Repeat The Sounding Joy

Today our Church celebrates the third Sunday of Advent also known as “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin. This joyful spirit is marked by the third candle of our Advent wreath, which is rose (or pink) colored.

Growing up I was always excited to see the pink candle lit – it meant just two weeks until Christmas.  And my excitement and anticipation would intensify tenfold. I knew that Christmas was still two full weeks away but we were already halfway through Advent. Halfway through our time of waiting!

So lighting that pink candle was a time for rejoicing. And it still is.

Today of course I am less excited about what gifts will be exchanged (although gift-giving is still a joyful experience) and more focused on Christ’s coming. As Catholic Christians we celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas in three ways:

His coming as an infant over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

His coming at the end of time.

His coming in our lives today.

While images of tiny baby Jesus are sweetly sentimental (and for those of us that have been parents or babies perhaps easy to relate to) and imagining the majesty of end times can be quite awe inspiring, for me receiving Jesus in my heart and home at Advent and Christmas is most significant.

Third Week of Advent - light your pink candle!

I need Jesus here and now to help me put my life into perspective. I need His loving example to help me deal with relatives that always seem to be the least lovable at Christmastime. I need Jesus’ wisdom to decide how to give gifts that honor His birth while still meeting the needs of those that I have gifted. I need His patience to allow the holidays to “unfold” and not become a raving madman because something doesn’t go as I planned. I need Jesus’ forgiveness for all of the times that I will fail to be loving, giving, and patient.

Today I’m filled with joyful anticipation. Because very soon He will come. He comes with love. He comes with wisdom. He comes with patience. And He offers me forgiveness.

Peace,

Denis

I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul. Isaiah 61:10

 

Things I Never Thought I’d Love

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s just the way life unfolds. But lately I find more and more that I love things that I never thought I would. I don’t know whether to be amused or horrified. So I’ll settle somewhere in between; let’s call it light-hearted befuddlement.

Here are some examples:

Brussels sprouts. I still have vivid memories of the gag reflex kicking in just thinking about eating them (not that many years ago). Now I love them – thanks for being such a good cook Deb!

Turner Classic Movies®. As a younger person I used to dread it when my Dad would start talking on and on about some great movie starring William Powell or Buelah Bondi or Spencer Tracy or countless others. Now I am practically addicted to the channel and love all those classic (old) movies.

Snail mail. I love getting cards and real letters in the mail. Years ago I would be dismissive of the letters Deb’s grandmother would send to us, particularly the ones where she would rant about the state of our nation or the (poor) quality of education or the general moral decline of society. What I wouldn’t give to receive a letter from Mimi today – written in long hand with her standard XOXO and the end.

My old gray wool cardigan. I love that sweater. I don’t care if it’s not fashionable or not in great shape. When I wear it I feel completely wrapped in comfort and warmth. I’ve learned to sacrifice style for comfort – unthinkable not too many years ago.

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?). Today when one of the grandkids leaves a fingerprint on a mirror or window, I’m hesitant to clean it. I want to save all those precious prints.  Oh, those sweet little hands!

Some things change. Our appreciation of things can change, too. What remains constant is our need to adapt. Along the way I’m learning to love some new things and embrace some old things, too. I thank God that I’m an ‘old thing’ that someone still finds embraceable.

Peace,

Denis

These Little Lights of Mine…

Since we made the decision to move to England for a year, most days I’m happy, excited and anxious for the adventure of it all. But then there are those days when I feel a little panicked. What if this is a BIG MISTAKE? What if it becomes our YEAR OF REGRET? Of course usually the panic or melancholy has to do with leaving our grandkids behind for a year. I know that we will have Skype and we will visit back and forth. And I also believe that our relationship with our grandchildren is strong enough that one year’s absence won’t turn them into complete strangers. But still there have been some tearful moments…

This past weekend Anna and Noah had a sleep-over. On Saturday morning Anna and I ran some errands. While driving along she began singing, “This light of mine; I’m gonna let shine!” over and over. Sweet little three year-old voice, loud and clear and strong just singing her heart out. Well needless to say the tears began streaming down my face. So much so that I had to pull the car over for fear of not being able to see the road. I know that I’m a sap but this was even a bit much for me. I stopped just short of sobbing. When Anna asked, “Why did we stop here Pawpaw?” I just told her that I needed a minute to think about what I wasn’t going to do next. And I did.

