Rejoice Always? Yes!

Last month I was asked to give a talk on the subject of “Giving thanks to God for all—Blessings and challenges”. For me it seemed a daunting task. I’m much better at complaining about stuff. Or commiserating about about the sorry state of life on our planet. Or bitching about traffic, my neighbors’ dogs, my co-workers, life in general. Poor me!

I turned to Scripture and found in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, that he tells us to “Rejoice always.” to “Pray without ceasing.” And, “In all circumstances give thanks.”

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THANKS!  Think about that! We must even be thankful for the crappy stuff: Car trouble; burnt toast; a bad hair day; a headache – sometimes all these things happen on the same day.

And we need to be thankful for the trials in our life, too: Career challenges; doubts about our vocations; marital discord; financial difficulties; raising teenagers.

And most difficult (for me) is the heart-breaking stuff: Serious illness; drug or alcohol addiction; divorce; death of a loved one; facing our own mortality.

How can I give thanks in all circumstances? How can any of us?

First, for me it helps to be thankful for the good things. Having an attitude of gratitude takes patience and practice. Instead of blindly accepting all the good things in my life as if I am somehow entitled to them or that I somehow earned the goodness in my life, it helps to remember that our blessings come from God. Many of you are better at this than me – so thank you for your witness.

Secondly, I am reminded of what Fred Rogers is credited as saying on the ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ television show: He said…

 “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

The idea of course is that even during the most unimaginable of times; during tremendous tragedies or horrific disasters, love can still be found. This doesn’t just make heroes of the helpers but also it reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Even during the darkest of days, we can bring healing to one another.

Finally, it helps me to remember that I am loved and cared for in a thousand little ways each day. I live in communion with others who will carry me when I can longer take another step. I know that I will have a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on; a friend that I can count on; a God who will never forsake me.

So “Rejoice always.”  “Pray without ceasing.”  And “In all circumstances give thanks.”

This April my Mom passed away. Mom always seemed younger than her 90 years. She was proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. Mom wasn’t large but she was definitely in charge!

Mom was a breast cancer survivor in the 1990’s and after her surgery she was blasted with radiation, which was the normal treatment at that time. Ironically the treatment that saved her life 30 years earlier, likely caused the pulmonary fibrosis which ultimately led to her death. But I am forever thankful for those 30 years.

Still it was tough watching Mom struggle with her breathing and her weakness due to oxygen deprivation for the last year or so. This was the Mom who took care of us and suddenly we were struggling with the heartbreaking reality that we needed to take care of her. Mom who was once Super Woman was now weak and helpless. Mom, who had bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needed our help now, more than we felt we could give. But we tried.

I think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share.

I’m certain that Mom felt that way, too. One of the last times we were together, Mom and I just sat silently and held hands. There was no need for words. I remember feeling for a moment like a little boy and that Mom had everything under control. It was sublime. I have thanked God for that day many times since.

Mom taught me about God, and she taught me how to pray. Her example of faith lives on in her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. God is love. And Mom enveloped all of us in that love.

So, I rejoice not because Mom died but because I am her son and she loved me.

I pray without ceasing that the love she shared will continue to grow and touch generations of my family even beyond my imagining.

Gram in Heaven2And yes, even in her death, I give thanks for a peaceful passing and the gift she was to so many of us. My grandson Noah and my granddaughter Anna were profoundly affected by her death. They loved her and miss her terribly but because of Mom’s witness and the faith instilled in them, they also now believe that she is an angel in heaven watching over them. I believe she is, too! What great comfort it brings to know that Mom continues to surround all of us with her love. I recently discovered a drawing in my granddaughter’s sketch book – it’s her image of Mom as an angel in heaven.

With her beautiful drawing, Anna reminded me that we are NEVER alone in our rejoicing, and in our prayer, and in our thankfulness.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Nine Years of Joy

Our Grandson Noah turns nine years-old today. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time. 

