The Meaning of “Duh”

Not long ago, my daughter, Thea, was driving me to the airport. I was headed to EWTN to produce the next round of programs for Women of Grace. Strapped into the back seat was my almost 7 year old granddaughter, Julia.

“Mom,” said Julia. “It is so sad that Maggie and Elise aren’t friends anymore.”

“They’re not?” asked my daughter. “What happened?”

“Maggie said ‘duh’.” Julia replied somberly.

“She said, ‘duh’?” asked Thea.

“Yes,” said Julia, clearly with the sound of “duh” in her voice.

“Well,” said Thea. “You know Julia, there are two meanings for ‘duh.’ It all depends on your tone of voice. You can say ‘duh’ and it means you agree with someone. Or you can say ‘duh’ and it means the other person is stating the obvious — you know, saying what everyone else already knows.”

“I know that, Mommy. She said ‘duh’!” definition two.

“That’s too bad,” said my daughter.

“I know.” said Julia. “It’s really sad.”

Thea and I exchanged a knowing glance. Julia was “coming of age” in the world of social communication and beginning to realize that tone of voice matters. She was also beginning to see how fragile friendship can be — the power of one syllable can destroy it.

Tone of voice and tonal inflection communicate — often more directly than the actual words being spoken. Tone of voice can bring comfort and solace or hurt and misery. It can be an instrument that heals and bonds a friendship or a sword that slashes it to ribbons.

Tonal inflection is just the same — it can indicate solidarity or derision by the mere emphasis  placed on one word over another.

Just as we ought to select our words carefully so that we properly communicate what we are expressing and are rightly understood, so too should we guard our tone of voice and tonal inflection to make sure of the same.

What we say matters. And how we say it matters, too. Both are creative forces that can bring joy and peace or sorrow and pain. What are your words saying today? Are they relationship builders or relationship busters?

 

Forming “Jiminy”: A Teacher’s Tale

My special family friend has taught elementary school for over 30 years, most of those years with five year old kindergarteners. Through the years, she has witnessed a changing demographic. Not only are her classes more culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse, but the lifestyles and home lives of her children have experienced a demographic shift as well — not for the better.

Currently, my friend has 14 students in her class. Of the 14 only  2 do not have at least one parent incarcerated. Two of her students are half-sisters, but they don’t know it — Dad impregnated two women at the same time. He’s not been around for either of them. And this dear person has had to call social service agencies any number of times since September because of dangerous information her children have told her.

Lest you think she teaches in an inner-city school, think again. She teaches in a neighborhood school in a suburb of a rather smallish resort city.

One of the challenges this special teacher faces is that few if any of her students have any real concept of right or wrong, socially acceptable behavior, moral truth. They’ve witnessed in five years more than most adults see in a lifetime. Good example? Please. Their solution to problem-solving is to throw things, have a temper tantrum or defecate. They’ve done it all in her classroom.

But, my family friend runs a tight ship. These babies come in spouting four letter words that would curl your hair and leave her class at the end of the school year reading, writing, doing math, and –yep — practicing manners.

It’s a transformation really. And this caring woman digs deep to help it happen. She hugs these babies, rocks them in a rocking chair, tells them how precious they are, rewards them when they follow through, and corrects them (sternly) when they do wrong.

And — she has Jiminy Cricket.

In the public school system, she can’t really talk about her Faith. She can’t mention Jesus, His saving act, or the eternal realities. It’s tough to help form a good conscience when situational ethics and political correctness legally prevail.

But, she can teach them the natural law. And Walt Disney is her aide with his katydid-like insect, Jiminy Cricket. You may recall that Jiminy is Pinocchio’s alter-ego, his conscience. He shows up to inform  the marionette of what he should and should not do. When Pinocchio listens to Jiminy, good things happen. And when he doesn’t — well, a heap of trouble follows.

My family friend tells her little ones the story and let’s them know they each have a “Jiminy Cricket”. She tells them their Jiminy is the little voice they hear inside that tells them right from wrong. With repetition, good effort, and reinforcement, they get it. They begin to heed the law God  has written on their heart.

