Thursday, December 30, 2010

Twain's Jewel of Arc

I just finished Twain's biography of St. Joan of Arc. While I, like the rest of the world, knew her fate, I found myself with tears in my eyes at the conclusion of the story. Twain proved himself, again, as America's storyteller.

A beautiful young person called by God to reform His Church in France, St. Joan of Arc was not only burned at the stake by the Burgundians of France, she was left to fend for herself by the very country she was called to defend--especially by King Charles VII. And he did not choose to defend her until, 25 years later, when they said he was not legitimately the king since his royalty was founded on a young woman found to be a child of Satan. Thank God she was redeemed through the papal investigation..albeit only because of a king's greed.

On another note, she is left a martyr of the Church, and one whose character we can all aspire to. She was truly a Soldier of Christ, and I can only hope to strive for such a distinction; although, I doubt I shall ever succeed in achieving it. Her only passion was to serve God and his mission. What she received was the backhand of an overzealous bishop aspiring for an archbishopric promised him by the English should he find her guilty. In the end, his soul we can only pray for. And to her, a devotion and admiration for the ages to come. May I succeed in MY mission...whatever that may be. I pray God will some day make that clear.

Artistically, Twain maintained his humor in this historical fiction; though, in minute forms through St. Joan of Arc's personal entourage. I understand he wrote this in his later years, and with his daughter's untimely death in the shadows, published thereafter in novel form. However, I found myself touched by his compassion for St. Joan of Arc's passion and for her faith. I admire his respect for the Catholic faith, yet he points out very well the evils of matter their faith.

Thus, I am left with a void. The time invested in reading a book leaves one with a sense of accomplishment yet a yearning for the story to continue. I have a newfound respect for Mark Twain, I have a newfound devotion for this great young saint, and I have yet another reason to say the rosary, receive the sacraments, and get down on my knees and thank God for his greatest Gift.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Every Tongue Confess

Normally, when I go to Adoration, I sign up for the early morning hours when no one else is there like at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. I like that it is just God and I. I say a few prayers, and then I say the Rosary and ask the Blessed Mother to pray for me that I may grow closer to her Son. And then, gulp, I sing - loud and off-key. Usually I first sing "Holy Mary, Gentle Woman." Again, to gain her assistance to grow closer, and because it reminds me of mom. Then I sing "How Great Thou Art." I am always humbled to tears when I think the Lord did not even spare his Son for us. That is how much He loves us. Usually at this point I pray some more, and then I wrap up the hour by reading the Bible.

This morning was different. For whatever reason, I chose to sing another hymn: "At the Name of Jesus." (At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow...)

When I turned to read the Bible, I asked the Lord to show me what He needed to tell me. I asked the Holy Spirit to stir in me His gifts: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord.  I then opened the Bible and found myself at Philippians - right at the beginning, so I read the introductory material. I did not know it is known as the "letter of joy." At any rate, I was drawn to a description that Paul had written a hymn, so that is where I decided to read - Philippians 2:5-11

"Who, though, he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
 something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and 
under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

...the very words of the song, "At the Name of Jesus," that I sang earlier.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Boat in the Storm

I went on a retreat in the mountains where the theme focused on projecting peace, so we read the story about the apostles when they got into boats to cross the Sea of Galilee. As they crossed, the weather turned ominous, and the storm threatened to capsize the boat. Of course, if a person doesn't know how to swim, this seems life-threatening. Meanwhile, Christ slept through it! I can sleep through much, but a storm in a small boat? They awoke Him and asked him why he was not worried that they would perish. He rebuked the storm: "Peace! Be Still." He then asked them, "Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4: 35-41)

We are so often doubtful and fearful in our "storms" in life, and we may wonder where we might find the Lord. When He helps, we are surprised, but then we remember He helped us through the last storm. Does he then ask us each time we worry or have doubt, "Have you still no faith?" I am reminded of the mustard seed.

Following that first session of the retreat, I had time for reflection, so I went to my room to settle in. On the chair was a book I brought along that my sister had given me, Mary: Reflection of the Trinity and First-Fruits of Creation by Sr. Rosa Lombardi. I wondered if it addressed peace in any way. I found the following on the first page I turned to:
"If you find yourself drifting in the sea of this world, if you seem to be sailing amid gales and tempests instead of walking on firm land, if you want not to be tossed by storms, then do not take your gaze from Mary, the gleaming star that shines over this vast sea of darkness, brilliant with merits and examples" (St. Bernard, Homily 2 on Missus est)

An amazing coincidence? I think not. I then sat down to read the reflection from our session. It read, "Imagine yourself sitting with Jesus in that boat after it has been pulled up on the shore after the storm. Ask him how your heart may become more like His in projecting peace into your surroundings."

