Friday, December 4, 2015

20 Minutes and $1,000

I had the privilege of talking with someone new today.  A ninety-ish year old man.   He's a new resident at the nursing home I visit.  He was sitting in his wheelchair, in one of the common areas near the wall.  A TV was nearby, but he didn't seem to be paying any attention to it, so I approached him and introduced myself.  He said he didn't catch my name or why I was there, but he was happy to visit with a "young girl" just the same, so I sat down. 

We probably visited for twenty minutes and I'm still reeling and in awe of the little I know:

5th grade was the last grade he completed, because his father died when he was 9.  He had to start working to "make shoes or skirts" or whatever else the other children needed until he was lucky enough to get hired by the neighbors to build fence, which was worth room and board and $4 a month. 

At 21 years of age, he moved out and tried to make it for himself, but the draft caught up with him and he served in the war.  He chose the Navy because his dad was in the Navy in WWI.  He said he didn't get along too well, because he didn't understand the need for all of the discipline.  All of his life, he had done what he was told when he was told - even if it was midnight and he had to chop wood for the fire, because a sibling was sick and they needed heat. 

He regrets not having more education, because it helps the "brain see things in a more positive way".  As it was, he insisted his children get a college education, or a high school education at the very least.  He is wiser than he lets on and put his money where his mouth was, too. 

The roof was leaking badly, so he got an estimate to have it repaired.  $1,000.  He didn't have that, so he told the guy when he got the money together, he would let him know.  The man said he could wait.  I'm not sure how long it took, but it was at least one very wet winter later that he finally got the money together. 

Around this same time, one of his daughters came home.  She needed $300 to finish out the school semester.  He gave it to her.  A few weeks later, she returned.  She needed $780 to finish her schooling, at which time she could start working as a teacher.  Recognizing the opportunity he wished he had, he gave it to her.     

After all, he was used to doing everything himself.  He could nail those shingles on. 

His daughter was a teacher for 31 years, so his investment was well spent.  He marvels at the thought of going to school for 15 years.  In spite of a promise to pay it back and having not yet "seen a penny of it", he smiles at recounting the story... 

As for religion, he wishes he had that, too.  "It helps a person think about things differently."  To this, I asked, "Do you believe in God?"  "Oh, yes." he replied.  "He made the world and all that is in it.  I thank him for the experiences I've had in my life."  But, he wishes he knew what other people seem to know, because of the comfort they seem to glean from it.  I tried to assure him that he knew enough, but he wasn't buying it. 

He said he's been going downhill for three years.  If you were going downhill fast, that would be one thing, but it's not fast.  His legs and hands have quit working.  He can hold a spoon, but the food falls out just as he gets it to his mouth.  He can't get in or out of bed by himself, nor even put his leg back on the bed if it falls off.  While other people might take their own lives at this point, that didn't seem right to him.  Even if he was ready to go.   

He said I could share his story, but didn't know why anyone would care, or why I would call it a "story" when it is all true.  According to him, he's "just another bum on the way out".

I told him I didn't see it that way at all. 

In twenty minutes, I could see his perseverance, hope, love, self-sacrifice, and humility.  In this country, stories of life with a 5th grade education, chopping wood at midnight, saving money for a roof repair and then giving it all away are powerful, and dying a slow death.  They must be shared rather than lost.  Our generation will have stories, too, but they will not be the same. 

I can only hope we are able to inspire those behind us, as much as those who have gone before us inspire me. 

Dear God of the Young and Old, Educated and Uneducated, Able-bodied and Confined,

Thank you for the time spent with this child of yours today.  Thank you for the life experiences he thanks you for.  Thank you for the opportunity to profit from another.  Please grant us the grace to embody virtues, which seem so natural to those who have earned them.  Please bless the man these stories belong to, and all who are like him in the "evening" of life.  Grant them patience, perseverance, and an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Grant us the grace to imitate them.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

If Your Soul Looked Like A House...

I had the rare luxury of walking through a neighboring neighborhood this morning.  It's a neighborhood much fancier than mine, where everyone hires landscaping crews and pool boys.  As I walked, I felt myself drawn to some houses and repelled by others.  They're almost all huge and red brick, so it wasn't something so simple as size or color.

I didn't realize this unconscious process was even going on, until I passed a house that was gated and fenced off completely.  The only thing that wasn't inside the wrought iron fence was the mailbox.  Even so, the front door had its own additional metal gate.  "Wow", I thought.  They must not want visitors, which is fine by me because when I see their house, I want to cross/run to the other side of the street. 