Eventually, she tells them Jiminy has another name. “Conscience”. And they need to pay attention to their Conscience. Though the challenges remain, progress begins to happen. And a school year closes with more success than failure.

The kids are boomerangs, though. They move on to first, second, third grade, but they keep coming back to my friend’s classroom. They come for a morning hug, a treat, to hear a kind word, to talk about a problem, to help her set up for the day. They sing out her name in the cafeteria, flock to her after school, blow kisses to her when they see her: all the return of her investment and their good “Jiminy.”

These kids were born with strikes against them. Who knows how their futures will pan out. It will take heroic effort and courage for many of them to make it out of their environments.

But, they have experienced a teacher who has loved them, taken the time to show it, and has given them something for the long haul in addition to reading and math: the foundation for a well-formed conscience. And with that, they have a chance to really grow sturdy and strong.

We need more people like her — and far more “Jiminys” as well.

“And A Child Shall Lead Them…”

Earlier this week I was in Houston visiting my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.  I attended my third annual Grandparents Day at my granddaughter’s school. It is a lovely affair that begins with a breakfast, followed by entertainment courtesy of the music department, and concluding with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Carmen and I look foward to it every year and it is becoming a sweet tradition we share.

One of the great blessings in my life is being a grandparent. These little ones teach me so much. Take Carmen, for example. She became a big sister on May 1 when her baby brother, Matthew Anthony, was born. I have seen so many beautiful qualities developing in her since that time. Virtues, really.

Carmen treats Matthew with patience, kindness, thoughtfulness. Much to his delight, she gleefully rushes to him when she sees him after school. She plays with him, dotes on him, and tells everyone she meets that he is her baby brother. Plain and simple, she loves him.

Frankly, I wondered how Carmen would handle his arrival. She had been an only child for five years and very accustomed to Mommy’s and Daddy’s full attention. I’ve witnessed other situations where older only children have not been very welcoming to a new sibling. But, Matthew’s birth has enriched her personhood and enhanced her lovely feminine graces.

Change can do that. It holds the possibility for us to expand as persons, grow in virtue, develop as individuals. Change can help us discover character strengths we never knew we had and bring to the surface latent talents and gifts. I suppose it really depends on attitude and openness of heart: an attitude of gratitude for that which God is entrusting to us, and an openness of heart  to explore the opportunities the change may hold.

I don’t think Carmen thought about any of these things when she learned she was going to become a big sister. With childlike simplicity, she simply embraced the idea.

This has taught me a lot. And given me pause for reflection. Maybe you, too. To what extent do I embrace change with an attitude of gratitude and with openness of heart? I know one thing — I will be thinking of Carmen the next time a change comes my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Is A Monkey — Really?

Plurism entered my daughter’s car the other day as she drove my six year old granddaughter to school. After hearing some especially disheartening news on the radio, my daughter turned to Julia and said, “Julia, you are growing up in a very difficult world. Keep Jesus in front of you and stay the course.”

Julia chewed on these words for a moment and then she said, “Mommy, I know. __________ told me that she doesn’t believe in God. She told me her mommy told her God was a monkey.”

“Julia, that’s too bad, isn’t it? We know there is a God and He is no monkey!” responded my daughter.

“I know that!” Julia retorted. “He’s a Lamb!”

While this story shows us that Julia has given attention to the Agnus Dei we pray at Mass, and has obviouly given attention, too, to the stained glass window in our Church depicting the Lamb of God, none of this innoculates her against the winds of heresy that blow all too liberally in our culture today.

It also points out the false ideologies many of our children’s playmates and classmates are being taught in their homes. One can only wonder at the world they will experience in their adult years.

What are we to do? I think my daughter gives us good example. Make certain our children know the truth. Continue to use every opportunity to tell them the truth (Rom. 10:17). Reinforce that truth. Make them present to the truth by participation in the Faith. Exemplify the truth in your own life. Finally, but preeminently, entrust them to the One Who is the Truth —  and the Way and the Life as well.