God provided the answer before I read the question!

I now return to the boat. Jesus is always in the boat with us, but we forget. We let the chaos of storms be inside us, but we must be as Jesus, and project peace, "Peace! Be still!" I am then reminded of the words of a dear Sister of St. Francis, "God is not in the wind. He is in the gentle breeze." The storms are never storms if we allow ourselves to trust in Him with faith and prayer.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reloading with Penzu

I used to write quite often back in the day with paper and pen--in cursive even. Then life happened. But because life happened, I'm finding myself in desperate need of writing...I stumbled upon Penzu last week and I haven't looked back. Actually, I stumbled upon at through Evernote's Trunk, and that led me to Penzu.

It's an online diary and personal journal that fits my techno-freak-geek love of digiworld. It's free, and for 20 bucks a year, I can upgrade to sweet enhancements including mobile journaling with my Blackberry (also through iPad, iPhone, or Android). Very clean, simple to use, and a very necessary part of life to unload to reload. Thanks a ton Alexander, Michael, Simon, and Alex..."If I didn't have puke breath, I'd kiss you, eh."

Evernote Gets Things Done

     Let me see if I can explain how I have applied Evernote to Getting Things Done. First of all, Evernote's mission is to remember everything. That is well and good, and according to GTD, those memories or things to remember are saved in a "Reference" notebook. I tag those files as work or personal, but I also tag them with tags specific to the item saved.
     GTD advocates NOT making a To Do List because they are too difficult to achieve. We are too inundated with life to expect to get our To Dos done. If it gets moved to the next day, it meets with things on a new To Do List. Thus, GTD advocates for a Next Actions file. The idea is to have a place to store our actions, and to maintain them. I have again tagged everything in the "Next Action" notebook in Evernote with one or more of the following tags recommended by GTD: Delegated, At Computer, At Home, At Office, At Work, Calls, Calls - Work, Errands, Read/Review, and I have three Agenda tags: one for my boss, one for my staff, and one for other. I keep track of items I need to discuss with these people with these tags in the "Next Action" notebook. 
     Also, I put a number, starting with "0", in front of each tag, so my tags are in an order I like. Thus, they are listed numerically rather than by Evernote's default which is alphabetically. Lastly, if I have initiated a project, say, with a phone call, but I must leave a message, that particular action can be moved to my next notebook, "Waiting On." 
     Thus, when I am in my office at my computer, I pull up everything tagged with At Computer, and I can begin to chip away at those Next Action items within the time limit I have set for myselt. I can then move on to phone calls. Again, I bring up everthing tagged with Calls - Work. I can do the same thing at home. If something is more pressing, I can go to that particular action item and knock it out first. The idea behind GTD is more about knowing what needs to be done and having a place to keep it.
     The Next Action items are generated from a projects list. When I have a project, I save it to the "Projects" notebook in Evernote. A project is too big to be listed in the Next Actions notebook because each project has a series of specific actions that must be accomplished to complete that project. These more specific actions are what are placed in the Next Actions notebook.
     Another GTD notebook I use is the "Someday/Maybe" notebook. Here I collect ideas I have for projects in the future or things I would like to accomplish. It may be for next year or for when I retire.
     The last GTD notebook is the "Tickler." This notebook is used for action items that must be done on a particular date. I have created 12 tags with each month of the year and 31 tags for each day of the month. I first used the tickler for things I would like to accomplish that day, but found it to be much like a ToDo List, and I was unable to accomplish all of them. The Tickler must be used for action items that must be accomplished on a date, or in case of the month, an action that has a deadline in that month. If it isn't used this way, it becomes as useless as the ToDo List.
     I have also created two more notebooks specific to my industry that I use more as reference files. I have  also thought about creating another Reference notebook for personal items to distinguish them from work, but I hate having a long notebooks list on the side of my screen, and the Tags work just fine for that task. 
     Lastly, because it feels good to accomplish tasks, I have a "Completed Tasks" notebook I keep just to see what I accomplish in one day. If I were disciplined enough, I could add the spontaneous tasks to this file that come up that interrupt the "best laid plans of mice and men" for the day.
     All my notebooks are also numbered starting with "0", so they are listed in order that I prefer and can relate to. I think that is the key to GTD using Evernote. Set it up in a way that works for the individual. It takes discipline to follow, but my desk is much clearer, and I feel much better about what I need to accomplish. However, it must be reviewed weekly, or with some notebooks, daily, for it all to work.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" by Mark Twain

"I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others need no preparation and got none."  – Mark Twain

Few know Twain dedicated such great devotion to this book. I include pieces of his work.