SelfieNoah has filled those nine years with love and joy, There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Noah has that gift. Any encounter with this joy-giver always makes me feel better; better about myself; better about life; better about this world. Noah has spirit. He has an amazing sense of adventure. He’s often the life of the party. He’s always looking for the good time; the big laugh; the happiness in every situation. He’s fun and funny. And he shares his boundless joy!

Noah is moving forward at record speed. He is growing in leaps and bounds. He seems to be in a hurry to get on with life; to learn more; play harder; face new challenges; enjoy new adventures; love more deeply. He is always looking forward to his next test; his next game; his next school year; his future. 

Noah and meStill, as he races toward that future, I know that he remembers to look back, too. For that, I am forever grateful. I hope when he looks back, he sees the love and security he has in being part of this family. I hope when he looks back, he sees that he has been nurtured and loved beyond measure. I hope when he looks back, he can take pride in his home; his school; his church; his community; his country. Those will be the building blocks of that future he seems so ready to take on.

Sometimes when I fear my future, I think of Noah and how he will conquer this world someday and make it a better place. Come to think of it, he already has. His kindness and joyfulness are much-needed antidotes for the sickness and sadness and corruption that I see in the news every day. When we are together, he and I, we share our stories – mine of boyhood memories of long ago; his of successes or challenges on the ball field or in the class room – we connect in way that is both physical and spiritual. Noah meets my every need, just by smiling at me; holding my hand; embracing me; telling me that he loves me.

Noah and NanaAs much as I need this beautiful boy,  I believe he needs me too. My love for him is unconditional. I’d  like to think that I love Noah the way that I hope God loves me. No proof of worthiness required. No test of loyalty needed. No apologies necessary.

Just boundless love and eternal joy.

Peace,

Denis 

P.S. Happy Birthday Noah Boy!

P.S.S. This is one of Noah’s favorite songs. 

 

 

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

In November 2000 the U.S. Catholic bishops published “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity”  The document states, “The presence of so many people of so many different cultures and religions in so many different parts of the United States has challenged us as a Church to a profound conversion so that we can become truly a sacrament of unity. We reject the anti-immigrant stance that has become popular in different parts of our country, and the nativism, ethnocentricity, and racism that continue to reassert themselves in our communities.”

two-parties-still-not-attempting-real-immigration-reform-90054-560x315That was nearly nineteen years ago and still many in my parish community consider immigrants as dangerous and undeserving and unwanted. Seldom, if ever, does any message come from the pulpit in regards to welcoming the stranger among us. Rarely is there any acknowledgment of the crisis at our southern border and our responsibility as Catholic Christians to open our hearts and minds to our sisters and brothers. Our clergy often preaches that we should be pro-life but usually that only means pro-birth. Caring for those already born seems to be less important. Welcoming those fleeing for their very lives is apparently too messy to deal with, let alone to even preach about.

Of course, some in our Church have taken a stance against the immigration policies of the current administration. In January of this year Cardinal Tobin stated,“These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees.” 

And much good has come from the service of religious and lay volunteers at our southern border; offering respite and hope to those fleeing violence and persecution.

Still my parish priests remain mostly silent on this issue. This past weekend at Mass the silence was nearly deafening. The shooting and killing of innocent people in El Paso, Texas was not even mentioned. The hate and fear espoused by our current administration and echoed in the manifesto written by the domestic terrorist seems to be conveniently ignored by the politically conservative in our clergy. No prayers were offered for the victims of the mass shootings or their families. Instead we heard a homily about vanity and curbing our social media usage. Hollow words in light of the horrific events in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton.

Fortunately, I have great friends and spiritual advisers who understand that God’s love for us is indeed for ALL OF US. They are examples of unconditional love. They are models of true Christianity. I find hope and strength in their presence. Their actions speak louder than words. And their songs fill my heart.

In his book “Eight Whopping Lies” Brian Doyle writes, “There are two Catholic Churches, one a noun the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly disinterested in authority and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.”

I belong to the “verb” Church. It’s time to make some noise; to demand realistic gun control legislation; to welcome strangers. And to comfort those wounded by the words and actions of those in power.