Shine on!

What I did next was join her in song. So we drove along singing at the top our lungs, “This little light of mine…” While we were signing I thought about the folks that have said to me, “Oh, you’re really going to miss your grandchildren” or “I don’t know how you can think about being away for a full year” or “what if Noah doesn’t remember you when you return?”  I wondered, WHY DO PEOPLE SAY THINGS LIKE THAT?

But I sang through the tears and I realized that “these little lights of mine” will keep on shining. Our three grandchildren are little lights that banish the darkness from our hearts and souls. And a simple separation of time or space has no power over the love that we share for one another. And by the time that we got home that morning, Anna and I still singing, I knew that everything would be okay.

Of course I know that there will be more tears. And I’m sure that we will miss one another dreadfully at times but I also know that many families suffer through separations due to work or divorce or even death and somehow survive. Not only do they survive but they thrive!

I’m certain that the light that God has instilled in Charlise and Anna and Noah will shine. And they will continue to brighten even our darkest days.

“Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Peace,

Denis

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

The saying goes, “That one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” So with that in mind (and the need to close up the house here before we leave for England) we decided to have a yard sale. After cleaning out the basement and some of the closets we had a garage full of junk (treasures) to sell. The goal was to get rid of stuff that we didn’t need (or want) anymore. And ultimately what didn’t sell would be donated to St. Vincent de Paul.

But a funny thing happened. Several people who showed up for our sale commented on how nice our stuff was and then proceeded to ask us to take less than the price that was marked. Now I know that with yard sales bartering is part of the ‘game’ and at first I thought it was amusing that someone would ask if I would take less on something that was marked .25 cents. But even though these items were discards I started to feel insulted that some of these bargain hunters would look at the price on something and then roll their eyes or worse – mutter under their breath and laugh. Their taunting laughter seemed to say, “Your trash is not worthy of my precious time or money.” “Wait!” I screamed in my head, “Aren’t you the one that just complimented our lovely array of treasures?”

Suddenly I decided that perhaps some of these folks didn’t deserve our mismatched dishes or outdated wall hangings. Maybe I should just close up shop and save my treasures for someone more appreciative. Why was I sacrificing an (almost) perfectly good crock pot for only $2.00? Why was I willing to let go of a lamp that used to have a prominent place in my home for just a $1.50?

After I regained my composure and made a few bucks and then donated a significant amount of things to charity, I reflected on the entire ordeal. While it’s true that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” it’s equally true that “one man’s treasure may be viewed as trash by another.” I wondered how many times that I’ve been guilty of de-valuing someone’s treasure? How often have I not shown proper respect or deference to something highly prized by someone else? And what about the times that I’ve been careless with regards to someone’s feelings? Or downright insulting in my lack of regard? And what kind of pain have I inflicted on others?

Anyone that is prejudged by their appearance or income or the neighborhood that they live in or the car that they drive knows that pain. Any of us that has put part of ourselves into a work of art only to have someone laugh at it or dismiss it knows that pain. Any person that has a child with special needs that has been subjected to unkindness or discrimination knows that pain. Anyone that loves something (their Church, their hometown, their country) only to have it mocked or ridiculed by others knows that pain. 

So today I’m thankful for the lesson of our yard sale. And I’m asking God to help me show more compassion and empathy towards others and to forgive me for those times that I have failed to do so.

Peace,

Denis

Too Cool For School

Last weekend while Deb and I were out for dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, I ran into an old friend from high school and it got me thinking …

Remember high school? Of course you do! Most of us spent 4 years there. And some of us seem to have spent the rest of our lives attempting to re-live it or desperately trying to forget it. Either way, it seems that our experiences in high school leave an indelible mark on our psyche. Some would say an emotional scar.

I went to high school in the ’70′s and we had all the usual cliques: the popular kids, the jocks, the brainiacs, the goody-goodies, the freaks, and the geeks. I fell somewhere between the freak-geek categories. I really wanted to be a jock or brainiac but I didn’t really have the goods. And because I knew I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) be popular, I rejected all the normal ‘rights of passage’ in high school. I was a “Rebel Without A Clue”! It was easier to mock the popular kids than to try to fit in. It took less effort to ridicule the smart kids than to study hard and become one myself. I took the easy way out. When you’re a gawky, pimply-faced dork with no athletic ability you are certain to be relegated to one of the bottom tiers of the high school pyramid. So with the inverted logic: “if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em” I spent the next four years working very hard to try to be “too cool for school”.

