Saturday, December 31, 2016

Stick Figure Souls

I thought I'd send a final thought for 2016 and a first thought for 2017, as New Year's Eve is upon us. I always feel a little contemplative on this night and a little astonished at what the world is who wore what and which videos were the most popular.  Chewbacca mom, water bottle flipping, and a little girl giving her very patient dog a wellness exam, if you're curious.  Here's to you, 2016.

Maybe somewhere, folks are still making New Year's Resolutions.  No one in my house, unless you count school-age boys committing themselves to playing more paintball and taking more trips to Grand Station.

Every year it seems like physical fitness and weight loss are popular themes for resolution makers.  I've been one of them. We applaud this and we should.  Our health is extremely important, but there is one thing more important still. That which we cannot see, but is the only thing that matters in the end.

The life is not for the body, it is for the soul, and man too often chooses the way of life that best suits the body.      -God Calling-

So.  How about this for a fun and potentially frightening idea?  What if you could see your soul and it looked like a stick figure or a cartoon laying on its face?

Which one of these figures would your soul most closely resemble?

Is your soul healthy and eager to respond, as the picture on the left would suggest?

Maybe just a little tired and sluggish, but still on its feet?

Perhaps, your soul has a cane or is in need of a wheelchair option?

Or, ya know.  The last one.  With "nope" written over it and a period on the end.

Whatever the case may be, there's good news and no one has to know about which "sticky" soul you claimed.  The only One who can see it, has already seen it and sees it still.

Hang with me if you're feeling discouraged. There's a lot of great news here...

The first bit of good news is you have a soul and God loves it.  The second bit is you're still alive, so even if your soul is laying on its face, there is still time to get it on its feet.

If you're willing.    

The third bit is that everything you need to improve your soul's posture is available to you, and it knows what it needs.


In John 4:34, Jesus says, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work."

God Calling expounds, Soul-starvation comes from the failing to do, and to delight in doing, My Will.  Make it your meat to do My Will.  Strength and Power will indeed come to you from that.

May you nourish your soul well all the days of 2017, and experience strength and power in doing so.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

If you read my last post about buying your own boots to stay married at Christmastime, you'll be happy to know I got boots for Christmas. Ha!  And all of that fighting for nothing.  That alone is a reason to write.  But, there are more reasons than that.

I am usually quick to write when my husband and I have a run-in.  I process it here and share it with you, because those of us who are committed to staying married need the reality, camaraderie, and encouragement. He gives me his blessing to share and I give him the courtesy of a preview before publishing. That's pretty big of him.  I don't know how many husbands would be willing to do the same.

Now, we're a week into Christmas break and I've been sick for the last couple of days.  Not deathly sick, just the annoying kind.  Runny nose, cough, and the like.  He tended the brisket on the smoker all of Christmas day and has made breakfast every morning without complaint, taken all of the boys shooting (when I don't remember the last time he went alone), and took them fishing and out for dinner last night.    

If I had the chance to rate him on a husband/father 5-star scale, he would have five stars and that was before he made breakfast this morning and cleaned up afterward.  Beyond that, he spent all day replacing our water heater, welding pipes, replacing sheet rock and all.  It's 8:23pm and he just came inside, limping and with a little less arm hair.   .    

At no point did he complain or act put out that everybody else in the house was free to do whatever they pleased, while he was stuck doing his marathon project, which we were all going to benefit from.  He welcomed the boys' "help" and even managed to keep a game of "Pocket Tanks" going with one of them.  He ate his dinner leaning on the dryer in the cold garage.  It is on days like these, that I know my husband is a better person than I am.

I would have been a bear from start to finish, and that's if I knew how to do the job in the first place, which I don't.  This scenario replays all of the time, too, when it comes to replacing this and repairing that.  He sees things dripping, rusting, and breaking, and he knows that until he plugs, replaces, or fixes it, it will wait on him.  And he will think about it every day.

I will never have an all-day house or car repair project.  I have meals and laundry.  Oh, so daily, but never heavy, hard, really dirty, or dangerous.  If I can be honest, I would choose my lot over his, but that's just in theory, because I can't do his anyway.

So, here's to you, husband of mine!  Thank you for taking care of us and making it look easy.  Thank you for letting me write about you, and us, and ours.  I want to be like you when I grow up.    

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Buy Your Own Boots: Staying Married at Christmastime

I'm just back from an hour-long walk in the rain.  Needed the exercise and to blow off some steam. My dog didn't even want to get out of the car to hit the trail.  That's a new one.  But, it was necessary, rain or not.

It was necessary because my husband and I had kabobs for lunch last Thursday.  I know, it's Sunday. It probably seems like a weird detail to include.  I wish it was.  But, the Thursday lunch is still relevant because we're just getting over it.

Lunch was going well enough, but then...

What do you want for Christmas?

Popular question this time of year.  I said that I actually considered the guitar lessons I'm taking to be my present, since I am so excited about them and they're expensive.