Peace,

Denis

Go Debbie, It’s Your Birthday!

My wife celebrates another birthday today and I love this life that we share.

Our story is not all that unusual. Small town kids who met and fell in love and according to the experts got married too young. We fell in love and there was no way out! Most of our journey together has been unplanned. I’ve heard it said that man plans and God laughs. But what about us? Stumbling through life and making the most of it without any plans. Sometimes I feel like we’re still those nineteen year-olds rushing down the aisle into the unknown. But here we are (a few years later) still side by side on this crazy ride. We have a saying in our home “funny trumps all!”. We laugh and love and remain grateful for the joy of our life together. Our laughter rings out and it can even drown out our tears. I’m sure we’ve still given God plenty to laugh about, planned or otherwise, but we’re laughing, too.

GlacierThe older I get the more I realize that where we’re headed is nothing compared to being on this journey together. On the darkest of days, when all seems lost, I look beside me and know that everything will be alright. When happiness abounds, I know that it’s because of the love that Deb brings into my life. 

Here’s what you need to know about my birthday girl: If you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/daughter/mother/grandmother to call on. If you need a laugh, she will always deliver. If you need someone to hold or if you need to be held, her arms are always open wide. If you need to cry, she will cry, too. Debbie has this incredible gift of making you feel that when she’s with you, no one else is more important or more needed at that moment than you. You have her complete undivided attention. She gives her entire self.

And as for me, well when Deb walks in the room it’s like everyone else fades into the background. All the light in the space seems to be emanating from her. She just gets to me. So we fell in love and there was no way out. But why would I ever want out?

So go Debbie, it’s your birthday! Thanks for all the love and laughter. It’s been a wild ride.

Love,

Denis

 

 

America – Land of the Free

Today is America’s birthday. A great day for celebrations. Parades. Fireworks. Flag waving. This should be a day to be proud of our great nation.

Unfortunately the chilling images of children in detention centers at our southern borders cast a dark shadow over this great day. Meanwhile, in our nation’s capitol, the president is assembling tanks and armored vehicles in a garish display of military might. Mr. Trump is using our troops as political props in a sad attempt to burnish his image as a powerful leader.

This is America! What has happened? Where is our love of mankind?

As a nation have we become so narrow-minded; so entrenched; so chauvinistic; that we can’t accept another point of view? Are we condemned to be living in fear or loathing of our neighbors? We sing “God Bless America” but where is God in all our hateful rhetoric? How do we pledge to be “One Nation Under God” and deny basic freedom and dignity to those in desperate need of asylum? While families are being separated and babies are being torn from their mother’s arms, where are our statesmen and stateswomen?

What can I do?

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First of all: instead of wringing my hands and swearing at the television, I will be a patriot. I will wave my flag. I will continue to write to my congresswoman and senators and the president. I will vote. I will debate. I will support candidates who will fight for justice for all. I will stand tall. I will speak up. I will remember that our nation is not perfect. I will celebrate what I can. I will protest what I must. I will pray. And I will remember.

I will remember those who have died to protect our freedom. I will remember that my great-grandparents were immigrants who were welcomed into a strange land with no money, no education and no discernible value or skills to offer. They didn’t speak English. They didn’t have degrees. They probably wouldn’t be welcomed today.

As a nation we have much to do. We have to work to insure our freedom and to guarantee freedom to all who enter here. We can do better! Our children and grandchildren deserve to live in an America that is still beautiful.

Our nation should be celebrated today. It’s messy. It’s imperfect. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s ours. And it has ALWAYS been great.

Peace,

Denis

“I pray to God that you never have to flee violence or poverty or persecution with your children. And if that day comes that you must and your babies are forcibly removed from your arms, I will fight for you, too.”Brené Brown

 

Baby’s Breath

2:00 AM and the baby is crying. It requires every fiber of my being to pull myself out of my dream of being single and carefree and childless. When I finally realize that my beautiful wife has finally drifted off to much-needed sleep and is even more exhausted than I am, I rouse myself and stumble into the nursery, There he is. Warm, wet and bawling his little blue eyes out. I change what by now must be the 10,000th diaper and look at that face which is a startling reflection of my own. Why did we do this? What were we thinking?

