Monday, January 16, 2017

Stripping Away Vanity

Caravvagio's St. Francis of Assisi
God has asked our family to strip away much lately. And it is difficult. And it is good.

St. Francis of Assisi certainly knew about this. As a young man, when he had decided to follow Christ, he ran into the stern disapproval of his own father. Francis (never one to do things part-way) met with his father and the bishop. Francis renounced his claim to his father's money, and - in the public square - stripped off his fine clothes, declaring that they were no longer his. A tattered garment replaced the luxurious fabrics.

Like many of his time, Francis was afraid of lepers. Little was known of this dreaded disease, but those who contracted were destined for a life of poverty, outside of any town, village or city. Their only sustenance was gained by begging. In a moment of clarity, Francis saw Christ in a leper. He embraced the man. That gesture required Francis to strip away his prejudice, his fear, his lack of faith.

Francis also received the stigmata - the wounds of Christ. This is a great gift, but a heavy one. Anyone who bears the stigmata is joined with Christ in pain and suffering. It means one's own body is stripped away, and now belongs to Christ. Francis knew that, for him, the only way to holiness was by leaving himself - all of himself - behind, and to follow Christ.

Author Ilia Delio, speaking of Francis:
The person who desires friendship with God must strive to be free from all attachments and from all commitments that are exclusively human or in relation to earthly realities. This does not mean that we are to give up our friends or sacrifice our desire for a better job or position. Rather, we may understand attachment here as possessiveness. We are called to be dispossessed of earthly things so as to possess God. To possess means to “cling to,” to hold on to something so tightly that other possibilities are “squeezed out.” Each of us is called to be poor, to empty ourselves of all that we cling to so that we may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, Dear Husband and I have spent the past month or so stripping away. We had to move from our rather large house of 19 years to a 2 bedroom apartment. It was not our choice. For whatever reason, God called us to this. So we stripped away. And stripped some more.

Now that we are in our new home, we may have to strip away even more. (Not a lot of closet space. And a bathroom that is hardly big enough to change your mind in.)

Yet we know that all this is good. God is calling us to be less attached. Our possessions cannot make decisions for us - that is a crazy way to live. Instead (and Francis knew this!) we must strip away all that is not God so that God can direct our lives. If we allow our "stuff" to direct us, we become of this world, not of Christ. The only possession we can truly keep is the cross we choose to pick up and follow Him.

It's not fun. It's not easy. But knowing that God directs us, that we are truly trying to hear His voice over any stuff we may have, brings peace.

Now, if I could just find my blowdryer....
 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trying to "end run" God

If you're a football fan, you know what an end run is. From Merriam-Webster:
a football play in which the ballcarrier attempts to run wide around the end of the line
We try to "end run" God a lot. I do. I figure I know better. I've got this - no need to worry the Big Guy about such a trivial thing.

Of course, it never works.

Like the puppy above, when we try and evade the tough obstacle (even though we KNOW we will eventually have to do it), we end up - well, off in the bushes.

But oh! How I wished my way worked. I'd love to take a flying leap and land smoothly and gracefully. People would be in awe, as if watching Simone Biles nail a balance beam routine that no one else would even attempt. I would shyly look down and blush - just lightly - and acknowledge (But humbly! Oh so humbly!) my achievement.

But no: I am the one pulling myself out of the bushes, scratches all over my legs and twigs in my hair. I'd hear that gentle but loving voice of God saying, "Told you so." And I'd blush furiously, knowing I looked like a fool.

In 2015, I left a job that had become unbearable due to office politics. I began a new job ... and was promptly fired four days later. "Uh??? How did that happen?" I couldn't figure out why God would lead me out into the desert, only to find myself stranded on a hunk of wood in the ocean. That's not how this is supposed to work, I told God. I did what you wanted!!!

Then my mom got really sick, and I was able to be with her full-time for the last weeks of her life. "Thanks, God," I said, a wee bit sheepishly.

Right now, I'm on a tear because someone didn't do their job, prolonging my wait for a surgery that will alleviate the bone-crunching, on-the-floor-weeping, unrelenting pain I've been in for most of the past year. Everything was on schedule - MY schedule. And then, yesterday, I found out that some necessary paperwork that should have been taken care of WEEKS ago - eh, never happened. There was a lot of finger-pointing and dodging of responsibility.

(The nurse from the insurance company asked me yesterday, "Do you have adequate pain meds for the time being?" I said, "If I had adequate pain meds, I wouldn't need the damn surgery!")

So, I'm waiting. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. I don't know what God knows. There may be a perfectly good reason that only He is privy to that makes waiting a good idea. I may never know, this side of Heaven. I guess I'll have to figure out the stairs instead of launching myself into the bushes. No end runs. Patience.

And I didn't even pray for patience. Isn't God good?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Faith As A Crutch


One of my sons has taken up atheism with a vengeance. It's a bold and provocative life: claiming God does not exist. That way, you have nothing to live up to. Wild, huh?

He accused me, on Christmas Day, of using faith as a crutch. At first, I was offended. But now: yeah, it's a crutch.

When I was 16, we took a family trip up through Canada and down through New England. One of our stops was the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal. In one of the chapels, and lining the hallways, were hundreds, if not thousands, of crutches and canes cast off by infirm visitors who found some form of healing there. It was rather remarkable to see very old crutches along side aluminum ones - clearly, this had been going on for a long time.

When I lost my mom, I was holding it together at the funeral home pretty well until two of my oldest and dearest friends came in. I literally fell into their arms. And I remembered back just a few short years before, when one of those friends lost her husband quite suddenly, that I had done the same for her.