But, then you won't have anything to open on Christmas morning...

Ok, some earrings would be nice.  Or brown boots, like the black ones I'm wearing.  Or my favorite shoes in brown.  Or a new guitar...

But, how would he know what kind of boots I like?  Size?  Color?  Style?  Fit?

Well, it's no different than anything else, unless I pick it out myself.  There's a chance I won't like it, and it can be exchanged.  I'm a size 10.

But, he doesn't want to get a gift that's likely to be exchanged...

Well, I'd rather spend a day shopping with you than have something to unwrap anyway...

But, the damage was done.  He thought I was being difficult and I thought he was being irrational. The cold good-bye kiss felt virtuous because I waited to leave until we were finished eating, when I wanted to walk out in the middle of the meal.  

So, the walk in the rain.  There were some puddles that engulfed the trail, which I was able to tiptoe around on the way out without submerging my foot completely.  But, not so on the way back.  Maybe I was a little tired, but certainly less careful, and the cold water filled my right shoe twice over.

As I walked on with my squishy shoe, I was thinking how easy enough it is not to have a squishy shoe (when was the last time you had one?) and how stepping in a puddle you are trying to avoid is like some moments in marriage.  You can see trouble coming, but try as you might, you can't avoid it. And then, you're in it.  All was well, then rainy, but manageable, then just soaking wet.  

As on time as it could be, a tree, twenty feet or so off the trail, broke off near the top and crashed to the ground.  Yep, I thought, in the throes of making marriage metaphors.  Another perfect example. Don't get enough of what you need some of the time, too much of what you don't need other times, and 20 years later, the top falls off and crashes to the ground.  Poor tree.  It just divorced the forest.

I was the only witness, but it did make a sound.  

Here's the thing.  We're not trees.  We have thresholds like they do, but they don't have feet like we do.  They can't move closer to the things they need or farther away from the things that bring them harm.   And even when we use our feet to step in it up to the ankle, we can still move.

Sometimes moving toward understanding is really loud.  Like a tree smashing to the ground.  Like this morning.  In trying to get back on the same page, voices were charged, and not just our own.  The boys, unaccustomed to such vigorous discussion, were yelling "Shut up!" from a bedroom.  This is not allowed in our home, but apparently they thought the rules had changed, at least momentarily. Although there was no change in the rules, what had changed was they were all in one bedroom, and not fighting.  Nothing like a common enemy to strengthen the bond of brotherhood.

I've been married for fourteen years.  I intend to stay married.  But, sometimes, we have to fight for it. We have to move toward what is important.  Because, we're not trees.  Because we can, and we must. Sometimes, it gets loud and requires a walk in the rain. But, it is always worth it.  Even if it means you buy your own boots and swamp them in a puddle every now and then.

May the God of endurance and encouragement 
grant you to think in harmony with one another, 
in keeping with Christ Jesus, 
that with one accord you may with one voice 
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Consoling the Grieving With Awkwardness and Goodwill

As you probably know, I don't write an advice column.  All of my posts are the fruit of my thought-life and experience, shared for your entertainment or very optimistically, to offer hope or help.   I have very few thoughts I am willing to impose on others as ideal or best-practice.  I generally assume people have already thought about what they are doing or saying and are motivated by their own reasons, in which case advice is neither sought nor appreciated.


I've been in a few situations lately, which have stirred something within me.  I've stayed up late writing about it, only to leave it again, afraid to offend or create scandal.  These situations involve being at someone's side whose world has been turned upside down by the death of someone they love.  I've been there at different stages for different people - during the dying, at the death, at the moment they learned about the death, days and months later.  

I count every one of these moments as a privilege and something sacred.  But, they are uncomfortable.  And yet, what is just as uncomfortable, is finding myself cringing in these same moments.

Not cringing at the love, which manifests itself as pain, tears, and grief in every form, but at what little we have to offer in the way of words.  But, we use them anyway.  And they fail to land in the heart of the hearer.  My fear is not that they do little good, but have the potential to harm.  To create distance.  A feeling of not being understood.

If there is little else, there is always a lot of goodwill in anyone at the side of a grieving person.  It is not an easy place to be.  We are likely struggling with our own grief and trying to help another with theirs.  We struggle to understand why spouses leave widows, children leave parents, parents leave children, and how full-term babies can die on their birth-day.  

We no more understand these things than the man on the moon.  But, if we're Christians, we know God is involved, so we run to the safe-place.  God's will.  It's the only way we can preserve our sanity and our faith.  This is all we have, and consequently, many times, what we offer to the grief-stricken.

In our attempt to console a grieving person, we offer the only comfort we can find for ourselves.  We remind them that the death of the one they loved is "for a reason".  "All part of God's plan".  Or that "God needed him/her more than you did."  Said another way, "All is as it should be."