I began to pay attention to how I felt as I passed each house, and realized something.  The same thing happens with people.  Not surprising really, since people are houses, too.  The most sacred kind of houses, called temples.   "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?"  (1 Corinthians 6:19)

While we may not agree on which person is the most attractive or the house we'd most like to live in, I think we could agree on which ones were most inviting and which ones definitely were not.  

If our souls were actual houses that we could see, I wonder what a neighborhood of souls would look like?!  What neighborhood would my soul-house fit in to?  Would it be "rich" (in God's grace) with beautiful flowers, a front porch, and a welcome banner?  Would it be "poor" in the slums with barred doors and windows?  Or "poor" in a rich neighborhood, all locked up like the one I saw this morning? 

I've never experienced this more personally, than on days spent "on the floor" at the hospital...Going from room to room, knocking on the door, introducing myself and the availability of chaplain services.  The responses range from "No thanks" to "You can come in, if you want" to "I'd love to visit with you."  You get the picture. 

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

Maybe our soul is more like a house than we know.  It sounds like it has a door and some place to eat.  Maybe a dining room table.  In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales mentions windows, too:  " your morning prayer, you open your soul's windows to the sunshine of Righteousness, and by your evening devotions, you close them against the shades of Hell."

The good thing is that Christ knocks no matter what.  He doesn't cross over to the other side of the street.  He comes to the rich and poor alike.  Doors and windows wide open, cracked, closed, locked, fenced off, or barred.  It doesn't matter, for now.

Are you happy in your neighborhood?  Is it your dream house or just what you could afford?  Maybe it's time to plant some flowers, take the gate off the door, or move altogether.  Lucky for us, there's still time to build the house we want, in the neighborhood we want, and we already have everything we need to do it. 

Dear Lord of Neighborhoods - Rich and Poor,

Thank you for time to walk this morning, legs to walk with, and a beautiful neighborhood to walk in.  Thank you for thinking enough of us that You would allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within.  Thank you for Your Divine Patience as You stand at our door and knock.  Please give us the grace to see our "house"  as you see it, and to make the necessary improvements, so that You may enter at the time of Your choosing without undue obstacles or delay.  Understanding you as the Son of a carpenter is making more sense all the time.  Thank you for making Yourself available to us, giving us a hand with the "housework", and for being the "one thing necessary".  Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2015


21.4 years x 365 days = 7,811 – 240 days of hospitalization = 7,571 days x 2 times a day = 15,142 times

15,142 is the approximate number of times my Mom has relied on someone to come to her home and get her in or out of bed over the last 21 years, since the car accident that resulted in her quadriplegia. 
This is a pretty sobering realization for me.  I have been that someone for some of those years.  But, not all or even most. 
I haven’t spent much time thinking about this because it’s not part of my daily life anymore.  It hasn’t been for 14 years.  But, I’m spending the weekend at my Mom’s house, as she broke her hip on Tuesday.  I’ve invited myself to be her house guest until I feel good about leaving again. 
As her guest, I’m around to observe some of these morning and nightly rituals that the faithful come to perform, and have performed over 15,000 times.  I’d forgotten how many little steps there are and how long they take. 
I am simply overwhelmed with gratitude and in awe of their fidelity.  Between five agencies and countless aides, eight of them have carried the bulk of these shifts.  My Mom can only remember one time when someone was scheduled and they didn’t come.  One time. 
The caregivers who have come over the years have given my mom a life of independence, free from the confines and endless halls of a long-term care facility.  They have allowed her children to live their own lives, too.  They do what I can no longer do easily or joyfully.  For me, it’s probably like anything else you have to do over a period of years without a choice.  If it was eating chocolate ice cream or jumping rope, I’d probably be okay without doing either, ever again.  It makes sense enough and doesn’t even feel bad to acknowledge it, until I’m sitting in a recliner blogging while someone else is taking care of my mom.  Like now.  (Thank you, Kathy!)
At any rate, there have been an army of women who have covered these 15,000+ shifts.  They remind me of soldiers who go to war for their country and fight to keep their buddy alive.  They show up, rain or snow, sleet or hail, early and late.  They work on Christmas and Easter and every day in between.  They know that if they “call in to work”, she (or whomever they’re serving) will spend an entire night in a wheelchair, or an entire day in bed, unshowered and unfed. 
Included in these 15,000+ shifts are well over 50,735 transfers (moving from one place to another).  [365days x 10years x 4transfers =14,600 + (365days x 9transfers x 11years) = 50,735 transfers]  This doesn’t even include outings, which were many, including 11 years without a handicapped accessible van. 
These women (and those like them) are the strongest women I know.  They routinely do the hardest work I’ve ever done, do it for multiple people daily for years on end, are underpaid, largely unappreciated, and happy to do it!
They are absolutely the most heroic group of women I’ve ever known. 
Of course, on the other side of their heroism is one just like them, but for different reasons.  While 15,000+ shifts and 50,000+ transfers have been divided among many on the caregiving side, there is one woman who has been the recipient of every. single. one.
Dear God of Those Who Wait and Those Who Come to Them,
Thank you for my Mom.  Thank you for the opportunity to be once again privy to her life at the outskirts of day.    Please strengthen her in body and spirit.  Thank you for the incredible women you have sent to her for over 21 years!  Thank you, especially, for those who come year, after year, after year.  Thank you for astounding numbers like 15,142.  Thank you for the grace and transformation that come from waiting, which enables patient acceptance of what is.  Those of us who witness it know the glory it gives to You!  Please bless all who have crossed my Mom’s threshold to care for her, especially the eight.  Please give them a double portion of all that is good.  Grant us all the grace to live with the generosity, mercy, gentleness, and love they model for us so beautifully.  Amen.      

