A Prayer for Mothers on Earth and Above

To my two mothers gone up above,
Continue to bless us with undying love,
Hold in your hearts, your family,
And continue to teach us “how to be”.
With our Blessed Mother, calm our fears,
And with love overflowing, dry our tears.

And to the mothers of our children,
With us on earth,
Lead our families and nation, To a rebirth,
Remind us of the love, taught at your knee,
And mirror God’s love, for all to see!

Mary

Talking Tolkien

Last night I saw the movie Tolkien and I highly recommend it to everyone!  A wholesome movie about a great person and one of the top 5 influences in my life.  The movie documented the fundamental moments of Tolkien’s formation that was behind his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And as I relived his early life through early adulthood, I thought about how much Tolkien and his works were instrumental in my own growth.   Here are the six key moments when the works of Tolkien formed me and changed me.

  1. My First Book Purchase – The first books that I bought with my own money (you can read about how I earned that money here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/01/14/a-penny-a-minute-a-lifetime-of-lessons/) was the box set of the Lord of the Rings.  I have posted a picture of the Two Towers to show you just how much value for the money I got! Two Towers book well used I remember buying them like it was yesterday at Quakerbridge mall and then using the remaining buck and change on the new entry at McDonald’s – a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Fries (1973) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Pounder .  I raced home put my name on the cover in case someone tried to take it and devoured the books like I did the Quarter Pounder.  I have now read those same books with pages falling out at least once a year.  The first time I read them all in a weekend.  For a ten-year boy in the 70’s, it was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book (which my children equally devoured).  I remember cowering in the bed as I read about the Black Riders for the first time and adding Frodo and Sam to my evening prayers.
  2. Bonding with my best friend – My best friend in elementary through middle school was Paul.  He loved the Lord of the Rings as much or more than me and we talked about it endlessly.  He also introduced me to the Lord of the Rings allusions in Led Zeppelin songs such as Misty Mountain Hop and some Galadriel references in Stairway to Heaven.  He also had pictures from the Lord of the Rings calendars decorating his room where we worked on building rockets for Mr. Pickett’s rocketry club.  We parted ways in high school as our lives took different turns (The Road Goes Ever On!).  But I will never forget the joy I had in discussing the latest calendar and references to LOTR by Led Zeppelin!
  3. Love of Family – My Dad was a Steelworker, no-nonsense Blue-Collar man.  He did not care for Fantasy, elves and hobbits.  In contrast, I was like Frasier to my Dad’s Marty Crane.  All through 1978, I looked for every news item on the upcoming rendition of the Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bashki.  My dad got tickets for the opening day for the whole family, because he knew how much I loved it.   He also got me for Christmas the LP Soundtrack.  The movie was not good but my whole family sat through it as I tried to explain what was happening.  They sat through it and tried to cheer me up as I was disappointed.  Even though my brother David still ribs me by humming the March of the Orcs, I never felt more loved since my family showed their kindness and support for something I cared about.
  4. My Senior High School Thesis – I love to write and get just as much joy from writing as I do from reading LOTR.  I feel exhilaration after writing each one of my blogs and unlike most loved writing essays for school.  My senior thesis for High School was one of my favorites – Christ Imagery in the Lord of the Rings!  I am not sure if that is even a topic that is allowed in school’s today.  I learned so much from studying this subject.  Unlike Lewis who is clearly allegorical in the Narnia series, Tolkien is more subtle but nonetheless profound.  Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf all represent elements of Christ.  Frodo the clearest as he carries the heavy burden to Mount Doom.  Aragorn as a king in disguise that leads to a new Kingdom.  Gandalf perhaps the least subtle as he arises from the dead in white after battling the Balrog.  Tolkien did not like allegory, but he did understand those fundamental truths that our highest calling is to sacrifice.  I still remember the exhilaration of getting an A on the paper, but more so the feeling that the LOTR revealed a deeper truth!
  5. Falling for the Fellowship – I waited for 23 years for the next movie version for the Lord of Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.  My wife and I had four kids waiting for its arrival!  My oldest daughter Kate was at the age where she could stay up late to catch the movie with me on the first day (BTW – she is an English teacher!).  It came out the day before I had to lead an Oral presentation for the biggest deal in my career.  Nevertheless, I got the only 2 last tickets available for the midnight showing on the first day.  In the last two seats behind a bar that partially obstructed my view, I and my daughter waited in anticipation.  I was literally praying that it would not be like the earlier movie.  I will not lie to you.  When the scene of the Shire and Gandalf came on the screen, I wept tears of joy.  Peter Jackson had captured the essence of the books that defined my life.  The decency of the Hobbits.  The goodness of Gandalf and the evil of the Dark Riders that used to make me shake in my bed so many years ago.  This will sound like the ultimate geek, but I count that first viewing of the Fellowship as one of the top 10 moments in my life.  (BTW It inspired me to win the most important job of my career the next day!).
  6. Dancing in the Glade – I thought nothing would ever match the scene of the Shire but last night’s scene from the  Tolkien movie did it.  My favorite story from Tolkien is not LOTR but one chapter from the Silmarillion – Of “Beren and Luthien”.  I love it for three reasons.  1.  It examines the love between people of two different cultures (Elves and Man).  2.  Beren and Luthien fight against all odds to defeat evil. 3.  Last and most important, it shows the never-ending love between a man and his wife.  For the uninitiated, Beren and Luthien Tinuviel represent J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith.  They were married for over 50 years.  Edith was Tolkien’s muse and the anchor to his life.  The image took my breath away as I sat next to my wife of 32+ years and thought of her in that glade.   In the movie, they show Edith dancing in the woods in England, the image that Tolkien explains in his poem below. 

