Friday, April 29, 2016

Taking pains to set things right

It's ok; I'm fine, really. A little ice will take care of that.
Well, that title is a bit of an idiom for my life.

I found out this week that I have lupus. I was kinda-sorta surprised. I thought it was rheumatoid arthritis (and it still may be, as I found out that some doctors treat "rhupus"). My dad had lupus, so it wasn't too big a surprise.

Dad had the kind that affects only the skin, however. I have the "bad" kind (because I'm bad to the bone!): the kind that affects joints/organs. Lupus is an autoimmune disease and basically what happens is that the antibodies that fight off infections and diseases get confused (maybe it's old age on my part) and start attacking things you need, like your knees and your stomach.

While it's always good to have a diagnosis, no one wants to hear that they have a chronic and painful illness. Yet, God is good, and we know that our suffering here on Earth can be joined with Christ's suffering on the Cross and that all things work together for the good. (That's my inner poster child speaking. On the whole, I'd rather be able to walk without groaning.)

Then, there was this: a gentleman-journalist called me this week. He was doing a story re' my former employer, and ran across an email written by the former city attorney for Grand Rapids, MI to a private citizen while the attorney was still in office. The email, which was supposed to be about a tax issue, was instead about my daughter. Faithful readers will remember that my daughter was the victim of human trafficking a few years ago. We filed a lawsuit against the city for not pursuing the case.

The city attorney had this to say, in part:

“The young woman did not run away from home to become a crack and heroin whore because of anything by the City of Grand Rapids or the GRPD (police). We did not raise her and did not influence her life choices in this regard. The hypocrisy of the Acton Institute and its employees is simply amazing. Beware that you are dealing with hypocrites, sir.”

I do not have many tools at my disposal, but I've got this blog. If you are dismayed that a city official could a) release this type of information to a private citizen and b) be so blatantly offensive, please do me a favor. Write to the local Grand Rapids' media and ask them to investigate. This attorney is now in private practice, but clearly the city of Grand Rapids should know that the woman they were paying to be the voice of the victim has a dim view of victims.

Fox 17
WoodTV
WZZM
MLive-Grand Rapids

Please include the link to the story referencing the email: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/22382

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Driving Me Crazy

When I took a new job at the beginning of the year, my commute got a bit longer. (It's still not bad at all, especially when you compare it to places like Chicago or Boston.)

I actually enjoy the commute time. I listen to music, sing, pray and I annoy no one.

This morning, I had Dark-haired daughter with me. She has an appointment later, so I dropped her off at her cousin's house for the day and I'll pick her up later.

She is not quiet. Not contemplative. Not serene.

I told her a couple of times, "I really just need quiet." I woke up in a great deal of pain. I just wanted to focus on the drive and the music. "Please, just be quiet."

She agreed. Until...

"Just one question. How many babies can fit in a uterus?"

"Can you be 50 or 40 and have a baby?"

"When you have the baby, what happens to the water that's around the baby?"

My morning commute went from "me time" to a review of the female anatomy, the birth process, and the aftermath of birth. Having never been pregnant, I tried to be as accurate as possible.

Dark-haired daughter is often like a very young child. She asks question after question after question. She's curious. She likes to know how things and people work. Once she's met you, you are fair game for her curiosity. She is never intentionally rude, but sometimes she needs a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that there is a personal line you shouldn't cross.

Yes, she drives me crazy. But I find her curiosity refreshing and sweet. She is a great companion for an adventure, because she loves new things and new people.

Yes, she drives me crazy. She is the best co-pilot, anytime, anywhere. I'll take the crazy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

artist Stephen B. Whatley
Dear Husband and I had the opportunity to make a one-day retreat yesterday. The priest, Fr. O., was delightful and succinct.

Fr. O. spent the afternoon talking to us about mercy. Did you know "mercy" (in one form or another) is used 400 times in Scripture? Seems as if God is trying to tell us something.

I have to say that I've been struggling with mercy and forgiveness. There are wounds from my former job that still cause me pain. When I think of them, I try to remember to pray words of mercy over the situation and people involved. But it still hurts.

Soon, I am going to have to sit across a table from some of the people who are responsible for the abduction and assault on Dark-haired Daughter. I'd like to say that I am preparing myself for mercy, but that would be a lie. I feel like I'm preparing myself for battle.

Mercy, for us mere mortals, is a work in progress - always. Thankfully, for God, it is not. God is always ready to forgive, embrace, caress, love. We have to fight for that readiness, that ability to see the person and not the sin and hurt. God IS mercy, and we are mere sinners.

Fr. O. gave me a lot to ponder yesterday, and for that I am thankful. Today, I'm going to pray mercy over those situations in my life that remain painful, tender, sore, stinging.

Mercy. 400 times in the Bible. We can't use it enough.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Terrible Beauty


Dear Husband and I are home from 10 days in Ireland. It was amazing. We saw the most beautiful land, managed not to hit any sheep, and ate a lot of great food (and drink!)