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Stature of Waiting

A Figure of Enormous Dignity:  Imitating Christ and Accomplishing the Will of God Through Times of Sickness and Waiting
A Compilation from The Stature of Waiting, W.H. Vanstone

By Heidi Dixon

John 9:4 “We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.”
It is made explicit in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ time for ‘working’ is limited.  In His encounter with the blind man whom He healed on the Sabbath, Jesus is explaining that He must ‘work’ even on the Sabbath because His time for working-the ‘daylight’ period-is limited.  Within that period Jesus must do all His work because ‘daylight’ is to be followed by the ‘night’ which, for Jesus as for mankind in general, must mean the end of work.  P.30 

John 11:9-10 “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If a man walks in the day he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world:  but if a man walks in the night he stumbles because the light is not in him.” 

So the period for ‘working’ is limited; but John makes it clear that, while that period lasts, Jesus is not only commissioned and sent to do the Father’s works:  He is also free to do them.  During the daylight period His freedom to work cannot be fettered or restrained…Throughout the daylight period John shows Jesus free to work, in accordance with the Father’s will, beyond the restraint or interference of human hands, even of those hands which, at one point, would have ‘taken Him and made Him King’.   

John 17:4 “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do…” 

And so, having used the daylight period to the full and without restraint, Jesus is able to announce at the end of it the completion of the work which is both the Father’s and His own:  He says at the Last Supper, ‘I have glorified Thee upon earth:   I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’  And thereafter, significantly, we hear no word more about the work of Jesus.  P.31 

John 13:30 “So after receiving the morsel, he [Judas] immediately went out; it was night.”
According to John’s account…when Judas leaves the Last Supper to set in train the handing over of Jesus, John tell us ‘that it was night’… which must mean that the ‘daylight’ period is over and that the time foreseen by Jesus has come-the time at which ‘no one can work’, the time at which ‘working’ must give place to ‘waiting’…and is also associated, in a most striking way, with the end of Jesus’ freedom from restraint by human hands…”from working to waiting and from freedom to constraint.” P.32 

John 18:4-6 “Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?  They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’.  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When he said to them, ‘I am he’, they drew back and fell to the ground.”
“The ultimate dimension of the divine glory becomes manifest in him when he was handed over.”
John 19:28:  “I thirst”
The Jesus who said, ‘if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ becomes He who says, ‘I thirst’…”He who has previously exercised the power to judge…stands under their power of judgment; and now He who has previously promised and dispensed the water of life to others becomes the recipient of their refreshment…The handing over of Jesus was His transition from working to waiting upon and receiving the works of others, from the status and role of subject to that of object, from ‘doing’ to ‘being done to’.  P.33-34
John 19:30  “…It is finished…”
“According to John, the final word of Jesus on the cross was ‘It is completed’:  and this final word was preceded, a moment before, by His perception that ‘all things were now completed.’…at the Last Supper, before He was handed over to passion, Jesus announced that His work was completed.  Evidently, therefore something other than ‘work’ must be completed before ‘all things’ are completed and before the triumphant cry can be raised that ‘it is completed’.  Something beyond ‘work’ is necessary to the completion of Jesus’ function or mission or calling…” p.71 

More from The Stature of Waiting

*      “It is not necessarily the case that man is most fully human when he is achiever rather than receiver, active rather than passive, subject rather than object of what is happening.” P.52 

*      “Waiting can be the most intense and poignant of all human experiences—the experience which, above all others, strips us of affectation and self-deception and reveals to us the reality of our needs, our values and ourselves.” P.80 

