Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A "Rough" Life - A Tribute to My Grandma, An Uncle, and My Dad, Part II

My Dad was in Vietnam at the same time as his younger brother. They were 11 months apart in age, but they weren't stationed together.

From the evictions, beatings, and sheer terror of my Dad's childhood, I always assumed when he left to join the military that he never looked back - Relieved to be away from the heavy hands and empty bottles. But, no.

He wrote every week - sending updates, offering encouragement, and money when his Dad was out of work or money was tight.

I've only ever seen my father honor his father and mother, but I didn't think it was possible for that to have always been so. But, it was. By the grace of God. There is no other explanation.

My Dad was responsible for monitoring communications during the war. He knew things were getting bad where his brother was, when someone came in and tore the paper off the teletype and tried to leave with it. My Dad demanded to see it, and confirmed his suspicion. His brother was killed when his armored personnel carrier drove over a landmine. My Dad escorted his body home.

Stateside, three letters were written requesting an early release from his military duty, including one from his parents. He was desperately needed at home. His brother in reform school needed him, his brother in a wheelchair needed him, his baby brother needed him, and his parents needed him more than all the others put together. So, he did what he does. He showed up.

Like yesterday. My Grandma had a beautiful Rosary, Mass, and graveside service. Her casket was blue; just like she would have chosen. Today, he's wrapping up all of her personal business. Just like he did for his three brothers and his Dad. "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I never knew my Uncle Mike was a real, funny, lovable man. Now, I know. I knew my Dad was a great man. Now, I know he is an even greater man than I knew was possible. And, now I better understand why my Grandma just wanted to shut me up.

The more I know, the more I don't know, but the more I feel. And I know that is good.

I'm tempted to dwell on these final, unread letters from the Vietnam war. I'm tempted to dwell on the three telegrams indicating a missing son, then a dead son, and finally, the dead son being escorted home by his brother. My humanity wants to stay here - in solidarity with my Grandma and the pain she once knew.

But, my grandmother doesn't need this from me, and God let me know that this morning - the day after her funeral and the day I've understood her better than any other day.

"Man is so made that he can carry the weight of twenty-four hours - no more. Directly he weighs down with the years behind, and the days ahead, his back breaks. I have promised to help you with the burden of today only, the past I have taken from you and if you, foolish hearts, choose to gather again that burden and bear it, then, indeed you mock Me to expect Me to share it...

A man on a march on earth carries only what he needs for that march. Would you pity him if you saw him bearing too the overwhelming weight of the worn-out shoes and uniforms of past marches and years? And yet, in the mental and spiritual life, man does these things. Small wonder My poor world is heartsick and weary. Not so must YOU act."
-God Calling

I love you, Grandma. I will continue to pray for you until I see you again. Please pray for me and all who are dear to me, especially your son, my Dad.

Uncle Mike, I can't wait to meet you in person. Thank you for your service and your letters.

Rest in peace

Dear God, Thank you for my Grandmother and her choice to have my Dad. She easily could have aborted. Thank you for the special bond we had and the privilege of honoring her with song and prayers the final day of her life. Thank you for the opportunity to assist another into Heaven.

Thank you for my Uncle Mike. For his service, for his humor, for his letters, and for his love.

Lord, Thank you for my Dad. I've known no one who has loved so well in the face of being loved so poorly. Thank you for giving him the grace of forgiveness and a deep conviction about following your Commandments, and making no exceptions.

Please bless him on earth and for eternity - for his love and fidelity to You and those You entrusted to Him. You are an awesome God. Please, through your mercy, grant eternal rest to the faithful departed. Amen.

A "Rough" Life - A Tribute to My Grandma, An Uncle, and My Dad, Part I

May 28, 2013 - It's almost midnight and I just closed the lid on a lot of love I never knew existed.

My Grandma died four days ago and her funeral was today. We were as close as two people who are fifty years apart and two states away can be.

I always knew my Grandma had a "rough" life, and I was always strangely comfortable with this blanket description. Between her rough exterior and inability to share those things from her life that necessitated the impenetrable wall she built, I gradually and subconsciously believed her life was lived just beyond the place where real dates and times and faces and letters and infinitesimally deep emotion happen.

