boarded the overnight flight returning from Brazil, I was assigned a different seat number and….my footrest wouldn’t retract fully. I looked around at the nearby seats and all those were fine, so I laughed out loud. What are the odds? Something bigger was going on, even if it was subtle.

Again the mechanics weren’t able to fix it, but this time, the flight attendants offered me another seat, which I took. My new seat was next to another woman returning from her trip to Abadiania (with a different guide), and we had a fun chat about spirituality and portals before we fell asleep.

I feel like I returned the same way that I came, with the same things that don’t work, EXCEPT that on my return, I was given special physical gifts in the form of a new seat and fun seat mate.

This also helped me to trust that I was also given special spiritual gifts that have yet to be revealed.

So psyched!

Love and blessings,
Marie

Pain in the neck

I truly appreciate your continued prayers on my behalf, and I wanted to share with you my experience of the power of prayer in case it is helpful for you, too. Know that your prayers are just as if not more impactful!

Last week, I had intense pain in my right shoulder and neck. Last September, I injured that shoulder while carrying a large boat, and the pain periodically returns.

This time, I used all my pain management techniques. I tried to go to sleep at 9:30 p.m. to escape, hoping that the pain would just be gone when I woke, but I couldn’t sleep.

I tried focusing on the space between the bouts of pain, those moments where there was no pain at all. Often this follows the theory of “What you pay attention to will grow” and those spaces between the pain get larger and larger and the pain itself smaller and smaller. Didn’t work this time.

I tried breathing into the painful areas and observing them: What do they look like? What color are they? Spiky? Smooth? I got lots of information. I also continued to get lots of pain.

I tried tong ren (beating on an acupuncture doll with a metal hammer). That brought temporary relief but eventually the pain came roaring back.

I noticed that my shoulder felt better when I was sitting or standing. Bummer, because by now, it was 2:30 a.m. and all I wanted to do was sleep. And I prefer to do that lying down.

With all of my mental activity, my husband couldn’t sleep. He knows my aversion to drugs but suggested that I try an Aleve. I was so desperate that I agreed.

Over an hour later, the pain was even more intense, so I went downstairs to avoid bothering anyone. I sat on the sofa in the dark house and closed my eyes. Without thinking about it, I started to pray. Of course, always my last resort.

“Dear God and all the entities, I would really love to get some sleep right now. Could you just remove this pain? If I am supposed to have it for some reason, I’ll happily take it back in the morning. That would be awesome. Thank you.”

And then I sat. Only a few moments later, with my eyes still closed, I saw a bright light on my right side. And then, twinges in my shoulder and neck. With each twinge, the pain went away. They followed each other in rapid-fire, one after another, until all but one spot of pain was gone.

I added, half-joking, “I hate to be greedy, but can you get this one last spot?”

And the last spot of pain disappeared. I sat for another minute or so, briefly thinking, did that really happen? I need to figure out how to do that for the tumors.

Then I walked to bed, exhausted, and fell right to sleep.

At 8 a.m. I woke up with raging pain in my neck and shoulder and had to laugh with gratitude.

We find our faith where we put it

This week was amazing. I realized that I feel even better than I did two years ago. My energy and spirit have been fabulous, and I want to shout my thanks from the mountaintops. I thank you for your prayers and your good wishes and your presence in my life. I THANK GOD that I feel so strong and vibrant. I regularly give thanks to the spiritual entities who carried me through my last week and who apparently continue to do so. I can deeply feel the shift.

Sometimes I am shocked that I talk about such intangible aspects of life as though they are tangible and proven. I always believed in God and have always, for as long as I can remember, had clear spiritual events happening to me. The effects are so real to me, but I have only recently started talking about them. While I know that many people have even stronger experiences, I am still very aware that many people (including myself before all this) would think I am crazy.

For example, when I bring up anything “unproven” with my oncologist – which includes any alternative practices I can imagine, including diet – his reactions are (paraphrased), “That hasn’t been tested” or “We don’t know how it works” or “It only works for a small subset of the population.”

Despite his doubts, he tries to be supportive, saying, “If it makes you happy and does no harm, go for it.” Not a ringing endorsement but I can accept that we view the world differently. I stay with him because he is smart and easy to talk with, characteristics which go a long way with me.

When we met immediately before my last chemo session, my doctor and nurse were discussing ideas to help manage the nausea I had been experiencing and offered me a different drug.

“What kind of drug is it?” I asked them.

“It is an anti-psychotic, but it is also useful in managing nausea.”

“How does it work?” I wondered out loud.

“We don’t know how it works. It just seems to work for nausea,” they replied.