My husband has been a crutch for me, and me for him - many, many times over our past 30+ years. My oldest sister propped me up when one of my daughters faced a horrible time in her life.

There have been times when the only thing that gets me through the week is the Eucharist. I've also found incredible solace in the Anointing of the Sick. When my kids were younger, a yearly retreat was a balm for a weary soul.

I am a cripple. I am sinful. I am not "all there," and I won't be if and until I reach Heaven. I say and do stupid and mean things. I know each of the seven deadly sins quite well, and have only a nodding acquaintance with the virtues. Left to my own accord, I would be the moral equivalent of the bum sleeping off a bender in the park, only to collect a few more bucks and head off to get more Five Buck Chuck.

I am simply too sinful to make it on my own. I need not only a crutch, but a wheelchair and an ambulance and my own concierge-physician on call 24/7.

Thankfully, I have that. His name is Christ and His Church is Catholic. And I'm happy to limp my way into Heaven, so long as I get there.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Secret Santa!!


Too old for Santa? I think not.

Yes, there are discussions as to whether we should "lie" to kids and tell them that Santa brings them gifts vs. We can't lie to the kids; it's wrong.

There is also the "Christmas is about Jesus" vs. "But Santa is magical!"

You know, we have so few magical and joyful moments, and less and less as we get older. Santa is fun. And the kids usually figure it out, and no one I know was ever scarred for life for believing that Santa brought them and every child everywhere a toy for Christmas.

It's the magic of looking up at the sky on a clear December night, thinking "I'll wait up to see Santa" and later, as you fell asleep at the window, being in your daddy's arms as he carries you to bed.

It's the magic of putting out cookies and milk (or beer, because Santa does like beer) and maybe some carrots for the reindeer, and then checking in the morning to make sure the food was all consumed.

It's the magic of looking at your lumpy, stuffed stocking on Christmas morning, trying to figure out exactly what is in there.

It's the magic of visiting cousins on Christmas Day and seeing what Santa brought them. It's also realizing that Santa's toys for boys are a LOT different than what he left for you and your sisters. (A wood burning kit?? A BB gun?? Yay!)

We've been doing Secret Santa here at the office. We had a $20 limit for 4 days of gifts. I think I had more fun with the gifts FOR the lady whose name I'd drawn than with the gifts I received. However, how fun is it to walk into work every day and find a treat or a trinket or a thoughtful something waiting for you? To know that the person who gifted you these things put thought into who you are, what you like, what gifts suit you.

And then today, we meet our Secret Santas. Maybe it's a guy out in the print shop whom you've only seen in passing. Or it's the lady in proof-reading who makes homemade jellies just for this season. Or maybe it's that young man in the web department who is quiet and polite.

It's magic. It's joyful. It's fun.

At that first Christmas, it didn't seem like much to celebrate. Mary and Joseph, exhausted from their journey, have to take refuge in a stable. Mary has to give birth with only her husband there to help. But then, the guests came. The shepherds - the first to believe in and meet the Messiah. The wise men - the learned skeptics from a far away land. There were likely others: women at the inn who learned of the new baby - they must has come to offer clothes and food. Others who had gathered in Bethlehem for the census - curious about that star and the gossip about that baby.

Joy. Peace. Beauty. Wonder. Love.

No, Secret Santa is not the answer to our pain or our sin. But Secret Santa does remind us that joy is possible, and His name is Emmanuel.

So put up the stockings, pop some popcorn, light up the tree and enjoy the magic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Be Grateful!


I have this note on my work station: Be Grateful!

I tend to be a bit pessimistic, always waiting for the next calamity to strike. I lose sight of the good things. This little note helps to remind me that God has blessed me abundantly, and continues to do so.

What am I grateful for today?

  • This amazing rendition of "O Holy Night" by the incomparable Jennifer Nettles
  • Secret Santa (So far, my Santa has gifted me some colorful gel pens, a case of sparking water [which I guzzle by the gallon] and dark chocolates.) What an awesome thing it is for co-workers to make each other's day a bit brighter!
  • Dark-Haired Daughter's Happy Adoption Day. We alway celebrate the day our kids came home. What a blessing!
  • I'm grateful I have a reliable vehicle during these winter months.
  • I'm grateful we found a new place to live that we really, really like
If you tend to be a bit gloomy like me, perhaps a gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder to be grateful is the nudge you need. Be grateful!

Monday, December 19, 2016

A bit of poetry for your soul: Maya Angelou

Art by Jean-Pierre Weill from The Well of Being

I'm a bit drained. Work is busy (good!) and we are in the midst of packing and purging.

Part of the packing process feels like an archeological dig: the book one kiddo made in the 5th grade, mementoes from 1st Communions, a forgotten photo from an ordinary day. It is bittersweet. I keep reminding myself that the memories are not in the things.

I thought this poem from Maya Angelou summed things up well.

"Touched by an Angel" 

We, unaccustomed to courage 
exiles from delight 
live coiled in shells of loneliness 
until love leaves its high holy temple 
and comes into our sight 
to liberate us into life. 

Love arrives 
and in its train come ecstasies 
old memories of pleasure 
ancient histories of pain. 
Yet if we are bold, 
love strikes away the chains of fear 
from our souls. 

We are weaned from our timidity 
In the flush of love's light 
we dare be brave 
And suddenly we see 
that love costs all we are 
and will ever be. 
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Brokenness

Arrival of the Shepherds, artist Henri Lerolle
It was a lovely May evening, the kind we in Michigan savor like honey. After the brutal cold of winter, flowers blossomed, grass greened, mosquitoes flocked. School was almost done for the year - just the formalities of 8th grade graduation were ahead.

