Waiting (impatiently)

Waiting. Always waiting. Still waiting.

Waiting seems to be the story of my life. Waiting for the end the school year as a boy. Waiting to get my driver’s license as a teenager. Waiting for my bride to come down the aisle. Waiting for our first child to be born and our second and our third. Waiting for promotions and raises. Waiting for grandchildren. And now I’m waiting for retirement.

I’ve been thinking lately about waiting and my impatience. During Advent we are reminded to slow down and be patient. We are expected to wait. We are told to be hopeful. Impatient people like me, try to “gird our loins” and tough it out so that we can get through these weeks of waiting. We prove our worth by being watchful and ready to embrace the impending joy of the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.

But waiting alone is not enough. Being hopeful about the good things to come isn’t the complete answer either. It misses the point. The beauty is the waiting. The joy is in embracing the longing. Peace comes when I surrender myself to God’s plan. True patience is actively living in the present. It requires that I let go of my need to finish the game; win the race; get to the prize. The true joy of Advent is acceptance. Accepting my here and now; for better or for worse. I live with the hope of better things to come but I must love and treasure what I have now if I am to truly be fulfilled in the future. Baby Jesus at Christmas won’t mean much if I don’t find Christ in everyone I see TODAY.

So, I try to be patient and I try to live in the moment but realistically my impatience is not going away any time soon (or ever). Waiting for my wife to be ready to go somewhere or for the weekend to get here or my coffee to finish brewing will always make me tap my foot and wonder, “How much longer must I wait?”

Anna and me (back in the day)

Today I ran across a text message my daughter sent me years ago when her daughter was only six or seven years old. It reads:

Tonight, at Girl Scouts, we decorated bags that will eventually be used to carry food to the homeless. The girls have nothing to do with the food portion, but were asked to decorate the bags with drawings, stickers, etc, and they could feel free to write a nice Christmas sentiment on them. I did three of Anna’s 5 bags because she’s slow as molasses and I wanted to leave early. And then she showed me her long-awaited 2nd bag (how could it have taken so long?) and her sweet message simply said, “God is love.” Those three words brought me so much joy. She gets it. She’s been paying attention. And she’s sharing that simple message with a stranger. And with me.

Now that’s a testament to patience. For both mother and daughter. And granddad, too. Anna is in high school now, and she’s still slow but patient (especially with granddad) and she lives in the moment. She challenges me to try (again) for patience during Advent and to embrace my waiting. Even if it means an occasional foot tapping.

Peace,

Denis

Misty Water-Color Memory

First of all, sorry for the cheesy title which harkens the schmaltzy lyrics from the title song of “The Way We Were”, a 1973 hit movie starring Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. My wife and I were dating when that movie/song came out. I suppose I looked a lot like Robert Redford back then and I guess she was just spellbound. That story (almost believable) is for another time. I really hope the song’s not playing in your head now.

My actual misty water-color memory is from Thanksgiving fifteen years ago. Seven adults and one child made the whirlwind 10-day trip from the U.S. to Germany to England and back to Germany before returning home to the U.S. We spent Thanksgiving in London that year and had to forego our traditional turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Instead, we dined on fish and chips at a quaint pub in London. It was lovely.

Because Thanksgiving is not a holiday in the U.K., we were able to tour Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is truly awe-inspiring. This place is steeped in history, and one can’t help but imagine all of the kings and queens who have processed through that space. As an Anglophile, I could have spent days there. I’m sure for our three-year-old granddaughter Charlise it might have seemed that we had. I imagine from her perspective it was dull, but she was an angel the entire time. 

The River Thames is within walking distance, so after we finally left the Abbey, we decided to walk across the Thames. I was pushing Charlise’s stroller, and I could hear her speaking very excitedly. I stopped; walked around the front of her stroller and bent down to ask her what it was that she wanted. Her response: “Look Pawpaw, water!” After spending hours in Westminster Abbey where her point of reference was everyone’s kneecaps (or rear-ends); she finally saw something that she could recognize – WATER:  How beautiful. How simple. How wonderful! 

Charlise and I looked at the river together and I too felt like a three-year-old. We were transfixed by the sheer beauty of the water swirling under the bridge and I realized, then and there, that ancient artifacts and significant historical places could never take the place of my granddaughter’s enthusiasm for that moment.

