Creation and Rebirth

Recently my 13 year-old granddaughter Anna and I were having a discussion about the Earth and about creation. I listened and marveled at her wisdom and her intelligence, as she told me that all the water on the Earth has been here since the Earth began. She explained that all life begins in water. Rain that falls on us now and fills our oceans, lakes and rivers is absorbed into the atmosphere and returns to us again as rain or snow. The rain that falls on my garden today is the same rain that nourished my grandfather’s farmland and replenished the oceans that carried my forbearers to this country. These are same oceans where life began which allowed creatures to evolve and crawl onto the land. These oceans created the same rain that ultimately fell on the first man and the first woman. Such is the majesty of creation.

We also talked about how humans have only been on this Earth a small fraction of the time that the planet has existed. She told me that the Creation Story in the Bible is not necessarily a literal interpretation of how life began. Our Creator’s “days” should not be measured in human days. When I asked her how she became so wise at such a tender age, she reminded that I had once explained our Creator’s “days” to her when she was younger and that it makes sense to her now not to limit God in human terms. All those years ago she listened and remembered. I am humbled.

She is concerned about humankind’s harm to our environment and I share that concern. Global warming which is caused mainly from human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming should not have to weigh on a precious 13 year-old’s psyche but unfortunately it does. Still, she is a positive, energetic teenager who sees possibilities where others only see hopelessness. I am inspired.

I love this time of year when flowers begin blooming and trees and lawns turn green again. This year I am thinking about rebirth. Not just in the little buds and blossoms. Not only in the songs of the birds and the scampering of the bunnies in our garden. But in the rebirth of Creation. We are stewards of this Earth. Where I have failed, my hope is that Anna will prevail. So to honor my granddaughter I will tend my gardens without pollutants, I will recycle, I will repurpose, I will vote for pro-environment candidates.

Whether you believe in a Creator Being or you believe that our planet is a cosmic phenomenon, it shouldn’t diminish your wonder at the majesty of the Earth. The next time you’re caught in the rain think about your ancestors being bathed in the same downpour. And pray that your great-great-great grandchildren can dance in that same rain.

Peace,

Denis

God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed. Genesis 1:31

Still Waters Run Deep

My father-in-law was a thoughtful and loving man. He was more comfortable as an observer than a participant in most situations, but when he spoke it was always worth my while to listen. I’m more of doer and a talker (too much of a talker, according to some) and I was often humbled by his quiet wisdom.

We lost him last week. And I’m certain that the angels welcomed him to heaven.

Pop was a father, grandfather, great grandfather and father-in-law. Nothing made him happier than being surrounded by family. We are all better persons for having had him in our lives.

He grew up poor in Southeast Missouri. He lived a hard life as a kid. He earned pocket money killing rats in the cotton and watermelon fields as young boy. He lived in his grandparents’ home when his mother couldn’t afford a place of their own but he never complained about his upbringing. He never voiced any regrets. He was grateful for all that he had in life.

In many ways he was ahead of his time. Unlike many men of his generation men he wasn’t afraid to do what was considered “woman’s work” and he often did the grocery shopping, would clean the house on occasion, do laundry and could prepare a meal if necessary.

He enlisted in the Air Force and then had a 40 year career with American Airlines but he never forgot his humble beginnings. What I remember most is that he never uttered an unkind word about anyone. He never looked down on anyone. It didn’t matter where you lived or what you looked like, he accepted you as you were. I never once heard a racist or anti-Semitic word or phrase pass his lips. He truly believed that all men and women were created equally. And he lived his life that way.

He taught my wife how to be a person of dignity and more importantly how to afford dignity to others. Since his passing she has wished that she had asked him more questions – about his life as a boy; his time in Korea in the Air Force; his love affair with her mother; his career; his grandparents and great grandparents; his hopes and his dreams. But if she had been able to ask all those questions, I know in my heart that he would have likely shrugged and said, “I have no regrets. I’ve lived my best life. And as a bonus I got you as my daughter.”

Pop would have done anything for any of us, but he didn’t like being fussed over himself. The night he died we let him get some rest. His health had been declining rapidly and he had had a fitful time the night before. We went into another room and reminisced about happier times. When we went to check on him the second or third time, we realized he had found his way home.

