Archive for February, 2009


I am one of those souls that schools, charities, and hospitals love to see coming. I have a condition, which prohibits me from saying no to most requests for help.  I have said it before, and it bears repeating, I am pretty sure that I wasn’t born with the ability to say no. The really strange thing is it seems most apparent to those who are in need of volunteers.  I don’t know whether there is a visible aura that surrounds my being, a blinking sucker sign on my forehead or just the; Ask me! I can do anything but math, bumper sticker on my backside.Seriously, I really can do a large variety of tasks from apple pies to yard work and most jobs in between. The exceptions in my case are the math related tasks. I stopped being able to help my kids with their math homework by fourth grade. Knowing how to do math, requires an enormous part of gray matter. I have all that awesome space available for a surplus of other cool tasks. Who needs math anyway when you are married to the human calculator?

My volunteering career screamed into high gear when our kids entered elementary school.  I began helping in the classroom and graduated to running parish festivals for thousands.  At one point, parishioners kept asking if I catered. Eventually I took their advice and put my well-earned volunteer experience to practical use. Not having the NO-gene is a hazardous lifestyle for a caterer. Basically my slogan was, I could do anything, unless proven otherwise.

In an attempt to illustrate how fanatical I am when it comes to saying yes, I will share one of my more memorable adventures.  Good friends of ours had a community bank they were opening and asked if I could cater the shareholder event.  They were expecting about four hundred in attendance. Up until that point I had only catered events for about forty. The yes in me popped right out figuring, that which didn’t kill me made me wiser.

I prided myself on the fact that I made everything from scratch. Chocolate turtles from start to finish including gold dust on the top took days.  Spending this amount of intense labor on a vast array of desserts and appetizers took its toll on me and the precious time that was running out. Did I mention the one thousand sugar cookies I promised for the Grand Opening?

I asked four friends to help out the day of the event.  On that chilly March afternoon, we were outside grilling chicken on a propane grill.  Kathy had been at it for over an hour, while we finished up inside. Suddenly, we heard screaming and ran to see what was happening. A slow-motion surreal moment transpired before our eyes. A woman slowly driving by the house had a frightful look on her face and had pulled over to view the show. Kathy, still screaming, was pointing to the propane tank which sputtering fire, had lodged itself under the gas tank of our parked car.  We all screamed as we kicked at the tank to remove it.  Slowly it rolled down the driveway and tucked itself under the gas tank of another car. More screaming!  My husband had just gotten home from work came to the rescue, bravely reaching in to turn off the gas before we blew up the whole neighborhood.  The woman, who had paused to watch, left after the finale shaking her head.

That incident pretty much aged me ten years and the party hadn’t started yet. 

The occasion God used to finally get my attention in the, you are doing too much department; was when I agreed to do a custom cake for a friend’s daughter. I had an inkling that I should have said no…but not having experience in that department, I agreed. It didn’t seem to matter that I was working full-time as a youth minister, and a mother of five busy teenagers. Forty eggs later, two additional trips to the store at 4 am…I got the message loud and clear.

From that moment, I learned a valuable lesson and began using the “no” word with some degree of conviction. I hold out great hope for the day an immunization is found for my condition. Not so much to completely eradicate it, but to help control my yes impulses.

Mothering the Masses

Being a mom for twenty-four years has had an effect in every area of my life.  I feel a real need at times to mother the rest of humanity.  Everywhere I look I see ways to mother people.  Just recently when we were in an airport, some teens I barely knew were heading to the wrong terminal, I called out to them to follow me to get to the right place.  I even speak to teens I don’t know and it makes my youngest daughter crazy.

She and I went together to World Youth Day in Sydney.  We traveled for seventeen days as a large group, consisting mostly of teens.  The relationship between my daughter and I started getting wobbly when she was a sophomore.  Like the four siblings before her, she “weirded-out” sophomore year and spent the next year and a half doing what teens do best, torturing their parents. My tendency to mother other teens is something she is mortified about. “Barbara” she says to me, “just mind your own business; they can figure it out.” She calls me by my first name when she is frustrated with the youth-minister-mother-to-the-world side of me.

None of my other children call me by my first name except on rare occasions when they don’t think I am listening to them.  She is different; she has had to deal with me the longest in my role as a Youth Minister.

That title has been a cause of much frustration for her.  Part of the problem is that the other teens tend to use her as my personal carrier pigeon; “Tell your mom I can’t come tonight,” or “What time do we have to be there?”

On our recent trip I had to act in both capacities, mother and youth minister. I guess YM would suffice in both cases, your mother or youth minister.  My titles got pretty blurred at times and, mind you, I wasn’t the only parent on that trip.  There was a whole lot of mothering going on and we mothers don’t draw the lines at just our own children.

There were other Youth Ministers on this pilgrimage as well.  You know the cool kind, the twenty-somethings in fashion savvy jeans with holes in all the right places.  They were just a few years older than the kids to whom they ministered.  Teens with those leaders got a whole lot of freedom and very few rules.  I suppose I may have been that way twenty-five years ago but, honestly, I believe I have been a mother in the making my whole life.