Why not saddle up the horse and go for a ride? Why not, indeed. So my sister and I did. I took Prince out across the road from our house, to romp through the weeds on a path my father mowed for us. The view from horseback on a spring night - well, nearly Heaven.

Until Prince bolted. He spooked. I fell. And my arm broke. Compound fracture.

My dog, a collie, had followed us out. He was not particularly trusting of Prince, as Prince would never allow himself to be herded, and this vexed my collie. My dog, channeling his inner Lassie, ran home without me.

My sister had been in the yard with her boyfriend at the time, Gary, waiting for me to come back. Instead, it was just the dog loping across the road. That didn't seem right, so my sister's boyfriend came out in search of me.

I was probably about 1/4 of a mile from home, and decided God helps those who help themselves, cowgirl up and all that. Holding my left arm gingerly, I started back across the field, leaving the damn horse to graze.

Gary, seeing me at a distance, yelled out, "You ok, sis?" And I yelled back, "No. My arm is broken." He didn't seem sure he'd heard me correctly, but as he neared and took one look at my arm, it was quite clear. And then he went into shock.

I kept walking, yelling back over my shoulder to him to go get the damn horse.

My sister and mother were in the driveway. My mom, a nurse, immediately stuck me in the passenger side of the car and then went in the house to get something to splint my arm with. She told my sister to keep an eye on me. My sister then went into shock.

Mom returned with two issues of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and a couple of long rags, which she used to splint my arm. I had already lost some blood, and Mom thought maybe she should call the ambulance. However, we lived almost precisely in the middle of nowhere, and we were about 30 minutes from the hospital. I told her no, you drive.

Many things happened after that, not the least of which were some lovely drugs that kept me from too much reality for a few days. Besides shattering about an inch of bone in my forearm, I also did some nerve damage, losing sensation in some of my fingers and part of my hand - which I never regained. I have a gnarly scar and a lumpy arm - forever broken.

I was struck, this past Sunday, by the brokenness in the readings. Isaiah speaks of the feeble, the weak, the frightened. The psalm echoes: we are strangers, outsiders, hungry, alone. Jesus affirms His identity in the Gospel by drawing attention to the fact that healing is taking place; the broken are no longer broken, but whole.

On Christmas Day, we will gather around the Christ Child. It will be a scene of brokenness. A place where animals are housed, a feeding crib - not a bed for a baby - will have to suffice. A womb broken. A young woman giving birth with none of the female attendants: her mother, an aunt, a cousin, to help.The poor shepherds, used to being only on the periphery, are now brought, smelly and dirty and unclean, to see their Savior. Joseph, a man broken by the news that his espoused was to bear a child not his, is now protector and guide and husband and father.

And then there is us. We stand behind the shepherds, peering over their shoulders. We sidestep a lamb, bump a cow out of the way. We limp forward. We gingerly hold a broken limb close to our chest. Our knees shake. We stretch out a palsied hand.

And the Mother nods to us. Yes, come near. He is here for you.

You will not be left in a field alone. You no longer have to pick yourself up and find help. No drugs will be necessary to soothe your pain. The One Who Is has arrived. He is broken for you. He knows the pain, even in his little baby body.

The shepherds move aside for you. Their dog, still on alert, presses close to their legs. Yes, here is where the healing is, you think. Here my brokenness will be no more.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bad Mom


The past year has been one of loss for me and my family. Right now, we are in the midst of losing our house. We are moving in a month - because who wouldn't want to move in the middle of January in Michigan???

I've lived most of this year in physical pain. After rounds of doctor visits (from my family doc to the university hospital), I finally got some answers ... but no solutions. Even the top-rated docs at U of M didn't want to touch the source of my pain.

It was suggested to me that I try for a spinal stimulator. While this seemed like a great idea, it set off weeks of phone calls: pain clinic, doctor, insurance and round and round and round. I'm in the midst of a trial and it looks good, but the permanent implant may be weeks away .... and we are moving.

Then last week, one of my kids dropped a bit of a bombshell. I didn't react very well. It feels like another enormous loss to me. I did a horrible job of trying to make myself understood, and my child reacted with, "You know, you can be a real b*^#%."

Which I can.

Now I have this giant block sitting in the middle of my chest. Some of that block is built from my own sinfulness. Some of that block is the emotional toll all this is taking. And some of that block is the realization that my kid doesn't really respect me.

I've been pondering: do our kids owe us anything? Biblically, they are supposed to "honor" us. What does that mean? It doesn't mean they have to like us. It doesn't mean they have to talk to us. Sabrina Beasley McDonald wonders if ALL parents are due this honor, even if the parents were abusive:
Every Father's Day I attend church with my parents. During these services, the pastor always asks if anyone would like to stand and pay tribute to his or her father. One by one, people share their memories, and each year without fail, a frail little woman, looking weary from a hard life, stands.
Everyone patiently watches as she rises slowly and confesses in a tired trembling voice, "My daddy was a drinking man. He wasn't there much, but when he wasn't drinking, he was a good man … I loved my daddy." The tears well up in her eyes as she makes her way back down to the pew.
 She never says much; there isn't much to say. But she faithfully and sincerely obeys the fifth commandment … even if her father didn't deserve it.
I do not deserve praise for parenting. My children are a gift from God, and they will have to decide for themselves what is due me and my husband. They are still baby-adults, and I hope they will figure things out.

