Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mercy, or how to be like God the Father

Dear Hubby and I spent Friday night with our beloved Franciscan Sisters, who are hosting monthly discussions on the Year of Mercy.

The speaker this past Friday was a philosophy professor who is a student of St. John Paul II. He reminded us that one of St. JP II's encyclical's was DIVES IN MISERICORDIA, or God, who is rich in mercy.

I had read this encyclical once upon a time, but I think it will be my study for this Lent. JP II's writing can be tough going - he is a philosopher, and usually packs about 16 significant thoughts in a sentence or two. However, given that this is the Year of Mercy, what better study could there be?

We read in the Constitution Gaudium et spes: "Christ the new Adam...fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his lofty calling," and does it "in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love."6 The words that I have quoted are clear testimony to the fact that man cannot be manifested in the full dignity of his nature without reference - not only on the level of concepts but also in an integrally existential way - to God. Man and man's lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love.

For this reason it is now fitting to reflect on this mystery. It is called for by the varied experiences of the Church and of contemporary man. It is also demanded by the pleas of many human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and expectations. While it is true that every individual human being is, as I said in my encyclical Redemptor hominis, the way for the Church, at the same time the Gospel and the whole of Tradition constantly show us that we must travel this day with every individual just as Christ traced it out by revealing in Himself the Father and His love.7 In Jesus Christ, every path to man, as it has been assigned once and for all to the Church in the changing context of the times, is simultaneously an approach to the Father and His love.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Grief: The Ache In My Heart

Pere' Lachaise Cemetery
Grief is weird thing. It likes to sneak up on you for no particular reason. It wears out its welcome quickly, leaving you empty. Sometimes, it just follows you around for days, stuck to you like a piece of lint you don't even know is on the back of your pants.

Yesterday, I was just stabbed with the grief of missing my dad. No reason. It wasn't an anniversary of any kind. I just ... was grieved.

My dad has been gone for years. A lot of things have happened in that time. Sometimes I just wish he could sit in the back of the room one time when I am speaking. I'd like to see his face there, in the audience.

He was my go-to when trying to figure out finances or insurance or cars. He just knew stuff - what tool did what, how to tear a kitchen sink apart to fix a clog, how much life insurance you needed. Stuff I don't know.

When I was little, Dad would occasionally have a Pepsi. (This was long before the days when everyone bought soda by the truck loads. We kids got Tang. Clearly, our parents were preparing us for a life of Catholic penance.)

When Dad had a Pepsi, I would pester that he save me some. I would climb up on his lap - usually he was watching golf. He'd point out the finer points of the game to me, and then - FINALLY! - give me that can of soda, with a mouthful or two left.

Nothing special.

What I wouldn't give to have that not special moment back for just a few minutes.

Don't ever let anyone tell you to "get over it" or "you shouldn't be so sad." Your grief is your grief. There is no timetable, no end zone, no chart. There is however, balm.


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lent ... Again

Sigh. There is nothing more dreary than February in Michigan. While this winter has not seen much snow, we got pounded last night with icy slush, rain, thunder and lightening. Clumps of dirty snow pile up near driveways and ditches, reminding us that it is still winter, despite the fact that the grass is visible. Michigan in February can drive the hardiest soul to hibernate with a stack of books and steaming tea.

To top it off, we begin Lent in a week! Lent, that penitential season when we studiously examine our consciences, earnestly pray and study the our Faith, and seek to shore up our souls by making daily sacrifices.

February + Lent = grimness.

Or does it? Must Lent be grim? It shouldn't be. Just because it is a somber time in the Church calendar, it should not be sad or depressing or (I daresay!) ugly. No, Lent must have an element of joy to it.

Remember, dear readers, that happiness and joy are not the same. Happiness depends upon circumstances, and is fleeting ("I'm happy work is going well" or "I'm happy that we're having macaroni & cheese for dinner instead of tuna melts!") Joy is from God. It says, "All is well with my soul," regardless of what life throws at us. Joy is not fleeting; it is a state of the soul that must be nurtured, but a mature soul is always joyful in the Lord.

And so it must be in Lent. We bow our heads in prayer, we fast from treats (whether that is our favorite coffee brew, a television show we enjoy, or a habit that does us no good), we give alms. We rejoice that God is so good that He gave us His Son, and that the Son allows us to journey into the desert with him for 40 days. We are joyful that we have the entire Church as companions on this journey. Joy fills us, with the Eucharist, our food for this journey.