Consider this unique and imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history began, Joan of Arc is the only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen.

Joan of Arc, a mere child in years, ignorant, unlettered, a poor village girl unknown and without influence, found a great nation lying in chains, helpless and hopeless under an alien domination, its treasury bankrupt, its soldiers disheartened and dispersed, all spirit torpid, all courage dead in the hearts of the people through long years of foreign and domestic outrage and oppression, their King cowed, resigned to its fate, and preparing to fly the country; and she laid her hand upon  this nation, this corpse, and it rose and followed her. She led it from victory to victory, she turned back the tide of the Hundred Years' War, she fatally crippled the English power, and died with the earned title of DELIVERER OF FRANCE, which she bears to this day.

I was her playmate, and I fought at her side in the wars; to this day I carry in my mind, fine and clear, the picture of that dear little figure, with breast bent to the flying horse's neck, charging at the head of the armies of France, her hair streaming back, her silver mail plowing steadily deeper and deeper into the thick of the battle..I was with her to the end; and when that black day came whose accusing shadow will lie always upon the memory of the mitered French slaves of England who were her assassins, and upon France who stood idle and essayed no rescue, my hand was the last she touched in life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Remembering A Living Saint

August 12, 2010. Twenty years ago today was a Sunday. I know this because I was preparing myself for a road trip home to my house in Burlington where I was teaching and coaching. Two-a-days started the 13th (Monday), so I had to make the four-hour drive home to settle in and prepare for the season--and to prepare for my second year of teaching at Burlington High School.

But I was very hesitant to go for good reason. You see, I was looking down into the beautiful brown eyes of a living saint. I was giving comfort to an Irish leprechaun with a fiery temper who had given her life for the goodness of anyone who wished to receive it. I was looking at the face of my mother on her last day on earth.

She had been in the hospital for two weeks with complications as a result of a lifetime of faith in God whom she had prayed to that He would let her live to see her children grown. My mother battled rheumatic fever as a child, and as a result, weakened her heart.

After bearing four children, three in three years, she developed a heart condition that left her near death. Following the birth of my little sister, she underwent three open-heart surgeries in four years in the late sixties and early seventies. She battled various surgeries following that over the years--from pacemaker replacement to colostomy surgery. All the while, she prayed she would live to see her children grow.

Fast forward to May, 1990. My little sister graduated from college, and two months later, my mother found herself in the hospital--thank God, for the last time. For two weeks she struggled to hang on. I attended summer school, my little sister watched over her day after day, and we all took turns staying with her at night, since her medications made her delusional. Somehow, after all these years struggling in and out of hospitals, something was different. We didn't want to admit it, but it was.

I looked down into her peaceful face and told my mom I'd skip coaching and stay with her. She said, "Joey, you need to move on with your life. I'll be okay. You go home."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, my boy. You need to go."

"I'll come back up Saturday and see you."

She responded with a gentle smile, she raised her frail hand to my cheek, and said, "I love you."

With that I left with all the confidence in the world that I would see her in six days.

The four-hour drive home was not easy, but my dog Zach kept me company as I thought of my sickly mother and the tasks before me.

When I reached home, I called my dad at the hospital to see how Mom was doing. A nurse answered the phone at the station, and was caught off guard. She stumbled trying to find words, but she finally put me on hold and suggested I talk to Dad.

It happened. Just happened.

"How is she, Dad?" Silence. A choking comment...

"It's over...I said, 'Sugs, I'm going to leave the room...just let go. You've suffered enough.'"

Lulu Skerjanec was a living saint. She realized early on she was blessed with only a short time here on earth. We didn't know this, but she did. She lived every syllable as if it were her last in the way God has called us all to live.

She reserved nothing for herself, and she gave everything to everyone. She prayed constantly. Her relationship with the Blessed Mother is one we can only imagine. She prayed the Rosary at least once per day (some days many), and she prayed for everyone she knew as she did.

Lulu Skerjanec asked only for a simple life on earth, so she might live a life of eternity in Heaven with the Holy Father.