We had the opportunity to attend Mass twice. The first time was rather sad. It was a small village church, and the Sunday morning Mass. While it was well-attended by people of all ages, it was perfunctory at best. Thirty minutes start to finish, no music. The responses were said so fast we couldn't keep up. It was as if everyone was there to put in there time, not to worship. How very sad for a place where we Catholics fought so hard for our Faith.

Our next experience was the Sunday Vigil Mass at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. The setting could not have been more beautiful. The cantor was spectacular, and a treasure of a pipe organ provided beautiful accompaniment. The priest gave a solid homily, and while the congregation tended to the elderly, it was worshipful and much more inspiring.

The Pro-Cathedral also played a role in the Easter Uprising of 1916. As Dublin burned and the streets were filled with battle, the priests held open the doors of the church as a place of refuge and for care of the wounded and dying. It was feared that the church would burn, but it did not, and the priests were able to feed the hungry, shelter those who'd lost their homes and tend to those fighting - regardless of which side they were on.

Cherish your church - both your parish and the Universal Church. When you travel, don't hesitate to attend Mass. Wherever you find yourself, you are at home in the Catholic Church. Give your children the gift of history and culture and prayer wherever you find yourselves. It is always good to be in the familiar, but it is a treasure to pray with strangers and sojourners, wherever we may be.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lessons from the lunchroom

I wandered into the lunchroom at work today, grabbed my frozen mac & cheese and headed for the microwave.

Two women (whom I don't know except by sight; they work in another department) were talking. They were both complaining about their adult daughters. Apparently, one family was thinking that the daughter and her toddler son were going to move back in.

"She's just miserable; she's made a mess of her life."

"My daughter would be so much happier if she lost some weight. I keep telling her that." [Ouch.]

"She just doesn't understand how to take care of her son."

Ooph.

Yeah, I've complained about my kids. I've been mad at my kids. But I don't talk smack about my kids to co-workers.

I was thinking, as I waited for my lunch to get hot, that I almost lost a daughter four years ago. Really - she was abducted and gone for 48 hours.

I was thinking about how beautiful my oldest daughter looked at her wedding this past summer. So young. (And yes, we fought about everything - but it was a lovely day!)

I thought about my sons - the struggles they have, the heartache they've caused.

I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't change them.

The lunchroom made me sad today: two moms (and yes, I'm sure they love their kids) who were so caught up in the negative. I hope I remember the next time I open my mouth.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Miracles

"He is Risen" - artists Frances and Robert Hook
We spend Easter Sunday with our beloved Franciscan Sisters. We enjoy a beautiful Mass together, and share a brunch afterwards (and you should all be jealous you weren't there: the food, oh my!!)

During brunch, we have a tradition of sharing our Easter Miracles: miracles, big and small, they happened to us during the past year. Sometimes it's as simple as a child with a disability who has now learned to read, and other times, it's a sister hitting the 5-year mark of being cancer-free (the 5-year mark is considered cured.)

One of our friends had a terrible accident with a table saw, and is struggling to get healthy, and work with a hand that won't ever be the same. However, their family stilled shared a miracle of all the help and prayers they've received - their family life didn't skip a beat; there was always someone there to jump in and do what needed to be done.

I started thinking about the miracles in our family this past year. It wasn't a good year for us, but miracles abounded. Dear Husband - despite a horrendous outcome from an "outpatient" procedure - lived, didn't lose his arm, and is overall very healthy now. Our daughter was married to a young man we love. I was able to spend the last three weeks of her life with my mother.

My Dark-Haired daughter continues to be the biggest miracle of all. She has been the victim of such horrible, evil crimes, and she chooses to be a survivor. She chooses joy. She chooses life. She chooses love. EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I still struggle with forgiveness and anger, but I'm working on it. I know there can be a miracle in my heart, and I expect nothing less.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Annunciation, Mom, And Faith

The Annunciation - artist Maurice Denis
Friday would be my mother's 91st birthday. She's been gone almost 4 months now, and I still have to catch myself calling her on the way home from work at least once a week.

I want to tell her about my new job and how much I like it. I want to tell her about planning a trip to Ireland (which she and my dad made possible by their Depression-style savings and generosity.) I want to tell her about the kids, and the house, and Tiger baseball and Jeopardy and well, everything.

Her birthday falls on Good Friday this year, which feels quite right to me. Part of the grieving process. Usually, on March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, but the feast is moved to Easter Monday this year.

I always thought it was wonderful that Mom's birthday fell on this feast, this celebration of one woman saying "yes" to the will of God and thus changing humanity forever. While the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, I imagine all the angels in Heaven leaning forward, holding their breath (as it were) in anticipation of Mary's answer.

I have several of my mom's prayer books and missals. There are prayer cards in them from grade school retreats: a girlish hand writing "To Elizabeth, from Lorraine, in memory of our grade 7 retreat." I pray for both Mom and Lorraine now, hoping they are catching up in Heaven.