Our son commented later about Grandpa not wanting to be hovered over. He said, “It was just like him to sneak off while no one was watching.”

And so it was…

Peace,

Denis

I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

Saint Joseph

As a father, I have a strong devotion to Saint Joseph – the patron saint of all fathers. I have been blessed with three incredible children. I realize that I’m not in their league in terms of intelligence, ability, and achievement. And yet, God decided to bless me with these three.

I rely on Saint Joseph to help me. He knew the overwhelming responsibility of fatherhood. He understood the love of a father that is so strong and at the same time so tender it cannot be described in mere words. He certainly must have felt ill-equipped, at times, to deal with Jesus. I could write volumes about my ineptitude as a father. I take for granted that my children understand that they are in my heart so deeply that everyday I am blessed by their very existence. But I’m not sure I always show them by my actions. Sometimes no matter how hard I try – I fail. I do the wrong thing. Or I behave unkindly. Or forget to say “I love you”. God gave me Saint Joseph to reach out to when I make a mess of things.

We know little about Joseph. We know that he had doubts. We also know that he said yes. He protected Mary and Jesus. Joseph is often depicted as an old man. But I believe Joseph was young when Jesus was born like I was when my kids came along. A worker. A teacher. A companion. A dad. Frightened but courageous. Ill prepared but undaunted. Beleaguered but unrelenting.

My prayers always include my children and my grandchildren but while asking God to protect them, I sometimes forget to thank God. So thank you God! You did a great job creating these beautiful humans. And God, thanks for letting me have a hand in it, too. And thanks especially for giving me St. Joseph as a model of fatherly love, patience, and devotion. Today I also pray for my son and son-in-law as they chart their course through the waters of fatherhood. I ask St. Joseph to be by their side.

Peace,

Denis

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Matthew 2:13

Looking for God in the Darkness

Come Be My Light, a book that collected many of Mother Teresa’s most personal and private correspondence, was published ten years after her death. Her letters revealed that for the last 50 years of her life she had been afflicted with a deep sense of God’s absence; her “dark night”. The revelation that Saint Teresa of Calcutta suffered in her spirituality is startling but I find some comfort in it.

How many times have I felt abandoned by God? How many times have I prayed for God’s strength and felt powerless?  How many times have I faced hardship, disappointment, loss or pain and felt completely alone; my own “dark night”? How often have I wondered if God hears my prayers at all? If Jesus really exists why does He not answer my pleas? 

Contemplating Teresa’s inability to feel God’s presence in her life is an opportunity for me to model her faith during my most desperate times. When I am adrift in my desert of doubt and loneliness, when I question God’s very existence, I can look to Teresa’s example of faith and know that God is with me; even in my darkest hours.

I know that when I can’t pray; when I can’t feel Christ’s presence I have family and friends that are praying on my behalf.  We are called to be the Body of Christ; to be Christ to one another. I know that I’m going to continue to struggle through my own “dark night” from time to time. But even when I feel abandoned, I try to remember that I have each of you lighting my way. So to those of you who pray for me, have prayed for me, or will pray for me – thank you for leading me through the darkness to His holy night.

Peace,

Denis

Heartbreak and Hope

Last week we had the mundane task of shopping at a big box store. You know the place, where you can get toilet paper and toys and t-shirts and televisions. We had time to kill so went spent more time than usual and dawdled at the barbeque grills, smokers, and outdoor grills – fascinating stuff they sell for the backyard these days. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience. That is until we paid for our “necessities” and headed toward the door.

There was a young couple just in front of us with a baby in their shopping cart who was greeted by a woman in a tie-dyed t-shirt. I thought at first it must have been a friend waiting for them but then I realized she had a police officer at her side. She greeted the couple with, “I’m store security. I need you turn around and go back into the store with me now.”

My heart sank. The young woman turned beet red. The young man looked clueless (was he? or was it an act?) And the baby? Sweet innocence. There was no protest. They just turned and walked back into the store sullenly and shamefully. The dad in me had the urge to yell out, “I’ll pay for whatever it was!” But I didn’t. Perhaps I was afraid. Maybe I figured that it wouldn’t solve their problem. Besides the undercover security officer and the cop didn’t really look like they were the negotiating types. Regardless we walked out of the store as they walked back in. And I kept thinking that could be my daughter or my son.