While winter may drag us down, Lent is here: Rejoice!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Honesty, Pain, Redemption and Teens

Youngest son is still a teen (for another 11 months), but is out of the house. He's also huge - 6' 7".

He's also in a lot of pain, emotionally. For years, he made horrendous choices, and those choices had consequences not just for him but for people he loved.

He is home for a couple of days, to take care of some of those horrendous choices. Last night,  he sat and talked with me for hours, pouring out his heart. It's probably the most honest conversation we've had ... maybe ever.

This huge kid is hurting so badly. The bad choices and their consequences play like a movie reel in his head, he told. How can he turn them off? How can he make up for the things he's done? When will he feel forgiven?

Confession, he said, helps - sort of. He still feels a burden for what he's done.

I told him that our feelings are far too often unreliable. If I acted on my feelings, I would have walked out on my family years ago - it was just too  hard. I felt like I couldn't handle it. But, we act on what is right, making wise choices by God's grace, not by our feelings.

I talked to him about saints who made truly terrible choices - the Apostles and St. Paul. Yet they are men we look to as powerful examples of faith.

In my office, where we were talking, I have a crucifix. I kept pointing it out to my son, reassuring him the Christ had already taken on his sins and that he was forgiven - so long as he was truly sorry and confessed those sins. He might still have a heavy heart, but the reality (not his feelings) is that Christ loved him - and all of us - so much that He was willing to die a horrid death, a most painful death, a death He did not deserve. The reality is that death saves us.

My son is still so young, and these are such massive burdens and issues for a young man to struggle with. I told him that I covered him (and his siblings) in prayer every day. My prayerful desire is that this honest conversation is just the beginning of a new path for him - one where he can discover a deeper faith, redemption and hope.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I'm sassy. I have a big mouth. I say mean things that I thought would sound witty. Very often, the filter between my brain and my mouth gets shut off.

When I was growing up, my mom would come home from parent teacher conferences, and I'd be waiting for the report. I was a good student, so I was never really worried about grades. My mom would sigh and say, "They all said the same thing. You're a good student, and you have a big mouth." Yeah...

I like to think that I'm honest. I also know that "honest" sometimes comes across as "brutal." I don't intend to be mean, or put people on the defensive, but it happens. You'd think that by this point in my life, I'd have this figured out, but ... no.

Proverbs 15:4: "A soothing tongue is the tree of life." One must assume that a sharp tongue kills.

When I decided last year that it was time to look for a new job, I had to take a good, long and  honest look at myself. I knew I had to bear some of the responsibility for why my then-job had become unbearable. I said stuff I shouldn't. I was pushy.

Now, I find myself in much the same situation with a family member.

I'm a big believer in "having the last word." I have to win the argument, cut to the quick, be witty and win. Of course, this means no one wins - everyone walks away feeling hurt.

I'm 51 years old. Why do I still do this? Why can't I keep my lips sealed, my mouth shut? Why, as St. Paul says, do I keep doing things I know I shouldn't and failing to do the things I should??

Because I'm a sinner. I can't do it on my own.

Thankfully, there is Confession. And I need to go.

And I need to apologize.

And I need to keep my mouth shut.

I'll try. That's all I can do.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Catholic Tourism

Juneau, Alaska: Shrine of St. Therese'
We traveled quite a bit by car when I was a kid. I loved going to new places, but I got horribly car sick, so it wasn't always a fun way to go. (The smell of a new car still makes me nauseous.) Then my mom discovered Dramamine and I slept. They'd wake me up for meals and rest stops, and then I'd get drugged again.

The first thing we did when we checked into a hotel was find the phone book. My dad would locate the closest Catholic church and figure out Mass times. Then the vacation could proceed.

If there was a Catholic shrine or anything Catholic related that was worth a visit, we would go. And because I'm a complete geek, I loved it. I can't say the same for both my sisters....

Servant of God blog has this amazing list of Catholic shrines here in the U.S. Wouldn't it be great to plan a road trip around these? (And I don't get car sick anymore - so long as I'm in the front seat...)

