Friday, August 25, 2017

Waiting for a Storm

Waiting for a storm is weird.  Hurricane Harvey is somewhere off the Texas Coast and headed this way.  Some have packed and fled, others are probably still packing, and soon, others will just be fleeing.  This far inland, we're just expecting a rain event, but the town is stirring.  The grocery stores have been depleted and gas stations overwhelmed.  My husband is sitting at his post in the Emergency Operations Center and all of our rescue and response people are prepped and standing by.
And I wait.  I usher my kids outside to play, because it looks like its going to be days before we see the sun again.  My gas tank is full, we have plenty to eat, and coolers in the front yard to catch rain water, in case we need it.  (It turns out, you can drink the stuff and most of the world does).

I put a puzzle on the table, to encourage us to spend time together, instead of separately doing that which pleases us alone.  And I think about Noah.  How weird, wild, lonely, and desperate it must have felt to be him!

It would be like this waiting now, but as the only person with the weather channel.  All of the wood stacked up, and the running around, and people friending him on Facebook like crazy 'cuz they're starting to realize something's up.  I can't remember how long he worked on that ark (and I'm on a roll, so I don't want to take time to look it up), but how many times was he tempted to jump ship? Pun intended.

It takes a lot of faith to brave the crowds to sufficiently stock up for a moderate storm.  How much more to brave the crowds, whom you've known your whole life, and lived near, and maybe even loved, and for them to think you're a raving lunatic?  Sheesh!

It kind of reminds me of this thing called life on this thing called earth preparing for eternity, which we cannot see, but know, or suspect is coming.   Even the best weatherman knows neither the day nor the hour.

God, grant us the grace to use this time well.  Amen.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Like Superheroes in Heaven

I meet a lot of amazing people with equally amazing stories, but I rarely cry.  Yesterday, I was only on my second visit of the day and knew it was going to be a tear-jerker, pretty soon after walking through the door.

I want to share this visit with you, not because I cried, but because he said I could, and you should know this man, and the wisdom he embodies.  I suspect, a man rarely seen, and less often appreciated.

A man in his 60s, lying alone in his hospital room, turned his head toward me as I entered.

It was apparent that he was "handicapped", as he called it.  He said he was born prematurely, one leg was bigger than the other, and what happened to all of the light wheelchairs?

Within minutes, I learned that his brother died on November 1, and "50% of me died that day, too". The floodgates opened.  He used to live with his brother and attend the church where he preached, but then he died, and now he lives in a nursing home.  "Nursing homes are freezing."

Ugh.  I hate being cold and I certainly can't imagine living in a place where I could never get warm. Pretty much my definition of hell, actually.  More tears.

He had multiple medical issues going on, recounted the numerous falls out of his wheelchair, including the one when he hit his head on a table leg and everyone thought he was dead.  But, he said he looked up and waved and said, "I'm here."

Saint Teresa of Avila once said something like, "Even if you have a life full of nothing but suffering, when you look back on it from heaven, it will seem like but one night in an inconvenient hotel."  I sure hope she's right.

I knew I was in the presence of a saint in this man's room.  But, the following confirmed it.

The surrounding circumstances were unclear, but once he was a spirit, floating above his body and the grass.  Do you think you were in heaven?  "I know I was.  The colors are much brighter there than they are here!"  (I hear that a lot)  "Did you know that when you're handicapped and you go to heaven, you're re-done all over?  Like a superhero."

No, I didn't know that.  Not for sure.  I mean, not like you.  Can I share your story with people?  I think they'd really like to know that.

"I'm looking forward to my funeral!  Don't be sad.  I'll be with my brother and the Lord will be at his side.  People will be singing and praising the Lord.  I want the same songs my brother had at his funeral (and he listed them).  I want a blanket on my casket that says, "This lamb went to be with the Lord."

Tears were streaming down my face, and a physical therapist walked in.  And this is what it's like to be a chaplain.  In heaven and at a funeral in one moment, interrupted, and moved along in the next.

So, that was it.  I had to leave, so I left.  Sad, but rich, and with a clearer and more convinced picture of heaven and all of the superheroes who live there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

When the Song is Over

I usually write when I have a thought or series of thoughts that I can't quite shake.  If those thoughts have the potential to make you laugh or think, I gotta do it.  And, to be honest, I haven't stopped thinking about singing the National Anthem three days ago.  If I hadn't made the mistake of asking my friend to video it, I could have smoothed over all of the rough parts in my mind, and just incorrectly and happily remembered that I sang it perfectly.

But, I did ask her, and so I can't.  I've played and re-played the video, wishing I could have started on the right note (the very lowest one that would actually come out of my mouth).  Instead of blankly staring at the Ross Volunteer Company posting the colors, I wish I would of been busy finding the starting note in my head, and more importantly in my vocal cords, to make sure I got it right!  Man!