I was reminded last night as I was praying and pondering of Mother Teresa. She loved God so much, yet for some reason He chose not to give her any consolation from that relationship. None. And that should not surprise us - in fact, it should surprise us that any of us get any consolation from God at all. He, after all, does not need us. He has no need to be in a relationship with us. He is not changed by us. Yet, He lovingly responds to us as a parent to a child.

I am no Mother Teresa, nor am I a deity. I am a sinner, and a real b*%#@. I also cannot rely on any person to sustain me spiritually - that is the province of God. I'm still trying to figure that out ... much like my kids, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Missing Mom

artist Michael Meier
It's been almost a year since my mom died (Dec. 2 is the actual anniversary.) I didn't think it would hit me this hard, but all I really want to do right now is retreat into a cocoon of blankets, tea and a rosary.

Dear Husband and I were with our spiritual director last night, and I spoke of this. She said, "You know, my parents have both been gone for over 20 years, and I still have moments where I think, 'I wish you were here." And she went on to speak of the "body experience" (which is a very Franciscan thing) of missing loved ones: the longing for the touch, the voice.

I don't want Mom "back." I pray her soul is at peace with God. But her voice, her hug. Whenever I visited, she would stand at her door as I was leaving and wave. "Call me when you get home, so I know you're safe."  I'm 50 years old, and she still worried about sending her baby out into the world, where so many bad things can happen. How can I not miss that?

I'm surrounded by her things. I wear her engagement ring as my own now. My parents were married nearly 60 years; I hope Dear Husband and I enjoy at least that much time together. But it's not the ring. It's the story of how Dad met Mom, how he courted her and then asked her to marry him. Tell us again, Daddy...

A year ago, I was sleep-deprived, standing watch over her as she struggled so mightily to shed her mortal shell. She had stopped speaking, but would cry out in the night, "Thy will be done." My brother or I would pray the rosary aloud, and we would hear her voice, weak but firm: "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

My brother would arrive to "spell" me. I'd go grab a few hours of sleep, and then continue sorting through her things. Every item I touched required a decision. To whom should this go? Who will be the caretaker now? Should this be tossed? And then, I'd go back to Mom and hold the hand that had held each of these items.

I know that some people associate death with a body in a casket at a funeral home. The hushed tones. The boxes of Kleenex everywhere. Dimmed lights. But that's not death.

Death - like birth - is a privilege to behold, but is also so incredibly painful. That soul is lurching, as if in labor pains, to go back to whence it came: to be with God. For the ones standing by the bedside, you hold the hand, you wipe the brow, you feed ice chips. More than anything, you pray.

My birthday in 2015 was spent in exactly the same spot that my first birthday was celebrated: in the same hospital where I was born. This time, though, the roles were reversed: I was the caretaker, the one who tended to the cry.

I have this hurdle to clear on Friday. I will pray, as I do every day, that Mom and Dad have found eternal rest, and if not, that God may grant them that rest quickly. But still...

I am sure George MacDonald said it far better than I ever could, in his poem, A Prayer for the Past:

But were they dead in me, 
they live In Thee, Whose Parable is—Time, 
And Worlds, and Forms—all things that give 
Me thoughts, and this my rime. 

 Father, in joy our knees we bow: 
This earth is not a place of tombs: 
We are but in the nursery now; 
They in the upper rooms. 

 For are we not at home in Thee, 
And all this world a visioned show; 
That, knowing what Abroad is, we 
What Home is too may know?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Huh. Didn't see that comin'

If I were to write an autobiography, I believe it's title would be, Huh. Didn't See That Coming. A few examples:

  • A proper Catholic girl who fell in love with and married an agnostic. (He converted later.)
  • Infertility
  • Adopting 5 kids
  • Staying sane raising 5 kids
  • Speech therapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy...
  • A parade of social workers who always knew better than I did
  • The incredible implosion that puberty had on my kids' brains.
I could go on. And I shall.

About 18 years ago, we bought a "dream house." A great place to raise kids. Lots of other kids in the neighborhood, on a quiet cul-de-sac. Perfect.

Until things went so completely, utterly and horribly sideways.

Eldest Son was far more troubled that we knew initially, and eventually was removed from our home. Our "perfect home" became haunted for me - I felt guilty for not seeing what was right under my nose. 

As our kids grew older, the chemicals that their birth mother had implanted in their brains in utero ran smack into the hormones of puberty and many, many things got broken: hearts, walls, appliances. For a long time, we lived in a war zone. 

About 8 years ago, my husband lost a job and the economy tanked. We clung to that house for dear life, but came within weeks of losing it. Our thinking was that losing the only house my kids knew would be one more devastating emotional blow. A friend stepped up and helped us out, and we stayed in the house.

This past year, we put a lot of money, time and energy into fixing the place up. It was finally becoming the house I really wanted - it was a new home and we were going to make so many new memories.

Then our friend decided it had taken far too long for us to get a new mortgage in our name. To be fair, it had. We actually had a new mortgage secured last summer, and then my husband became critically ill. We had to start the mortgage roulette all over again. So close...

An attorney wrote us a letter, and told us we were going to be evicted on January 1. Due to my health, we begged for another month. So, the eviction will take place on February 1.

We scrambled for a mortgage. And then - we stopped.

We found an apartment that "fits," for now. We are purging. We have too much stuff anyway. God is leading us somewhere, but we don't know where - yet. But we prayed, and talked, and this feels right.  We figured out (of course!) that "home" is wherever we are. 