Looking back after 40 nearly years I now realize that I wasn’t cool at all but my friends accepted me for who I was. And they carried me through some rough years. What’s truly ironic is that my best friend was a jock (and we’re still friends) and the smart kids let me hang out with them, too. No one in my high school was really a badass even though some kids tried to pretend like they were. And those guys accepted me (even if I was a wimp). There were even popular kids that were sincerely nice to me for no apparent reason – I had nothing to offer them. I’m still thankful for their kindness after all these years – thanks Jan, Trish, Alan, Keith, and others…

I met my wife after we graduated from different high schools. I was the hipster-dufus at my school; she was the popular girl at hers. I married a POPULAR GIRL who had been on the Homecoming Court! That changed everything. I realized then that being popular or a nerd only mattered in high school (or at high school reunions). And I became (sort of) popular with her friends, too. Mainly I became confident in who I was and stopped comparing myself to other kids. If someone as beautiful and remarkable as Deb could love me, then I must be truly worthy or just incredibly lucky. Either way – my self esteem took an upsurge. I grew up and I learned to like myself.

Today I’m Facebook friends with some of my former high school classmates and many of us have grown children and grandchildren now. We’ve all had many years to “get over” high school but somehow at times I’m drawn back to those days. I suppose there’s something comforting about that shared experience. It’s kind of fun (in a weird way) to reminisce about what once was. Be it geek or homecoming queen; jock or freak, I guess we just all needed to belong. And I for one am glad that I did.

In a couple of years we’ll be having our 4oth high school class reunion. I’m sure that I’ll be way cooler than most of the “kids” that are there but I’m too mature now to tell them so. They’re just going to have to figure it out for themselves. I hear that some of the members of the football team are fat and bald now. And I suppose the homecoming queen’s tiara might be a little tarnished, too.

Me? Well I’m still working on my “cool”.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Keike it was great to see you!

“You Know What?”

Charlise ~ The Little Patriot

“You know what?” is my six year-old granddaughter’s frequent question. When I respond, “No. What?” I am usually regaled with any number of astonishing facts (some are even based in reality). I love that Charlise is so full of fun and energy with a heart so big it fills up the room. Every new experience and adventure is met with the same never-ending enthusiam and joy. She just loves life! And she loves to learn new things. Which comes in handy when you’re a kindergartener and you’re expected to learn something new every day. What makes the “you know what?” so much fun for me is the fact that Charlise is genuinely fastinated with each new discovery and is usually just bubbling over with the need to share her newfound wisdom.

I can’t remember the last time that I was that happy to learn something new. What would it take to get me that excited? When did I stop wanting to know more? When did my brain get full??? I’m not sure but I think that I’ve lost my desire to learn new things. I don’t really believe it’s true that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I just think that most old dogs like me would rather not be bothered. I suppose I’m sort of at that “lay in the sun and scratch” phase of my life – let the puppies play fetch.

But being with Charlise renews my soul. She gets me excited about learning. Her zeal is contagious and I want to take part in her knowledge quest. So we’re learning some things together. And she’s teaching me some new things, too. And occasionally I even teach her one of my old tricks.

But with all this learning she’s losing some of her wide-eyed innocence. She’s a big girl now but it seems like only yesterday that I held her in my arms for the first time. And there’s a little bit of me that needs that baby girl back in my arms. I love her so much!

“But you know what?” She’s also learned that sometimes Pawpaw needs to hold his girl and she allows me that sweet pleasure. She also humors me with games that she’s outgrown (because she’s so smart). We still “hunt” for wild chihuahuas up on the terrace even though now she knows that there really are no such things; she just can’t break my heart, so she still plays along. And that’s what REALLY breaks my heart – that she pretends because she thinks still want to hunt for wild chihuahuas (and I do). Which lets me know that she loves me, too.