If we are willing to do so, deep roots will grow and truth will flourish in our children’s hearts. I know this to be true. Those words of advice my daughter gave to her daughter were the very words her father had given her throughout the 26 years of her life that he had lived. Apparently, they had sunk in and were being passed on to the next generation. As Proverbs reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

A monkey. Really? Even a monkey would be shocked.

 

 

 

 

 

God, Dinosaurs, and Love

Gabriel Sullivan, age 8, came home from school with a freshly completed art project — a paper dinosaur.

But this was no ordinary dinosaur.

This paper dinosaur stood on its own with the help of a special aid rigged by Gabriel himself. He had glued his green creature to the cardboard core of a roll of toilet paper to make his antediluvian reptile stand erect.

And Gabriel loved his dinosaur.

According to his father, Tom Sullivan, Gabriel carried his dinosaur with him everywhere. He placed it on the floor when he was playing. He sat it on the table when he was eating. He even perched it on the back of the couch to have it near while he watched his favorite show and he treated it to a trip to the restaurant when the family went out to dinner.

Dad Tom asked Gabriel what it was that so attracted him to his dinosaur. Gabriel simply responded, ” I made it.”

I loved Gabriel’s answer. It brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart. It made me think of God.

Like Gabriel, God’s eyes are always upon us (Psalm 33:18; Deut. 11:12). We are never out of His sight. We are the “apple of his eye” (Psalm 17:8, Deut. 32:10), the center of His vision.

I am thinking if we asked our Heavenly Father why he keeps us in His gaze, His answer would be the same as Gabriel’s: “I made you,” He would say.

And then He would add “… and I love you; you are mine (Jer. 31:3).”

 

Up At EWTN

Hello Dear Friends,

Father Edmund Sylvia, C.S.C., Tom Sullivan, and myself are at EWTN this week taping programs for Women of Grace. I sure do welcome your prayers for us. We have quite a full week with a wonderful group of guests joining us. The programs we are producing are riveting, many of which deal with cultural issues as well as the relationship(s) between men and women. As Catholics, our call is to restore the temporal order. Our goal is to do just that and help you to do so as well. May all of us work together to bring Jesus Christ to the world!

Blessings,

Johnnette

 

Outside/Inside — What the Connection?

Have you ever noticed the connection between what is going on in your interior life and what is taking place exteriorly? Often, Our Lord uses the events and circumstances of our daily life to draw attention to a work He is doing deep within us.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago I was sitting in my family room deep in prayer. I had just meditated on a particular passage of Scripture and was earnestly seeking what the Lord was saying to me through it.

Interiorly, I was very aware of His presence and I knew He was about a work of grace. As  I waited in silence, listening for His voice with my “spiritual” ears, I seemed to hear Him tell me He was healing me of a great hurt and that He was about a work of restoration in me. He seemd to say that He was making new a certain area of my being (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5).

Just as these words were penetrating my heart, I audibly heard a loud ripping noise that sounded like the very roof was being torn off of my house! Startled, I all but jumped off of the couch. My eyes flew open and it took a second or two to realize what was going on. I had recently hired workmen to replace the screening around my pool area and they had begun to strip away the old material at the very moment Our Lord was telling me He was making all things new!

 Tears sprang to my eyes even as I began to laugh out loud. How poignantly God was emphasizing His work! He was stripping away the debris of my woundedness and replacing it with new life — and He had seen fit to accompany His work with sound effects to make the point!

What is happening in your life today? Is it worth a bit of reflection to see what God might be saying to you through it? Remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew’s gospel, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you…” (7:7). Let’s ask, seek, and find that which God is about in us today. He may well be making a very big statement!

Guests for Dinner

I love to invite friends and family to my home for dinner! It is part of a long-standing tradition my husband, Anthony, and I began early in our marriage. Though he has gone to his eternal reward, it has brought me much pleasure, consolation, and no small amount of joy to continue this tradition.

