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And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever. 

John 14:16

As I meditated on the concept of Comfort while preparing to write this post, I reflected that it’s a word that evokes strong feelings, and it comes with conflicting connotations in modern times.  We are urged to “get out of [our] comfort zones” on the one hand while we are bombarded with advertisements promising comfort through consumerism on the other.  Along with visions of stuffing ourselves with so-called comfort foods come images of a fat and lazy populace too comfortable and complacent to do anything.

And yet Jesus promises us comfort, so what did He mean?  If it’s something He wants to give us, how can it be bad?

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“Blood is thicker than water,” was one of my maternal grandmother’s favorite sayings.  Family was everything to her.  She was extremely proud of her Southern and Irish roots, and often shared tales—possibly apocryphal—of the family history.  We are blessed to have many heirlooms and photographs that breathed life into her tales of those long-ago family members.  I never knew my great-grandmother, but I was brought up on stories about her beauty and grace.  I loved to admire her portrait, and to play under the intricately carved table that had come down to my grandmother through her, part of a set that’s been in the family longer than anyone can remember.

Mary Becker Hagan

I internalized the stories and the reverence for the past and felt its influence on the present.  And when I grew up I became interested in my father’s side of the family as well, and conducted lazy internet genealogy research to learn more.  I’ve built a family tree that goes back many generations on both sides, and have learned that my roots are not only Irish but English, Dutch, and German as well.

Family heritage encompasses many things.  Families pass down language–my Alabama roots are four generations back now but in my family we still use some expressions that are not native to East Tennessee.  Families pass down heirlooms like the table and chairs I mentioned, the prie-dieu on which my great-grandparents knelt to be married, the silver coffee and tea service.  Families pass down genetic material, as I think you can see in the comparison pictures of my youngest child and her great-great-great-great grandmother below.  And families pass down religion.

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I sat at my desk, head down, long hair hiding my face.  On the blue folder in front of me, in Catholic-school cursive, I wrote the word miserable over and over again, covering the folder in a graphite cri de couer, addressed to no one in particular.

I was in the 8th grade, and my best friend had—as I saw it–abandoned me.  The visceral memory of those friendless days still hurts, decades later.  Being friendless in grade school meant being picked last in gym class, going partnerless for class room activities, sitting alone at lunch.

I’d enjoyed the company of a succession of what they now call BFFs from the time I started Montessori school at three until that point.  I’d counted on having that one person who liked me best.  After that heartbreaking half year (until high school began and I landed in a close circle of friends), I never wanted to feel loneliness like that again.

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Growing up, one of my most prized possessions was my Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.  One of those massive volumes you see (or used to) at the library, it was very expensive, and my grandmother bought it for me so that I could look up pronunciations for the words in my Spelling Bee book.  Before that my father had to go to the library and spend an entire day using their copy!

I lost my dictionary when my house burned down, but it had been years since I’d needed it, the Internet having taken its place as the ultimate reference tool.  But I still have that impulse to look up words, especially when I’m seeking inspiration in my writing.

As I sat down to write my piece on Mission, with many ideas already swirling in my head, I looked up the meaning and history of the term, to confirm what I thought I knew: that mission comes from a Latin word meaning “to send.”  Why do I know this?  Because many priests have mentioned it in the context of explaining that the final words of the Latin Mass: “Ite, missa est,” should be interpreted as a charge to the assembly, that we are being sent forth to do God’s work in the world.

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Leaps of faith are a fact of life in our family.  Our family life has been built on radical acts of trusting that everything would work out one way or the other.

John and I had been married eleven months and had a baby on the way when we abandoned good jobs in Washington, D.C. and moved back to my hometown, where we had family but no prospects at all.  Oh, we tried to find jobs before moving, but our failure didn’t put a damper on our plans in the least.   In the year it took for John to gain resident status so he would be eligible for in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee College of Law, he worked at the UT Traffic Office by day and sold shoes by night.  I got a secretarial job just weeks before I could no longer conceal my pregnancy, which would have severely limited my ability to find a good job.

We had one kid by the time John started law school and the third was on the way by the time he passed the bar exam.  There were hard and scary times, uncertain times, and often it was only looking back at what we’d been through that we could see how our prayers were always answered.  Not necessarily in the way that we thought we wanted them to be, not always immediately, but always, in God’s time.

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Last night I told my daughter I felt like I had lived at least a month in the past week or so.  Have you ever felt that way?

Because of all that I and my family have been through in the last twelve days, I find myself starting at my computer screen this morning praying for inspiration for the blog post I should have had ready to go last night at the very latest–last night when I was completing a 550 mile drive back from an unexpected funeral.

Wait a minute . . . inspiration is coming . . .

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Although I graduated from college almost 30 years ago, I still say I AM an English major rather than I WAS an English major.  That self-identification is probably indicative of why I enjoy usage manuals like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White entirely too much.

Thinking about writing on this month’s theme of Hope, I kept coming back to this passage:

Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.

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