*      “[In times of waiting] Usually rational considerations overcome dread and we do not ‘run away’.  We count it weakness or cowardice if we do; and we also count it weakness if as we wait, we find ourselves hoping or praying that that which lies ahead—that which is ‘for the best’—may not happen…There is weakness—pardonable weakness, but nevertheless weakness—in hoping or praying to be ‘spared’ that which we know to be for the best…One waits at such moments in an agonizing tension between hope and dread, stretched and almost torn apart between two dramatically different anticipations.  A wise person will then steel and prepare himself for the worst; but the very tension in which he waits shows that hope is still present, and that hope will often express itself, even in unbelievers, in the urgent and secret prayer, ‘O God, let it be all right’.  In such hope and prayer there is no weakness, no failure of nerve:  torn between rational hope and rational dread, one may properly pray for the best while still prepared for the worst.  Perhaps it was in such a manner that Jesus waited and prayed in His agony in the Garden.” P.81

*      “Need or dependence can disclose not only our own deficiency, but also –and often to a remarkable degree—the power and value of people and things in the world around us…The need which constrains him to wait makes him also a point of heightened sensitivity, of more intense receptivity:  in and through him more is going on than in the figure, who, experiencing no need, has no concern…” p.100

*      “Without receptivity, the world exists simply as physical fact…Beauty, as opposed to physical fact, appears within the world when a butterfly’s wing is seen by a human eye and when its potential for beauty is actualized in a human mind.  So when a man receives and recognizes the beauty of a butterfly’s wing he is no less enriching the totality of the world than when, by art and skill, he creates—if that were possible—a thing of equal beauty.  A man who receives and recognizes the beauty of a garden is no less enriching the totality of the world than a man who works upon and creates a garden.” P.106 

*      “He must not see it as degrading that he should wait upon the world, be helped, be provided for, be dependent; for as such he is, by God’s gift, what God Himself makes Himself to be.  That man is made, by God’s gift, to know and feel his dependence on the world is no less a mark of God’s image in him than that he is made, also by God’s gift, to know and feel his capacity for acting and achieving.” P.104 

*      “God creates a world which includes among its infinite variety of wonders this culminating wonder—that there are points within it at which, in the consciousness of men, its wonders are received and recognized…that man receives the world; and as he does so, a figure exposed and waiting, he appears no diminished or degraded figure but a figure of enormous dignity.” P.107 

Personal Note:  If you are reading this, it is because I see you as “a figure of enormous dignity”.  Without the help of this book, I would never have been able to explain why.  It is my hope that these ideas give you a greater peace and confidence about what you are going through, its place in God’s will for the completion of your mission, and increased gratitude for Christ going before us and showing us how.  If you are receptive, and “can choose to accept what you did not want and even what you would not have wanted at any price”, it will produce tremendous spiritual fruit for you and those who are blessed enough to walk with you, even if only for a short time.  Thank you for your example and letting me be one of those who benefit from it.

 Peace, Love and Gratitude,

Heidi Dixon, Chaplain


Friday, August 21, 2015

If God Was An Ocean

A few weeks ago, I was standing on a Texas beach looking down the shore line.  Beyond noticing the shore line itself, I noticed another line about 30 feet out into the ocean.  A line of people stretching as far as the eye could see.  A line of people who waded as far as they could.  A line of people who had to stop because only their head was poking out of the water.  A line of people who could go no further without fear of drowning. 
It occurred to me that if God were an ocean, we are merely standing on or near the shore.  We are stuck 30 feet out.  A stone's throw from the edge.  When we are as deep as we can get, we are only as close as an infant in a wading pool to understanding the ocean and the God Who made it. 

At any given time, we may be on the edge of the water, or on top of it, or under it, or just looking from afar, but we may not live in it.  Not yet.
The ocean is so immense that even one of its contents may be enough to captivate our imagination forever.  Collecting rocks and shells has been a habit of a lifetime.  Among many others, one shell clamors for my attention and captures my affection for the infinite.  On the inside of this fossilized shell, what looks like a sparse tree in the middle of winter is etched onto a background that could easily be outer space... 
Observing these contrasting worlds of earth and space coming together to line a shell's interior gets me every time.  
While this is very satisfying for me, I'm blessed to know, that sometimes, this very sort of thing surpasses mere fancy and excites on a much grander scale.  In the testimony of a dear friend, something much more than her imagination was captured when she encountered a shell of her own. 
My friend’s conversion from agnosticism to Catholicism began with the observation of a simple shell.  Her daughter brought it to her, desiring that she join her in appreciating its beauty. “Look, Mom, isn’t this beautiful?”  She was holding a very small clam shell, which resembled angel wings when opened, with purple stripes radiating from the center.  My friend replied, “Yes, isn’t it amazing that that would happen by chance?”  At which time, God responded within her, “No, it’s not chance.  I am the Creator.  I created it.  I made it all.  It is time you stopped running away from me and come home.”