Not knowing how treatments work obviously doesn’t bother me; I do plenty of healing modalities that just seem to work. However, I was hesitant to use a drug that would change my already-chemo-addled brain in some unknown and unneeded ways, so I declined.

After our previous conversations, I was intrigued that he would recommend something without knowing how it worked.

This conversation pushed my thinking about where we place our faith. My doctor may not have faith in say, acupuncture, but he does have faith in the scientific system of drug development. Because of his faith in that system, he is comfortable prescribing a drug without knowing firsthand how it works. He trusts that others have tested it and he trusts their account of the results.

I completely understand that it can be hard to believe in the intangible aspects of my path. I can automatically hold those same kinds of doubts when someone tells me something that is outside my own experience.

For example, if one of my kids were to say, “The pasta is crunchy,” my first reaction would be to taste a piece and see for myself (except that I no longer eat wheat). Then if my particular piece was perfectly fine, I would say something like, “This pasta is perfectly fine,” fully negating their experience.

Lately, though, I find that I am able to have more faith in what someone else says. Consider this image:

My friend and I stand together in front of a painting. She makes some comment like, “Wow, you can just feel the anger in this!” or “The joy just leaps off the canvas!” I look at the painting, trying to see what she sees.

Nothing leaps out at me, so I tilt my head, as if a new angle will expose these hidden secrets. Still nothing. I turn my head to look at her face, which has an unusually focused and emotional expression connected in some way to the painting. My eyes follow her line of sight, as if it were a string, back to the painting, and I look at it again.

I cannot see what she sees. I can’t “just feel the anger” in this. I see nothing “leaping off the canvas” toward me or even toward her. I can say that I like the painting. I can say that it makes me feel happy. Mostly, though, I feel like a spectator. Maybe even like a blind spectator. But I can trust that she sees what she says she is seeing. In fact, I have no doubt. I just can’t see it myself.

In most circles, it doesn’t feel socially acceptable to say that you believe in the unseen and unproven. I used to joke that I was raised Catholic, a faith in which we believe that during the Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. When that is your starting point, one can believe that anything is possible.

The more I look, the more I notice that so many of us put our faith in that which we cannot see or prove for ourselves. My oncologist has faith in scientists he has never met and a scientific process that he didn’t perform. I have complete faith that my friend sees elements that jump out of paintings. Countless people in the world have faith that the Passover and Easter stories occurred, even though they were not there to witness it. We have faith in God and in each other in powerful ways that enable us to do and to be more than we could ever have imagined.

It doesn’t mean that any of these are right or wrong. But, for me at least, as I venture frequently into the unknown, I rely on the views that others share with me to support and expand my own experiences, and I find that they can be just as tangible as any object.

Thank you for sharing the things you see. I have faith in you, and thank you for your faith in me.

Love,
Marie

Every word is a prayer

Again, I cannot describe my gratitude for your prayers and positive thoughts and the measurably positive impact they have on my life. Even if you don’t pray, your words and thoughts have impact and power that I can feel. Thank you.

Yesterday, I found myself in an hour-long conversation with our parish pastor. While that may sound like a common event in my life, it is not. Not because of him; he is a pretty cool guy. He is from a large Irish-Catholic family, has an easy sense of humor and is comfortable around people. Before he joined our parish, he was the priest who worked with oncology patients at MGH (while I was there). He seems to be around my age, so he doesn’t fit the mold of the authority figures from my Catholic school days.

But I continue to carry with me the image that priests are unapproachable, or at the very least, only meant to discuss “big” things, so I was surprised to find myself talking with him for so long. He was probably surprised too, but for a different reason. He was having one of those days where he didn’t get to even the first thing on his to-do list. At 4:00 p.m., he was about to finally start tackling that list when I stepped into his office “with a quick question.” I don’t think talking with me for an hour was on his list.

Regardless, he stopped and made time as our conversation unfolded. One topic was how children learn their faith.

Though I grew up in a Catholic family, we aren’t exactly a group of holy rollers. All of us went to Mass at least once a week, received the sacraments, and got married in a Catholic church by a priest. We baptized our children in the church and held Catholic funeral masses for our grandparents. But outside the formal structures, we don’t talk about religion or pray together, and we only say grace together before meals on special holidays. Our general beliefs were kind of assumed.

I live in a different environment now. In fact, I crafted an entirely different environment for my family and me where we used to joke that science was our religion. Though I may have morphed over the past few years, returning to my faith, that doesn’t mean that my family has been similarly inspired. I teach religious ed to kids at our church, but I have little clue about helping my children grow in their own faith, outside the formal structure of religion.

