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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...