A few notes in, I realized that I was committed to singing in a key I never practiced in, and would not have wanted to sing in, at any price.  In the end, the high parts were in a falsetto I never use, and cringe-worthy, at best.  To my surprise, the crowd jumped in on the last note with whistles and applause.  I attributed it to their patriotism, forgiving and/or forgetful natures, gratitude it was over, or glad-it-was-you-and-not-me celebration.  I work with a great group of people.  That would be just like them.

Today, in an effort to make myself feel better, and put it behind me for once and for all, I sheepishly googled "worst National Anthems" and was delighted when YouTube responded by offering the Top 10 American National Anthem Performance Fails.  My youngest was within earshot.  He heard the first sample come through my phone speaker and said, "Is that the worst?" to which I answered in the affirmative.  "Are you on there?"  No (Eyes flash from- phone-to-son-back-to-phone).  A few more samples played, and then, "Is that you?" Grrrr...

I should have brought earbuds.

I closed YouTube more grateful than I have ever been for Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Cuba Gooding, Sr.

Before singing (like for a whole month and every day beforehand), I asked God to bless my singing of the National Anthem, and was really hoping that if He wanted to humble me, it would be in a less public, less observable way than during that 1 minute and 20 seconds.

I guess God knew that was a powerful set of minutes.  Those minutes could deliver some ripe and tasty humble-fruit that could make enough humble pie to serve myself and the nation I was singing for.  Maybe for years.

And this all reminds me of a 12-year-old girl we met last weekend.  She was a guest at the rental house next to ours on the Colorado River.  If she had a volume knob, it was turned to Max.  You couldn't not notice her.  She seemed to run wherever she went and had as much to say as volume to say it with.  She baited her own line, took her fish off the hook and threw them back in the water, like somebody who'd been working on a fishing boat for thirty years.  Her expertise was volunteered when any one of us lacked 100% confidence in any moment.  I think she's the only the person who could take a fishing pole out of my 8-year-old fishing expert's hands to see if he had something on the end of his line, which is exactly what she did.

I was equally intrigued and annoyed by her bouncing back and forth between our dock and theirs, and with her total lack of self-consciousness.  She ushered the relaxation off the dock with her bounding, volume, observations, and opinions.

But, when we got back from the beach one evening, their stuff was all cleared out.  They were gone.

The following morning, I found an old styrofoam cooler by our dock that I hadn't seen before.  I lifted the lid and found this floating inside:

And although it looks like a piece of paper, wet from floating in an old styrofoam cooler with shrimp in it, it tastes like humble pie.

We spent the weekend enduring this beautiful, outspoken fisher-girl and she left us with what she had.  And took the time to write a note.  And wished us well.

God doesn't need to put me on a stage in front of 2,000 people to humble me.  He just needs to surround me with people who are better at being people than I am.  And He does.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

39 and NOT holding...

Today is my last day in my thirties.  Tomorrow is my 40th birthday, and I don't think I could love that idea any more.  For real.  This surprises me because I've heard forty bad-mouthed my whole life.  I think of black balloons and pending hospitalizations from spontaneous bodily disintegration.

But, if 40 is old (which it isn't), and old is wise (which it can be), I'm celebrating that.  The wisdom of growing older, of knowing more and more who I am and what I'm about.  That is an incredible feeling.

If I had to deliver a 40th birthday speech to the whole world in ten seconds, I think it would be this:

Some things need doing better than they've ever been done before.  
Some just need doing.   
Others don't need doing at all.
Know which is which!
(author unknown)


Let your God get bigger, and try to imitate the God you believe in.  

The End.

Ecclesiates says "there's nothing new under the sun", but I still experience things for the first time, all of the time.  In a couple of days, I'm supposed to sing the National Anthem for more than a thousand people (Pray for me, I'm terrified!).  In the past month alone, I made a meatloaf without a recipe and it was delicious (A miracle worthy of investigation by the Magisterium), attempted reading War and Peace (and decided it was in the "things that don't need doing at all" category), had a patient climb out of a hospital bed to get on her knees for prayer, did my first podcast, made a new friend, and peed in a Gatorade bottle. 
If I live to be 85-90 (my loose ideal), I can only imagine what that list will look like by then.  Or maybe I will be like my 99-year-old patient who is still "disgusted with her prayer life".  If I die tomorrow, I am grateful for the list, so far.

In the next 40 years, I want to learn Spanish well, continue learning to play the guitar, walk the Way of St. James, and keep the better-than-good things I already have, which are many.  In a word, relationships.  

I have friends, family, and an incredible job as a chaplain in a healthcare system.  Meeting people, learning their stories, and sharing in their joy and pain, are among my greatest privileges and treasures.  

But, I start and end my days at home.  My priority, crowning achievement, greatest challenge, inspiration, thrill, and triumph is living under the same roof with these people.

