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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_3412.jpg

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

Waiting in Line

This year it seems there are lines wherever I go. Waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. Waiting in line at the drive-through restaurant. Waiting in line outside of the DMV. Waiting in line for a Covid-19 test. Waiting in line. Patiently. Six feet apart.

Recently when I was grousing about all the ‘waiting-in-line’ my beautiful wife remembered that when she was a secretary at a parish in Wisconsin, Sister Dorothy with whom she worked, always told her, “The poor must wait in line.”

The poor must wait in line. Wait in line for healthcare at over-worked and under-staffed clinics; wait in line for food at pantries which are often depleted before they can be served; wait in line for shelter and a safe place to rest; wait in line for refuge and asylum from violence; wait in line for justice.

During Advent I wait. I wait for the coming of Christ in my heart. As Catholic Christians we are supposed to have a “preference for the poor”. I seldom think about what those words truly mean.  “As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor”.

Perhaps this year is a good time to reflect on my own spiritual poverty. Maybe I can stand in line in solidarity with my poor sisters and brothers. Maybe I can do my small part to ease the suffering of so many. When I throw those few coins into the Salvation Army bucket I will pray for the poor person who may receive some part of my small gift. When I donate food to a pantry I will ask God to bring blessing to whomever may be nourished by that meal. When I give to charity this year I will try to put a face on the person who will benefit from my donation and pray that they are afforded dignity while being served. I will support candidates and causes that serve the under-served in our nation.

This has been a year of waiting-in-line. And if I stop complaining and quiet myself during my wait, I might just catch a glimpse of heaven this Advent season. I hope that you do as well.

Peace,

Denis

Be Watchful; Be Ready

During the four weeks of Advent we are supposed to be waiting for Jesus. And most years I am too busy to settle myself into contemplation of Christ’s coming. But this year is different. We are shopping on line. All the Christmas baking is done. The house is already decorated. We are not traveling. We are not entertaining.  There are few gifts to wrap because everything is being delivered by Amazon. And still I find little time for Jesus. So it seems all my “too busy” excuses of Christmases past were just rubbish.

This year I have plenty of time to quiet myself and listen for His voice. Instead I grumble about not having MY CHRISTMAS. The Christmas that I WANT with all our extended family; with Christmas cocktail parties; with Christmas concerts; with Christmas pageants; with Christmas shopping. After all isn’t that what Jesus wants, too? You know, normal Christmas with all the pomp and circumstance and just enough time to squeeze in a little “holiness” like Midnight Mass or a Novena to make it all seem sanctified.

But here I am in 2020, with plenty of time to pray and reflect on Christ’s coming: Christ coming into our world as a helpless infant; Christ coming into our world today as the love that surrounds us and sustains us; Christ coming at the end of time to save us and bring us home. I’ve complained about all the disruptions, pain and loss that Covid-19 has brought to our world. And I’ve readily used it as an excuse to not do some things I might have otherwise done. But I cannot use it as an excuse for not celebrating Advent and Christmas this year. I have the time!

I’m certain that the first Christmas wasn’t exactly what Mary and Joseph had planned but events beyond their control forced them to travel to Bethlehem. Mary’s joy was not diminished because she gave birth to Jesus amidst the most humble of circumstances. Neither should our joy be diminished by circumstances beyond our control. The corona virus and all it’s related heartache has had a profound effect on all of us this year but still our Savior comes. Perhaps I can use this time of uncertainty to remain watchful and ready.

Aristotle is credited with saying, “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” Maybe a cold, harsh winter is what I need. Maybe freezing my backside off will make me appreciate the warmth and beauty of my home and stop my complaining about what I have missed this year.

Mostly I pray that a long cold winter will help me embrace the coming spring and create room in my heart for His love.

Peace,

Denis

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

Thankful (even in 2020)

This year Thanksgiving Dinner will be a small gathering. How can we celebrate without ALL the family? Will the turkey be as tender? Will the stuffing be as savory? Will the sweet potatoes and cranberries be as flavorful? And dear God what about the Pumpkin Pie???

Less than a full table this year…

My head tells me those things don’t really matter but my heart wants this Thanksgiving Dinner to be like every other. I want us ALL to be gathered around the table. I want the house full of family and friends. I want it to be noisy and a bit chaotic. I want to eat too much, drink a little too much, and yet somehow still manage to have just one more piece of pie.

Of course it occurs to me that our Thanksgiving Dinners haven’t all been Hallmark moments. There were years with undercooked turkeys and burnt rolls. There were years with family fights. There were years when at least one of our kids threw up either immediately before or after dinner (or maybe both). There was the year we ate fish and chips at a pub in England – no turkeys in sight. There were the years our son was stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea and Thule Air Base in Greenland eating in mess halls, while his place at our table remained empty. There was last year – our first Thanksgiving without Mom. So, my perfect Thanksgiving Dinner is more aspiration than realization. And yet we remain thankful.

We give thanks and we should. We should be thankful for one another. Thankful for love. Thankful for a full belly and a place to lay our heads. Thankful for a God that provides light even in our darkest hours.

A smaller table and a smaller gathering is disappointing but this year it is necessary. It’s tough not having Dad at our table because of Covid-19 restrictions at his assisted living facility, even though I know it is the right decision. There is certainly no shortage of heartache or suffering in our world today. And perhaps you’re suffering, too. I pray that your suffering, whether in mind or body, is temporary and your healing is swift.