My husband and I stumbled across the one in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was actually "closed" but we walked around the grounds and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Have you been to any?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More miracles from the land of the dying

It's been about six weeks now since Mom passed away. I still find myself making a mental note to call her, then remembering...

There were plenty of miracles surrounding my mom's last days. One of those miracles was hospice, which is frankly a miracle in and of itself. The folks who do this work/vocation are truly called to a ministry, even though most hospice care is not typically religious in nature.

My mom, a retired RN, was a hospice volunteer for many years. Her role was mainly to help the spouse or caretaker of the patient for respite - a wife could go out and get her hair done or a son could get some groceries. One of her favorite "patients" was a gentleman who loved to play cards; they would spend an afternoon playing.

Mom had hospice care in the nursing home. One afternoon, when I was there with both my sisters, the hospice social worker stopped by. She was a thin woman, with dark hair, cut simply. She had large, soft eyes behind trendy glasses.

Now, I must confess I don't have a great deal of love for social workers. Having raised five special needs kids, our family has dealt with a LOT of social workers, and most of them weren't ... good. There was one who made such a terrible impression with one visit my kids mutinied and refused to work with her. (They were completely justified.) Another met with me to decide what Dark-haired daughter's needs were and how best to meet them - and started the meeting by telling me she hadn't had time to read the file. The meeting went downhill from there.

The hospice worker was a gentle soul, and asked me and my sisters to tell her about Mom. She listened enthusiastically, and then spoke to Mom. Mom's lack of response did not deter her. The worker knelt down close to Mom, and started to sing to her - hymns. She prayed the 23rd Psalm. She stroked her arm.

This just doesn't happen in the world of social work. Every social worker I've ever known - good, bad or indifferent - is studiously respectful of faith, but avoid it like the proverbial plague. It's nice for you folks, but we can't discuss it.

Yet this lovely woman prayed and sang and shared God's love with Mom, me and my sisters for almost two hours.

There are no small miracles.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Eric Clapton, Mary, Motherhood and Me


I've often felt like a failure as a mom. Still do sometimes. It was rough raising our kids; they came with a lot of "stuff" they had no control over.

When they were little, I was pretty sure that with enough love, sunshine, therapy and nutritious food, they'd all turn out perfect. I'd have handsome sons and beautiful daughters who loved visiting Mom and Dad, who were all active Catholics and who stunned everyone who met them by all they'd overcome.

You might imagine reality is a bit different.

This is not to say I'm not proud of my kids. I am enormously proud of them. But the family I have is not the family I pictured 20+ years ago. And I thought that meant I'd done something wrong.

It must be my fault that 4 of my 5 kids don't go to church. It must be my fault that I've got two kids that struggle with drug and alcohol issues. It has to be my fault that I've done more psych hospitalizations than most ER attendings. I had social workers on speed dial for years. I knew several of our county sheriffs by their first names. This was not your typical parenting, people!

I look around at peers, and I see their kids doing the seemingly "normal" young adult thing: college, jobs, sports. There are the Facebook posts about Dean's Lists and sorority sisters and internships. That's not our story.

Our story is really...lumpy. And not pretty. And hard. Our story has a lot of anger and crying and total misunderstandings and how the hell did I miss THATs??

Eric Clapton, the British blues musician, wrote a song about Mary. Yeah, that Mary - the Mother of God. He wrote it in rehab. He says he was never much of a believer, but he was so desperate,  he cried out to his mother: Somehow I know you're still there
Send me please some peace of mind
Take away this pain
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait any longer
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait for you
Holy mother, hear my cry
I've cursed your name a thousand times
I've felt the anger running through my soul
All I need is a hand to hold.
I imagine my kids have felt this way many times. I simply could not do for them everything they needed - I'm far too flawed. 
In late summer, Curly-Haired Daughter got married. I was dancing with Youngest Son (who is now close to 6'7"). At the end of the song, he grabbed me and wrapped me in a monstrous hug. He said to me, "None of this was your fault, Mom. It's all on me. You've been great." 
This boy is still struggling to figure his life out, but he's come so far. He has chosen not to live with us right now, and honestly, it's for the best. He's doing very well where he's at. But I still hurt for him, with him.He's had a lot of anger running through his soul, as Mr. Clapton put it. Despite all that, he reached out to his mother - and let me know that I was okay.