If the grieving say and believe these things, then by all means, we can readily agree (if we believe them, too).  But, unless we're asked for our opinion, we should let the grieving one take the lead here.  It is hard to receive, "All is as it should be" when every fiber of your being says, "Nothing is as it should be."  

1 Corinthians 2:11 says, "For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."

We can know God is good.  We can know that He will bring good out of everything, as Romans 8:28 proclaims ("We know that in everything God works for the good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."), but we cannot know what God is thinking when he commands or allows a person to die.  We would do well to remember this when our turn comes to comfort the grieving.    

When someone is grieving, even a person with great faith, it is very possible that the God they believe in changes.  Maybe forever.  If you believed someone was responsible for causing you greater pain than you ever could have imagined, would it be any immediate consolation that the person responsible thought it out thoroughly ahead of time?    

The box made of our thoughts about God and how we relate to Him shatters.  But, we know God doesn't change.  God is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  We change. Understandably so, and probably for the best.  Ultimately, if we don't abandon faith altogether, we are forced to let God be God and to accept what we cannot know or understand.  An uncomfortable, but properly ordered relationship between creature and Creator.

No one has ever had the nerve to say it to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if amidst their distress, they were thinking, "To hell with God's plan."  The incredible thing is that God's plan did go to hell, as we're told in the Apostle's Creed:  He made provision for that, too.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
 I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Even hell or our thoughts of what belong there cannot change Who has been there and rose again. Jesus Christ.   This is our Christian hope.  The hope of the resurrection.  We do not need to know God's thoughts to know history.  

I am not an expert on any of this.  I believe everything we profess in the Creed.  But, I also believe the kindest thing can be to hold off on holding it out as our means to comfort.  Maybe I'm projecting my pain onto the grieving, but my heart hurts for them when their friends and family take away their freedom to express their pain, bewilderment, doubt, or anger with "God's plan".

 I thank God for the faith he has granted to me and the many truths related to it.  But, that doesn't mean they are a source of consolation in every moment, especially when you just want to be held.    

Please know that this post is the fruit of a growing conviction.  I have done and said everything here that I've advised against.  But, until we see God, Face to face, can I challenge you as I challenge myself, to grow more comfortable with your discomfort when consoling the grieving?

Appreciate the power of your presence.  Don't overestimate your need to say the right thing.  They will remember you were there, but probably won't remember what you said.  Stick with what you know.  Need some ideas?  "I love you."  "I'm sorry.  This is really hard."  "I don't know why this happened."  "Lord, increase our faith."  And if pressed, "God is going to bring good.  I don't know when or how, but I believe that He will."

God's plan reveals itself.  It doesn't need our words to herald it in.  Yet, I believe we are a big part of it - showing up in all of our awkwardness and goodwill, day after day.  Our presence, faith, hope, and love are our greatest gifts to the grieving, and other than God himself, the only remedy for suffering.  "The only thing worse than suffering, is suffering alone."  (Unknown source)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lily and the Puddle

This is our dog, Lily, after our walk today...

This is noteworthy because today was a big day for us.  Lily became my teacher.  

We got Lily at a local animal shelter the day before Easter, approximately six months ago.  She's our Easter Lily.  She has been the source of much joy and consternation.  The $5.00 we paid for her has seemed like $5.00 too much on many, many occasions.  These include repeated peeing on the carpet, getting into the trash and depositing its contents throughout the house, throwing up on various rugs, and some still-unresolved problem with anal gland expression.  I mean, really, it couldn't get any more disgusting.  My boys will eagerly tell you I love her the least of everyone in our family.  They're probably right.  

But, we all have our place with her.  Of the boys, the youngest is her "care taker", she loves to chase and nip at the middle one's calves, and she sleeps on the the bed of the oldest.  My husband trims her nails, bathes her, and has a love/hate relationship with her, as I do, depending on how recently she has offended our sensibilities and desire for order, and neutral smells.  I'm the one who walks her, and she seems to let this one positive aspect drape others less so.  

With a history of acute UPS-truck-related deafness, a proclivity for running, and a curiosity about everything, we've done a lot of cussing in our front yard, trying to give our new-ish canine family member a little freedom out of the house and off the leash.  It's slowly getting better.

So, today was a real experiment, as we ventured to some local trails off-leash, which is allowed, but your dog must be under voice control (underlined just like it says on the sign), at all times.  We were definitely gambling here.  I counted the cars on the way in to the parking lot, considering the likelihood of running into anyone, how many dog-fighting opportunities there might be, the possibility that my dog may just run off altogether, and how I would explain that to my boys, knowing they would be suspicious, since they think I hate her anyway.     

Nevertheless, we started out, and something wonderful happened.  

She was delighted to be free and delighted to be near me all at the same time.  It was like we'd been walking these trails for years and we were the subject of all the books written about man and his best friend.  Huh!

