On Saturday as I was watching our granddaughter Anna play basketball I marveled at her spirit. She is the smallest player on her team. Most of the girls that she encounters on opposing teams are much bigger than she. Some seem twice her size. And yet, there she was giving it her all. She has such grace and determination.
Anna knows she is tiny. Anna understands her physical limitations. Anna realizes that she can be out-distanced and out-played by most other sixth graders. Recently she told me that she knows she’s not a great basketball player but that she loves to play and she loves her teammates. It touched my heart to hear this. I wanted to tell she was a great player – the best! I wanted to hold her and tell her that she was a superstar. But there was no need. Anna is a realist and much smarter than I. Anna knows herself.
So on Saturday she was undaunted and joyful and just loving the game. There she was making rebounds and fighting for jump balls and letting her light shine through it all.
It occurred to me (again) that Anna has a light that shines through in everything that she does. Her beauty emanates from deep within her soul. That I am allowed to experience God’s loving embrace through Anna is part of why I marvel when I am in her presence. What a gift!
So this is my hope and prayer:
Anna never be diminished by your size. Know that God has great things in store for you and will expect great things from you. Remember to only measure yourself against yourself. Always be the best that you can be. If you need examples of strength and beauty and love you needn’t look further than your mother and grandmothers.
Anna never let your light stop shining! You are my superstar.
“Take my hand.” It’s such a simple phrase. It can be delivered as a command. Many times with my children and grandchildren it is imperative that they must ‘take my hand’. It guards against danger – traffic or crowds or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be offered as a gesture of kindness or friendship. Please ‘take my hand’ and I will help you along the way over rough terrain or an uncertain future. It can be a request. ‘Take my hand’ and help me, steady me, hold me, give me strength and the courage to continue on.
For me, it has mostly been an expression of love. ‘Take my hand’ and join our souls. Walk with me on this journey of life.
I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a wife of 45 years who is still the light and love of my life. I have three grown children who amaze me and challenge me and love me as much as I love them. I have five grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy and laughter; they give me hope for the future. I have friends and family who give tirelessly of themselves and bring balance to my life.
Each of them – all of them, have held my hand; have strengthened me; have pulled me up from the depths of despair. They have held my hand in times of joy and sorrow. We have clasped hands in times of immeasurable happiness. I have felt their heartbeats pulsing through my own veins. They have rescued me from mundane annoyance and incomprehensible pain. All of this by simply ‘taking my hand’.
As a child I held my parents hands. Whether crossing the street or being consoled, I felt protection in that hand. I was rescued from fear and uncertainty with the simple gesture of having my hand held. Now with aged fathers, Deb and I often find ourselves holding their hands. The roles have reversed in a way. The protection that our Dads’ afforded us is now being returned by steadying old hands that need support, tenderness and guidance.
I believe in a higher power. I believe in a God who has brought these loved ones into my life. I know when they ‘take my hand’ it is God’s hand holding mine. Each of these people is bringing Christ to me.
My prayer is that I can be allowed to be Christ to them as well. God rescues each of us; sometimes we just need a hand.
Through the years, I have tried to find the “perfect gift” at Christmas. Countless hours have been spent searching for the one thing that will make the recipient completely overjoyed – the one thing that would make their Christmas complete.
Truth be known, I’ve had mixed results. Reactions have ranged from “oh my goodness!” to “you shouldn’t have spent so much!” to “thanks, but I already have one.” to “oh, this isn’t really what I wanted.”
Exchanging gifts at Christmas can be exhausting – physically, mentally and financially. Exchanging gifts at Christmas can be disappointing – for both for the giver and the receiver. A few years ago my lovely wife learned from some wise sage (or someone on Pinterest) that when purchasing gifts you should follow the ‘Four Gifts’ rule: Something they want; something they need; something to wear; something to read. This has served us well with our grandchildren. Usually amongst the four gifts is something wonderful but still not the “perfect gift’.
I’m blessed to be lay member (a Partner) of the Sisters of The Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. As Partners, we join the Sisters in trying to bring Christ’s reconciling presence to those we encounter in our daily lives. Because 2020 is the 175th anniversary of the founding of the order, “All is Gift” was chosen as the theme for this milestone year. It reflects the Sisters’ openness to accept all with a grateful heart. I’m trying to learn to do that as well.
I recently read something that Pope Francis wrote, “The true gift to us is Jesus, and like him we seek to be gifts to others. It means becoming daily a gift freely given to those we meet on our own path.” You don’t have to be a pope or a nun or a priest or even remotely holy to do that. Even a knucklehead like me can give himself to others.
Take time. Listen. Love. That might just be the perfect gift. And I won’t even have to wrap it.
Advent is counter-cultural. We’re encouraged to slow down and be patient. While advertising suggests that we must “hurry up while supplies last” our Church recommends that we take these weeks before Christmas to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. In our waiting we are encouraged to be still.