Tomorrow I will remember to give thanks. And if Thanksgiving Dinner isn’t perfect in every way, I will try to remember that it’s the thanksgiving and not the dinner that really matters.

Peace,

Denis

Planned Parenthood (or something like that)

We had our first child after we were married nearly four years. It seemed like a good plan. And it was!

He was a perfect baby. He was beautiful. He was healthy. He ate well. He slept well. He was always happy. He loved everyone he encountered. We were clearly excellent parents.

We weren’t just good parents, we were brilliant and so good at this ‘baby thing’ that we decided to plan our next child right away. Finding out that we were having a second child on “Perfect Baby’s” first birthday seemed like a dream come true. And it was. She arrived only a year and half after her brother, tiny and pink and so soft that my rough hands could barely feel her tenderness. She looked like a little rose bud. Our planned had worked!

So there we were with two cribs, two high chairs, two diaper pails. Our new addition would certainly be as sweet and easy and happy as her (only slightly older) brother. This planned parenthood would prove our brilliance to those who had doubted our wisdom – naysayers all! Big Brother went to bed every night promptly at 8:00pm and didn’t wake up most days until 8:00am. We were certain Baby Sister would get into that groove, too.

But Baby Sister had a different schedule in mind. She began crying (no – let’s call it screaming) at 8:15pm. This usually only lasted 3 or 4 hours EVERY NIGHT. Her pediatrician said she was colicky. Of course all the “old wives” (mother and mother-in-law) with their old wives’ tales, offered little comfort. Try lying baby on her stomach across your lap after nursing. Try rubbing baby’s tiny belly after nursing. Try nursing baby before she started crying. Try waiting to nurse baby until she was really crying hard. Try having Daddy hold baby after nursing because baby could sense Mommy’s tension. The message that I was receiving: TRY NOT PLANNING ANY MORE PREGNANCIES. They won. The naysayers. The “I told you so”-ers. What in God’s name had we been thinking?

So we battled on like war-weary soldiers fighting a lost cause. We knew that we might never survive, but we also knew that we could never surrender. The mockers and naysayers would win! We couldn’t let that happen. So we carried on. Night after night we rocked and cuddled THE TERROR. Night after night we soothed THE BEAST. Night after night we cried ourselves to sleep, we three, while (only slightly older) brother slept through it all.

And then six months later it happened. A miracle. The colic stopped. Our angel appeared. She became the most beautiful baby girl that the world has ever seen. She and big brother became best friends. They were inseparable. They literally grew up together. Often mistaken for twins, Baby Sister and Big Brother were usually in lockstep. Once again, we were brilliant parents. We were unstoppable. And few years later when a sort of general amnesia clouded our colicky memories, Baby Brother joined our ranks. And we lived happily ever after. Until adolescence.

But that’s another story of survival…

Once Upon a Time in a Land Far, Far, Away…

Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore in high school now and our second oldest granddaughter is in 7th grade and is looking at high schools. Because of this I’ve been reminiscing about high school lately.

For many of us high school was a distant time and place. Still, high school wasn’t just the school building or the four years spent there. It was the people. It was the experiences. It was social order or disorder as the case might be. For many of us high school left an indelible mark on our psyches. Being accepted or rejected socially; being scholarly or not; being on the team or not; being physically attractive or not; these things in many ways defined our ability to succeed as adults. In some cases rejection may have made us work harder to find our real worth. In other cases gliding through the high school years might have given us the impression that life would be a breeze and we ended up stagnated or unfulfilled. Regardless if we were jocks or geeks, cheerleaders or bookworms, trouble makers or do-gooders, those four years had an effect on us.

I was a geek who thought he was cool. Kind of a hipster-doofus with most of the emphasis on doofus. I was not a good student. I was not athletic nor particularly attractive and I think I was invisible to most of the popular girls. Although I wasn’t a target of abuse or bullying like some of my geekier friends, I was nonetheless relegated to the “loser” group. I had some popular friends too but it’s likely that I thought we were better friends than they thought we were. I wasn’t miserable in high school, I just knew my place. If there was a contest (and thankfully there wasn’t) I would have probably been voted “Most Likely To Be Forgotten”.

Then the strangest thing happened. I graduated. I got a part-time job near home and went to a local college. I met a girl at that job who had attended a neighboring high school and was attending a different local college. I flirted. She flirted back. We dated (in that we’re-both-poor-college-students sort of way). We had fun together. And she really seem to like me. I learned from others that she had been popular at her high school and was on the Coronation Court – the royalty of high schoolers. It suddenly occurred to me that I was no longer defined by the high school cliques. I was still a geeky weirdo but she didn’t see me that way or she was too polite or too kind to point it out or maybe, just maybe, she liked me the way I was. This changed everything. Everyone seemed to know her and love her. She had been in the upper echelon of high school and I was, well, just me.

But she liked me, in spite of who or what I was. The Princess and the Frog! I learned a valuable lesson from that girl. She took the time to look past my outward appearance. When she looked at me she didn’t see the kid who didn’t measure up. She saw a young man with potential. With one kiss I turned into her Prince. And she changed our lives forever.

I hope that all our grandchildren have good high school experiences. And whether they’re the popular girl on Coronation Court like their grandmother or the doofus standing on the sidelines like their grandfather, I hope they measure their self-worth by what’s inside and find a princess who will hold the mirror up to their soul.

Peace,

Denis