Nope. Didn't see this comin'. But it will be fine. Really. Really fine. Because, after all, God's been in charge the whole way.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My Constant Prayer Right Now

Crucifixion, artist Simon Bisley
Holy wound in the side of my Jesus, I adore Thee; I compassionate Thee, O Jesus, for the cruel insult Thou didst suffer. I thank Thee, my Jesus, for the love which suffered Thy side and Heart to be pierced, so that the last drops of blood and water might issue forth, making my redemption to overflow. I offer to the Eternal Father this outrage, and the love of Thy most holy humanity, that my soul may enter once for all into that most loving Heart, eager and ready to receive the greatest sinners, and never more depart. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Eight Years



Multiply that by eight years.

Eight years ago - 2008. The US elected a man I did not vote for nor like. His administration rammed a health care package down the throats of the American people that forced many of us to pay for birth control and abortion, which we find morally repugnant. He spoke of "freedom of worship" which is far different than "freedom of religion" - a fundamental right of Americans. His presidency will be remembered by some of us for going after the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns founded in 1839. They provide end of life care for the destitute. The president for the past 8 years believed these women should provide birth control and abortion for their employees, which is a direct violation of their religious freedom.

I could go on.

Eight years.

For the past eight years, I have fought like hell for a daughter with special needs. I have been told by "her" social worker, a state employee was charged with my daughter's care, "I haven't read her file, [laugh]. It's pretty long." The woman NEVER MET MY DAUGHTER, yet was responsible for making decisions regarding my daughter's care.

Another government employee told me and my husband as we were trying to get help for our daughter, help that was promised to us when we adopted her: "Oh, you're THOSE parents. You adopt a kid and then try and give her back to the state." That guy still has his teeth, which in itself is a miracle, because I damned near punched him.

When my daughter was viciously and repeatedly attacked, a police detective told me, "Your daughter is just a bad kid who got involved in stuff she didn't understand." This, despite the fact that my daughter identified her attackers; no one was ever arrested.

Eight years.

I've fought for my kids' education. I've raised 5 kids, some of whom have significant mental health issues.

I taught high school.

I lost both my parents, caring for them at the end of their life.

I've been in two horrific car accidents, both caused by distracted drivers.

I almost lost my husband to a rare complication following a "simple outpatient procedure."

I have depression. I'm still here.

I have a benign, inoperable spinal tumor that causes me pain every single day.

My kids have, at various times, found me stupid, irrelevant, overbearing, and difficult. Yet we still fight on for our family, in love, mercy and sheer stubbornness.

I've repaired a relationship with a sister.

I wrote a book, and in the process met some of the most amazing people who fight every day for victims of human trafficking. Some of those people are themselves survivors and are heroes just for getting out of bed every day, let alone fighting for other victims.

I was forced out of a job I loved and was damned good at, for reasons I still don't understand. I found a new job, only to be fired four days later. The guy who hired me told me I was an "embarrassment." I was still trying to remember where the break room was. I started another job in January of this year, and am pleased and relieved to say it is a joy to work here.

Eight years.

I'll bet if you look over the past eight years of  your life, you'll see joys and sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. Most of us are too damned busy to go out and protest against a politician. We have lunches to pack, laundry to wash and fold (and maybe put away), bills to pay. We have to get a teenager through geometry and a second-grader ready for First Communion. We have to help plan the parish bazaar, or makes meals for a neighbor who just had surgery.

Eight years. I have to say that - politically - I haven't been too damned thrilled with politicians in the past eight years, especially the President of the United States. But then again, I've never been too damned thrilled with politicians.

Here's the deal: every four years, one side wins and the other loses. And we Americans still have to get on with doing what we do. Right now, we need to decide: Is "what we do" tearing each other apart? Is that who Americans are now? Are we so politically divided that we will call each other "bigots" across the table at Thanksgiving? Do we divide our friends by whether or not they agree with us on every damn thing that comes down the pike?

I hope not.

I'm not too damned thrilled with the current President-Elect. But I've got bigger things on my mind. Am I being charitable? Am I doing what God's will is for me? Am I praying enough? Am I truly seeking what God wants? Am I serving my family and my friends.

In eight years, will I be a better person than I am today? Eight years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-election Blues

Actually, I'm not really all that upset about the election. I didn't care for either of the major party candidates and judging by FB today, we are just as divided a nation today as we were yesterday. No, my heart is heavy for a lot of different reasons, none of them political.

For those of us who struggle with depression, we know it is a constant battle with the beast. Some days, just getting out of bed is a monumental effort. Got dressed? Bonus! Went to work? Double-bonus! Did not put  your head on your desk and weep? You win a trip to Aruba!! (If only...)

We have instituted a "family dinner" once a month, but it's never the whole family. Got too many wounds, too much turbulence, too much mental illness. I cherish these days, but they hurt too.

I'm worried about a medical procedure I'm supposed to have done. It's kinda radical, but also hopeful. But will it work? I dunno. But it will require some down time, and this year, I've missed so much work due to pain. My boss and my company have been supportive and gracious, but it still worries me.

I've got a kiddo who is bound and determined to be the Prodigal, even when we've begged and pleaded with him not to go. I just hope he will be able to return, and not wind up dead out there in the world.

We've had financial stresses for the past 15 years, but nothing like this. Will we be able to remain in our home? Can we get financing for a different house? Will we end up in an apartment (and have to get rid of beloved pets?)?

I am literally sick with worry. I know: trust in the Lord. But the Lord is not always so great on keeping me informed. And my depression and anxiety are not about a lack of faith; they are no more under my control than someone's appendicitis or another person's astigmatism. I know that God is with us, but I truly feel like my whole life is being juggled by a creepy clown.