If I'm on a trail of any kind, I'm happy.  But, as we went along, I realized how my happiness multiplied at watching her enjoy her freedom, as well as being aware of her desire to share it with me. She didn't have to. She would race ahead and saunter back.  At all of the forks in the road, she was ahead of me, so she'd make a guess (usually the wrong one), but I'd call her name one time, and she would eagerly correct her course.  

As so often happens in my thoughts, God showed up and whispered, "See?".  Yes.  Yes, I see.

I saw many things.  I saw that her desire was to lay in every puddle of water we crossed.

I also saw that she was willing to abandon her puddle, if it meant parting ways with me.  I saw that I would feel sad for her if she had to pee on every tree, smell every leaf, or stay in every puddle she entered, at the cost of pursuing what was still ahead. 

Then, I thought of the patients I've visited in the hospital trying to detox from one addiction or another, and all of us who end up chasing some inherently good desire, and lose our freedom in pursuit of it.  We get stuck.  We come to a fork in the road, and we can't change course.  We can't get out of the puddle.  We like it too much.

As a wise man once told me, "You're not free to say 'yes' until you're free to say 'no'.  This is true for everything from everyday commitments to illicit pleasures.  Words to live by.

One patient who fought his addiction for twenty-something years, wasn't able to kick it until he was on the brink of losing his wife and kids, when he realized he loved them more than prescription drugs.  Based on his experience, it seems we ultimately lack the greater, stronger, and more noble desire to be with/for others and the One who made us for Himself.  There are as many explanations for this "lack" as there are people.  

We have this great thirst for freedom because our most fundamental aspiration is for happiness; and we sense that there is no happiness without love, and no love without freedom.  This is perfectly true.  Human beings were created for love, and they can only find happiness in loving and being loved.
-Interior Freedom, Jacques Phillipe

I think the same is true for dogs, which is why we relate to them so well.  

With our dog, it has taken six months to get to the place where her desire for communion outweighs everything else.   I guess this evolution of trust and desire has developed slowly and quietly (and sometimes very stinkily), as we've shared time and space under one roof.  Learning routines, things we love, and things to avoid at all costs.  Today, my dog was willing to leave her puddle or switch directions entirely, out of a desire to be with me, as inexplicable as that is. 

Can I move from master to dog in this story and let God take my place?  

Left or right, wet or dry, stay or go, it's all the same to me -- as long as I can remain in Your Presence. 
Can I become as free as my dog off-leash?  Is it even possible to spend enough time with God to learn to desire Him more than a puddle, money, sex, drugs, or anything else?  The saints challenge our flesh and our logic with a resounding YES.  It only feels impossible.   

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trippin' On A Sick Day

My second-grader stayed home with a fever today.  If you don't have a 7-year-old at your elbow, you should look into renting one.  The conversations are often thought-provoking and always entertaining.  Just last week, on his way out the door, he excitedly announced that class-jobs were going to be assigned that day.  But, right afterward, like any grown-up thinking things through, the nagging afterthought tumbled out, "I hope I'm not the caboose." 

Do you ever expect anyone to say "caboose"?!  Goodness, me.  He had me laughing all day at the thought of it.  That afternoon proved that wishes come true sometimes, but not always.  At least it was only for one week. 

Today's conversation included the question of which super-power I would choose.  You know...flying, breathing underwater, teleporting, or going back in time?  Flying, for me.  As much as I'd love to breathe underwater, I just don't think I'd use it as much as flying.  He chose going back in time.  Back in time, really?!  Yeah, like back to before school started.  Oh, I see.  Like a week ago.  Yeah, and back when you could fly and breathe underwater.  Wait a it possible to cheat in this game? 

But, then it occurred to me that it would probably be very difficult to be happy wherever you were, if you could always be somewhere else.  Especially if you went there by simply thinking about it.  If only I were at the ocean...

The ocean is beautiful, but it sure is hot.  If only I could be somewhere cooler, or with shade.  Like on a only...

And what if, in addition to always wanting to be somewhere other than where you were, you could only travel alone?  Even if you could manage to be content in one place, you'd probably be sad after a while, unless you're a super-duper introvert and never needed another person to enjoy life.  Ever. 

I mean, that sounds great, for a little while.  It reminds me of a trip I took by myself to Galveston some years ago.  That 24-hour-trip was the fruit of a little Mommy-math, which was the realization that I had three little boys at home and I hadn't been alone for 24-hours in five years.  I was overdue. 

I sat on the beach and read until I couldn't sit and read anymore.  I played the guitar.  I took myself to dinner that night and spent the hour at my table, watching a family with small children at their's.  The next morning, I was ready to go back home.  I learned a valuable lesson on that trip.  Sometimes, it's good to leave, just so you can be ready to come home again.

So, I'm grateful for my little mind trip today and the second-grader who bought my ticket, 'cause here I am - as happy as I can be on the sofa in my living room, with nowhere to go and nothing to see, but some kid-show-on-TV and a little boy in a recliner with a cold rag on his forehead. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

From Hobby Lobby to the Dentist: All You Need to Know About Parenting

Today was the perfect day to describe parenthood in all its wonder.