She has never been the same.
I wonder how many people have experienced a conversion of heart when impressed by the beauty, power, and immensity of the ocean?  Or even one of the smallest of its contents?
Of course, God is not an ocean, but He created it.  He even used an ocean to describe Himself in the late 1600s, through a private revelation to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.  Jesus described His Sacred Heart as an “infinite ocean of mercy for poor sinners”. 
Can you imagine an ocean of mercy, full of all good things?  Instead of a gulf to swim in with sharks, fish, whales, and shells, it is a heart to live in.  For you.  For us.  A heart full of joy, humility, mercy, and love…
In considering joy alone, Matthew 25:23 tells us “His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master'.”
A beloved priest once said, “We must enter into the joy of our master, because it is too great to enter into us.  We cannot contain it.” 

"Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made   heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever..."                                         Psalm 146:5-6
Dear God of Earth and Space, Shells and Sea, Imaginations and Hearts,
Thank you for all that impels us toward You.  Thank you for friends and priests who confirm what we believe about You and Your Nature.  Thank you for the ocean and all of creation that hints at Your Greatness and our smallness.  Thank you for my shell.  Thank you for revealing yourself to us through people, places, and things.  Please grant us the grace we need to know and love You more.  Amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Your Value, Power, and Responsibility

This week I had the privilege of "bringing the message" to the hospital's weekly praise and worship service.  Seems funny for a Catholic girl, especially when three of the audience of nine were pastors of their own churches, as well as my fellow chaplains, but nevertheless...  In light of a few posts I've seen on Facebook and the fallout that comes with not feeling good enough, I thought I'd share the message with you.  The following is an amalgamation of Scripture, personal thoughts, and favorite quotes.  In case you've forgotten, or have never known your personal value and power, I invite you to know and/or remember...

I.  Value – Why do we have value?  Because we are made in the image and likeness of God and He loves us.
Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them."
Our value simply is.  It cannot be increased by our good works, nor decreased by our sins because we aren’t the ones who distribute this value.  God does. 
John 3:16  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
1John4:10  "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation of our sins."
Mark 10:21:  (When the man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and he replied that he had honored the commandments that Jesus listed) “Jesus looking upon him loved him.”
If being loved by God isn’t enough proof of our value, where else can we find it?  How do we know we have value?  We’ll look at just a few verses from Scripture to capture how critical it is to Him that we know this:
Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Matthew 12:11-12  “He said to them, “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!...”
Luke 12:22-24  “And he said to his disciples, therefore I tell you , do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens:  they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!"
John 4:10  If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'”
The gift of God is His Love.  Because of it, we are HOLY.CHOSEN.BELOVED.FORGIVEN.
How do we stay in this truth?  We spend time in God’s word, in the classroom of silence where He speaks, in communion with fellow believers, and seeking all of the other ways He reveals Himself to us (sacraments, nature, music, fill in the blank__________...)
We must also consider ourselves loveable and love ourselves, in turn.  On the continuum of self-love, there is a broad spectrum.  At one end is self-loathing.  There’s a lot of that going on.  At the other end is self-love based on what we’ve done or some other false value.  We don’t want to be found at either end of this spectrum.  We want to be somewhere in the middle.  We want to live in the place where God loves us from, recognizing our value because He gave it to us.
Mark 12:28-31 "One of the scribes asked “Which commandment is the first of all?  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”
“It is rewarding to find someone you like, but it is essential to like yourself.  It is quickening to recognize that someone is a good and decent human being, but it is indispensable to view yourself as acceptable.  It is a delight to discover people who are worthy of respect and admiration and love, but it is vital to believe yourself deserving of these things…”  Jo Coudert, American writer
Can you imagine Christ calling you by name?  He does it throughout Scripture and He does it with you.  Continually.  Close your eyes and try to imagine it.  If you cannot, it would be a good thing to practice until you can.  We need to live in this reality… 

II.  Power -Do you understand the power you already have as a baptized child of God?  

2 Peter 1:3-4His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” 

Ephesians 3:20  “Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think…”
By the way, this is the same power that created the universe...

III.  Responsibility – If we understand our value as children of God and the power He makes available to us, what are we called to do about it?   

A.  Our first responsibility is not to underestimate it!  Fr. Iain Matthew in Impact of God says in one of my favorite quotes, ever:
 “Survival demands a certain skepticism.  We are trained to cope as social beings by keeping our desires within realistic limits.  But where God is concerned, the problem lies in our desiring too little, and growing means expanding our expectations or rather, making His generosity, not our poverty, the measure of our expectations.” 