I  have found through the years that a small gesture of hospitality has the capacity to do so much. It can be a soothing balm to a troubled spirit, a healing gesture that resolves an estranged relationship, a happy celebration to highlight key moments in a person’s life, a gift of presence when a sign of solidarity is needed. It can also be just plain fun! Today, scheudules are so busy that gestures of hospitality are frequently omitted from the family agenda.

But, as women, we have an innate desire to bring people together. And, when this desire is united to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, great things can happen.

Just this week, I hosted a small dinner party at my home. Among the guests was Father Philip Scott, F.J. It was clear that this get-together was ordained by God. The Holy Spirit was abundantly present. Indeed, the old charismatic song holds true:  “Great things happen when God mixes with man!”

One of the fun highlights of the evening occurred when Father Philip asked me for a “bib.” Given that he lives in Peru and realizing he probably didn’t mean the kind a baby wears, I asked him if it was an apron he wanted. He said, “Yes, an apron.” I offered him a variety (apron drawer open as you can see), and he selected my Women of Grace apron — once again confirming to me that “real men love women of grace.”

I would categorize this evening as one of those that is blessed  — and, as many blessings are — a great deal of fun!

Who might God be prompting you to ask to dinner and what joy might He have in mind for you? I can assure you,it is well worth extending the invitation!

Father Philip and friends, thanks for a great time!

A Tribute

Earlier in the Spring, I was in Methuen, Massachusetts at St. Monica Catholic Church giving a day’s retreat for women. In my talk, I spoke of the loss of my son, Simon, and my husband Anthony in 2004 and 2007 respectively. I shared about the consolation I received from the prayers of so many, and the maternal beatitude our Blessed Mother continues to show me.

Following the talk, a sweet woman approached me with a knowing smile. She lost her son, too, she said. And then, quietly and simply, she told me her story. Her son was on Flight 11 out of Boston on September 11, 2001, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM. A young man full of promise and hope. A young man who, she later discovered, was well-known for his concern and care for the less fortunate and the poor.

For her, like for me, Our Blessed Mother had been and remains a consolation and a conduit of hope. This dear mother had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Beauraing and found in her and through her a “cause for joy” in the midst of her sufferings. Indeed, this graced woman had found a way to suffer well.

I have been reading a little book published by Sophia Institute Press by Marguerite Duportal called “How to Make Sense of Suffering.” This mother came to mind when I read this passage from this little gem of a book:

“Suffering willingly borne before God, in His presence, under His eyes, while the soul is in union with Him ‘who is,’ in union with all the good emanating from His power, becomes supremely sweet and consoling. This enduring of affliction for religious motives is opposed to that consuming sorrow of rebels against God and of unbelievers. The benefits deriving from this kind of suffering become inestimable, if only we are able to say these words from the bottom of our heart, in every sad or merely painful circumstance of life, ‘My God, I believe, I hope, and I love You. I accept.”

Such a reading causes us to ask some questions of ourselves: “To what extent have I suffered well in the major tragedies entrusted to me? Can I do better? Is there something now that is a present plight? What can I do today to help make this a means of union with God?

I will be forever grateful for the witness of this dear woman. May God bless her as she continues to see her tragedy with supernatural vision and for her courage which unites all of it to the Cross of Jesus, Our Lord. May each of us do the same.

Dialing Heaven

“Grandma,” called my almost five-year old granddaughter from the backseat of the car.

“Yes, Julia,” I replied.

“Grandma, do you know Jesus’ phone number?”

“No darling, I don’t. But sometimes I sure wish I did!”

“Well, how do we talk to Him?”

“Oh,” I said, “we just have to pray — even in our hearts — and He hears us.”

“How do we know what He says back?”

“Julia, Jesus always answers us.  But we hear His answers in our heart. We have to listen very carefully.”

Things were quiet for a few minutes.

“Julia, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Shhhh — Grandma. I’m listening.”

Are you listening today?

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. ”  — 1 Kings 19: 11-12