I've begged and pleaded with her to share her life with me, but she always brushed me off with, "I don't know, Heidi" or "I can't remember". I don't think she could recall even one happy memory.

She was forbidden to marry the love of her life, and instead married an abusive man who vascillated between insanely drunk, jail, and unemployment.

She had five boys. Today, I saw a picture of her, biting her lip and staring straight into the camera, as they pinned her second oldest son's bronze star on her husband, days after his death in the Vietnam war. His name was Mike. He was 20-years-old. He is my brother's namesake. And for me, that is all he has ever been. Until today.

The box I just closed were all of the letters he and my Dad had written (usually weekly), between bootcamp and their final post. Through his writings, I learned my uncle was a funny, laid back fella who liked to tell people to "Go to hell" and who ended his letters with "Bye for now" and "Send prayers".

He encouraged his wheelchair bound brother to study hard, his brother in reform school to "keep your nose clean", and repeatedly asked his Mom not to worry.

He would often write, "They can't get this kid" and had made R & R plans in Australia. He never went. It was scheduled for one month after he was killed.

After I found my Grandma's final letter to him, I didn't read many more of his. It was written two days before he died. She wondered why he hadn't written, was very worried, and what should she do about filing his income tax?

The letter was returned. Unopened. Marked deceased.

After just pouring over his letters, and getting to know him for the first time in my life, the last unanswered letter in my Grandma's handwriting pricked my soul with a sliver of the pain she spent the rest of her life trying to forget.

She was 40-years old when she buried the first of her children. When I am 40, my oldest will only be twelve. She had already lived two lifetimes in the span of my single one.

If living with an abusive husband and burying a son wasn't enough to shut her down emotionally, the years to come would try to finish the job.

One of her sisters was murdered and she buried two more sons - both died from drug/alcohol related causes.

**I really want to continue here, but this post will be entirely too long. Please see part II, which is already written on paper. I only have to punch it in (as I have done here), one letter at a time on my phone. We are on our way home from KS...

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Traceable Piece of Trash

My youngest and I were at the park this morning.  He was playing contentedly, so I decided to fill up my empty bread sack with the little bit of trash I saw laying around (I'm incredibly grateful to my husband for his example in this department). I told God that each piece of trash was an offering for souls, and when my bag was nearly full, I found a ziplock baggie with someone's name written on it with black marker.  A traceable piece of trash... 

This got me to thinking that every piece of trash I picked up, has someone's name on it.  It is just written with invisible ink.  Which got me thinking...Every thing we do has our name on it.  Good and Bad.  Little and Big.  Which got me thinking...about Judgment day. 

I imagined a big mountain of all the things (actions, thoughts, and words) from my life with my name on it.  And then I imagined Jesus sorting through the heap; tossing the bad in a pile a little distance from His feet, and gathering the good to Himself.  And I'm standing there watching Him, praying that the Good pile is bigger than the Bad pile, although I'm not really sure that settles anything...  

And that's it - I can't see anything beyond the Divine sorting.  But, that makes sense to me because I'm still adding to both of them, Good and Bad... 

My vanity would love to think of all the good in my life secured with a big flag waving around with my name on it.  But, if the "Bad" flags were flown around for all to see first, I think it would crawl under a rock, never to be seen again.

So, I wonder, on Judgment day, do we see the good or the bad first?  (By the way, don't you hate, "Well, there's good news and bad news..."?!  The bad almost always overshadows the good, and I'm not sure which order you hear them in makes a bit of difference).

Anyway, I think we see the bad first.  Because if you get to go to Heaven, you don't want to show up in a bad mood.  And, I'm pretty sure if I watched the movie of my life, and the first half was awesome and the last half sucked (excuse the expression), I would be in a pretty bad mood.

Have you heard someone say, "All's well that ends well."?  I think that's about right.

At least for today, I'm going to try to remember that everything I do has eternal value, and it is accruing.  I'm either getting closer to Heaven or farther away.  The heaps of Good and Bad are growing, and they are traceable to me. 

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the time in the park this morning.  Thank you for that brave little squirrel that was nearly eating out of my son's hand, and for that little ziplock baggie with a name scribbled on it.  Thank you for moments of reflection about Judgment day that don't suck the air out of my lungs.  Your mercy reins over Your justice.  I'm counting on that, and I Thank You.  Please help me build a mountain of Good, that no human eye can perceive.  You know that it must me be so, for it to be purely for love of You.  Otherwise, my vanity shoves in, and takes over.  I love You.  Please make me love You more and more.  Amen.   