If they were not who they are, I would not be who I am.  At the end of my life, I pray that if I haven't done anything else, I've done well by them, and by all whom God has entrusted to me. 

And so I pray.  


Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Friend With an Empty Vacuum Cleaner Bag

I got a little time to myself yesterday.  My husband took the boys shooting and no one needed me for hours.  I was already out, so I took myself to lunch and went from store to store, shopping for a rug to go under a particular chair in my house, or anything else I couldn't live without that was less than five dollars.

And this is happening more and more, only subtly, here and there.  The guys all want to see this action movie or that war documentary, and I'm out.  Sitting in the other room, doing whatever girl/Mom activity I choose.

I used to be the generator, facilitator, supervisor, or recipient of every activity my boys dipped their toe in.  Every activity.  And it was exhausting.  I see parents of young children, now, and remember just how exhausting.  I admire them so much.

Overall, my thought about raising kids who are growing up and seemingly need me less and less, is one of great joy.

But, there is the occasional, and always unexpected, lump in my throat.  Like when I was on my way home from Wal-Mart the other day.  I passed the elementary school that my older boys attended and my youngest still attends.  But, only for two more years.  And in that moment, I felt like I was visiting this town from the future, where elementary school and boys who go there, are but a foggy and distant memory.  And I wanted to cry.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn captures this feeling perfectly in The Cancer Ward, as one of his cancer-stricken characters reflects on his life:  "Sometimes I wonder whether the children were real, whether I didn't just dream them.  Maybe they never existed?"

It's clear, now, that my children are real.  Their bodies are lounging around my living room (including the one who is sharing my couch cushion), Lab Rats is on TV, there are army guys by my coffee cup, a t-shirt on the floor, and dominoes are strewn all over my dining room table.  The evidence of real children is all over the place.

Among our summer sojourns, we've made a friend at the park.  He frequents it five or six times a day, because by his own admission, he doesn't have anything else to do.  He's divorced and his children are grown.  He admits that sometimes, he vacuums, just for something to do.  The bag on his vacuum cleaner stays empty, because his house never gets dirty.

Surely, this will never be us.  Right?!  

But, surely, it will.

Our friend reminds me that I'm living the American dream.  To be happily married, with young children, and time to enjoy all of it...

I'm afraid to admit it, but I need the reminder.  It is easy to miss the treasure of the dailiness - between basketball practices, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and repeating, while never, ever asking myself, "Did I really need to sweep or vacuum?!"

So, in case you don't have a wise friend at the park with an empty vacuum cleaner bag and time to enjoy your kids, I'll loan you mine.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Singing For the Belly Dancers

I did something tonight I haven't done for years.  I sang and played the guitar at a once-a-month-downtown-stays-up-late event called First Friday.  I set up in my old place, but other than the buildings looking the same, it wasn't anything like it used to be.  Now, there's an approval process, obtaining and posting your permit, snow cones, kettle corn, clowns, musicians scattered about, and lots and lots of people.

As I continually discern God's will for my life, I consistently have the feeling that music is supposed to be part of what I'm doing.  But, it is so easy to talk myself out of it.  I keep asking myself, "Can a simple girl like me, singing simple songs, with a simple guitar played very simply, really glorify the Lord?  I'm sure the answer is yes.  At least I'm sure in my head.  Or is it in my heart that I'm sure?  I'm not really sure where I'm sure, I guess.  But, I'm pretty sure.

When you're only one person and you can't agree with yourself, I think it is important to make an effort to stay as objective as possible.  To that end, I've kept a little book for several months now of reasons I should keep singing.  It starts with a note to myself, and is slowly being filled with encouragement to praise God, for as many reasons as there are ways.


With the exception of one entry, it is all Scripture.  The exception is pretty exceptional, though, and my mind returns to it often.

When we sing, we repossess some of the Eden that we lost when Adam fell...Music stirs our hearts and engages our souls in ways we can't describe.  When this happens, we are taken beyond our earthly banishment back to the divine melody Adam knew when he sang with the angels, when he was whole in God, before his exile...the devil...forever plots how to make humanity stop singing...The devil wants to thwart confession, stop forgiveness, and silence our songs of praise, because they frighten him.  
-St. Hildegard of Bingen

And so, I sing.  Opportunities come up here and there, things go well, and momentum builds.  And instead of just accepting opportunities that come, you start looking for them.  And you end up at First Friday, because you can and it's free.

And you come without a microphone or amplifier because you can't remember if you need all of that. You don't have it anyway, so going without makes a lot of sense.  The open parking spot, a stone's throw from where I was supposed to set up, was a sure sign of God's providence.  With my first tune underway, I noticed some activity across the street.  A sound check was proof their amplifier was working.  The shimmery skirts, bare midriffs, and cameras were working, too.