“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.” (Read more here – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/luthien).

Grave of JRR Tolkien
True Love Never Fails

Six events that shaped a life!  Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and the makers of this film, for making this film that explains the life of this man who shaped me and so many others!

Change in Midlife, Mid-flight!

I hate flying on planes; doubly so after a hard week at work on a late flight.  Such was the case when I boarded a plane back to Austin a few years ago.  Little did I know that my temperament and life was going to change in mid-flight!

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash
A change occurs midflight

I had just settled into my aisle seat.  I always get an aisle seat, especially back then when I was a bit north of 250.  I had already gotten up one time for the person in the window seat.  Now I was spreading out hoping against hope that I could dissuade someone from taking the middle seat.  It was not to be. 

Near the end of on-boarding, a young clean-cut guy asked if the seat next to me was taken. People were pressing so he was standing directly to the side of me, blocking my way from getting out. I said in an abrupt manner, “I could let you in if you would move and stop blocking my path.” The lady behind him caught my grumpy facial expression, took pity on him, and moved back so I could let him in. Yeah, I thought, I now had a tall occupant with wide shoulders occupying the seat next to me. Fun! Time to lean out in the aisle a little more.

I glanced over to size up my neighbor, since by this time I was feeling a little bad about how I acted.  I noticed three things off the bat that were different.  First the guy was reading a religious book; something not expected from a young man without a collar.  Equally unique was the Miraculous Medal around his neck; something you do not often see except on a Nun.  Lastly, I noticed he had a rosary in his lap. 

Thinking I had a priest or a seminarian next to me, I began feeling even more sheepish than I did before.  So, I decided to try and make amends for the way I acted and strike up a conversation.   I reached out my hand to my neighbor and said, “Hey I am sorry about how grumpy I was a moment ago.  My name is Don.”  He replied his name was Travis Moran and we struck up a conversation.   

Wanting to find out more about Travis, I said, “I noticed from the religious book and the rosary that you must be Catholic. I am too, even though a few moments ago I may not have appeared to be. I was just about to listen to a podcast of Father Mike Schmitz. Have you heard of him?” Those who regularly read my blogs know I am a devoted listener to Father Mike Schmitz’s podcasts. He is an excellent speaker whose lessons on life and God are inspired. Travis promptly pulled out his cell phone and showed me a picture of him with Father Mike and others. Travis had just been to the SEEK conference in San Antonio and heard Father Mike and others evangelize. This was the first indication that maybe Travis and my meeting was not by chance.

For the first time in a long time, I decided to talk to the person next to me on the plane.  I usually do not like to talk on planes.  But this was unbelievable.  Travis is an amazing young man. He was discerning to be a priest when he got another calling to be a physical therapist for Special Needs kids in Connecticut.  Working with his father and others, he treats autistic and other special needs children at Crossroads Physical Therapy.  I was so impressed by his kindness and devotion to God that I was not sure if it was all real so I looked him up (see http://www.quchronicle.com/2011/12/this-is-me-a-man-with-faith/).

I now asked him about book that he was he reading.   It was called 33 Days to Morning Glory.  He explained that the book was a 33 day retreat to grow closer and consecrate yourself to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.  Ok, I thought.  A little deep for me but he was so devoted I listened attentively.  Maybe God was speaking to me. 

We talked for another 20 minutes or so until Travis asked if he could take time out and say his daily rosary.  As we closed our conversation, he told me he was praying his daily rosary today for my intention.  I thanked him.  Later as we left the plane, we shook hands and I told him how much I enjoyed the conversation and prayers.  Little did I know that this was not the end of this change that started in mid-flight.