I"m an okay mom. I'm not the world's greatest mom - just ask my kids. But even though they only had an okay mom, they've turned out to be really awesome people, who are still becoming really awesome people. Yes, our family story is "lumpy" but it's lovely and sweet and passionate and forgiving as well. We know we all have a hand to hold.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Back To Work

Jesus With Carpenter - artist Bandu Dudhat
After two months of being unemployed, I'm finally back to work! It's a good feeling. Not being at work made me rather lazy, I'm afraid.

We are made to be creative and productive. It's imperative for us to feel valued and part of something. That "something" might be volunteer work, it might be caring for young children at home, it might be rocket science.

In 1981, St. John Paul II wrote the encyclical Laborem Exercens. There is a section on work and human dignity.

God's fundamental and original intention with regard to man, whom he created in his image and after his likeness15, was not withdrawn or cancelled out even when man, having broken the original covenant with God, heard the words: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread"16. These words refer to the sometimes heavy toil that from then onwards has accompanied human work; but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves that "dominion" which is proper to him over the visible world, by "subjecting" the earth. Toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced. It is familiar to those doing physical work under sometimes exceptionally laborious conditions. It is familiar not only to agricultural workers, who spend long days working the land, which sometimes "bears thorns and thistles"17, but also to those who work in mines and quarries, to steel-workers at their blast-furnaces, to those who work in builders' yards and in construction work, often in danger of injury or death. It is likewise familiar to those at an intellectual workbench; to scientists; to those who bear the burden of grave responsibility for decisions that will have a vast impact on society. It is familiar to doctors and nurses, who spend days and nights at their patients' bedside. It is familiar to women, who, sometimes without proper recognition on the part of society and even of their own families, bear the daily burden and responsibility for their homes and the upbringing of their children. It is familiar to all workers and, since work is a universal calling, it is familiar to everyone.

And yet, in spite of all this toil-perhaps, in a sense, because of it-work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas18, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being".

He reminds us that - from the Fall - man was doomed to toil. (And St. John Paul was no stranger to toil. He worked in the mines in Poland during WWII, walking miles and miles to and from this dangerous and dirty job.) However, he says, work is good. If work is dignified, if work is ethical, it is not only good, it elevates us. We move from simply being a cog in a machine to a fuller expression of our human nature.

I'm happy to be sitting at a desk, absorbing new information, feeling like a part of a team. Work is good.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Candles of Advent

                                              

There is no way around it: this Advent is a dark time for me and many in my family, having just lost our beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Yet, that's what the candles of Advent are for: they remind us that there is always Light. That Light is Christ, and He makes Himself known to us in many ways.

In my last post, I mentioned that we experienced many miracles as we spent time with my dying mother. Here is just one.

After being released from the hospital, we moved Mom to a nursing home, and she was placed in hospice care. For the first 6 or 7 days, my sisters and I were with her 24/7, in shifts. When they had to leave, my brother helped fill in.

The nursing home staff was remarkable. They excelled at Mom's care. They called her by name every time they came in the room. They gently bathed her. They apologized for causing her discomfort whenever they had to move her to prevent bedsores. They truly cared for her, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Beyond that, they took care of US. They brought in a small serving cart from the kitchen, and kept it stocked with hot water for tea, coffee, and snacks, which they replenished daily. They did everything they could to make us comfortable, with encouraging words, a hug, a smile.

About the third day or so before Mom died, two of the aides came into the room rolling a large recliner. They explained that it had belonged to a former resident. It didn't recline anymore, they apologized, but they had covered it with a clean sheet, and said they thought it would be more comfortable than the hard, straight back chairs we'd been using.

I very nearly wept.

That non-reclining recliner was soft and large enough to curl up in. It meant my strained neck and back could relax. I actually napped well for the first time in weeks.

The folks who work in nursing homes don't get paid much, in the scheme of things. Many of the residents can't thank them, due to dementia. Some of the residents are difficult to manage and care for. The staff has to move people, straining their own backs while being on their feet for 12-hour shifts. It's a hard and often thankless job.

I expected that they would take care of my mom, but they also took care of me and my siblings. They didn't have to. But they were lights in my Advent, bearing tea and a broken recliner.

Christ shows Himself in the most unexpected ways.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas In Heaven, With A Few Miracles Along The Way

Yes, I've been awhile. But I have a really good excuse.