I haven’t been able to shake that encounter out of my mind. The young couple. The baby. I have a million questions. Were they so desperate that shoplifting was their only hope of survival? Was it just a kick – some kind of thrill perhaps? Were they feeding an addiction or just trying to feed their baby? What would become of them and their baby? I can’t (and won’t) judge them. I know that stealing is wrong. I realize it is crime to take what is not yours. But how is one’s self-esteem brought so low that this happens? How has society (that includes me) failed them? I’ve been praying for them since.

I hope that the courts show mercy. I hope that this a wake-up call for the young parents. I hope that the baby retains no memory of that shameful experience. I hope and I pray for all those who are desperate and in need of compassion.

During Lent we are encouraged to repent. The word we translate as ‘repent’ – metanoia – means ‘change of heart’ or to live life with your belief in the Good News of the Gospel. Nice sentiment and easy to say but where is the Good News for those in trouble? Where is the Good News for those on the fringe of society? Where is the Good News for the hopeless ? The hungry? The prisoner? The outcast?

I’ll start by trying to refrain from judgement of others. Mercy is a gift that I can freely give. Kindness can be shown to everyone I encounter. That’s a first step towards my change of heart. And I will continue to pray for that young couple and ask God to forgive me for my blindness to others’ pain. I pray that there is always hope even amidst heartbreak.

Peace,

Denis

Transfigured

Merriam-Webster tells us that to be transfigured means, “to change a thing into a different thing.” In today’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter, James and John witnessed with astonishment Jesus together with Moses and Elijah. It’s fitting that this reading comes to us during Lent. This is our time to be transfigured.

I don’t suppose my clothes (or yours for that matter) will become dazzling white. I also don’t expect you or I to be seated with Moses or Elijah. But we can be transfigured. We can change into something different, into someone different. I can use this time during Lent to change my heart.

My dear friend Mary sent me a simple but beautiful message this past week: “Fast from anger, and be filled with patience”. Simple and profound but not easy. Not easy for me because I like to hold on to my anger. I need my indignation. That anger can sustain me; it can justify my intolerance. That anger can empower me; it can make my hatred seem righteous.

But that anger can also destroy me; it can steal my soul; it can sap my spirit. It can become part of who I am.

The story of the Transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But did his disciples really have any clue about what they had witnessed? Were they as confused about Jesus’s impact on their lives as I often find myself? Jesus is a good guy and he’s all about love and forgiveness. I love his parables. I am amazed by the miracles he performed. I am in awe of his acceptance of everyone, even sinners like me. But he’s also God. When I meditate on the Transfiguration of Jesus, I realize that my future is in his hands and I need to surrender. I need to let go of my pride and anger and hate. I need to be different. I need to be transfigured. I need to be a better man.

So during this Lenten journey I will try to change into someone different. I will try to “fast from anger”. And when I fail (which is likely), I will try again because my God is the God of second chances. And third and fourth and…

Peace,

Denis

Jesus took Peter, James, and John 
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them, 
and his clothes became dazzling white.
Mark 9:2-3

Running On Empty

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. Most years I try to “give something up” to honor the sacrifice that Christ made for all of us. This year I’m struggling more than ever. Somehow the usual desserts or alcohol or cussing that I try (and fail) to refrain from just seems like more than I can handle. Because of the pandemic I have given up too much this past year. I just don’t think I can afford to give up one more thing. I miss seeing my Dad at his assisted living facility. I miss sons who live out of state. I miss my daughter-in-law. I miss my granddaughters and most especially kissing their sweet faces. I miss hugging my friends – somehow the elbow taps or fist bumps or “air hugs” just don’t cut it.

So here it is, Lent. Time for my Lenten journey. Time to “take up my cross” and make my sacrifices. I just want to say no! No more. Nothing left to give. I’m completely empty. I’m out. Try me next year.

Maybe I really won’t give up anything. Because you know poor me, who has sacrificed so much, really deserves a year off.

And then I am met by angels. Friends who humble me by their prayer and devotion. Family members who inspire me by their spirituality and love of God and all creation. Grandchildren who love me unconditionally and who offer me glimpses of heaven. My wife who has the patience of a saint and should be canonized one day just for the miracle of putting up with me for decades.