Event #1:  I was at Hobby Lobby with my three boys to spend my gift card on some twine they needed to make bracelets.  Of course, each boy found some great clearance item they couldn't live without, so I agreed to chip in $5.00 for each one, and they would pay the rest.

On our way to check out, I bumped into an old friend, who had three kids in her cart and one by her side.  We talked about summer, school, her working out and me not, and the like.  During this conversation, her children didn't make a peep nor show one ounce of impatience, and her oldest is one year younger than my youngest.

Meanwhile, my boys were playing grab-ass, which ended with nutcrackers on the floor (Yes, Christmas stuff is out already), some very misplaced blame (Me!), and an embarrassed and ticked off someone (Me, again!).

I commended my friend for her well-behaved children.  She graciously thanked me and said that they often behaved more like mine, and we parted ways.

My boys and I had an emergency meeting the next aisle over in very hushed tones, the fruit of which was a silent march back to the clearance section, a return of all items that minutes before couldn't have been lived without, and a long, quiet ride home.

Parenting conclusion #1:  My boys are unbelievably ill-behaved and not at all suited to going out in public.  I am definitely doing something wrong.

Event #2:  After arriving home from Hobby Lobby, I assembled a birthday gift for my niece.  While I was doing so, my youngest decided he wanted to give everyone in our neighborhood a gift, to make them happy.  (I think after leaving Hobby Lobby empty-handed, he was acutely aware of how much the world at large was in need of happiness)!

I told him a note would accomplish the same thing and he instantaneously became an author, illustrator, Santa Claus, mailman, and delinquent.  He wrote and illustrated notes, walked to the neighbors' homes, rang the doorbell, dropped his happiness, and ran!  Fortunately, I'm friends with one of these neighbors on Facebook, so I copied his picture from his post thanking whoever it was.  He tagged me, so I guess he had a pretty good idea...                                          

Parenting conclusion #2:  I have one very thoughtful son.  Maybe I'm not totally failing as a parent.

Event #3:  4:00pm.  Dentist appointments for all three.  For the first time ever, I didn't go back with them - probably because I was still recovering from Hobby Lobby.  So, I stayed in the waiting area, availing myself of the Keurig-love and pretended I was on vacation. When they were all finished, the dentist and her staff came out to brief me, and they all gushed about how well-behaved and polite the boys were, and could I teach them how to train their kids like that? Ha!

Parenting conclusion #3:  I'm the best parent in the world!!!  Not really.  More like, don't trust the dentist!  Not really.  More kids are like me and all of our fellow earthlings...Not as bad or as good as they seem in any given moment.  There but for the grace of God, go we.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

If You Wouldn't or Couldn't Anymore

Do you ever have those moments when you receive everything you already have as a gift anew?

For the last six weeks, I've had a knot and swelling under my left arm.  For the last two weeks, I started to worry.  This week, I had a mammogram, ultrasound, and blood work and all is well. 

All.  Is.  Well.

I work with and for people who have a story that ends much differently than mine, but begins much the same.  I see them in the hospital, sometimes abandoned by the ones they love, fighting for their lives against cancer or other life-altering diagnoses.

In my work, I always try to imagine what it would be like to be in my patient's "shoes", although they are seldom wearing any.  Usually, something more like non-skid socks. 

For the last couple of weeks, my imagination has been very busy doing what imaginations do.  But, I've been imagining for myself, as well as all of the others.  I don't consider myself to be a hypochondriac, but I definitely know enough to have a dangerous thought life.  Even without a medical background, Google can scare the hell out of anybody. 

In its bleakest moment, my imagination leaves kids behind and prior to that, imagines being on the outside of the life I've created, looking in.  Too sick to participate, but well enough to see.  This is confirmed in the stories of people I've visited with - people whose imaginations have been laid off because reality has no need of them. 

What if, what if, what if...

And in the middle of a string of what ifs, I remembered a very special patient who was struggling with cancer and has since passed away.  She told me when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, that she invited God to "show off" in her.  She gave Him total permission to use everything about her suffering for His Glory.  So, I borrowed her prayer, in my not-knowing.

Only God is not "showing off" in my suffering, but very hopefully, through my health.  How often is our health "wasted" on carrying out the activities of daily living?  Not wasted because we're doing things that don't need to be done  (Lord knows that dishes and laundry and grocery shopping and all the rest have to be done!), but because we're not grateful that we're able to do them!

Can you imagine yourself in a hospital bed for a day?  A week?  Months on end?  Can you imagine coming home afterward, restored and rejoicing in your ability to do the same things that you loathe doing today?

I can and I am. 