President Trump? Ok. Not thrilled but we will deal with it. But if you see me smiling when you ask me how I am ... ask again, and say, "I really want to know how you're doing."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Holding on to a kid for dear life

Maybe you know this. Maybe you've done it. But if you haven't...

As parents, we know that someday, we must let go of our kids. They have to grow up. You relish those moments of cuddling them after a bath, of snuggling on the couch on a rainy day, of watching them learn a new skill.

But that moment when  you have to let go? We'd rather not.

Maybe it happens when  you drop them off at college that first time. Or that first time you hand them the keys to the car. Or when they get their first real job.

Maybe it's when they tell you (in utter sincerity) that they've learned a lesson you've put before them all their life, but NOW, it finally makes sense.

Sometimes, the letting go is not a happy one. It is not because they have reached a new height, or have grown up, matured. No, this letting go is ugly and sad and harder than anything you've ever done.

This letting go is because your child has made horrible choices. It's drugs or alcohol or the addictive behavior that goes along with it. You have to let go because you cannot support them or their habit. You cannot drag the rest of the family down.

You have to give the child a choice: get clean, learn a new way of living or ... you have to go.

Other parents will tell you how despicable you are for not supporting your child. People will see your kid and thank God that they are not you - for you must be a terrible parent for having a kid that has turned out this way. As a parent, you are a pariah, an anathema. You are at fault. For the other parents, it is inconceivable that their child might choose the same path, so it must be the parents' fault. It is the only way they can justify their damning of you.

Your child is a mess. They lie and steal and deny. You no longer talk to them: you talk to the drugs or the alcohol. You offer food, but not money. You will buy them clothes, but won't give them cash. You know all too well what that money would go for.

Is it love to treat your child like this? Or is it love to not have turned them out? You will be judged. You will be seen as the worst of parents - you "don't support your child." You have to carry that weight.

Your child to will curse you. He will judge you, say hateful things to you. You must wipe the spittle from  your face.

You have to let go.

What no one sees, of course, is that you are holding that child so tightly in prayer. You do not turn them out - you turn them over to God. You beg our Blessed Mother to protect that child. Your knees bleed because you are on them so much. You know, in a very small way, the sword that has pierced Our Mother's heart.

No, you have not let that child go. You are clinging to them in prayer, in supplication, in petition. You will never let them go.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happy Feast of All Souls', the Day of the Dead And Why You Should Celebrate

One great thing about being Catholic is that we are always celebrating something. Halloween? Yes, please! Feast of All Saints'? You betcha! Feast of All Souls? We are in!

A woman decorates her family "ofrenda" or Day of the Dead altar
One thing that nearly all world religions have in common is some sort of attention to ancestors. It's common for Buddhist to have an altar or shrine in the home,  with a scroll in place listing the family ancestors. Both the Chinese and Japanese have a time of year when ancestral graves are cleaned, decorated and there is food prepared - both for the living and dead.

As Catholics, we celebrate All Saints' and All Souls'. I kinda wish we had more attention paid to what we can do in our homes to celebrate - our celebrations are pretty much limited to church attendance, unless you're more of a zealot. (And I consider myself one, so I do not mean that in a pejorative sense.)

Now, if you want to see these celebrations done right, head to Catholic Mexico and the Day of the Dead. This is a marvelous example of how Catholicism takes an indigenous belief and "sanctifies" it by bringing the Light of Truth (Jesus) to it.

In most Indian villages, beautiful altars (ofrendas) are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil & bright red cock's combs) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan demuerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.
Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday for these self-sufficient, rural based, indigenous families. Many spend over two month's income to honor their dead relatives. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrendabuilding keeps the family close.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S. ~ perhaps because we don't have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it's because of our fascination with it's mysticism.
When was the last time you walked around a cemetery? Have you ever visited ancestral graves? "It's been awhile" and "No..." are the most common answers. Yet, as Catholics, we passionately believe that the righteous dead (saints) are more fully alive than we are, since they exist now in the presence of Almighty God. These "big brothers and sisters" in the faith are the most likely people for us to ask for intercessory prayer (No, we do not worship the dead. Neither do most religions. We honor them.)

Every Catholic family could use the month of November to talk about how the Catholic faith has been lived out in OUR family. Talk about Grandma and Grandpa's marriage. How did our ancestors bring the faith from the Old World to the New? Are any of our family members found a new parish? What sacrifices did they make to make sure we were raised and educated in the faith?

Happy Feast of All Souls'. May this month be a rich one for you and your family of faith!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Walking By Faith, Catholic Zombie Edition


We walk by faith, and not by sight: 
No gracious words we hear 
of him who spoke as none e'er spoke
yet we believe him near.

We may not touch his hands and side, 
nor follow where he trod; 
yet in his promise we rejoice, and cry, 
"My Lord and God! 

I'm running on less than 3 hours sleep. It's cold and rainy and dreary. My office is a bit nippy, so I'm typing with fingerless gloves on. And I've had it "up to here" with God.

(I am a firm believer that it's okay to get angry at God. I know the trials and tribulations in my life are not His fault, but I gotta unload on someone, and He's got very sturdy shoulders.)

The answer I thought I had for my chronic pain turned out to be a bust. That was a day of tears and anger. There is another possible solution, but I am afraid to hope. I'm sort of in a "I'll believe it when I see it" frame of mind.

Youngest Son has broken my trust and faith yet again, in an incredibly hurtful way. I am scrambling to pick up the pieces. I'll forgive him, but I won't trust him for a very long time, if ever - and I cannot imagine a more hurtful realization for a mother towards a child.