One of the prayer books is a Mother's Prayer Book. It's pre-Vatican II, so the language seems quite formal and a bit stilted, but I know my mother prayed many of those prayers fervently. Now, so do I.

My mother's greatest possession was her faith, a faith she fiercely loved. She set a very high bar for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in that regard - a legacy.

This year, my hope and prayer is that her birthday will be celebrated with her Heavenly Mother, rejoicing together in the epic story of passion, death and resurrection. Happy Birthday, Mumma.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Being honest about mental health

Artist Toby Allen
I was in the beauty shop last night (where women really go for therapy!) and had an interesting experience.

First, my hair dresser has been doing my  hair for a long time. We know each other pretty darn well. She runs her beauty shop with such a huge heart for Christ - she really thinks of it as her ministry and not just a place where people go to get their hair cut.

A young lady (early 20s) came in, a friend of my hair dresser's. She started talking about her experience recently of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and what a scary time she'd had after a particularly bad panic attack.

I spoke up and said, "I know exactly what that's like. I had to check myself into [insert local mental health hospital here] a few years ago."

We had a great conversation. She said that she wished people talked about it more; she would have sought help sooner if she'd felt more comfortable talking about it.

If  you read my blog at all, you know I'm a HUGE proponent of better mental health care, but also that we TALK about mental health. People with mental illness often suffer far too long and needlessly - mostly due to shame, ignorance and embarrassment.

We need more voices in the fight for mental health care in this country. We need to help those who suffer by letting them know they are not alone, and that there are many of us who walk in those shoes.

I hate to think of any young person suffering silently, hurting for far too long, just because they don't know that there are so many of us who understand and that help IS available.

St. Dymphna, pray for us!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trying to make sense of injustice

I am flawed. I have a big mouth. If you ask me what I think, I will tell you. I do not mince words.

Given these traits, I am not always easy to work or live with. I know this. Yet, I consider myself a good employee, a good sister. I give 110%, especially when I am working on ideas that stimulate me, that I'm passionate about. However, I try my best to work just as hard on the mundane things as well.

I left a job last year. I did not leave under good circumstances. It was made clear to me that I was no longer considered a useful employee (I realized this when I was told the best task they had for me going forward was folding programs for upcoming events.) I have, thanks be to God, found a new job, where I am valued, treated respectfully and professionally, and I am quite happy here.

I just found out that three men who I hold in high esteem were also "forced out" from the same organization that I left. As I understand it, they were treated, at the very least, poorly, and at most, in an evil manner. It makes me very angry, as this organization purports to hold itself to a very high standard.

This is unjust. Injustice is a cruel thing, because it generally denies the dignity of a person. It treats that person as a thing, a tool, an object to be used and/or discarded. It is bullying, all grown up.

Is there anyone who has ever been treated more unjustly than Christ? God-made-Man, sentenced to death for no reason. He had no guilt - never had done even the smallest wrong to anyone.

In the face of injustice, especially when it involves people I know, I want to scream and fight and blow the whistle. But in this season of Lent, I believe I shall instead ponder Christ on the Cross: "Forgive them. They know not what they do."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Can a mom just ... quit?

Well, at least there's still hope for me as Mother of the Year
I was ready to quit last week.

Quit being a mom.

With only one kid at home now, you'd think things would be easier. But no. I had one kid who was playing a stupid passive-aggressive game of "Let's tell mom things I never told her before and then when she gets upset, tell her she's being crazy." I had another kiddo (the one who is still at home) who needed a re-run lesson on "Please tell us where you are and who you are with, just as a point of courtesy." And for the finale, another installment of "Remember, you're not talking to the kid; you're talking to the addiction."

I was done. Pounding my head against the wall seemed to be more productive. And less painful.

My sister said I couldn't quit, but she did give me a bit of time off. Not much, though.

My kids are no longer kids, but they are not adults either. They are not all ready to take responsibility, to recognize their own methods of self-destruction, or keep a plant alive. That's ok - except when it's not. And Dear Husband and I are still expected to pick up the pieces (or shards of glass).

We had a "Come To Jesus" chat with one child: no more money. None. If you need shoes, we will buy  you shoes. If you need food, we will buy  you food. But no one here is under any illusion on what you'll do with cash, so you're not getting anymore.

I had to tell another kid: Hey, newsflash: Mom is human. Quit treating her like your own emotional punching bag.

For now, I'm trying a new tactic. (I don't know how long I'll be able to hold out, as I'm Irish.) I'm keeping my mouth shut (other than the occasional "Oh, uh-huh" or "Yes, I see...) and I'm just praying. And praying. And praying.

One of the treasures my mom left me is an old prayer book for mothers. She marked a few - apparently she wanted to quit a few times as well. And those prayers are coming in handy. Other times I just look up at Jesus' precious face on the crucifix and say, "This problem is yours now."

I still might quit. But not today. At least not today.

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.