I’ve misplaced most of souvenirs and the photos of all the majestic and important places we toured on our trip, but the treasure that remains in my heart is the memory of the time when Charlise and I looked at the water in the Thames. It transcends time and space. And I remain grateful to have been blessed by that experience. 

I have so much for which to be thankful. This year we will again have our usual feast in the comfort of our own home. We will be surrounded by all the familiar sights and sounds and smells and tastes of our traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The comforting embrace of the laughter, love and good food will fill my soul and new memories will be made. But sometime during the day I know that I will have a fleeting memory of water swirling under the Westminster Bridge.

And, once again, I will give thanks!

Peace,

Denis

Now for a little schmaltz…

Sanctified

I’m an usher at my church; officially a minister of hospitality. My responsibilities include greeting people, finding parishioners a seat, keeping an eye out for anyone in need, opening and closing doors as needed, sending people home with a bulletin and a wish for a good week. Simple job for a simple man. I’m qualified.

Most Sundays, things are pretty predictable: same friendly faces, same unfriendly faces, same older folks with their assorted accessories – walkers, canes, etc.; same crying newborns; same sweet-faced babies; same ill-behaved toddlers; same angelic school children; same skulking teenagers; same off-key singers; same beleaguered families doing their best to be there on time (or to not arrive too late). As the hymn reminds me: “All Are Welcome In This Place”

The truth of the matter is that I usually go about my “duties” pretty mindlessly. Oh, I try to be welcoming and accommodating, but often it all seems pretty perfunctory. A cardboard cutout with a “WELCOME” caption might be as effective. I must admit that often my heart and my soul aren’t in the right place even if my body is. My anger or disenchantment or apathy towards the Church (the capital “C” Church – the hierarchy; the dudes who are calling the shots) keeps me distant from the faith community in my midst. Many times, I dig in and refuse to even listen to the preaching. My failure, my loss I suppose. But sometimes self-righteousness feels so damned good!

Yesterday was different. As families were arriving, I noticed one particular family entering single-file. It appeared to be a mother, father, three or four children and perhaps a grandmother. Rather abruptly, a boy of about 5 or 6 years-old stopped, stepped out of the family line and turned around to wait for his grandmother. When she was next to him, he took her hand, and they walked in together. Simple, honest and, humbling. With his loving gesture, that small boy brought Christ to me at that moment. Suddenly the choir sounded more beautiful. Later the Gospel held more meaning. The prayers had greater depth. All because of witnessing this simple act of love. I realized (again) that God needn’t only be found in the piety of churches, and mosques, and synagogues, nor through intense prayer nor profound worship, but in the love of a small boy towards his grandmother. I just need to put down my sword of anger and pick up my plowshare of compassion in order to witness it.

Later I thought about my own grandchildren and how just being with them lifts my spirits and brings balance to my life. And once again, I am reminded of my blessings.

Peace,

Denis

Saints and souls and celebration

Yesterday was Halloween. Some historians will tell you that Halloween’s origin is in ancient festivals honoring the moon or stars or the end (the death) of the growing season. Some Christians believe that All-Hallow’s Eve is a time that early Christians dressed in costume and bestowed gifts and blessings on those in need in an effort to honor the Saints. Nowadays children dress in costume (trick) and go door to door to collect candy (treats). Costumes often convey themes of death or the macabre but just as likely they might be pop stars or something cute and cuddly. Still, you won’t find any saints on parade bestowing gifts or blessings. As a kid, I can assure you that my “trick or treating” was a completely unholy experience. We ran like a pack of wild dogs and grabbed as much candy from as many houses as we could in three or so hours. Those who refused to play along and kept their houses dark risked smashed pumpkins or worse. My friends and I were tiny terrorists demanding candy! Nothing particularly saintly about that experience.

Today is All Saints’ Day, and tomorrow is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day.

All Saints’ Day is a big deal in the Catholic Church. It’s an official holy day. There are countless saints in heaven, but All Saints’ Day observances tend to focus on those recognized in the Canon of the Saints. So, the biggies like Peter and Paul and Mary (not to be confused with the folk trio from the ’60s) get most of the attention. Of course, sometimes the more obscure guys like Sixtus and Phileas get a shout out or perhaps the newbies like Artemide Zatti or Giovanni Battista Scalabrini but not your grandmother nor your uncle, regardless of how saintly they may have lived their lives.