Oh, man.  Maybe I was a little premature about crediting providence for my parking spot, because I was pretty sure this wasn't where I wanted to be.  Do you know that feeling when a beautiful girl walks in the room and you go from feeling normal/great/beautiful to ugly?  Blech.  Have you seen Monsters Inc.?  I felt like Randy, the purple chameleon, blending into the wall of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

How those girls have that kind of courage and move like that, I have no earthly idea.  Sheesh!  No wonder Herod offered half his kingdom! I'm pretty sure it was after watching something like this.  And I had to submit a video to make sure my music was family-friendly?!

So much for repossessing some of Eden before Adam fell.  I think he fell a bunch of times tonight.

And there I was, moving in and out of invisibility, wondering where I misunderstood what God was asking of me.  Until friends showed up.  And show up they did, in a steady trickle throughout the two-and-a-half hours I was there.  A pleasant surprise, every one of them.  In those moments, I felt like maybe I hadn't gotten it all wrong.

I was really grateful for those moments, too, because there were others that were as cringe-worthy as the friend-moments were terrific.  Like when the guy on a bicycle parked two feet from my face and told me I needed a pick, smack in the middle of nailing Amazing Grace.  Or when the little boy looked in my guitar case and said, "You only have one dollar in there.  We saw another guy who had a $20 bill in his."  And later, "You only have two dollars in there."  If only I needed an accountant.

His report got me thinking, though.  Either they're being very generous "over there", or I must suck, or he put that money in there himself.  This made me consider putting some of my own money in, to encourage other people to put their money in, but even the thought made me feel kind of sleazy.

So, I played until my fingers rebelled and my pride was begging me to go.  I laid my guitar on top of the four dollars in my case and saw somebody approaching out of the corner of my eye.  It was one of the belly dancers.  She introduced herself by saying, "We were across the street."  I wanted to laugh out loud.  I'm pretty sure everyone knew where they were.  I certainly did.  She offered me a dollar tip for my beautiful music and a sweet apology for their music being a little loud.  I was as charmed as I was flabbergasted.

It is easy to equate stares and applause with being observed, and assume that if we don't see ourselves being observed, then we're not being observed!  I would have bet any amount of money they neither saw nor heard me.  It's a good thing I didn't.

And that's the thing.  You just don't know.

So, you dance like nobody's watching, and you sing like you're in the Garden of Eden, and you beg God for the courage to do it again, and get chicken strips and an icy Coke on the way home because you're proud of yourself for trying, even if it wasn't anything at all like what you imagined it would be, and you're glad it's over, and you've been reminded that friends and carbonated drinks make everything better.    


Monday, May 29, 2017

Day After Day, Week After Week, Month After Month, Year After Year...

I finished a book today that I bought four years ago for my husband.  It was recommended by a beloved priest then, and again last week by my spiritual director.  

It reminded me of something I used to know and how it inspired me when I learned of it, and motivated me to practice it consciously, at least for a little while.

The vision of the kingdom, the call of Christ to labor and suffer with him, has overtones of a great and noble crusade - yet we must each of us translate that vision and retain that spirit in the routine, humdrum events of every day at a time, frustrated and perhaps discouraged, each twenty-four hours filled with as many defeats and frustrations as victories, each hour made up of sixty minutes of humdrum things and little people busy and concerned about many other things, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year...

...Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which he expects us to act.  He expects no more of us, but he will accept nothing less of us; and we fail in our promise and commitment if we do not see in the situations of every moment of every day as his divine will...

I simply cannot be reminded of this enough.  Brother Lawrence in the The Practice of the Presence of God and Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence have been two great teachers for me on the subject.  But, I read them so long ago, and had forgotten, again.  So, thank you, Fr. Walter Ciszek for reminding me, yet again, to celebrate the sacrament of the present moment!  

Wrapping up Memorial weekend and kicking off a summer with boys ushers in a lot of memorable moments...
Like trying to build a hobbit house under a trampoline

Hanging out with friends and explosives
Launching a cardboard paratrooper from a rooftop

Shooting an AR-15
Fishing, again.
And finding a little beauty in a fungus for me, in the middle of all this boy stuff
And these are just from the last two days.  But, I know there are exponentially more unphotographed and unrecognized moments than photographed and fully present ones.  That's okay.  It will always be that way.  But, the gap doesn't have to retain its seismic features.  I can close it, little by little.  Not by taking more pictures, but by being present and remembering, believing that the details are the expressed work of God.  

This is not easy, but for me, very worthwhile.  If I can work to believe that God is at work in my life (because, sometimes it is work), all of the moments that come to us, come with their own sense of peace and joy.  People, places, inconveniences, and drastic changes in the plan can be received with new energy and acceptance when considered as the will of God, hand-delivered.  

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  
Mark 9:24