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Power Made Perfect, In Me

Just a few posts ago, in A Swingset, Slide, and a Lie, I wrote about dropping discouragement, and why it is a stumbling block in the spiritual life. 

However, this morning, I had a holy hour with my Regnum Christi sisters, and realized in the quiet that I was discouraged.  This in itself was discouraging, because I know better.  After experiencing great powerlessness in my encounters over the past couple of days (Read Unfinished Business for  details), God reminded me of a not-so-little something while we were praying the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary. 

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, "All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Balm for my soul. 

I'm not supposed to have more authority than what I have.  I need to do what I am able to do, and then pray.  Release the power of the One who has all authority. 

More and more frequently, I am privy to lives that are disordered, for one reason or another.  These are lives that overlap with mine, but that I have no power to change.  It is not up to me. Seven people come to mind right off the bat, and none of them live under my roof. 

If all goes according to plan, I will begin a program to become a spiritual director this fall.  My life is going to increasingly contain the stories of those without bumper sticker solutions, or tidy endings.  Lives with little black and white, and lots of gray.  Discouragement, albeit temporary, must go.  Today, I am reclaiming a positive attitude for Christ.  A posture of powerlessness, failure and discouragement betrays what I know about being strongest when we are weakest.

My strength is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9

I have always been eager to tell others that "as long as you know you need Christ, you are right where you need to be."  Today, I'm taking my own advice.  Christ's power is being made perfect in me.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the rain and holy hours.  Thank you for releasing us of the burden to make everything right.  That's Your job.  Help me to accept my limitations and rejoice in my weakness, where Your power is made perfect.  Please forgive my temptation to discouragement, and relying on myself more than You rely on me.  Please fill me with Your light and love, so that those you put in my path may see You in me.  And love You more.  Amen.

Unfinished Business

The last two days have given me a lot to think about.  I'm dumbfounded.  Maybe it is a good thing God only lets us see a little bit at a time... 

Case #1:  My boys are becoming very interested in skateboarding, so we've been hitting the skate park after dinner.   Last night, I noticed a very little boy who was surprisingly proficient on a scooter and a little girl hanging out behind one of the jumps.  I didn't see any parents, but assumed, since the kids were so young, that they were close by. 

I saw them again tonight, and unfortunately, I was wrong.  The young girl wandered over to our game of tennis, so I invited her to join us.  I asked her where her Mom was.  She said, "She's not really around here."  After a few more questions from me, I learned that her Mom lives in Southgate (a low-income apartment complex), but she is living with the other kids who are her cousins and their parents, across the street from the skate park.  Apparently, tonight, the parents were in Snook - a little town 16 miles from here, and the oldest cousin (a teenage girl) was in charge of the others (ages 12, 7, and 3-the little boy on the scooter).  . 

It was a little after 8pm, so I told her we were going to have to go, because it was bedtime.  She said, "It's 8:00?  My bedtime is 8:30."  I told her "You better go soon, too, so you can get to bed on time."  Then, she told me, "I can't.  When the parents leave, we can't get in the house", proceeded to name all of the doors that were locked, and said "Maybe 1:00".  I said, "1:00 in the morning?!"  She nodded.

I felt sick as I packed up our tennis gear, imagining those little kids "stuck" at the skate park for any length of time, let alone until 1:00 in the morning!  I wanted to take her with me (and her 3-year-old cousin, too), but I couldn't figure out how to get around the inevitable kidnapping charge.  Instead, I thanked her for playing with us, and she ambled away.  I couldn't believe I was leaving her and her 3-year-old cousin there.  The very-foul language and sometimes overt sexuality at the skate park make me uncomfortable.  My mind raced as we went home and I put my own boys in bed. 

After bedtime prayers and kisses goodnight, I drove back up to the skate park and had a look around.  I decided that if I couldn't take those kids to my house and put them to bed, I could at least call the police, and get somebody on the job.  Fortunately, the kids were nowhere around, and I turned around and went home. 

I don't know if anything will come of it, but they are definitely on my "radar".  There are soccer moms, classroom moms, hockey moms, you-name-it...  Where are the skateboard moms?!!