When my friend Genevieve talked about the way her grandmother wove her faith into their daily lives, I felt myself say, “Yes! THAT is how I want to be!” I want my children to be able to know God and access that part of themselves. When they are older, they can make their own decisions about the role of faith in their lives. While they are still young, I want to do my part to show it to them.

Father Thom suggested starting small. He noted that when you pray, God will meet you where you are. He will take what you offer and work with that. He suggested maybe just saying grace before a meal.

Ha, my internal voice said. We barely pause before we dig in. Besides, I have an agnostic husband and one son who insists that he does not believe in God. I was open to the possibility of it happening. I just had no idea how it would.

He and I didn’t pray during this conversation. We just talked. When we finished, I picked up my son from swimming. It would just be the two of us that night – me and my “I don’t believe in God” son. We were talking about his day as we sat down to dinner. When I took my first bite, he suddenly stopped and said, “Mom, we should say grace.”

Faith lived through family and community

I suggested to my six-year-old that Christmas is first about the birth of Jesus and second about the presents. His honest little soul responded, “Maybe for you, Mom.”

I knew how he felt as I wondered if Christmas, for me, was more about family than about the birth of Christ. Though I no longer anticipate Santa’s arrival, my anticipation for getting together with my cousins is just as strong.

My cousins and I grew up almost as siblings. Some of us went to the same grade school. We lived walking distance from one another in Pittsburgh. We got together for every event: Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, birthdays, school plays, athletic events, Sunday dinner.

Of the almost weekly gatherings, Christmas was the most special. Our traditions pre-date my birth. For over 40 years, my Sicilian grandmother presided over her four children, their spouses and her eleven grandchildren. We gathered in one home or another, with, of course, an abundance of food. While our parents had loud and lively discussions (much of it in Italian-accented English), my cousin Kathy led us younger children in creating a play or musical that we would perform for the adults later in the evening. Opening our gifts, one at a time, took forever, with Grandma getting the most (one from each of us!). We always concluded the evening by singing a lively refrain of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Over time, the make-up of our group changed. We went to college and brought home friends who had nowhere else to go. Most of us got married and some of us had children. Some dear relatives passed away. For a few years, it wasn’t certain whether our Christmas gatherings would continue. Some had jobs that required them to work on Christmas day. Others felt the pull of spending Christmas with our in-laws. We tried different venues, one year holding the party in a function room to minimize the work, but afterwards we all agreed that it felt too impersonal.  We tried breaking up into our now-larger nuclear families to start new traditions, but we missed our time together.

Eventually, we settled into the tradition that I now anticipate each year. My cousin Cathy hosts the party at her home. (Yes, we have two cousin C/Kathy’s, plus two Tony’s and one Antonio.) This year, 29 of us gathered to eat our traditional sausage and peppers (which were the best ever this year), ham, chicken, lasagna, potatoes, salad, green beans and whatever vegetarian dishes Cyndi and I bring. Terry shares her amazing cookies alongside the other deserts. We reconnect through recounting stories of our lives and through building memories together as events unfold during the celebration.

Though the children no longer craft a performance for the adults, my children eagerly look forward to what they know in their soul is a special and fun time with their Pittsburgh cousins.  They play Wii and other video games, dance along to musical dance shows, and challenge each other to daring gymnastics feats.

Christmas day was perfect and wonderful though nowhere did we explicitly talk about God. We didn’t tell the story of Jesus’s birth. We didn’t even say grace out loud as we spread all over the house eating our dinner. As important as family is, did I lose the meaning of Christmas?

Then I read this article from the NYTimes (which has nothing to do with Christmas) and realized that two statements from that article linked my beliefs and my actions:

I really do believe that God enters the world through us.

God came to earth through the birth of Jesus, but he also appears through each of us, every moment of every day, as we show this in our actions and interactions.

Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community.

Gathering with those we love is faith lived.

I experience my faith and God in the richness of connections with my family and my community when…

  • my heart expands as I treasure the stories shared
  • I feel part of something larger than myself as I am woven into the memories I get to create with others.
  • I am honored to bear witness to everyday events – the laughter, frustrations, sorrow, puzzlement, growth, peace, joy – anything that someone is willing and brave enough to share with me.

It takes a leap of faith to open up in this way, just as I take a leap of faith when I open myself to share with you.

Like faith, our interpersonal connections defy logic and explicit description, and they are larger than anything we can create on our own. And this feels like God to me.

Thank you for allowing me to experience God and my faith through my connections with you, and thank you for sharing all that with me. And anytime that you are with even one other person (or more), I hope you are able to feel that as well.

Merry Christmas, love and blessings during this very holy season,

Marie