I'm just trying to put exhausted foot in front of the other here. There are no gracious words, no consolation of Christ's touch, no sense of direction.

Many years ago, my beloved sister-in-law helped me make my Consecration to Mary. This has been a lifesaver. There have been times - like now - that I cannot even pray. I merely finger the beads of my Rosary, and beg Mary to cover me with her mantle. I'll grab the end, tie a knot and hang on.

Zombies are so popular in our "culture" (I use that word advisedly). Sometimes, in our faith walk, we are zombies. We can't think, we don't pray, we just plod along, trying desperately to keep our soul on life support. Thanks be to God we have the sacraments, especially the Eucharist: truly life support! 

Lack of sleep, far too much stress (and don't anyone dare to tell me to light a scented candle and take a bath - I will come after you!), a broken relationship, and physical pain: there is not any clear path for me. Faith, and the Blessed Mother's guidance, are the only things keeping me plodding along. Like zombies, this is not a pretty part of the spiritual walk, but I'll keep going until God offers me a better path, if it be His will.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Love Me Some World Religions


A long, long time ago, I went to college. This was back in the olden days when a slightly naive but studious Catholic girl didn't have awesome choices like Magdalen College and St. Thomas More College. My parents dropped me off at Alma College, which was founded by the Presbyterian Church. A priest friend of theirs told them he felt confident that my faith life would be safer there than at any "Catholic" college available to me at the time, as most of them had joined in the post-Vatican II meltdown of the '70s.

I had planned to be an English major (and graduated with enough credits, but did not fulfill all the department requirements.) But I had a true epiphany as a freshman, in a class called "Religion in America." One of our readings was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail." It knocked the breath out of me. I had never heard the Gospel proclaimed in this way - the Word of God as a basis for justice. (Gentle reader: Yes, I know now that the Catholic faith has a rich history here, but keep in mind that I was only 18. A mere babe.)

I decided then I needed to delve into religion in a deep way. I declared my major: religious studies! (A family member was a bit worried about my faith, but - thanks be to God - I was protected against any desire to change teams. Likely this was due to my mother's prayers.)

Please know: a major in religious studies makes one a great candidate for:

A.) Graduate school
B.) Tending Bar
C.) Winning at Trivial Pursuit
D.) Boring people to death at parties

I chose A. Never regretted that either. I have always been and remain truly fascinated at how we humans view ourselves and God. I love the quirkiness of my own faith (Incorruptible bodies? Booze? Folk Masses? Come on: this is great stuff!) and the quirkiness of other faiths, along with the heady theological questions and answers of the heavy-duty life questions faith attempts to answer. Graduate school took me around the globe: Japan, Africa, India.

Which leads us to the picture that accompanies this blog post.
JERUSALEM, OCTOBER 10, 2016: An Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken over his family as they perform the Kapparot ceremony in the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. The Jewish ritual is supposed to transfer the sins of the past year to the chicken, and is performed before the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
When I see a picture like this, it stops me cold. I want to know more. I want to know this family, eat at their table, talk about our shared beliefs. I've never had a dead chicken swung over my head, but I see why it's done. Yes, I still love to learn about religion, and I (more than just a little) want to have a dead chicken swung over my head and celebrate Yom Kippur.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Feeling Smart and Stupid, all at the same time



It's an interesting time to be alive, isn't it? And American to boot. Thought I'd make a few notes because my brain is getting a bit scrambled....

What I Know:

I know that I am a card-carryin' member of the Catholic Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. (Presidential elections notwithstanding.)

I know how to cook. And I'm pretty good at it, when I do it.

I know I am loved by my siblings, and I love them in return.

I know I survived raising 5 kids with a lot of issues. And I'm really, really proud of them.

I know that the older I get, the more I like cats.

I know that big families are a big blessing.

I know that the saints are my friends. Deo gratias.

Now:

I don't know how I'm going to vote in the upcoming election. It's like a choice between food poisoning and a life-threatening allergic reaction.

I do not know how my kids managed to survive me as a mom.

I do not know how to keep my kids Catholic (but if I did, I'd be rich. I pray. A lot. And hope. A lot.)

I do not bake well. I have never successfully made a decent batch of chocolate chip cookies. (It pains me to write that.)

I do not know why I like winter. I just do. In Michigan of all places, where we do winter right.

I have absolutely no idea why bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. I trust God to sort it out.

I don't know how or when I am going to get this stupid tumor taken care of, but if tenacity and generally being a pest counts for anything, it will be soon. God willing.

So there you have it. I'm smart and stupid, all at the same time - as I imagine every human is. (I could fill entire football stadiums with what I DON'T know: how to tie a fly, engine repair, why small boys bring home dead mice, how scoring works in tennis [love??], how to do a smoky eye, why anyone would want to do a triathlon, etc. I could go on. Which is why we'd need those football stadiums.)

May all the saints pray for us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to be a good mother when you just can't

I hesitate to give this piece any more advertisement than it has already received, but just so we are all on the same page, here goes.

Marie Claire magazine, which is pretty standard fashion/ads/young women in America stuff, recently printed an article about women who were miserable as moms. MISERABLE.

"The regret hit me when the grandmas went home and my husband went back to the office and I was on my own with him," she says. "I realized that this was my life now—and it was unbearable."
And:
"I wish I would never had kids [sic]. I realize I am not mother material, and I am terrified thinking how I am going to be forced to take care of it."
And:
She envies friends not for their spontaneous vacations and naps, but for the time and space they have to think. "I hold a lot of data in my head," Ananya says of constantly keeping on top of all the details that go with small children: doctor's appointments, weight, height, most recent allergies, toys they want, foods they will eat. "I long for a life without this mental clutter," she explains.
Dear heavens. I hope that somehow the children of these women don't stumble upon this someday and recognize their mothers.