First, let's back up. I had decided in late summer/ early fall that it was time to leave my place of employment. I was thrilled when I was hired fairly quickly for a rather new company - pay was great, people all seemed nice, it was meaningful work. All was well.

Then I got fired after four days.

Honestly, I didn't take being fired all that badly, since I never really thought it was my fault. It's not like I poured sour milk in everyone's coffee for the weekly meeting, or took the boss' sports car for a spin around the block without permission. It was just a weird, "We don't think you're a good fit here." Eh, ok. They gave me a generous severance, so I figured I'd have a nice "cushion" while looking for another job.

Then my mom fell. My elderly mom. Three times. And broke a vertebrae.

While getting fired was not fun, I was the one of the four siblings with the most amount of free time. My two sisters were able to help out for a week, but then one had to get back to work and the other had family obligations. My brother is semi-retired, but that means he's also semi-working.

Mom spent about a week in the hospital, where we finally decided to have a "minor" procedure done to help alleviate her pretty excruciating pain in her back. That helped, but it was becoming clear to all of us that Mom was getting ready to die.

She was talking more and more about death, about caring for her grandmother when she died. She insisted that my brother call the priest for Last Rites (which she ended up receiving twice.)

Then, we moved her to the nursing home, and called in  hospice. By this time, she had stopped eating and drinking, so we knew our time with her was fairly limited.

And I suppose, in the scheme of things, it was. However, it isn't not unusual - we learned - that Depression-era kids tend to be quite tough, and they have strong hearts. And my mom's nearly-91 year old heart was not ready to stop beating too soon.

We prayed. We listen to music. I sang. We talked and reminisced. And when she finally decided she had fought long and hard enough, she slipped away - very peacefully.

Her funeral was December 7. I'm trying to get used to the idea of a world without my mom in it. We pray that she will be enjoying this Christmas in Heaven, and that we can all enjoy ours here, remembering what an incredible woman of faith she was.

I'll share more in the week ahead.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Easy come, easy go; Que sera, sera; oh, s^*+

So, dear readers, you may remember that last week started off very well. I nearly skipped with excitement to my new job.  I met the relatively small staff, figured out where the ladies' room was, and started to get settled in.

My rather taciturn boss would stop by from time to time, and mumble that he had someplace he wanted to take me. We would head off to a school, meet the principal and whoever else was available, take a whirlwind tour of the building, then back to the office. This happened several times with different people and places the first three days.

(Let me insert here that I'm not used to this fly by the seat of your pants style.  I'm used to formal calendar invites being emailed, with descriptions of said meetings, their duration, etc.  But, go with the flow, every office has its own style.)

I worked all day Thursday, making arrangements to visit the schools on the other side of the state, getting a calendar for all the schools up and running and setting up my desk, filing system, etc.

At about 4 p.m., my boss asked to speak to me.

And then he fired me.

At first, it was the old "not a good fit" thing, but then he decided to tell me that, the day before at one of our meetings, I had asked "sub-par questions and everyone there knew it" and that I was an "embarrassment."

So.

With a stiff-upper lip, I packed up my desk, put the boxes in my car and went home. I cried for two days, talked endlessly with my girlfriends and grieved.

Now, I'm looking for a new job. I've never been too sure about the "everything happens for a reason" school f thought, but maybe it does. I certainly learned a few valuable lessons, not the least of which is to discuss management styles and problem-solving during the interview.

As John, Paul, Ringo and George would say: "Nanana, life goes on!"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Who told you you were not wearing clothes?"

I'm at the point in the new job where I wonder if they'll figure out I'm a fraud. You know, I got through the interviewing and vetting process merely on charm and dumb luck, and now, when push come to shove - I won't know what the hell I'm doing. I suppose it's the adult equivalent of dreaming that you've shown up for school naked.

Either way, it's scary.

And untrue.

Remember in the Garden of Eden when God comes to visit (I mean - how ridiculously awesome would that be? After dinner, God drops by for a glass of wine or a gin and tonic, and you chat. Maybe there's a new bird that needs to be named, or a new flower design He's been noodling with....) Anyway, God comes to visit and Adam and Eve hide, because they are naked.

"Who told you you were naked?"