I could not get the conversation with Travis or that book out of my mind on the drive back home.  So that night I went on to Amazon and purchased 33 Days to Morning Glory  see here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13559128-33-days-to-morning-glory.

Or so I thought! Instead with at that late hour, I through blurry eyes bought another book: 33 Days to Merciful Love! Noting that I ordered the wrong book, I later bought 33 Days to Morning Glory. After reading a few chapters of each book, I put them aside as work and life distracted me. The original spark faded until several months later, when God broke through again.

I was on a work trip in Raleigh, North Carolina. I could not sleep and got up at 4 O’clock. Wanting to get some restless energy out, I walked the streets of Raleigh with my earbuds in, listening to the latest podcast from Father Mike. It was the opening homily for Lent and as he finished, he told his parishioners at UMD that he had a book for all of them. The book was 33 Days to Merciful Love! Here is the actual podcast with the link to the book https://soundcloud.com/bulldogcatholic/wholehearted-part-i-go-big-be-small I have never felt God’s presence in my life more, as a tingle ran down my spine.

Third time is the charm.  I could not ignore the message any longer.  I performed both internal retreats covered in the books.  At the end, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary.  It was a life changing experience and though not yet all the way there, those retreats have helped me to grow closer to the Lord.   I now hope to bring others closer to Jesus both as a Core Team member with the Life Teen ministry.  

I still tear up thinking about this change in Mid-flight and Mid-life.  I hope this true-life message inspires you to put down that iPhone on the plane and to be a little more kind to the person in the seat next to you.  It just might be God trying to talk to you!

A Mother’s Day Memorial: The Leader of the Family

My site is about weight loss and leadership. And today, midway between the day of my Mother’s passing (May 7th) and the day to honor her (Mother’s Day), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

Just as my Dad was known as Big D for his size and hailing from Dallas, my mom was known as Big Pat. I of course was little D or little Donnie.  My Mom’s counterpart was Pat Buckland, one of our great friends who was smaller in height and a member of the club.  (Two side notes.  The club was a group of family friends who all worked at DeLaval  in Jersey and little Pat who barely reached 5 feet could match my Mom’s stature in the 70’s with her boufant hairdo that was at least 5 – 6 inches high!  Little Pat was also a great role model).

My Mom was the secret leader of the family.  Dad was the external leader and I have wrote a few blogs about him already – here Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)  and here Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving .   But Mom was the internal leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just five with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. If Before the Gospel, Everything is OK.  My mom was a Catholic and my Dad a back sliding Baptist (although always supportive of my Mom).   Although she was never intense in her religion, she always took us to Church and had us go to religion school.  She  also taught me that God loves you no matter your sins.  Another anecdote and an additional example of how she calmed my intensive nature).  With three siblings and a host of other activities, we were habitually late to church.   I would be stressing in the car as we drove to our parish (which surprisingly enough had the same name as the church I go to now – St. Vincent De Paul!).  She would say “Donn…ie, if we make it before the Gospel we will be alright!”  And truer words could not be said.  Half the battle in life and with your relationship with Jesus is showing up and making the effort to love and serve.
  3. Do not be a GOM!   Don…nie, Garry, David, Lori don’t be a GOM was a common phrase.  I knew what it meant from context.  Do not be hoodwinked, naive, tricked.  But I did not not know were it originated until I looked it up.  A GOM is Irish slang for a fool.  It was one of my Mom’s favorite terms (believe it or not in an endearing manner).  It must have come from my Grandpop Henry and his Father Charles who came over from Ireland during the potato famine.   Mom would use this term in one of two ways:  1.  Ewe, Don..nie don’t be a GOM.  When I said something humorous or silly. 2.  Donnie, don’t be a GOM they are trying to trick you!.  I liked the former better than the latter, but was appreciative of both.   No one could ever pull one over on my Mom.  She was not so silently shrewd and no one could pull one over on her eyes.
  4. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  5. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again!
  6. Last thoughts.  The last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!

Not What’s Next, but What’s Now: The Key to a Fit and Happy Life

I had an epiphany about weight loss and quite frankly life in general while listening to my favorite podcast from Father Mike Schmitz.  Father Mike who ministers to Catholic College Students (and some 50+ year men like yours truly) has a new series of podcasts for the end of the school year called What’s Next.  The first of the series was about the anxiety that is sometimes associated when contemplating what’s next in this world.  As soon as I heard that, I got an inspiration.  The key question for weight loss and life in general is not What’s Next but What’s Now.  I think Father Mike may go there on the next one of the series but since he did not hit this exact point on this first one (listen to it here Fr Mike’s Podcast ), I will!