The Catholic Church in the U.S. celebrates All Souls’ Day on November 2nd but few folks outside of the church really pay much attention to this day. It’s a day to remember those who have died and who are not (yet?) saints. I guess this is where your grandmother fits in. However, in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a major feast day and a national holiday as well. The dead are honored with special meals, including their favorite foods and drink. Whole families gather in the celebration and the mood is light, with the emphasis on remembering and honoring the lives of the deceased.

So why all the fascination with death? I suppose that in order to fully live we must be able to accept death, too. Death is not what defines us. Eternal life, that which we so desperately seek, is never definite; never final. There is much hope for life beyond. For some it is the promise of life with God. And whether that means heaven or remaining in the spirit of those we leave behind, it’s comforting to know that we are more than just a mass of human cells. I believe with all my heart that we exist beyond our last breath. The love we give is multiplied by those we have loved and then divided amongst those we leave behind.

So, our lives matter.

And death, well we can dress it up and “trick or treat” or we can solemnly honor it on a high holy day. I just hope that someday my family will be at my graveside dining on some of my favorite foods and drinking some good wine and laughing and crying and allowing my spirit to live on. And then I will truly rest in peace.

Denis

In the time of their visitation, they shall shine and shall dart about as sparks through stubble. Wisdom 3:7

Autumnal Thoughts

Unlike many people (and it seems as if it’s everyone that I know) I don’t love autumn. I’m not a fan of cold weather. I don’t relish watching leaves fall (they will have to be raked up). I like my coffee without pumpkin spice. And picnics, baseball, swimming pools, and snow cones will have to wait until next year.

In addition, Autumn makes me realize that I am in the autumn of my life. And winter is coming – hard and fast!

As I often do, I try to look for the positive in each situation. Fall colors are beautiful. The “gravy season” brings comfort foods that fill my body and my soul. My favorite sweater wraps me in warmth and familiarity. I enjoy watching my grandson playing soccer. And I look forward to the upcoming holiday season with family and friends gathering to share love and laughter.

I strive to find role models to emulate. Some of my favorite humans are embracing their advanced years with a joy and an energy that belies their age. As I groan about my aches and pains, I remember my older friends (some 20-30 years my senior) who embrace each day with purpose and hopefulness. If they can “keep on keeping on” surely, I can do the same.

I also find Autumn a good time to reminisce. I carry a lot of things in my heart on this journey through life. This time of year, as things slow down and this time of life, as I slow down, it seems an appropriate time to pull out those memories and embrace them. I can use this time to let go of hurt. I can offer and accept forgiveness. I can bask in the joy of love’s presence in my life and honor the lives of those I have loved and lost.

Each flutter of breeze brings another cascade of gold and red and orange leaves flying just outside my window. It’s as if they are waving goodbye. And I suppose they are. Next spring they will be replaced with green buds and leaves will sprout again. Until then I must endure another winter. Another dying. Waiting for the warmth to return.

This can be an opportunity to learn patience and embrace hopefulness. I’m praying for wisdom and the grace to accept it.

Peace,

Denis

God causes the changes of the times and seasons. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who understand. Daniel 2:21

“Whad’Ya Know”

My Dad used to say, “whad’ya know” a lot. Sometimes it was an exultation: “Whad’ya know!” after some discovery or realization or surprise. Often it was a question: “Hey Den, whad ‘ya know…?” about some random thing that I had little or no interest in. I’m afraid that I was often dismissive. “Dad, I have no idea…” was my standard response, all the while thinking, “what the hell…?”. Those were missed opportunities. I wish now I would have told him what I knew or more likely what I didn’t know. And listened (really listened) to what he knew. We lost Dad last year and those questions will never be asked again (nor answered, nor dismissed).

Grief is a funny thing. Sometimes it knocks you on your ass. You’re cruising along and everything is fine and suddenly a smell or song or leaf falling or a door closing will trigger a memory and you are immobilized. You feel frozen in time or thought and that undeniable ache crushes your entire spirit. More often though, grief gently taps you on the shoulder or hugs you around the neck and says, “slow down, whad’ya know, you’re going to be okay”. Grief can give you back those precious memories and allow your mind and spirit to simmer in those sweet moments, knowing they will never truly be lost.

What I do know is this: I’m a lot like my Dad. I probably say “what’ya know” more often than I realize. I know I’m always asking my kids and grandkids “what’ya know?” about random stuff and important stuff, too. They’re more tolerant than I am (or I’m oblivious to their dismissiveness). Either way, I’m fine.