Be still and wait! These attributes are not my strong suit. I’m usually loud and in a hurry. Quiet reflection often just annoys me. I hear the ringing in my ears. I become easily distracted. My mind jumps around to the various and assorted IMPORTANT THINGS that need to be done. You know, like when will I ever get those Christmas decorations up? Did we buy that other gift for our granddaughter that we had discussed? How much have we spent so far this year? Is it more than what my first new car cost? How much did that Pinto cost, anyway? What was that salesman’s name? I can remember his face. What am I supposed reflecting on? Something Jesus-y? Oh, Christ! I mean: Oh Christ, help me find patience. Some patience. Any patience. But please hurry!
I pray. In my clumsy, free-range sort of way. My prayers are more like fleeting thoughts – never fully formed or well-articulated. I believe that God listens to my prayers – poorly formed and selfish as they may be. I pray and God listens. I cry and God hears me. I try and God accepts my humble efforts.
So I may not be patient or even slightly non-manic but I try. And I will try again. I will slow down whenever possible. I will read and listen to music when afforded the opportunity. I will listen (really listen) to others, albeit my attention span is often that of a 3 year-old. I know my weaknesses but I am also aware of God’s strength.
I will prepare my heart for Christmas but I know it won’t be easy. I’ll let go of what I can. I’ll unplug whenever I can.
I will S L O W D O W N and trust that Christmas can be perfect even if I’m not.
And on Sunday I’ll light the pink Advent candle which symbolizes hope. And I hope to find patience.
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of our preparation for the Christ-Child. Last night, my wife was playing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ on the piano. That beautiful, haunting and hopeful hymn that has always been part of my life touched my heart again this year.
O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear
Lonely exile.These two words keep playing in head. I can’t help but think of the immigrants and asylum seekers that Deb served at our southern border earlier this year. I’m sure many of them felt lonely during their exile. The stories that she has shared of her experience are heart breaking and yet somehow still hopeful. Our hymn, though mournful, reminds us that God is coming to set us free. In our longing and waiting we have hope. These desperate souls, that were welcomed in McAllen, Texas had hope: Hope of a better life; hope of safety; home of a new home. What my wife and the other volunteers offered was kindness and dignity.
Make safe the way that leads on high; And close the path to misery.
I pray that these less fortunate souls have found their respite. I pray that they have continued to be welcomed by strangers and have found HOME. The people that my wife served didn’t want to leave their homelands but had no choice. The violence and persecution they endured was unimaginable. And still they endured. They needed an end to their misery. Hope was all many of them had left.
To us the path of knowledge show; And teach us in her ways to go
It’s easy for me to turn a blind eye to the suffering in our world. I cozy up to my comforts and toss a few coins in the Salvation Army can at my local grocery store. I pray for those less fortunate because I know that there is immense suffering in our world, our nation, our state, our community but I fail to take the time learn the systemic causes of this injustice. I make a few donations and I shed a tear for the atrocities I see on the television or read about in the news but that isn’t enough. During Advent I will recommit myself to knowledge. As someone living with privilege because of my race and gender I must recommit myself to social justice for all.
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; Bid thou our sad divisions cease, And be thyself our Prince of Peace.
The problems in our world can feel overwhelming at times, but the words of this hymn give me hope. During this busy holiday season, when I feel overwrought, I can slow down and listen and re-listen to ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Our salvation is at hand. Rejoice! Rejoice! All humankind can be changed. All humankind can find peace. I’m going to begin with me. It may not be easy but most things worth having are not easily obtained. I must fight for justice, pray for wisdom, work for peace, and love beyond measure.
And cheer us by your drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night; And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
May you find love, joy, comfort, but mostly peace in this Advent season.
September 8, 1845 a small group of young women from Baden, Germany journeyed to
Steinerberg, Switzerland due to government oppression of religious orders. There
they formed a community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The early
years were not easy. Ultimately the Sisters were forced to leave Switzerland
because of the Swiss government’s hostility towards them. In 1848 they found a
home in French Alsace. In 1857 a request for teachers came from Gurtweil,
Germany, and so back to Germany they went. Once again, a hostile German government
forced the Sisters to seek refuge. This time a group of sisters from the
Gurtweil foundation traveled to America. In 1870, nine Sisters arrived in Belle
Prairie, Illinois. In 1873 the Sisters temporarily moved to St. Louis, and in
1875 they established the motherhouse in O’Fallon, Missouri.
175 years later, their goal is straightforward. To love God and to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they serve. Often when I’m feeling spiritually bankrupt, I think of the Sisters and their determination to bring Christ to others. And I know that I am living among saints.
As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church. I just occasionally struggle with being part of “We”. Sometimes my prayer life is what I can best describe as anemic. “Hey God, you know what I need, and I’ll try to do better about ‘that thing’ we’ve discussed, and oh by the way, you know what I’m thankful for, too. So, thank you – bla, bla, bla – the end.”
some of those “desert days”, when I struggle to find God in my life, I am
blessed with faithful friends who lift me up and humble me by their love and
Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group of lay people known as “Partners in Mission” have joined to help bring peace to our world. Fortunately for me, I have been accepted as a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. As Partners, we stand in solidarity with the Sisters in their commitment to social justice. Together, we join in prayer and worship. We are offered Spiritual guidance and renewal. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty we find refuge with these women who have devoted themselves to bringing the the love of Jesus to our world.