I am the oldest of five kids. It started a long time ago, when I really think about it.  Maybe it stems from some deep-seated need to boss something around that started about the time my brother was born.  Nonetheless, I don’t think it is a habit I’ll ever outgrow.  At times it is a heavy burden, I can’t even go about my daily tasks without seeing some situation that clearly needs a mother’s input.  I feel like there is a huge radar screen in my mind always scanning subconsciously for something to pop up – Red Alert! Red Alert! Target acquired, untied shoe at four o’clock. Danger! Danger! Launch Kleenex dead ahead.

My daughter seems to anticipate an impending attack and moves to intercept as quickly as she can. “No, mom!” she puts herself right in my path, “Barbara! Are you listening to me?” Sometimes she is successful, but mostly I am a missile poised on a target and she is no match. “Geez, I can’t believe you just did that. How embarrassing!” she sighs.

These days, I am trying to use more will power and to stay focused on simply harassing my own brood but, they are growing up, moving away, and don’t seem to come around as much.  I have all this “unused mothering” that seems to be going to waste.

It really does take will power and a real presence of mind to know when to act and when to walk by. If I daydream for very long I shift into my auto-mother piloting system and go off on a mission to save society from malnourished teens and snotty-nosed kids.

Just the other day I had to stop myself from asking a bunch of teens at the mall to clean up after themselves in the food court. I mean really… I can’t be the only mom on patrol in that big mall? 

I often ponder about our dear sweet Mother Mary and her life on earth. Having been preserved from Original Sin would have given her a real insight into the hearts of humanity.  Raising the Son of God would have given her all the experience she needed to assume “Mothership” as Jesus handed us over to her while he hung dying on the cross. 

As a mother, I can only imagine the pain, sorrow, and grief she must bear observing her children. It is my hope however, that we also offer her a chuckle from time to time and mostly that we cause her heart to sing with joy as we make our way on the right path towards her Son.  Knowing that she intercedes for us is a constant source of strength for me personally.

Tomorrow is a new day and school begins again. I will need to be on high alert because I am sure some kid will be most appreciative when I point out where the real crosswalk is located.

Ministry Relic

I was sitting in my hotel room in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio as a freezing Alberta Clipper whipped outside.  It was the closing day of the National Federation For Catholic Youth Ministers Conference (NFCYM) – now that is a mouthful – and I was contemplating the event.As a first-timer and resident of Arizona, I stared out the window at the snow and wind, wondering why anyone would choose Ohio in the winter, for a conference. I had to admit though, despite the weather, I was enjoying myself immensely. The conference is especially designed for Youth Ministers.  It is a time for us to come together, learn, share, and have our empty reservoirs filled to overflowing.  We were challenged, energized, and inspired with a renewed sense of hope that we were indeed called to ministry.

What surprised me the most was that many of the youth minister’s were somewhere around “my age,” give or take a decade?  They were married and parents of teenagers just like me. I felt right at home.  In my Diocese, I sometimes feel more like shag carpeting – lots of life left with great stories to tell – but not as vibrant and new as the Berbers. Yet, I believe with all my heart that God called me to be right where I am, doing exactly this.

God’s timing is perfect. Never in my life would I have ever imagined myself as a Youth Minister. Yet, as I look back at all that I have experienced and accomplished in life, I can see that He was laying the groundwork in preparation for this vocation.  God was moving me on the path that landed me right where He wanted me to be and when He wanted me to be there.

On the final evening of the conference we were treated to a closing extravaganza that featured some of the biggest names in Catholic Youth Ministry: Jesse Manibusan, Steve Angrisano, and APEX ministries to list a few…you know – the ones who seem to have an extra portion of God’s most marvelous gifts.  This was an evening with these folks doing what they do best just for us. What surprisingly touched me the most was when several entertainers briefly eluded to the frustrations that come with parenting and keeping their own kids on track in their Catholic faith. I was reminded of my own frequent lamentation, “God, I help other teens come to know you, what’s going on with my own kids?”  It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only parent struggling in the battle for their kids’ holiness.

When they were small, we might have been a three-ring circus at Mass, but we were there and they were totally into the whole God show.  These days, it is a different story altogether.  They push back and find excuses not to go. They take turns having their own faith crisis as they try to figure out their place in this world, where God fits in, and the significance of their Catholic beliefs.  As a mother and a Youth Minister it is absolutely overwhelming at times trying to figure out when to push, how hard to push, and when to simply give them over to God.

I have heard it said that some of the greatest sinners made the greatest saints.  This encourages me tremendously in my work with teens. It reminds me to never loose hope, never stop praying and always trust completely in God’s plan for their lives.  In the thickest part of the battle it is hardest to see the victory, but victory is eminent because we do not fight alone.

Some of the teens that I work with have told my children about what a “great Youth Minister” they think I am, (generally my kids roll their eyes and make some indistinguishable snorting noise).  I wonder how I am allowed to be pivotal in some other kid’s life and at the same time seemingly repel my own offspring.  Isn’t there something in Scripture about a prophet not being accepted in his own town? Now don’t misunderstand me, I am no prophet. I am, however an on-fire, passionate, caped-crusader for Christ.  I love what I do and I am honored to have a small role in helping kids find their way to Christ. 

I am also keenly aware of the impact other people will have in the faith life of my own children. Together, we make up the One Body of Christ, the children of the Most High God.  Like the Three Musketeer’s lets say together, “All for one, and one for all.” Heaven is the goal and it’s going to take all of us, to help get the rest of us there. Let’s all “pray without ceasing.”