Case #2:  I received a voicemail from the Church office yesterday, with details of a lady who was asking if anyone could bring her groceries, and whether the transportation ministry (which I coordinate) could help.  However, earlier that morning, a friend unexpectedly picked up my 4-year-old for an overnighter, so I was really looking forward to a full day of FREEDOM.

I tried to ignore the voicemail (reasoning that it was likely a lady I already know), and finished up some paperwork that I needed to take to the Church anyway.  When I dropped the paperwork off, the secretary in the Church office told me that the lady needing groceries had already called back three times, thinking that she'd missed the call.  Ugh. 

I walked out to my car, trying to decide which chunk of my freedom I wanted to lose - to run an errand for someone I didn't know.  I reluctantly picked up my phone and called her, hoping that she could wait one more day.  I didn't ask her, but she couldn't.  Her daughter was sick, and she wanted to make some soup to get her well.  I took down her list and headed to HEB.

Have you ever grocery shopped for someone you didn't know?  What brand of bouillon do they like?  What is "sweet bread" if it isn't the Hawaiian kind?  Did you know Nescafe comes in cinnamon and dark roast?  Are store brand instant potatoes as good as name brand? 

After marking through everything on her list, and getting my list, too, I was on my way.  I knocked on the front door, and stood there with grocery sacks up my arms.  I waited, but no one came.  I rang the doorbell, and no one came.  I started walking around the house, and I saw her.

I don't mean to be stereotypical, but she looked like one of those kind-eyed, short-in-stature, 80-year-old ladies from the Himalayas, smiling for a National Geographic photographer.  She insisted on taking some of the groceries from my arms, and I retrieved more.  She kept saying "You're an angel, You're an angel" and told me how she started "praying and praying" after she called all of the grocery stores, and churches, and found out no one delivers. 

We piled all of the groceries on the dryer in the musty garage, and I asked about her daughter.  She quickly and quietly said, "Aca! Aca!" and ushered me into the house.  Laundry was piled up all around the perimeter of the living room, like a laundry service with hills of white sheets, and water was running full blast in the bathroom.  She apologized for the house, and led me to a very thin lady laying in a chair in the middle of the room, with her feet propped up on an end table. 

She roused her 50-year-old daughter who she described as being very weak, after vomiting for days last week, after eating something.  Her daughter was now unable to walk, and she thought some soup might help her get some strength back.  The daughter half-smiled, made brief eye contact, and thanked me for coming, at her mother's insistence.  She had not been to the doctor, and I'm not sure why. 

My lady was eager to fix the soup.  I offered to take her daughter to the hospital, if the soup didn't help.  She said she would call me if she needed help, paid me $77 for the groceries (plus $23 for the Church, and $10 for my gas), and I left.  I kept wondering if I should have pushed harder to take her daughter to the hospital, but I had to get home to meet my kids after school.

I fully expected to hear from her today.  I didn't hear anything and called twice with no answer.  Tonight, to my chagrin, my husband informed me of a recent E.coli outbreak in our area.  If I can't get her on the phone tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can track them down at one of the local hospitals... 

In both of these circumstances, I feel powerless.  Instead of having the ability to tie up the loose ends with a pretty bow, I'm restricted to this little desk, writing to you.  I hope my sharing will help you go to these places with me.  Entering into another person's world is a tremendous privilege.  Even, and especially if it is unsettling to do so.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for beautiful weather, friends who love my kids, and the world wide web.  Thank you for meeting and surpassing my needs and expectations.  Lord, my heart is heavy tonight for the kids growing up at the skate park, and the lady with the sick daughter.  You know where they are, and you know what they need.  Please make Your Presence known to them.  Thank you for using us to answer another's prayers.  Thank you for a conscience that doesn't let selfishness dictate every move.  Thank you for the generosity and joy of the lady, who was so happy to give, though it seemed like she needed what she was giving.  Thank you for allowing encounters with the "poor in spirit".  They teach me everything I need to know.  I'm sorry I hesitated at the opportunity to receive what you were offering.  Please grant me the grace to love You and my neighbor with all my heart, according to Your will.  I love You, and know You are near.  Amen.   