And this is why I'm writing today - To live in the reality that in a moment, we would give anything to have what we already have and to do what we're already doing, if only we thought that we wouldn't or couldn't anymore. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Outskirts of Heaven

I met another one today.  Somebody who has been to the outskirts of Heaven.  At the time, she was 12-years-old.  She had a high fever and was wondering why the ice her body was packed in didn't feel cold.  Shortly thereafter, she traveled through a beautiful valley, saw somebody she knew to be her grandmother (though they'd never met), and heard a resounding voice tell her, "It's not your time.  You must go back." 

Some fifty years have passed.  She recalls her trip to the outskirts as if it were yesterday.  She has no fear of dying and anticipates her entry into eternity with great confidence and joy.  She urges the dying to shake off their fear, and the grieving to cry only for themselves. 

Working as a hospital chaplain, these kinds of stories are finding their way to me and I couldn't be more grateful.  But tonight, I wonder again, if I have a role beyond courting gratitude.  Is my privilege of listening to these encounters part and parcel of my responsibility to join these blessed ones in their very-clear-mission-to-tell?.  ...Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.  [Luke 12:48]

Last week, I met a woman who was touched by Jesus on her left shoulder when she was intubated and struggling to breathe.  She knew it was Him because she recognized His sandals, His shining robe and His beard (although it was longer than she expected).  She saw everything except His Face.  She was up and walking around three hours later.   

It made sense to her that she would have to wait to see Jesus face to face, as she recalled Exodus 33:21-23:  And the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."

She said the Lord tells her who to tell about her experience.  I made the list, so she assumed I was skeptical and needed her story to bolster my faith.  I assured her that my faith was indeed bolstered, but that I was not at all skeptical.  

One man was stabbed multiple times in his youth.  He visited the outskirts and is now an elder in his church and a beacon of hope to all of the young men in his impoverished neighborhood.  Young men who need every reason to believe, but have (almost) every reason not to.

Yet another, and perhaps my favorite story, was a man who was helping his younger brother one afternoon.  His brother was dying of leukemia.  During their time together, his brother asked him, "Do you hear that?!"  He didn't.  "I hear trumpets," he said.  A little while later..."Do you see that?!"  He didn't.  "The angels!  The angels are coming for me."  His brother died the next day.

A couple of decades later, the man who told me this story "died" during his first of several strokes.  He saw his brother who heard trumpets and saw angels, sitting with another brother on a hill of the greenest green.  They beckoned for him to cross the valley separating them.  But, he knew it wasn't time.  He shook his head no.  He had to come back to tell.

A few months ago, in another post, I reviewed The Other Side by Michael H. Brown - a collection of experiences and encounters of those who have visited the other side.  Every story I have heard in person matches up with all of the others I've read about.  While their modes of transportation seem to vary, their experiences are exactly the same in the beauty they describe, the peace they felt, the voice or knowing that it wasn't their time to stay, a complete absence of desire to return to earth, an overwhelming conviction they'd been to Heaven (or at least the outskirts) when they returned, and an unmistakable sense of mission to tell about this other reality, and Jesus who abides there.

I'm so very grateful... for my job, which provides the opportunities to hear these stories and to meet the people who carry them.  To have my faith edified daily.  To share their gift with others, and hopefully, to help them fulfill their God-given tell. 

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever  Amen.  [Book of Jude, v.24] 



Thursday, June 9, 2016

One Shade of Grey

I don't really like the color grey and I magically disappear during discussions of how many shades of it there might be.  For me, there is only one shade of grey.  Grey and not grey.  Grey and the opposite of grey - blatantly obvious.    I much prefer blatantly obvious.  Remind me to write Crayola. 

My favorite color is actually green (which would be good to know if you're writing a book), but today, grey abounds. 

When too much grey is hanging out upstairs, I have to sort it out.  Sort of like brain laundry, I guess.  As much as I wish my basket full of grey could be separated neatly into two piles, preferably one black and one white, the best I can do is throw the laundry on the floor and decide...What is grey and what isn't.

For today...

Grey is... standing in for an absent ordained Protestant minister when you are a lay Catholic woman.  Who said God doesn't have a sense of humor?

Grey isn't... a room full of people expecting a church service, who don't care one iota who shows up or what they show up with.  They are simply ready to receive what is offered - without judgment and overflowing with gratitude.  Being empty and hungry is not grey.  It is beautiful.  Especially to those who are neither empty nor hungry.  Blessed are the poor in spirit...Matt 5:3  

Grey is when you've been married for forty years, your husband is ready to die and giving him your support means you will be without his, for the rest of your life.

Grey isn't... the love that can endure that kind of self-sacrifice.

Grey is...telling someone you love them without clarifying why or being at all sure they love you, too.

Grey isn't...having no regrets if time runs short, or opportunities run out. 

Grey is...being stranded on an island and wondering if you're offending your God by paddling back to the Mainland with the wrong colored paddle, when it's the only one you have.