What can a poor, sorry, selfish sinner do? Well, first I can leave the pity party. Then I can start praying. And then I can try that again because I feel like bitching and moaning during prayer doesn’t accomplish much. And then I can remember something a new friend shared with me this week. It’s okay to bring all the noise with you into your prayer. All the distractions. All the discomforts. All the sadness. All the pain. And just hand it over to God.

So that’s what I’ve decided to give up for Lent this year (and hopefully forever), trying to be holy and focused and perfect in my prayer. I’m giving it up because I give up. And maybe when I’m completely empty my soul can be filled with the love of God.

And a drink and a dessert and cussword or two this Lenten season will just be as it should be.

Peace,

Denis

Making Plans

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” I have given God many opportunities for laughter in my life. But never have I felt more uncertain about so many things as I do right now. Even if God is laughing I’m not.

I never dreamed that after nearly a year of Covid-19 we would still be living in some bizarre suspended animation. Making plans in this time of uncertainty is challenging if not impossible. Planned events have been cancelled. Celebrations have been rescheduled. Gatherings have been limited. Travel has been put on hold.

And it’s not just the fun stuff that has been affected. I’ve been trying for over a year to get my vision corrected. I’m suffering from a severe case of diplopia (double vision) which has made life a struggle. I’ve had a series of tests and visits and referrals for more tests and more visits all of which have been delayed and postponed and rescheduled due to Covid-19.

Finally, after more than a year, I am scheduled for surgery next week. I’ve been battling this for such a long time that now that the time is near to “getting things fixed” it seems almost surreal. I keep waiting for the surgeon to call and postpone it (again).

I’ve been contemplating all the people in our country and in our world who are waiting (some patiently; others like me) and making plans and hoping for the best. How often have plans been abandoned? How many times have celebrations been suspended? How many weddings and graduations and retirement parties have been cancelled? How many vacations have been scrapped? How many funerals have been curtailed to “only immediate family” gatherings? How many people have died without a loved one by their side? This was no one’s plan.

And yet, here we are as a nation and as a people trying to remain hopeful. Dreaming of a better future. Making new plans for a brighter day. A renewed hope for civility and common good for humankind.

My granddaughter who is in 1st grade has a dream. She’s dreaming of a world full of love and respect. A future where kindness and caring replace hatred and bigotry. She’s making plans for a brighter day.

And I plan to join her because she helps me remember than even in our darkest (and blurriest) hours God will never abandon us.

Peace,

Denis

Remembering To Laugh Along The Way

Today is our wedding anniversary. It might have been predestination or providence or happy coincidence but somehow we met and fell in love. Deb and I started out laughing (mostly she at me) and we haven’t stopped laughing since. There is no one funnier and no one who “gets me” more than she does. The rest is history or rather our story. We were married and we never looked back.

We had no idea what lie ahead in 1975, which may have been a blessing in disguise. We somehow managed to find our way, one step at a time, one day after the next. Usually our plan was “There Is No Plan” and we just dealt with whatever came our way. I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart but so far it’s worked for us. Laughter has helped. And patience. And respect. And love. But we always remember to laugh.

Our journey has had it’s ups and downs. But the downs have been few. We raised three amazing children or more accurately: they raised us. During those days of cribs and diapers and preschool and science projects we usually laughed at our mistakes and prayed that they would create no permanent damage to our children’s physical or mental health. Somehow we all survived and still laugh about some of the funnier moments: Having to explain to a 2nd grade teacher that when our son told his class, “An eagle landed on my arm in our front yard!”, he was just using his imagination and we weren’t actually animal trainers. Or the time when our daughter felt the need to correct her 1st grade teacher’s vocabulary (a trait she still possesses) because, “It’s pronounced pretty, not purdy!” To this day we still call that teacher Miss Purdy. Our baby boy provided most of the laughs but I will forever remember the time that he threw himself on the floor of a department store while having a complete meltdown because we refused to buy him a tiny trench coat. He cried and screamed at the top of his lungs, “But I want to look like Inspector Gadget!”, the cartoon detective. Prying him off the floor while he was wailing, “You’re breaking my little arm!” proved to be less humorous at the moment, but we laughed as we ran out of the mall. Those memories still make me chuckle.