Ann Landers (a syndicated advice column which ran for years) floated questions to her readers: "If you had it to do over again, would you marry the same person?" and "Would you have children, if you had it to do over?"

The results were overwhelmingly negative. I was in middle school at the time. I remember being so devastated that so many people would dump their spouse that I asked my mom, "Would you marry Dad again?" She said she absolutely would, that my dad was the best man she had ever known, save her own father. That gave me some peace of mind, but the whole thing still rattled me. (Please know, dear readers, that I grew up in a very small town, and our parish was the center of our lives. I truly didn't know anyone who was divorced until I was in college. It wasn't in my realm of experience.)

Back to parenthood. It seems that many folks stumble into parenthood rather casually. "We weren't really planning but now I'm pregnant so ..." or "Well, we'll have one kid and see how it goes. We really don't want to change our lives much ...."

I know people who put more forethought into adopting a dog than they do in bringing a new human being into the world.

In some ways, I can sympathize with the women in the magazine article above. Being a mom is nothing at all what I expected. It's hard. It's Marine bootcamp hard. And no one can really prepare you for it.

Dear Husband and I had our two oldest, both boys, for about a month (we were fostering, waiting for the adoption to be finalized.) The boys were 2 years and 10 months. We went from having no kids to having 2 toddlers. I woke up some morning and thought, "What the heck am I going to do with them all day???"

Then our oldest got sick. He was feverish and snotty and miserable. And of course, it was after office hours. So I put him, in his blue footy pajamas, and took over for urgent care. Which was packed. With a bunch of feverish, snotty, miserable people. The little boy in the blue footy pajamas played for a bit, then crawled into my lap, and dozed.

And I thought, "He NEEDS me."

Something flipped in me. I went from being this kid's non-stop babysitter to knowing that his very life depended on me. I became a mom. A mom of a feverish, snotty miserable toddler, who needed me.

To those moms out there who think they just can't be a mom to the baby, the toddler, the teen: you can. But you'll need help. Sometimes, you'll need girlfriends and wine help, sometimes you'll need husband help, and sometimes you'll need professional help. If you think you can't, you can. You won't love every minute of it. Some of it will be hard. Sometimes you'll dream about driving away, far away.

But that kid - your kid - needs you. Needs you right now. Will need you a billion times between now and forever. Step up. We other moms will help. Let us know what we can do to help. We can listen. But don't think for one second that you can skip out on this, or take your regrets out on your kid. You are needed.
 
 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Being faithful in the midst of pain

"The Prayer" - bubug, DeviantArt
When we are in pain, it seems as if the whole world revolves around us - or should. We only pay attention to our immediate situation.

When our kids were younger, Eldest Son had a lot of problems. There was a time - months and months - where his issues seems to need all of Dear Husband's and my attention. I clearly remember thinking one day, "Whoa - I have GOT to pay attention to the other kids." It's not like I was neglecting them ... no, I was. Maybe it was necessary; we were literally trying to save our son's future, but it didn't make the realization hurt any less. And I couldn't get the time with them back.

Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a health issue. Maybe it's caring for a child or an elderly parent. Whatever it is, we get sucked into a situation where hurt is involved and we begin to act like an ER doctor - plugging holes, clearing airways, keeping the person alive. That's it. We are keeping the situation alive.

Then things quiet down. We look around and see a dead house plant. We forgot to water the darn thing. There is a pile of mail we have not even had a chance to glance at. There is a church bulletin buried in there - from 3 weeks ago. That was the last time we were able to get to Mass. Next to our favorite chair is a rosary we haven't picked up in a while.

I'm not really sure how this works. I know that God knows when we are in "ER mode" - just trying to keep someone alive. Often, our only prayers during this period are (according to Anne Lamott) are "Help!" "Thanks," and "Wow." And those prayers are enough during a time of pain and stress and keeping someone alive.

But maybe what makes those prayers work during those times is our attempts to be truly faithful when we aren't in that swamp of pain. "Help," "thanks," and "wow" are enough ONLY when we have sort of "banked" more prayers. And I am not suggesting that God counts our prayers like some miserly banker. No, it's that we've spent time with God, seeking His will for us, asking, probing, crying out, listening, listening, listening. Margaret Feinberg:
In our greatest moments of pain, loss and heartache, God wants to anchor us to the reality of His imminence. We do not serve a God who is far off, but One who is near and draws near to those shattered by life. God isn’t only with us in those moments, but also in ALL the moments.

Sometimes, holding on to a rosary is all we can do. Sometimes, the only prayer we can muster is "help!" Sometimes the pain is so great, we feel overwhelmed, crushed, forlorn. This is exactly when we most need to be faithful. And here's the ugly truth: that faithfulness does not always have a pay-off. We are not always going to get the cure, save our kid, undo the financial mess, bring a dead houseplant back to life. Yet no matter what we feel (pain, loss, abandonment, fear, shame) God is there. GOD IS THERE. He does not back away from us in disgust. He will not leave us alone in a hospital bed to fight the pain ourselves. He will not return to a castle in the sky and pull the drawbridge up behind Himself.

God is faithful in the midst of our pain, and we must be too. Not because of some reward, or thinking that God will punish us if we forget to say our prayers. No, we remain faithful because that is what is keeping us alive - that often tenuous reaching out for God. Be faithful today. Reach out to Him who is Love, is Faithfulness, is God.