“It seems that each of us creates either heaven or hell on earth for those around us, by what we say and do, by what is in our hearts.  We have the power to bring division and pain, or to bring peace and joy.”
-Susan Conroy 

I’m reading a book called Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  It says that for those of us going to Heaven, life on this earth is as close as we’ll ever get to hell.  On the one hand, “Duh”.  But, on the other, "Wow."  Doesn’t this reality make the bad a little more bearable?  Conversely, for those going to hell, this life is as close as they will get to Heaven.  Gulp.  We have the power on earth to create these earthly heaven and hells for each other.

 “Each time anyone comes in contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us.  We must radiate God’s love.”  - Mother Teresa

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something,
And what I should do and can do,
I will do.
-Author unknown  

Dear God of Scripture and Lover of Souls,
Thank you for the opportunity to know you through Your Word, for pursuing your people, and for making yourself known throughout all of history.  Please convict us of Your love!  Help us rest in it.  Show us the value and power we have because of it.  Grant us the grace to make Your generosity the measure of our expectation!  Grant us the light to know Your will and the courage to do it.  Amen.



Monday, June 15, 2015

Providential Coincidence

Since meeting the first real person I've known with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) about two and a half months ago, I've started wondering just how involved God is in our lives.  When you see ALS in action, it's hard to believe God has anything to do with it.  During this same time period, my Mom went to the Emergency Room.  She thought she was having a heart attack.  She had a complete cardiac work-up and the results were clear.  She was a paralyzed woman of 21 years, and she had no signs of heart disease.  She chalked it up to a miracle.  Normally, I wouldn't hesitate to celebrate this miracle with her.  But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking of my friend suffering under the slow progression of his disease and wondering if, maybe, some things just are.

Kate Braestrup, a Universalist Unitarian chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, points out in Here If You Need Me, that we must be careful about calling things miracles simply because things line up in the right place at the right time.  Horrific things happen for the same reason.  A particular girl - in a specific parking lot - at a given time, which is precisely the same time and place a predator has made himself available to her... 

For me, the case for some coincidence is gaining strength.  I have always believed that God is a very involved God.  If something happened, it was because God orchestrated it Himself, as the primary agent.  I still believe this to be the case most of the time.  But, for the first time, I am leaving room for God to work through "coincidence" - things allowed by Him, under the umbrella of His knowledge/providence, but maybe not arranged by Him per se.  This feels weird and dangerous at first, but after sitting with it for a while, it grows more comfortable.  He is still God.  He is still Good.  He still loves us and desires our love in return.  Nothing has really changed, except that I'm giving Him more room to work.

In an effort to get to a place where I can establish and articulate my belief about all of this, I have been reading books like Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (HCA) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli and Summa Theologiae - A Concise Translation by St. Thomas Aquinas, edited by Timothy McDermott.

"Believing, Augustine says, is giving assent to something one is still thinking about...Believing means putting faith in something, and this resembles knowing in giving firm assent, but resembles doubting, suspecting and holding opinions in having no finished vision of the truth." (Summa)  That is where I am...having no finished vision of the truth.

Last night, after months of contemplating coincidence and an all-powerful God, my guys and I watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and Life at the Molecular Level on Netflix.  We learned that we are in the last minute of the last day of the cosmic calendar year.  We watched a theoretical  single-celled organism change into a theoretical human being in the span of a minute.  We listened to an explanation of why we don't have to believe in an "Intelligent Designer" and can still benefit from the most intricate of all designs - the human eye.  We learned that the red spot of Jupiter is a giant hurricane three times the size of earth, and watched our planet disappear into our solar system and our solar system into the next thing beyond it, and on and on into the observable universe, which may really be a multiverse...

My middle son summed it up well when it was all over.  "Now, I'm going to be confused every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed, for the rest of my life."  Me too, buddy.  

St. Thomas More said, “God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.” 
I'm farther away from knowing anything, except that I don't believe the human eye is the work of evolution any more than I believe we evolved from apes.  I could be more easily convinced if we didn't live alongside them.  If evolution is defined as small genetic mutations that happen randomly all of the time, I believe in it.  I just don't believe everything is a product of it.  St. Augustine  said, "If at any time the ruling power of God were to desert what he created, His creation would immediately lose its form and all nature would collapse."  This is probably all I need to know about science.    

I don't know how anything of the world came to be or how it continues to be, except that I know Who is responsible for it.  I am growing dimmer on the details, but more confident in the One Who Knows.  I am less certain that every single happening in life is intended by God, but know that all of the good is, for "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above..." (James 1:17)  For those things which lack any apparent good, may God increase our faith to proclaim as written in Romans 8:28:  "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."