Shh! Shh! Shh! I plead with the 2:00 AM screamer, hoping that he won’t wake the five year-old and three year-old who will be bounding out of bed in mere hours wanting breakfast and love and attention. I wonder then if the milk is bad and if we have enough cereal in the pantry. I know I’m running short on attention but I remember that I’ve been told (or read in Reader’s Digest or some other scholarly tome) that love multiplies it never divides. And so I trudge on.

I pick up the squaller and cradle him in my arms and I am overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of baby’s breath. That sweetness is nearly miraculous and I am humbled and frightened because fatherhood is a daunting responsibility.  I carry him to his mother’s arms and lie down next to them. Suddenly everything seems manageable. Somehow we will make this work. 

As I dose off to blessed sleep, I think of the young nurse in the hospital, who just a few short months before, was surprised how happy and excited we were when learning that this was our third child. Perhaps she had never smelled sweet baby’s breath or had never experienced the soul-transforming power of a tiny heart beat next to her own. 

Family

1983

Our baby boy was born on the day after Father’s Day in 1983. But that moment; those memories, were yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Peace,

Denis

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Our two youngest granddaughters spent last week with us. This was kind of a big deal because these two haven’t spent any time away from home without their parents. Ainsley is five and Gwen is three. The five year-old thinks she’s in charge but the three year-old is often the one who is calling the shots. We all learned a few things from our week together. We laughed a lot and cried a little bit, too. Most of my tears were silent. You NEVER flinch or show fear or a three year-old will have you over the barrel! When she cried it was because I said NO! In fairness, nobody wants to be told no.

back yardMy lovely wife had the lion’s share of the responsibility, as I worked all week, but in the evenings and on the weekend I joined in the fun, too. We played outside everyday. We would have “dance parties” on the patio. Our inflatable pool was a source of joy and learning, as we tried to hold our breath under water (and learned to spit the pool water out after gulping some of it). We played ball in the backyard – soccer or wiffleball or “chase the ball” or whatever. Sometimes our outdoor play included looking for bunnies in the garden and then chasing the elusive beasts back into the lilies or honeysuckle.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. The girls sometimes pick at one another as sisters often do. Mostly over silly things: “Look what I have!” followed by, “I want it!” Or “Let’s play Disney Princesses” and then the fight would ensue over who got to be which princess. Usually we would let the squabbles play themselves out because really Ariel and Jasmine and Elsa and Tiana are pretty much one in the same. However at times adult intervention was required. One thing is for certain, we all went to bed early every night and slept soundly.

poolI learned that there is a bully at daycare (whose name will not be used to protect the innocent). This girl has been very rude (or WUDE as Gwen explains it). Apparently she has told our adorable granddaughter that she isn’t her best friend. And of course this hideous child has also pushed in line on occasion and says “oh my gosh” – which apparently are bad words in some circles.

One day Gwen told us that her baby doll would need to go to the doctor. This was all the more amusing because Gwen has the raspy voice of a two-pack-a-day smoker and declared matter-of-factly, “My baby’s dead!”  I thought it seemed a little late for the doctor but I’m not three.

Both girls learned a new word: consequences. If you make a choice you must live with the consequences. Crying because you wanted the green cup until your sister asked for the blue cup or throwing yourself on the floor because you didn’t want a hair clip until your sister had one and now you can’t live without one – these are consequences. This is tough territory for a three year-old and five year-old. But someone we all survived.

Truth is, I learned more from them than they learned from me. I learned we should all play outside whenever we can. We should dance on the patio and not worry about who may be watching. Ice cream cones should be served with every meal. We should all take more time just to be silly. We should all laugh more and cry less. And we should all (not just the girls) wanna have fun!

Maybe they should stay for two weeks next summer. I think I have a lot more to learn.

Peace,

Denis