Grey isn't...the God who created islands and paddles.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dying Well - It's In God's Hands: A Tribute to Manley Burchett

As Mitch Albom writes in The Five People You’ll Meet in Heaven, “part of the secret of heaven is that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.”  

Last weekend, I had an awesome opportunity to celebrate the life of a godly man, husband, and teacher, Manley Burchett.  He has been a patient of mine off and on over the last several months and he left this world for another on May 11, 2016.  He was 82-years-old.  His wife, Carol, has given me permission to share him and his never-ending teaching spirit with you.  

I wasn’t surprised when Carol told me that Manley liked Psalm 23.  He lived it to the very end.  When we talked about how his story might end over several hospitalizations, he would hold both palms up and serenely say, “It’s in God’s hands.” 

Can you walk through the valley of the shadow of death while sitting in a recliner, hooked up to an oxygen tank?  Undoubtedly, Yes.  I saw Manley do it and I saw Carol sitting by his side.  He had no fear.  None.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
For thou art with me;

I came across a story which I cannot verify, but it said that Jack Nicklaus was beaten one time by a blind golfer.  It cost him $5,000.  He said as he wrote out the check, “I met a person who refuses to let fear control his life.”  If Manley were blind, I would have wondered if he was the nameless man in that story.  In fact, just the week prior to his death, he told me, “Fear and faith are diametrically opposed.  They cannot exist at the same time.”  I was certain that was never more true than in his hospital room.  

When there still seemed to be choices on the table for treatment, Manley held them with an open hand.  Not with a clinched fist like you might expect.  He considered pursuing surgery, even with severe side effects like not being able to eat or speak again, just for another shot on the green or a cast in his favorite fishing spot. 

For a man who, in his own words, had “a lot of living left to do”, you would have expected to sense a little desperation at the possibility of time running out.  It would only be natural…But, try as you might, you couldn’t find that desperation.  A few more moments or years to live seemed to be all the same to him, and his wife shared this "holy indifference". 

They were completely abandoned to the will of God.  Abandoned, as in yielding (oneself) without restraint.  And it was this abandonment that was Manley’s final gift to me.  

In Our Greatest Gift – A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Henry Nouwen discusses watching his sister-in-law, Marina, die from cancer.  He writes, “As I have seen Marina prepare herself for death, I have gradually realized that she is making her own dying a gift for others – not only for my brother, not only for her family and friends, but also for the nurses and doctors and the many circles of people with whom she has spoken and shared…Having taught all her life, she now teaches through her preparation for death.  It strikes me that her successes and accomplishments will probably soon be forgotten, but the fruits of her dying may well last a long time…She has shown me, in a whole new way, what it means to die for others.  It means to become the parent of future generations.”  

It is in this way that Manley has become a parent to me and I imagine, to as many people as have met him.  I didn’t know Manley as well as I would have liked, but maybe I know enough.  If it is true that we die like we live, then he lived very well, indeed.  He showed me what faith in action looks like.  It looks like abandonment to Divine Providence, even and especially when it is life and death.  It looks like Manley in his recliner with his palms turned skyward, saying all the while, “It’s in God’s hands.” 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Unraveled Hem - A Tribute to Mothers Who Have Been Left Behind For Now

Mother's Day.  My children are all alive and live under my roof.  I talk to my mom every Wednesday on the phone, have a stepmom who loves me like her own, and live two doors down from my mother-in-law, whom I adore.  I don't think I've ever been more grateful for these richly layered blessings, and on this Mother's Day, in particular. 

Over the past year and a half, working as a hospital chaplain, I've had a most privileged view of motherhood.   There has been more good than bad, but the good is expected and the bad is really bad.  Really bad, in that it is really hard to make sense of and impossible to forget.  In the world, there are probably more children losing mothers to old age than mothers losing children of all ages, but not in my world.

Only a mother knows that an 11-week old fetus can be born with hands that look like they're folded in prayer, and that this same child who lived secretly within her will largely remain a secret.  Others carry their children into labor along with their dreams for them, only to never hear them cry.  Even once.

Some have their children long enough to see them grow into successful college students, marry, or become parents of young children and then...they're gone.  How can God take them now?  Just when...

As proposed by a meditation whose source I can't recall, I agree that whenever possible "What now?" is a much more fruitful question than "Why?!".  Stack all of the good things that can come from the death of a child (or anyone we love) as high as the stars, and it will likely still be too short to satisfy our why.  So, what now? 

Children are always on the brink of starting something new.  Elementary school, middle school, high school, military service, college, being married, having babies, a new career, retirement, grandchildren...

Every day is a "just when" day when you're a mother.  That's who we are.  We anticipate the good things that lie ahead for our children, as we should.

These women who have lost children, young and old, come home with me.  They show up in my tears when I tuck my children in at night and stand invisibly near our table during mealtime prayer.  Psychological jargon will tell you this has a name.  Transference.  Wikipedia defines it as "a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another."