“And you know what?” This growing up stuff is hard work – especially for sappy Pawpaws. But I’m learning more and more each day. For instance, I was informed that I looked very patriotic on Memorial Day with my blue shorts, red shirt and white hair – who knew?

Peace,

Denis

Joy

This morning was my last day on the beach (for a while anyway) and I had some quiet time to reflect on life, sea shells, sand, that funny bump on my shin, how waves work, why I didn’t buy that other T-shirt at the outlet mall yesterday, what I was going to have for breakfast… I guess I’m not really a good ‘reflecter’ – I get too easily distracted.

Anyway, during my walk I was thinking about joy and happiness and how they are related but not necessarily dependent on one another. I’ve had happiness in my life that I wouldn’t consider joyful. I’ve been “happy” to see a rival fail at something or other but that  didn’t really bring lasting joy – just moment of “ha-ha, sucker” usually followed by guilt – thanks to an overdeveloped conscience AND a Catholic upbringing! But joy is transcendent. Joy is lasting. And joy can sustain us even through despair and sorrow.

This week I’ve been abundantly happy – vacation on the beach with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. We’ve shared love and laughter and made memories. It has been the kind of happiness that creates joy.

But this week has brought some sadness, too. 

Deb’s dear cousin Lareca passed away on Monday – Lareca was fun and funny; she was loved and loving. She left us too soon.

One of my colleagues and best friends at work was forced to “retire” early because of serious health issues this week. I will miss her desperately. We’ve worked together for over 10 years and even though I technically was her boss; she was my mentor. I have this huge void in my life to fill now both personally and professionally.

A few weeks ago a young woman that worked for me named Joy (oh, the irony) left to “pursue a better opportunity”. Joy was like a daughter to me; in fact I used to call her ‘tall Bess’ because her sense of humor and kindness reminded of my own sweet girl. I miss her at the office – even though I’m happy for her, I wish she was still with us.

My Aunt Gene’s Alzheimer’s is taking its toll on her (and our family). We’ve become friendly visitors in her increasingly murky world. It’s heartbreaking to see her quietly slip away.

Where’s the joy?

There is joy in knowing that Lareca’s husband and children and grandchildren can rest assured that she has joined her sisters and mother in heaven. And that now they have an angel smiling down on them.

There is the joy that I hold in my heart of 10 years with Betty and in knowing that her family will surround her with love and support.

There is the joy that is Joy. We will continue to stay in touch and someday when I’m in need of a job I’ll bet that I can call on a friend who just might take pity on an old man who will still have a few ‘good years’ left in him.

There is joy in knowing that Aunt Gene is in tender, caring hands. The nursing staff and the Sisters in her religious community will continue to lift her up in prayer even after she forgets the words herself. She has served God’s children for over 70 years as a Sister of  the Most Precious Blood and her life is an example of loving surrender and service to others. If that’s not joyful – well then, what is?

So yes – happiness can bring joy. I certainly found joy amidst my happiness this week. But we can find joy even in our despair. Because I have found it there,too.

Peace,

Denis

Mother, Wife, Daughter

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to a be a mother and wife and daughter ~ But more importantly what it means to be all three. Of course all women/girls are daughters; they’re born and they have mothers. And many women become wives and I suppose even more become mothers (who really needs a husband?).

I’m blessed to have all three in my life; my mother, my wife and my daughter. And each of them is in fact a mother, a wife and a daughter. They share much in common; these three women. The common thread is their love for our family.

Mom:

I love that you taught me how to pray and have faith in God.

Deb & Mom

I love that you love Dad (and he still adores you, too).

I love that all of us inherited your sense of humor (even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one).

I love that you always look pretty; I have always been so proud to be seen with you.

I love that you love Deb as much as your own daughter.

I love the example that you set for each of us to follow.

Deb:

I love that you are most giving, loving person that I have ever met.

I love that you are the most natural mother in the world ~ you knew instantly what Tyson needed when he was first placed in your arms ~ and you still do. Ditto for Bess and Blake.

I love that you have made whevever we’ve ‘hung our hat’ a home and filled it with your love.

I love that you’ve made me laugh everyday of our lives together (even though I’m the funny one).

I love that you are like a lioness when it comes to protecting your children and grandchildren.

I love that your beauty on the outside is ‘trumped’ by your beauty within.