Dear God of Beetles and the Universe,

Sometimes, I feel so dumb.  I think of my little town as big because it's the biggest one I've ever lived in, or my state as big because it's the biggest one in the continental United States, or my country as big because I've driven across a good bit of it and it takes a "long" time.  But then, I watch a show which stretches some approximation of reality before me, and my entire world and universe shrink down to specs, indistinct among many others greater in size and number, and there are places so far away that light hasn't been able to travel the distance between here and there...yet.

But, You aren't surprised by my embarrassingly small perception of big.  You created me and all the rest, right down to the beetles.  Over 350,000 of them, really?  Sometimes, You raise us up to catch a  glimpse of the heavens, but You bend down a lot, too.

You said in Jeremiah 29:11-13, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart."

Lord, I believe You in this.  I don't know a lot of things.  In fact, it seems like the more I seek You, the less I know.  But, I do believe You want my good and the good of all Your creation.  Please give me the grace to be more content with "Because I said so" and less determined to ask, "But, why?!" 

Although I understand what can be understood of the spiritual riches that suffering holds; For now, I don't believe that the many diseases men suffer from are directly from Your hand.  For now, I believe this is one of the areas where things just are.  And for now, I am okay with not understanding it and trust that You will continue to bring good until I do.   

Thank you for this beautiful and untamed world we live in.  I'm sorry for all of the times and ways I make you too small.  Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Flooding Abounds

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that parts of Texas have been flooding for weeks. Unless I know you personally, you probably don't know that my husband is a member of Texas Task Force One.  They are one of the main groups responsible for responding to the needs of our state in times such as these.

As the weeks pass on, and the devastation accrues, I'm finding a little flood damage within my own home, although we've never been close to the water's edge.

As wife to one of those heroic types, I have been placed in the proverbial backseat until further notice.  I've learned that I can live comfortably in this backseat for about two weeks. But, we are past that now and the dam of my needs is giving way.

While living with a general feeling of acceptance for what is, there are forceful and penetrating moments of desperation.  My husband's dependence upon my strength increases while my feeling of strength breaks down.  I'm a "quality timer" and operate under the assumption that time is love. This is not good when there is NO time.

Like a self-righteous financial institution, I decided that I had nothing else to give until he put something in.  Even in a day's time, this proved to erode all goodwill.

Being the practical girl that I am, I recognize that this equation doesn't work. At least not for right now or probably any time in the near future.  Like a real flood victim, I am forced quickly past my ideal.  

However, if I believe that God gives me everything I need for every moment, which I do...then I lack nothing.  If I need strength, then a source of strength is available to me.

As it was last night, it came in the form of unexpected song with another, preceded and followed by the love of a dear friend.

Today is a day of beginning again with a renewed confidence in God's provision.  Not only for me, but for all. Especially for those grieving for losses confirmed and those still missing.

Alongside this reality, I feel ashamed that my small suffering has not disappeared in the face of their great suffering.  I am sorry they can coexist. Perhaps you have mastered it better than I, but I have not yet learned how to stay in someone else's reality for very long.  Though, I continue to try.

Here's to you families of the missing and dead, and to the spouses of those working long and hard to recover them.  We send you our love, prayers, and our best mate. You may have them as long as you need.  May you find God's provision for you through those whom He sends. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stranded on an Escalator

Hi!  I haven't written anything new in a long time.  I hope you are well... 

I started working part-time as a hospital chaplain five months ago.  Although I have wanted to write and share with you, I haven't been sure how to go about it.  But, the time has come to try. 

For the last two months, my job has included visiting one of the nursing homes within our hospital system.  While horror to some, it is my delight.  However, it is an emotionally expensive delight.  It is an honor and tremendous privilege to serve people who live with hearts full of gratitude, but would always rather be somewhere else.  Like home.  Yet, they face each day with courage, hope, patience, and an award-winning sense of humor.  They have taught me that my God is too small.

I have never met a more heroic people.  

Included in this group are "young" people in their 50s and 60s who are stricken with ALS, MS, or other mobility thieves.  As I listen to their stories, I grieve for what they've lost and the losses that are to come.  Their burdens have become my burdens and I have been surprised by my need for a compassionate heart and a good set of ears.

As long as I can remember, I have been the "listener".  Eager with questions, interested in details, and carrying no burden of my own to squash my willingness to carry that of another.  Until now.  I have gradually transitioned from a good listener to a professional listener, and with that have become increasingly dissatisfied with how well others listen (or not).  I listen to people all day long, and I love it.  However, when I am on the talking-end, I find myself abandoned mid-story or mid-sentence.  I seem to be welcomed as a sprint, but loathed beyond the 40-yard line.