Yes.  Maybe.  Maybe it is unconscious in the beginning, but not for long.  I carry these mothers with me consciously and intentionally.  They are my heroes.  They make me a better mother and help me to stay present.  They remind me that when I am not overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, I will grieve the absence of them.  These women are honest (yet, great actresses, too), courageous, generous, and humble.  They know their limitations, which they feel poignantly.  They are the greatest proof that living when you'd rather die is not only possible, but beautiful - and empowers others for whom living may be hard, too - whatever the reasons.

These women do not belong to me, but I want to keep them close and hold on to the hem of their garment.  I want to feel the flow of strength they cannot feel, but that I can see, so vividly.  I'm not sure, but I think everyone can.  You may be one of these women and wondering why strangers keep pulling on your clothes.  If not, you undoubtedly know one.

If you can, please join me in saying,

"Thank you, Moms, for letting us remain near you and for your example.  Sorry about the hem.  You should probably find a good seamstress, 'cause we're not turning loose any time soon..

For you, we eagerly await the day that you are with your children who have gone before you, and all will be well in your world once again.  May God continue to grant you grace sufficient for the moment, as we continually and unfailingly see Him doing, in you.  Happy Mother's Day."


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Toast or Bacon - Marriage Over Breakfast

Today it was bacon instead of toast.  I was making breakfast and said, "How many pieces of toast do you want?"  He heard, "How many pieces of bacon do you want?"  I clarified.  He insisted.  I bristled.  The words had barely left my lips.  We defended our truth as passionately as though our lives depended on it.  His confidence in his defense (and simultaneous accusation) went right through me.  And he wanted to know how I could be SO sure I said what I thought I said?!  BECAUSE I was still making toast, I only had a fixed amount of bacon, anyway, I was looking at the toast, I said toast, and I heard myself say TOAST. 

That's how. 

Sometimes, marriage is just hard.  Just a week ago today, we renewed our vows with a group of couples doing the same.  Only, on that particular night, we didn't want to.  Sometimes beautiful opportunities with beautiful people come when only ugliness can be felt and it seems like a cosmic joke even to be present, much less participate in something so sacred.  We renewed our vows anyway.  If we hadn't liked the people we were with more than we liked each other, we probably would have left early.  It wasn't that either of us has/had plans to do anything other than what we promised to do when we got married 13 years ago, but we didn't FEEL like saying it again.  Not on that night.  

Things were more or less fine before we left, but I had the brilliant idea to ask for his input on which shirt I should wear.  I held up two shirts, and asked, "Which one do you like better?" to which he said, "Those are shirts?!"  That was it.  My patience disappeared in the span it took to ask a single question.   We never recovered.  Well, not never.  Just not that night.

In fact, it wasn't until the next day when I realized this boiled down to forgiveness.  I was sitting in Mass looking at Jesus hanging on the cross, and I "heard" Jesus ask me, "Can you forgive him?"  I knew this question was aimed at my feelings (and the way I blamed my husband for them) and not anything he had actually done wrong, which is usually the case.  Knowing the forgiveness I have already received and continue to receive, my interior response was a sheepish yes.  Ha.  Funny about being sheepish in the presence of the Shepherd. 

This yes ultimately made itself known when my arm conspired with the heroic effort of my heart.  I put my hand on my husband's shoulder in the car on the way home.  And so, we began again.

To help me along my journey in taking responsibility for myself and remembering that nothing, even that suffering which we perceive to be caused by another, is outside of God's plan for us, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence (The Secret of Peace and Happiness) says:

Do not let ourselves be troubled when we are sometimes beset by adversity, for we know that it is meant for our spiritual welfare and carefully proportioned to our needs, and that a limit has been set to it by the wisdom of the same God who has set a bound to the ocean.  Sometimes it might seem as if the sea in its fury would overflow and flood the land, but it respects the limits of its shore and its waves break upon the yielding sand.  There is no tribulation or temptation whose limits God has not appointed so as to serve not for our destruction but for our salvation.

And this is how it goes.  All good for a good long while.  Then, the road gets bumpy.  And bumpier still.  Toast becomes bacon and bacon becomes a blog post and the waves break upon the yielding sand. 

In my work, I have the privilege of encountering many couples who have been married over 50 and 60 years.  I ALWAYS ask if they give marriage advice.  Usually, they don't.  This always takes me by surprise.  Maybe, they don't feel any more certain about what works than they did in the beginning.   Maybe they know talking about it doesn't do any good.  But, occasionally, when they're willing, it is one word. 


One very faithful woman who stopped counting after 50 years of marriage is married to a non-church goer.  For 50 years, she has laid his suit out on the bed on Sunday morning.  "In case he changes his mind, all he has to do is step into it."  What?!  How do you not become bitter or apathetic?  Her answer is simply her appreciation for how God has not given up on her and consequently, His love for her models her love for her husband. 

What a good and unfailing model.