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Death-Blow to the Senses

I'm out of everything.  Wisdom, Generosity, Energy, and Inspirations.  I'm not really sure how long I've been out, but just know that I am.  I seem to be failing rather than helping those I've taken on, and feel like I have traipsed deep into the Forest of "Dumb and Fumbling".  I know God loves me, and I love Him, but there are no feelings that accompany this great knowledge. 

This apathetic feeling has been called "dark night of the soul" or desolation.  If I had to name it, I guess I would call it faith a la carte.  Faith by itself.  Belief in God without a dollop of feeling or side dish of personal satisfaction. 

But, I don't really want to call it anything.  To name it makes it seem like something concrete or tangible.  It isn't.  It doesn't feel like anything.  In fact, it feels like the opposite of anything.  Simply nothing.  A void. It feels like God is far away.  I can "see" Him in Creation and experience His love through others.  I can read and talk about Him.  But, I just can't "hear" or "feel" Him.

Further proof of this "distance" has been evident during my last several Holy hours.  They have felt sterile and seemed unproductive.  I know this is impossible, as taking time to "be" with the Lord is always productive, just for drawing close to Him. 

More or less, my standard Holy hour consists of talking to Jesus for 15 minutes, listening for 15, and reading to learn more about Him for 30.  Most recently, though, I have talked plenty during my turn, and eventually doze off while I wait for Him to begin His "turn".  He doesn't seem to have anything to say to me. 

While I am trying to settle into the idea of hearing nothing indefinitely, I am trying to get comfortable with all that I lack.  I am acutely aware that grace has consistently provided all of the above gifts (wisdom, generosity, energy, and inspirations), that I am accustomed to.  I am grateful for them, look forward to their return, and will try to maintain peace of heart until they do.

I know that when we act exclusively from our will, without regard to feelings (or lack of), these actions are the purest of all.  Pure, because we don't get any kickback.  It kills selfishness.  And that is always good. 

I find great comfort in the treatment of this "death blow" to the senses in Abandonment to Divine Providence:

~When God speaks it is a mystery, and therefore a death-blow to my senses and reason...The divine action by one and the same stroke kills and gives life; the more one feels the death to the senses and reason, the more convinced should one become that it gives life to the soul...The life of faith is a continual struggle against the senses."

~The senses, in terror, suddenly cry to the soul, "Unhappy one!  You have now no resource, you are lost," and instantly faith with a stronger voice answers:  "Keep firm, go on, and fear nothing."

~There cannot be anything great in us in the sight of God except our passive endurance...the operation of divine providence is accomplished in great measure without our knowledge, and even in a way that is unexpected and disagreeable to us."

I haven't heard God's voice in a while, but He sent me a message today in God Calling.  He confirmed His action, wisdom, and power, the unimportance of my own capabilities and sentiments, and confirmed my ability to unleash His wisdom and power in my life. 

Follow My Guidance.  Be afraid to venture on your own as a child fears to leave its mother's side.  Doubt of your own wisdom, and reliance on Mine will teach you humility. 

Humility is not the belittling of self.  It is forgetting the self.  Nay more, forgetting the self, because you are remembering Me.

You must not expect to live in a world where all is harmony.  You must not expect to live where others are in unbroken accord with you.  It is your task to maintain your own heart peace in adverse circumstances.  Harmony is always yours when you strain your ear to catch Heaven's music.

Doubt always your power or wisdom to put things right, ask Me to right all as you leave it to Me and go on your way loving and laughing.  I am wisdom.  Only My wisdom can rightly decide anything - settle any problem.  So rely on Me.  All is well.

Dear God, Thank you for this overcast day, places to sit outside, and naptime!  Lord, you know how I am feeling.  Pretty small, a little bit dumb, and very helpless.  I am sorry I have come to rely so heavily on the gifts You have been so generous with.  You are Wisdom.  You are Generosity.  You are Energy.  You are Inspiration.  These things are mine only in the measure that I claim them in You.  Thank you for the humbling reminder.  I offer you my inabilities and lack of all.  May they glorify You.  Thank you for opportunities to act solely out of the will, so that selfishness can wither and weaken.  Thank you for the written word, when there is nothing to hear.  Please grant me humility, patience, kindness, and peace of heart, as I wait on You.  I love you and thank you for all that was, is, and is to come.  I love You.  Amen.