It struck me that my feeling as I headed into work today, worrying about my competency, was not unlike the scene in the Garden. Nothing had changed. God was still omnipotent. Adam and Eve were still naked, and everything was cool.

Until.

Until they tried to outsmart God. Until they hid (like you can hide from God??) Until they thought, "What if things are not what we were told they were? What if it's something else? Something WE'VE thought of, and the big guy hasn't?"

They somehow figured that things were not as they had seemed. God had not been honest with them. They were not who they thought they were.

And things went downhill from there.

As I was praying and pondering my own irrational fears about work, I thought of this. I need to rely on the knowledge God has given me, the person He created me to be, the opportunities He's afforded me.

I don't want to think I can out-smart God.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Stuff, New Beginnings, New Heart

Some..times the new year starts in January. Sometimes it starts in September. Sometimes - it starts whenever you begin something big and new and scary and fun and wonderful.

I have a new job. It's a big deal. I never thought I'd leave my old job, but I did. And I'm thrilled to have a new place to work that is meaningful, with great people, doing something I love. It doesn't get much better than that.

Of course, it isn't easy. I hated leaving my old job. Hated it. I hated leaving a dear friend (I mean, he's still there, and still a friend, but I'm not seeing him daily.)

And even now, at my age, you feel like the new kid at school - are people going to be nice? What should I wear? Will it be appropriate? Am I really going to be able to do this job, or is this some big cosmic joke?

(By the way, I got the interview for this job on the last day of a novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Be careful with novenas: change usually occurs.)

Thus, it begins. And yes, it's big and new and scary. But it's also fun and wonderful. Plus, I figure if our Blessed Mother had a hand in this, I can't argue.

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. - 2 Corinth. 5:17

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Monday morning you look so fine - Friday I got travelin on my mind - First you love me, then you fade away"

[lyrics from Fleetwood Mac, "Monday Morning"}

1. Scored at Goodwill yesterday: got my Older, Wiser sister outfitted for a black tie event. Cha-ching!

2. Praying hard to Mary, Untier of Knots. I never seem to run out of knots!!

3. There are a few things I'm quite bitter about. Remember "The Jetsons?" (If you don't, look it up.) I still don't have a flying car, a jetpack or a robot maid. And here it is 2015.

4. Yesterday's Gospel was about service. You can't expect to sit near Jesus in Heaven unless you are willing to serve everybody else. Pope Francis is great about reminding us about this. Serve others with love.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An elderly warrior, and the weapons necessary

We moved Mom into an assisted living center recently (well, my brother and nephew - God bless them - did the heavy lifting.) She is sorta settled and sorta unsettled.

Her apartment is great, and thankfully set up much like her old home. Her cat, Barney, made the move too, and that helps.

The "unsettled" part of her keeps moving things around. I'm not sure if its her way of trying to make it feel like her own, or if it's just her aging brain. Anyway, things were muddled the last time I was there, and my brother suggested that I "help" Mom straighten out her closet and drawers. Thankfully, she was open to my gentle offering.

I tried to put her winter clothes together, and tuck away sandals that she'll likely never wear again under the more comfortable slippers she will need. I sorted through lighter tops and folded them away under sweaters.

In her dresser, she has a drawer that I thought was jewelry. There were a few trinkets in there, but mostly, there were rosaries and scapulars. Dozens and dozens. I recognized one rosary as my grandmother's. The scapulars - some were worn and torn, others brand new - were tucked neatly away in small plastic bags and little jewelry boxes.

This was my mom's war chest: her weapons for the years and years and years she has spent as a faithful warrior for Christ. I know all of those rosaries have been fingered and prayed at some point. Mom always had at least one rosary handy - in a purse, in the car, in a bag for traveling.

When I was fourteen, I fell off our horse and broke my arm. My mom, a nurse, splinted the arm efficiently and tucked me into the car to drive me to the hospital - a good 25 minute drive from our rural home (and trust me, an eternity when you have a broken arm.) As we headed out, she handed me a rosary, and said, "It's good to hold onto." When we got to the hospital, they literally had to pry that rosary out of my hand.

That drawer - that war chest - reminded me that our family has been blessed in so many ways by the prayer warrior who has been our matriarch for so long. Now, as she steps closer to death, her mind a bit jumbled, those prayers still spring softly from her lips. The warrior may be old, but her fight continues.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Swinging At Curveballs

Time for change. I can't reveal all yet, but change is coming. Big ones. Littler ones.