I can’t imagine my life without you.

Bess:

I love that you are the best parts of your Mom and me (mostly your Mom).

Deb & Bess

 
I love that you married exactly the right guy for you (and for us!)
 
I love watching you “mother” Anna and Noah; you’ve got that natural thing that Mom’s got and the simple beauty of it breaks my heart (in a good way). 
 
I love that you love God and have instilled faith in Anna at such an early age.
 
I love that you’ve inherited Gram’s sense of humor (even though Travis thinks he’s the funny one!).
 
I love that you have always been the best daughter in the world (I’ve always felt sorry for all those other dads). And now you’re the best Mommy, too (ask Anna & Noah).
 

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers out there. Remember none of us would be here without you!

Peace,

Denis 

“Good Friday – what’s that?”

Today our office is closing early. It’s Good Friday and the boss has decided to shut down early – more of an “Easter weekend” thing than a “Good Friday” thing but because I’m a Catholic Christian, and I view today as a day of solemnity, I appreciate the gesture. It will afford me some quiet time in prayer – always needed.

I know that many people in our world (and office) are not Christian and I support their right to freedom of (from) religion. But I’ll admit that I was shocked (a little) this morning when I went around informing the staff that we would be closing early. Here’s what I encountered: one staff member wanted to know why we would be leaving early. When I explained that today is Good Friday, she said “What’s that?” I was dumbfounded. This twenty-something had no idea what Good Friday was or what it meant or that Easter was this coming Sunday. I felt a certain amount of indignation!

Just to be clear – this young woman was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri; her parents are not first generation immigrants; English is not a second language; there is no obvious cultural or religious reason why she wouldn’t have at least a cursory understanding of what Good Friday is or Easter means. And yet for her there was complete and utter ignorance of this most important Christian holiday.

That got me thinking. How ignorant am I of other religions? How often do I assume that everyone is Christian or at least understands why my Christian observances are so important to me? Who am I to lord my Christianity over others? I believe that a message was sent to me today: be more tolerant; more accepting; less judgmental; more Christ-like. After all, Jesus gave us plenty of examples of reaching out to those considered “unworthy” during His time here on Earth. Remember the Samaritans? The woman at the well? Tax collectors?

So this Good Friday I will remember that we are all created in His image and I will pray that I am cured of my blindness and prejudice and can encounter Him everywhere that I journey in my life.

‘Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection you have redeemed the world’ – all of us.

(Not just middle-aged, white guys like me).

Peace,

Denis

Small Things

The small voice on the phone says, “When are you coming home, Pawpaw?” “I miss you.” And suddenly everything else that seemed so important falls in place behind that tiny request. The idea of “home” rushes over me and I know (once again) what is truly important in my life. “I miss you, too”. And so much more…

The small things in my life are what define me; they give me hope; they bring me joy; they “carry me home”. So tonight I am reflecting on those small things.

Coming home to supper on the stove and having the aroma of a meal prepared with love fill my soul.
The way Deb always wraps her leg around mine when she’s sleeping that lets me know that I am where I am meant to be.
Finding something everyday to laugh about (usually at myself).
A call from one of my kids just checking in, always ended with an “I love you, too”.
Bedtime stories, songs and prayers with my grandkids (just like we use to do with our own kids).
A compliment freely given.
The kindness of a friend.
A hug.
A kiss.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I like the idea of doing small things. Probably because I’m not capable of doing great things. But when I think about my life and what is most important to me it’s usually the small things. And I am blessed with a life that is filled with small things imbued with great love.

In Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith”, he recalls a conversation where he asks his Rabbi for the secret to happiness. The Rabbi’s response: “Be satisfied. Be grateful for what you have. For the love you receive. And for what God has given you.”

Satisfied. Grateful. Loved. Sounds like happiness to me. And yet, there are days when I forget (God, forgive me!) to be grateful. There are times when greed or avarice makes me completely dissatisfied with EVERYTHING with which I have been blessed. And on my darkest days I reject the love of others – too angry or proud or stubborn to accept even God’s love.

But then I get a glimpse of heaven ~ usually delivered when I least expect it. And I am reminded (once again) how precious the small things in my life truly are.

Wishing for a “small thing” to find its way to you today.

Peace,

Denis