My strong preference for texting rather than talking has upgraded to my overwhelming preference.  I am more comfortable with being briefly engaged or ignored than being half-listened to.  My temptation is to withdraw or at least shut up.  Stay with pleasantries.  Forgo the deep.  But, I love the deep...That murky place where feelings hide until chased out by the light of a great question.

But, the questions don't come and I start feeling suspicious.  It slowly dawns on me that if I leave every conversation disappointed, the problem has to be one of two places.  With everyone else.  Or with me.  My discomfort grows... 

Rather than hastily condemn either party, I ask a question of myself.

"Where is God in all of this?"  

I think He was sitting on the edge of His throne waiting for me to ask because the answer(s) arrived before I tacked the question mark on.  He answered once with the Litany of Humility, a second time with St. Francis' Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace (below), and a third time with an old memory of a funny video I saw once.  An escalator broke down and two people were "stranded" halfway up, yelling for help.  Can you imagine this?!  (Hint:  Google "people stuck on escalator".  It's definitely worth two minutes!)   

It turns out God isn't in the middle of this "nobody can hear me" crisis.  I am.  Since beginning this post, I realize I've been like the people on the escalator, waiting for someone else to show up, ask a question or give a thoughtful reply, and fix it.  But, there's no repair man in sight and I'm not too handy, myself.  So, I gotta take the stairs and keep moving.  Yelling from the middle doesn't do a damn bit of good.


Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Love Stronger Than Death

A coworker and friend of my husband's asked his help (and mine by association) to put the following letter on "social media".  I've only met him a time or two, and unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet his wife.  But, I am honored to celebrate his love and her memory with him.  I pray that at the end of my life, the love of those I have left behind will tell you everything you needed to know about me, as you see here...
          Six weeks before she passed away, on our 49th anniversary, we said our vows for a second time by getting married again.   
After several years, I decided to move to a smaller home.  In this process, I came across a letter that a dear friend of ours had sent to her.  I shared a copy of the letter with each of my three children.   I have shared this letter with many people since then.  It’s been three and a half years since she has gone to be with our Lord and I would like to share this letter with everyone.
Mary Lavon Terzian:  Life Lessons
August 4, 2011
Dear Mary Lavon, 

As we grow older, we tend to reflect back on our lives and recognize those who impacted us the most.  My life has been so full.  I have a great family, great friends and live in a great country.  I have lived in and travelled to many parts of the world and met many people.  However, few have touched my life the way you have.  Even though I have learned many of life’s lessons, it takes a special friend like you to remind me to live by them. 

Here are some of those most important to me: 

You reminded me to be strong and true to my Faith and to be a good Christian.

You reminded me of the importance in having good friends and how to be a good friend. 

You reminded me of the value in surrounding myself with possessions that mean a lot to me and make me smile. 

You reminded me that those you love most can cause you the most pain. 

You reminded me to the importance of being honest, direct and having strong convictions. 

You reminded me to face life’s difficult and painful challenges with dignity, style and grace. 

You reminded me of the skill it takes to being both interested and interesting. 

You reminded me that some who think they have the most actually have the least. 

You reminded me it is ok to not like or be liked by everyone. 

You reminded me to not trust everyone.  Some people do not have your best interest at heart. 

You reminded me of the importance of being a lady, being polite and having good manners.
You reminded me how important it is to be dependable.  I can always count on you. 

You reminded me of the beauty of nature and to enjoy the simple things in life.  

You reminded me of the importance of family, even though they can present you with some of life’s most difficult and painful challenges. 

You reminded me that everyone is worth knowing.  You learn something from everyone you meet.  It’s up to me what to do with that knowledge. 

You reminded me of the importance of surrounding myself with people who will enhance the quality of my life and not drag me down with them.

You reminded me it is more important to be wise than it is to be smart. 

You reminded me we can all make a difference in someone’s life. 

You reminded me to be realistic and not always idealistic. 

You reminded me that money does not buy class.  Being able to acclimate to any situation and how you make people feel gives you class. 

You reminded me of how much fun shopping can be. 

You reminded me how to tease, be teased, to laugh at yourself and to keep a good sense of humor.  We have truly had many good laughs and good times. 

You reminded me that when someone important in my life passes, take time to grieve but celebrate the good times we shared. 

You reminded me to enjoy the good days. 

You reminded me of the value in being loyal, to defend those you love and respect. 

You reminded me to live life to the fullest.  Choose my battles carefully.  There will be regrets but learn from them. 

But most importantly, you reminded me that just by being a good person, staying young at heart, being open to new experiences and being true to yourself makes life worth living.

Your contributions to my life have truly enhanced what was already good.
How blessed we all are that you are in the world.
How blessed I am to call you my friend.     


PS  “The Porch” will always be filled with your beautiful Spirit.