I'm not a big fan of change.

You'd think by the time I'd reached this point in my life, I'd have developed a "change is inevitable and I'm used to it" attitude. Oh, dear. No. Not a bit.

I like routine. I like knowing what's going to happen. I'm all for a great, romping adventure in a novel, but I prefer my kitty slippers, a glass of whatever potion I choose to drink and said novel on my lap every evening.

And yet God persists in challenging me. Telling me to stop crowding the plate. No balks, but almost. The change-ups are always circumstances in which to trust Him. I do better sometimes than others.

He does that, you know. Throws you a spiritual curve ball. It's not a test (Will she do it? Will she get it this time?) so much as a way to learn how to swing better. Keep changing up those pitches, and eventually, you can hit 'em all ... well, a lot anyway. But God loves a good curve ball.

Take Mary. Imagine an angel showing  up and telling you you're about to become the mother of the Messiah.

Or Noah. Go build a great big boat. Everyone's going to think you're nuts, but ...

Or Moses. Dragging a bunch of whiny, ungrateful ex-slaves around the desert, knowing the Promised Land is out there somewhere, somewhere.

I'm in the batting cage. I'm swinging away. I'll get there. Keep 'em comin'!

Monday, October 12, 2015

I can't think about Monday I can't think about watching you walk away

[Lyrics from Carole King's "I Can't Think About Monday]

1. It was a glorious fall weekend in Michigan ... and I spent it inside, sick with a head cold. Such is life.

2. We have a big work shindig next week: black tie. The guys cut a deal with a local retailer to rent tuxes for 25 bucks. Geez! My hair is gonna cost more than that! And guys ALWAYS look better in tuxes than women do in evening gowns, just because we're not used to them getting dressed up.

3. From a friend's FB page (he's an Orthodox priest):

When the sun rises and cast its light of the world, it reveals both itself and the things it illumines. Similarly, when the Sun of Righteousness rise in the pure intellect, He reveals both Himself and the inner principles of all that has been and will be brought into existence by Him.

- St Maximus the Confessor, 400 Chapters on Love

Friday, October 9, 2015

Blessing And Blast From The Past

artist Pamela Spiro Wagner
In the summer of 2014, I hit rock bottom in the world of depression. I was making plans for suicide. I didn't really want to die, but I couldn't take the pain anymore. I checked myself into the local psychiatric hospital and got the help I so desperately needed.

The first morning I was there, I woke early. I went into the "quiet room" with my prayer book. I was in there for several minutes before I noticed a person huddled under a blanket in the corner. A lovely face peeped out at me: porcelain skin, sky-blue eyes and the type of blonde hair that you usually see on toddlers: almost white, wispy, soft.

She said softly, "Are you praying?" and I said yes. She picked up her Bible and asked if I'd like to pray with her. Yes, I did.

I'll call her Lauren. She was in her 20s, and she was very, very sick. She spent most days huddled under her blanket, a hat pulled down low on her forehead. She hardly ever spoke above a whisper. Some days, there were easy smiles, but mostly, she was either almost crying or crying. Her pockets bulged with tissues.

Lauren and I talked and prayed. She was suffering so much from childhood wounds, mostly inflicted by her father. These were not the wounds one could see - these were deep, treacherous, trench-like wounds that scarred her heart and her soul.

She thought one day she might be released, but no - she was not ready. She knew it, but it still saddened her. As good as the care was, as important as it was - it's not a great place to be.

I've been maintaining my mental health for more than a year, and Lauren still creeps into my mind and my prayers. She was so sweet, so gentle, so kind ... and so hurt.

Yesterday, my sister and I ran into the local Panera to get lunch - and there was Lauren, at a cash register. I walked up to her, and said softly, "Do you remember me?" She said I looked familiar, and I said, "We were in the hospital together last summer" and then her face lit up.

I asked her how she was. She said she was good - she had spent most of the last year at an out-of-state women's ministry center, getting intense counseling, and she was doing well. I told her I'd often thought of her and continued to pray for her.

Had the counter not been between us, we would have gently hugged, just as we did the day I left the hospital.

God is good. On a day when I had to get painful spinal shots, I got to see someone I never expected to see again, and she was well. What a gift.