I just want them to know what I do know: that I care about what they’re doing and that I love them. I’m often amazed at how brilliant they are: “What’d ya know, my oldest granddaughter is learning welding! What’d ya know, another granddaughter is learning French and has all A’s in her high school classes!”

I have a fun plaque in my home office that reads: “Ask Dad – he knows everything!” Well, I don’t, but I appreciate the sentiment. I don’t even know where I got the plaque. Or if it was a gift or something that I claimed from my Dad’s belongings. I doesn’t matter. I just hope my kids and grandkids occasionally ask me what I know (I might even have an answer worthy of their time) and I pray that they will continue to allow me to ask them what they know. Their wealth of knowledge is a treasure.

And as I continue to marvel at what I don’t know and exclaim, “What’d ya know!” at my discoveries I will rejoice in my newfound knowledge. I will thank God for new memories as I tuck them away for safe keeping with the old ones.

Peace,

Denis

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction. Proverbs 1:8

Entertaining Angels

Today the divisions in our country and in our churches and in our families are daunting. No time in my life have I experienced such anger and resentment; such righteousness and chauvinism. It seems that we are so busy drawing lines in the sand that we have forsaken our fellow humans. Gatherings are tenuous. Conversations are avoided. Neighbors are ignored. Friends and family are neglected.

As I often do, when confronted with things beyond my ken, I search for the wisdom of others. My friend Sherry always finds the good in others. She is an example of God’s never-ending love for us. She forgives completely. And I have been the humble recipient of her forgiveness. My grandchildren, aged 6 to 17, look at our world with such hopefulness. It is impossible not to share their joy and their dreams of a better world. I want to join them on that journey. I have close friends with which I share no political opinions nor affiliations (and we likely routinely cancel one another’s votes) yet we remain respectful, devoted and loving.

This summer I had the opportunity to serve at a food pantry alongside my teenage granddaughter and my pre-teen grandson. I was proud of them and their willingness to give to others. But what truly astounded me was their ease and comfort on that day. They truly gave of themselves – respectful and loving to all they encountered. Their enthusiasm and joy was contagious. On the drive home they recounted their day with thoughtfulness and wondered aloud why life was unfair for so many people. Never once did they judge any of the clientele. Never once did they gloat nor mention how fortunate they were to not be one in need. Instead they were thankful for having been given an opportunity to serve.

Those two saw the good in each person. And once again, they taught me a valuable lesson. I need to stop looking for the differences in others. I need to let go of my need to be on “the right side”. I need to look in the mirror and find that speck of goodness that my loved ones have found. And ask God to forgive me when I fail to share that goodness and miss another opportunity to entertain an angel.

Peace,

Denis

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Hebrews 13:2

Quiet Moments

I talk a lot. Too much (some would say). I love lively conversations and big laughs. I like action and music in the background. I’d always rather be a participant than a spectator. I like to be moving and shaking and getting things accomplished.

And I find quiet, well disquieting. Moments of silence seem like an eternity to me. Silent retreats are torturous. And when someone says, “Let’s take a few minutes and quietly reflect”, I can feel my heart start racing and my mind cannot focus on the task at hand. All I can think about is the deafening silence and wonder if I am the only one who is this uncomfortable in THE QUIET. And then I am often amused by a joke that I recall:

There was a monk who took a vow of silence. Every ten years he was allowed to speak only two words. After the first ten years the Abbot summoned the monk and requested his two words, which were: “FOOD COLD“. He was thanked for his honesty. Another ten years passed and the Abbot again summoned the monk and requested his two words, this time it was: “BED HARD“. Again his honesty was appreciated and he left in silence. After thirty years in the Abbey, the monk was summoned once again. His two words: “I QUIT“. The Abbot shrugged and said in reply, “Well, I’m not surprised, you’ve been complaining since you got here.”

Yesterday, once again, I was reminded that quiet moments needn’t be painful, they can in fact be quite beautiful. It’s not easy for me but, when I can shut up long enough to listen with my heart I am blessed beyond measure. Embracing those quiet moments can be a little glimpse of heaven on earth. (Not that I want heaven to be quiet).