I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or a friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present its own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish.
Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectation of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved. The best part is that there is no test of worthiness or holiness required – which I would almost certainly fail. No financial obligation or talent is necessary – again I am lacking in both regards.
When I am bereft of enlightenment or clarity or purpose, I am reminded that alone my journey is not easy, but I am never alone. I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy by the Sisters and the other Partners in Mission.
When I was in high school, I was 6’-2” and weighed 120 lbs. soaking wet. My parents’ friends and some family members would often ask if I played basketball. The assumption was of course that because I was tall and skinny, I should be a natural on the court. The truth was that I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Come to think of it, I kind of looked like a newborn giraffe. I doubt that I could have run down the court without tripping myself. So, no I was not a basketball player. But folks thought I should be.
When my wife and I got married we were young and had no idea of what might lie ahead. We were a couple of small-town kids in love and that seemed like enough to get us through. Lots of people felt obliged to tell us that it would never work out and that we were making a big mistake. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but our love survived and thrived. I was (and am) happy to be married to this amazing woman, even though people thought I wouldn’t be.
When we had children, I tried to be a “hands-on” dad. I could change diapers, burp and bathe babies, read bedtime stories, dry tears (sometimes my own), and all the rest. My wife was the true nurturer, but I was no slouch. I did everything she did (except breast feed) and I believe it made me a better daddy and a better man. Other men, I knew at the time, questioned why I would be so involved in what they believed should have been my wife’s job. Even my own father wondered why I was so wrapped up in all this baby business. The kind of dad he was – that’s what he thought I should be.
As our children grew, I stayed active in their young lives. This “hands-on” dad would be faced with challenges in child rearing. Three teenagers each with different interests and divergent paths at times felt overwhelming. With prayer and patience (mostly the prayers were for more patience) I did the best I could. Once, another parent questioned why I wasn’t “helping” my son with his science project. The implication was that he would do a lousy job without parental supervision. When I replied that I didn’t want to do my son’s work and I would rather see him fail on his own than succeed with me covertly completing the science project, the other parent thought I was dead wrong. A few years later our other son decided to dye his hair bright green when he was in high school. I remember a parent asking me why I would let him do that. I shrugged and said, “First of all, he didn’t exactly ask for my permission and secondly, I was only disappointed that he didn’t dye it blue, which is my favorite color.” These people didn’t think I was the father that I should be.
When our only daughter got married, I was an emotional wreck on the inside. I loved her fiancé and was certain he would be a good husband and I knew that we had raised a strong, intelligent, confident young woman. Still, I could only think about the baby girl that I had held in my arms and I wasn’t sure if I could get through her wedding day without being a blubbering idiot. I prayed and asked God to give me strength. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my potential tears as unhappiness or displeasure in her decision to marry. Thankfully I got through the day with a smile on my face and not one tear fell (at least not from my eyes). Later at the wedding reception folks marveled at the fact that I wasn’t crying. They all thought that I should be.
Now that I’m a grandfather, people mistake me for an old conservative. Maybe it’s because I live in a bastion of conservatism – in my county Republicans often run unopposed for elected offices. I can’t be the only white-haired old guy who is also a progressive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have white hair and they’re not wearing MAGA hats. I’m certain there are other men my age who consider themselves feminists. Surely other 60-somethings want humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the end of discrimination against minorities and women in the workplace, dignity afforded to those in LGBT community, effective gun control legislation, protection of our environment and the abolishment of capital punishment. I find myself often silent in social settings – not wanting to be offensive and trying hard not to be offended. My friends know me (the real me) but it seems at times that even they don’t think I’m who I should be.
I guess I’ve spent my whole life not quite meeting other people’s expectations. I’ve never apologized for not being who or what others thought I should or shouldn’t be but at times I’ve been sheepish about it. Sheepish – not in the shy or embarrassed sense (“Oh please don’t tell anyone that I changed a diaper last night and that I voted for Jimmy Carter”). But sheepish – in the following blindly along with the other sheep. (“I don’t like your racist, homophobic, xenophobic blather, but I’m just going to nod and walk away without challenging it”). Shame on me! Because that’s not who I think I should be.
So, I pray. I have a small faith group that I meet with monthly. My prayer partners help me put things into perspective and remind me to rely less on myself and more on God. My wife keeps me grounded and loves me more than I deserve. My kids constantly astound me by being even more generous and loving as adults than I ever dreamed possible. My grandchildren are the jewels in this crown of goodness called life that has been bestowed upon me; none of which is deserved but is nonetheless cherished beyond measure.
Sometimes I still feel like that newborn giraffe – clumsy, frightened, ridiculously ill-equipped to take even the smallest step but somehow I trod on.