Later a new job offer moved us out of state. What a blessing our years in Wisconsin would turn out to be. Great schools; great neighbors; great friends. We survived the teenage years. Of course, laughter was a necessary ingredient in our survival. Our youngest child took us on some unexpected journeys along the way. Turns out, he was smarter than most of his teachers and certainly smarter than his parents. Ultimately our kids grew up and became adults. Along the way Deb and I tried our hand at adulthood too with limited success. We mostly stayed on the “No Plan” plan and stumbled along in blissful ignorance.

After 11 years in Wisconsin we had an opportunity to come back home to Missouri and took the chance. It was a bittersweet moment: leaving two of our children at the University of Wisconsin, and leaving friends we had come to count on plus a home we loved, to return to our roots. But coming back to family and life-long friends was another blessing in this life we share. The ensuing years would bring great joys and much more laughter. Greatest amongst our joy are our five beautiful grandchildren. Who knew all those years prior that our daughter would find love in Wisconsin and gift us with two of those grandchildren? They along with their cousins provide much of the laughter in our lives today. An added plus is that I’ve been able to recycle many of my old jokes for a new audience. I’m certain that the older grandkids laugh out of courtesy these days, but hey, laughter is laughter. I’ll take it any way I can get it.

Work once again provided an opportunity for a new adventure and in 2012 we lived in England. We often found ourselves laughing at our hapless efforts to carry on as ex-patriots. Our misuse of the language, our driving skills, our tiny washer/dryer and the eccentric neighbors and shopkeepers all offered countless hours of laughter. I’m sure we supplied many a laugh to those who encountered us along the way.

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Through it all, Deb and I have remained partners, friends, lovers, and two of the funniest people that I know. We have a saying in our house, “Funny Trumps All!” Of course not everything is a laughing matter but even in our darkest hours we have found something to make us laugh. On her deathbed my Mom made us laugh by telling us that although she would miss all of us, she certainly wouldn’t miss Donald Trump. It was her last gift to us all. She took all the sadness out of the room with that simple sentence. Once again she was the Mom who knew just what we needed. I’m sure she’s looking down on us now and laughing at some of our antics.

46 years ago when Deb and I made our vows there were promises to love and honor and to stay together in sickness and in health. There was no mention of laughing. And yet here we are, still laughing all the way. They say that laughter is the best medicine. And I would add that nothing is healthier than being able to laugh at yourself. I suppose God has given some of us more opportunities to do that than others.

A true blessing is having someone to share that laugher. Happy Anniversary – Deb (thanks for all the love and laugher!)

Peace,

Denis

Christmas Present

It’s hard not to feel nostalgic this Christmas. I’m longing for days gone by. Our house is quiet this morning. No trips to the airport to gather loved ones. No extra house guests. No last minute dashing off for a forgotten gift or overlooked ingredient for someone’s favorite Christmas dish. No giggles and wiggles waiting for Santa to show up. All is calm.

Most years I am secretly fighting with my ‘internal Scrooge’ on Christmas Eve morning. I’m usually a little cranky by now and complaining in my head about all the expense, the preparation, the aggravation, and the exhaustion. And for what? One day when we all get together and “celebrate” Christmas and hope (and pray) that we can all get along. No disappointments. No disagreements. No hurt feelings. No tears.

But Christmas past is past. This year it’s Christmas present that I’m struggling with. Two of our children, our daughter-in-law and three of our grandchildren will not be with us this year. None of my siblings, nieces nor nephews will be joining us. Neither of our dads will be here. And of course, our moms, who have gone on to greater glory, won’t be here again this Christmas.

So many have lost so much this year. And I feel ashamed of my selfishness. I want ALL my family to be together. I want the cacophony of little voices and old jokes and silly games. I want a house full of noise and mess and chaos. I want all that stuff that I (maybe not so secretly) complain about any other year. I don’t want disappointments, or disagreements or hurt feelings but I’ll take it, if that means there will also be surprises and laughter and love.

Tonight I will try to embrace my Christmas present. And will thank God for my smaller, healthier gathering. I promise to cherish each and every moment. I will hold in my heart those who cannot be with us. I will love the ones who are with us all the more. This year my Christmas present is my present. I hope that I can accept it with grace. And perhaps a few tears along the way might be cleansing.

2020 has been exhausting for all of us. My prayer this Christmas is that the weary world can rejoice once more.

Peace,

Denis