How fitting that she was buried August 15, 1990--the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. May God bless her especially this day, and may He bless all who knew her--a living saint.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Atlas Offensive

My wife and I were talking the other day how as human critters, we criticize others on a regular basis. Why? He became man that we might fully understand what it means to love one another and to live a life worthy of heaven. He gave us our faith that we might share His love with the rest of the world--forever. However, He also knew we would be persecuted for it. I, again, question why.

If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, why are we compelled to bring each other down? When a person, an organization, a religion, or--you fill in the blank--is blessed with God's gifts, for whatever reason, it seems to be human nature to take the offensive and take or break that special gift or grace from God.

In Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand explored an interesting question. What would happen to the world if all those who work hard and are successful (I would call God's grace), who are also attacked because of their success, decided to disappear? What would happen if those who hold up the world had had enough of the criticism, and decided to let the world go on without them? We can only imagine. 

I am reminded of good friend of mine who had a very athletically talented brother. All through high school, in every town he played in, the fans booed him--just because of talent. Coaches, even, would use psychological tricks to try to take him out of his game. He became a target because of talent. Ironically, he was a very good person, and would have given the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. But all that took a toll on him, and before he could share his talent with the world (he would have been pro), he took his own life.

I suppose we get so competitive, we want to make sure everyone is on the same playing field following the same rules. Mostly, I think it comes from jealousy. When someone has been given a gift from God, others want it for themselves, but if we have faith and patience, God will bless us with our own gifts--in His time and in His way.

Long story short, if a person is blessed with a gift from God, he finds himself at the top, so he becomes the target. It is just a fact of life. It is the American Way, unfortunately, whether in athletics, faith, leadership, or otherwise. Instead of celebrating the gifts of others, we pick them apart, and I am sad to say along the path of life I have fallen into that myself. We can't take it back, so we learn to forgive or be forgiven and move on with life. We can only hope it is for the goodness of mankind and for the glory of God.

Thus, if God blesses an individual with a gift, that gift is a blessing for everyone. While it is natural for Man to criticize that blessing, it is still a gift from God, and the criticism is that individual's albatross that must be endured. However, we should perceive it not as an albatross, but as a blessing because of a blessing--and Christ prepared us for it more than 2000 years ago.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Powning" Tom Sawyerland

So I'm painting a wall in my basement today, and my second son, "McFly" who is 14, comes downstairs and asks if he can go hang out with his friend Daniel-son (spoken with an Oriental accent). I say, "Sure. Although, you can always help me paint." His response was classic teenalian, "I don't know how." I told him he would learn if he would help. Then in one of my best accents, sarcasm, I said, "But you'd probably just 'Tom Sawyer' it anyway.

His response: "Dad, if there were a Tom Sawyerland, I'd 'pown' it." (Teenalian cross of "pound" and "own" and pronounced poned as in loaned.) In other words, he would be the best at getting others to do things for him. He's right.

You see, my second son is a natural charismatic. (God help us it never goes to his head.) He can get anyone to do anything for him, and they will thank him for it no matter how miserable it might be. God has truly smiled lavishly on this one. One time one of his best friends (he travels in a herd, so you can never say "best" friend) was at the house. They wanted to go hang with another friend. I told him he had to clean the counter and sink in the bathroom first. In classic McFly fashion, he proceeded to clean the sink in the worst manner possible. His friend, "Touk" as I affectionately call him, saw what he was doing and was appalled.

He said, "You're doing it all wrong. Let me show you." I couldn't believe my eyes: Touk began cleaning the sink to a shine Aurora herself could not muster. (Later when revealing this story to Touk's mother, she was absolutely at a loss, for he had never cleaned so well at home.) McFly began to smile that s*#t-eating grin that makes him so irresistibly and classically McFly, and I could only grin and think, "How does he do that?"

What makes matter worse, not only does he know he's Tom Sawyer, everyone else does too..and they still don't mind being "powned" by Twain's fence painter! (Though his three brothers are much the wiser.)

So as for helping me paint the basement, McFly "powned" Tom Sawyerland...and I finished it myself.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Getting Things Done

It seems the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. I, like many others, am constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to be organized. To get a handle on the stuff of life. Using Evernote has been a lifesaver, and I am still discovering new ways to use it. I recently joined the trend, and downloaded Getting Things Done from Amazon to my Blackberry to see what David Allen has to offer. While I have only scratched the surface, I have been dabbling with some of his ideas in Evernote.

While projects have their own file, and actions lists do as well, I am finding it difficult understanding how he distinguishes the difference between his Action Lists and a To Do list--other than one's resolve to take action on those actions. It will be interesting to see how his philosophy unfolds.