Too often, we are filled with anxiety about what is going to come next.  We set goals, or we face hardships and we worry what is coming next.  Will I achieve the goal for which I strive, or will I sink under the weight of some difficulty that is hard to bear?  In weight loss terms, we set a path and a timetable to lose 75 lbs.  before your reunion and now have only lost 20  lbs with the reunion 3 weeks a way.  Or you have a difficult project for which the outcome is uncertain, so you stress each out and eat  too many Quarter Pounders with cheese.  I am not saying stop setting goals or bearing the crosses of everyday life.  What I am saying is the proper question is not What’s Next, it is What’s Now.

There are three variations on that phrase which are insightful when losing the baggage of everyday life whether it is weight or worries:

1.       Be thankful for Now and not anxious for what’s Next.  When I was losing over 170 lbs. in a year and a half, the times when I went off track were normally related to not being thankful for the strides that I had made that day.    Revel in the success of today and don’t worry that the pounds may not be coming off fast enough to hit your goal in a certain timeframe.  The weight will come off.  Likewise, be thankful for a beautiful sunset or a hug from your child rather than whether you will hit your next sales target.  The first two brings well-being, the latter could lead to a rush of cortisol and a palpitating heart!

2.       Don’t let the goals of tomorrow, get in the way of doing good today.  There is a body and soul connection.  In the rush of making the next goal, we miss the chance to help someone out and show a little kindness.  When you help someone else out, you feel good about your self and maybe get a little exercise (e.g. helping someone move, etc.)  Likewise, when you are kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up, you are less stressed and less prone to binge eating.   Stop striving and help someone. 

3.       Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.  I know it is a little cliché but maybe this insight into the phrase is not.  Sometimes when we are thinking about what we desire to do tomorrow (like run a half marathon), we get frustrated with what we can do today (like walk a half block).  When I started off on my weight loss journey, I could walk a few laps in the kiddie pool (because regular walking of any distance would hurt my back).  If I had stopped because I was frustrated, I would have never been able to walk the 50 miles in one day that I did a year and a half later.  Do what you can do now and do not stress if you are behind in your progress.

In closing, one popular song title said, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”.  I say STOP and do what you can do in fitness, weight loss, and life today!

It Takes Courage in this World

One of the most inspiring people in my life is Father Mike Schmitz.  For you that may not heard of him, he is a Catholic Priest and speaker who leads the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  He is prevalent on social media and speaks often at youth conferences and for Ascension Press.  His two podcasts (one for UMD and one for Ascension Press) have often inspired me and believe it or not have been critical to my weight loss!   During my exercise routines, I often listen to a Father Mike playlist.   His podcasts for UMD range from 20 to 25 minutes and those for Ascension Press shorter.  You can read some more on my Fr. Mike exercise practice (item 9)  and other weight loss essentials  in this blog. What’s AP? A Digital Guide to Weight Loss

If I have a good day at the gym, I report to my wife that I did 3 Father Mike’s (the UMD variety) on the treadmill.  I think people in the gym may think that I am a little crazy during Fr. Mike’s talks.  I have listened to some when he speaks about being Minnesotan and laughed so loud the guy on the treadmill nearly fell off!  Equally, I often listened with tears streaming down my face moved by his words of faith, inspiration, and love.

This latter reaction is what happened yesterday at 5 AM during my Saturday exercise routine.  I listened to Fr. Mike’s podcast “It takes Courage” and was immediately overwhelmed with his simple message that so much of life just takes courage.  He gives some simple everyday examples that at first may not leap out at you but later resonate deeply.  Parents going to work on a Monday after a hectic weekend to take care of their family.  Children in their first swim meet when they climb up in the blocks.   Parents who are getting on in life and are willing to let go and prepare to meet their next chapter. The infertile couple who desire a kid so badly but are not sure if they will ever conceive.  And those couples that do ultimately conceive.   In Fr.  Mike’s words, “It takes courage to bring a life in this world and say I am going to lay down my life for whoever this child is.”  You can hear the full podcast from Father Mike here.   Life Demands Courage – Fr. Mike Schmitz

This message –   It takes courage to face a world full of everyday unknowns – moved and inspired me to develop my next blog series which will unfold over the next few weeks.  Ideas kept popping into my head – not of the famous – but of my friends and family that everyday wake up to face the world with courage when so much of their future is unknown.  A cousin as he faces a world that he sometimes does not understand to bring God’s smile into the world.  An uncle that walks up the daunting stairs of Eisenhower Hall on two wooden legs.   A friend with the courage to be himself and not whom other thought that he should be.  These friends and family inspire me with their faith, love and courage to face everyday challenges and to bring their light and that of God into the world.

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