Last night my grandson and I were in the backyard talking about baseball and some of our favorite players. The conversation drifted to his upcoming school year. Suddenly our conversation stopped when a bunny hopped up to the patio and stared at us. Once it had our attention it ran off. It proceeded to do this about five or six times. It seemed to be playing with us. So there we were grandson and grandfather immersed in the splendor and joy of this simple act. We were stilled and thrilled and washed in this golden moment. As long as I have memories, this will be one of them.

At bedtime, I remembered another quiet moment that will live in my heart forever. Just a few weeks before my Mom passed away I stopped for a visit. Her pulmonary fibrosis had gotten the better of her that day. She and I just sat and held hands in silence. There she was, near her life’s end, still comforting me. Her soft small hand was holding mine and protecting me as she always did. I believe that she felt the strength in my hand that day and she felt comforted too. No words were needed. Love was conveyed.

So as much as I sometimes curse the silence, I am humbled and blessed by those quiet moments in my life. I pray that the next time I am asked to, “Take a few minutes and quietly reflect” I will remember those quiet treasures I carry in my heart.

Peace,

Denis

Perfectly Mismatched

My beautiful wife Debbie is 4′-11″ tall. I’m 6′-1″. Height differences have been challenging at times to say the least. Disagreements about where things should be placed (top shelf or bottom shelf; overhead or underneath) have been a source of conflict through the years. Also purchasing furniture, cabinets, and automobiles that fit both of us can be quite challenging. Our daily lives have been consumed with readjusting mirrors, car seats, step stools, computer monitors, and anything else that will allow height accommodations. We are simply physically mismatched.

Of course, our physical differences are just part of the challenge. I’m all – hurry, hurry; come on let’s go! She’s all – take it easy; slow down; calm down. I need a well-thought-out plan. She runs on feelings and often laughs at my plans. I’m an early bird that loves to rise and shine. She’s a night owl who requires silence and coffee in the morning. I’m very linear. She usually colors outside the lines.

Through the years we have learned that differences are not detrimental to a successful relationship. In fact, just the opposite. My wife and I complement one another. We fill in each other’s voids. We carry one another when necessary. And don’t be fooled by her size. Deb is larger than life. Her circle of influence is boundless. She dreams big. She has more class in her little finger than most folks have in their entire body. And she has more friends today than I have had in my entire life.

If you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/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 know 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. She is the heart of our family; friendships are lifelong; her word is her bond; her love for others is boundless.

I’m the luckiest man on earth. Somehow God decided that I was the one who got to share this life with her. Through the good and bad; through the joys and sorrows; I’ve had this beautiful hand to hold. And I’ll never let go.

Happy Birthday Deb.

I love you,

D

Fingerprints

When my kids were small, I was a maniac about trying to keep the house clean and orderly. I’m sure that they’re all emotionally scarred (but seriously, was it too much trouble to wipe their feet and pick up their book bags?). At times I wish I could turn back the clock and let go of my need for control. Too much time was spent keeping things on schedule; in order; squeaky clean. To much effort was put into finishing dinner; getting somewhere on time; making lists; completing tasks. It must have been exhausting.

Today when one of my grandkids leaves a fingerprint on a mirror or window, I’m hesitant to clean it. I want to save all those precious prints. I’ve mellowed with age.

I realize now that those babies who were entrusted into my care left fingerprints on my heart. No one can ever wipe those away. I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be the understatement of the century. When we left the hospital with our newborn son, whom the nurse placed on my wife’s lap in the front seat of our 1977 Ford Pinto, we drove away not knowing what adventures, heartache, joys, and love lie ahead.

There have been proud moments, important milestones, and great honors bestowed upon my progeny. They are three amazing humans. But the things that I carry in my heart on this wonderous ride called Fatherhood are those tiny “finger prints”. They are with me wherever I go. And will be forever.

Tyson’s baby belly-laughs still ring in my memory’s ears and remind me that laughter is truly the best medicine. Bess’s bedtime ritual, complete with “Dad, I’m glad you’re my Dad” still warms this old heart of mine: “Peeper, I’m glad you’re my Peeper”. Remembering Blake standing on our front porch waving goodbye until my car was out of sight, on one of my too many business trips, still makes me yearn for one more hug and one more kiss.

Back in the day, while I was busy cleaning and wiping away those fingerprints, little did I know that they were being imprinted on my heart. What a gift! What a life! What a love!

Happy Father’s Day!

Denis