“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

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

The House That Love Built

My wife and I have been married for a while. We’ve weathered our fair share of storms through the years. Money problems; career challenges; parenthood; health issues; the loss of loved ones; 2020.

Somehow we’ve always held on; held out; held up. I know that we’ve been blessed with some great fortune. Not the monetary kind but the true treasure in life – loving family and friends and faith in God. I also believe that early on in our marriage we learned some valuable lessons in humility. Those humbling experiences weren’t fun at the time but they strengthened us and tempered our resolve to make our marriage work – even on the worst days.

Respect for one another is a big part of our success as couple. Folks say that marriage should be 50/50 but those of us who have been at it for a while know that sometimes it’s 80/20 or 30/70 and you have to step in and step up for your spouse when they need you. Being respectful to the one you love when they need more from you than they can give in return is challenging. It requires patience from the giver and humility from the receiver. I believe that it is even more challenging when you’re the one who needs to be carried for a time. But that’s what love is. Love builds us up. Love holds us together. Love gives us the strength to be the “carrier” and the grace to be the “carried”.

This has been a tough year for most people but at the end of each day I am blessed to able to look back and realize, once again, that I have had an amazing partner by my side. We’ve laughed and cried. We’ve cursed and prayed. And yet, even in 2020 somehow we’ve managed to hold on, hold out, and hold up.

When we were first married we had no idea what lie ahead. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Predictable journeys are, well predictable. Ours has been a serious of adventures. We’ve been surprised, heartbroken, blessed, scared and delighted along the way. We’ve grown up (and grown older) through it all. And we’re still standing…

Peace,

Denis

In Good Times And In 2020

Nothing could have prepared me for this year. Everyday seems to bring more sad news. More than 185,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Our nation seems more politically divided than during any other time of my adult life. Fear and anxiety have affected all of us in some way or another. It’s a struggle to find joy most days. Families are being torn apart by job loss, illness and death. Parents are juggling jobs and the education of their children. Weddings, vacations, funerals, and graduations have been cancelled or truncated. Often those we most love are the only outlet for our frustrations. Patience is wearing thin. Our families, our friends, our neighbors, unwittingly become easy targets for our ridicule and wrath in these darkest days. “I love you but…” seems to be a sad anthem for 2020.

In marriage (and in life) we realize that it’s in good times and in bad that we must live. We don’t just walk away when the going gets tough. I admit that I’d like to bury my head in the sand most of these days of 2020 but I refuse to give up hope. I refuse to let sadness and madness rule my life. I still have joy although sometimes it’s just a flicker of light in a mostly dark room. I still have peace in my soul even though I feel surrounded by hate, violence and despair.

I’m angry. I’m frightened. I’m heartbroken. Sometimes (many times in 2020) I need to be reminded that better days are ahead. These are tough times but I have faith in God and I have faith in my fellow humans. Wishing bad things away is not enough. We must fight injustice. We must work hard to end systemic racism. We must work to provide healthcare and living wages for all. We must welcome asylum seekers and refugees into our country. We must be a light to others, even if it is only a flicker.

I am privileged. Not just by the color of my skin but also because of being born into a loving family. I am privileged because I have shared my life with my partner of 45 years. Our foundation is strong enough to hold us together during good times and bad. Enjoying my blessings without working for others is selfish and cowardly. 2020 is a bad year, but for many it won’t ever get better. The foundation I’ve been blessed with is strong enough to hold me up and shelter others in need, too.

Perhaps I can use this time of strife to be more forgiving and charitable to others. I’m praying to be a better husband; a better father; a better brother; a better son; a better friend; a better neighbor; a better citizen; a better man; and to be a light…

Peace,

Denis

The Year of Hank

Our youngest child is named Blake, which originates from Old English and means ‘the fair one’. It was a good fit for the blondest of his dark-haired mother’s three children. Geneticists tell us that dark hair is a dominant trait but my beautiful brunette wife kept popping out blondes.

Anyway, being born blonde was only the beginning of a lifetime of anomalous characteristics that define our beautiful blue-eyed baby boy. Blake was the sweetest and most demonstrative of our children but also the quickest to lose his temper. He was the most curious and restless of our brood, and therefore the most likely to disassemble lamps and small appliances, but he was capable of tremendous patience and compassion with classmates who were unpopular. He was a ‘gifted’ student and a discipline problem. Too much going on in that little head of his to sit still and listen to the teacher, I suppose. At an early age he displayed a very mature sense of humor with a healthy dose of sarcasm thrown in (this really perplexed those teachers – especially the dull ones). He questioned and often resisted organized religion as a boy but was (and is) the most profoundly spiritual of our three.

Life with young Blake was like being on a roller-coaster. The highs were high and the lows were low but that ride was a hell of a lot of fun!

The teenage years bring their own set of challenges and it seemed at times that Blake might need to find a new home. How could we ‘out-smart’ a kid who was clearly smarter than us? Prayer helped. And love (which is prayer in action) was always plentiful. Oh, and we learned to not sweat the small stuff. Turns out most of the “stuff” is pretty small anyway. We didn’t object when he came home with his hair dyed bright green. My response was just, “Well actually blue is my favorite color but it’s your hair…” We didn’t freak out when he wasn’t excepted into the National Honor Society (even though he was a National Merit Semifinalist). Apparently hurling an F-bomb at an assistant principal disqualifies you for that sort of thing. When he casually asked us one evening over dinner to start calling him ‘Hank’ our only question was why? His response: “I like the name.” And so it was. We called him Hank. For the better part of a year he became Hank. It was really no big deal and we just decided to roll with it.

During ‘The Year of Hank’ he remained as academically gifted and artistically brilliant and maddeningly headstrong as ever but somehow the challenges became fewer; the fights were less intense. After a year or so of being Hank, he seemed bored with the novelty and became Blake once more. He recently told a friend that we were cool parents because we let him be Hank for a year. It occurred to me that we never ‘let him’ do anything. We usually stood in amazement as he ‘did him’ while we desperately tried to catch up.

He’s a grown man now but I still spy a glimpse of Hank now and then; in his voice; in his smile; in his compassion; in his sense of fairness and justice; in the way he loves with complete abandon; in his authenticity; in his loyalty.

And I thank God for the ‘Year of Hank’ and the grace that allowed it to happen.

Peace,

Denis

Looking For The Ocean

There’s a story attributed Anthony de Mello that he would share at spiritual retreats. It goes something like this:

A fish was swimming frantically from side to side in the ocean. Another fish asked, “What are you doing?” He answered, “I’m looking for the ocean.” The other fish said, “You’re in the ocean.”

This is my dilemma. I am the fish swimming from side to side. Covid-19 has come as a silent invader. It has crept in and robbed people that I know of their health, their livelihood and in some cases, even their life. I am looking for the ocean. I am looking for that safe place, where I know that life will return as I remember. And I feel frantic and weary because I can’t find that place.

I am the fish swimming from side to side. And I need to be reminded that I’m in the ocean. It’s my inability to recognize that I am surrounded by everything I need that is exhausting. Because I don’t focus long enough to see what I have, my spirit is sapped. Because I can’t stop frantically searching, my joy is gone; my hope is lost.

And then someone or something reminds me. Sometimes it’s like a flash of light! Suddenly I am keenly aware of all that surrounds me. I AM IN THE OCEAN! All the love and understanding and compassion that I need is here. In me. With me. Around me. Other times it seeps in slowly. I begin to faintly reckon that I am where I belong. It’s a flicker of light. A gentle wave of consciousness. I am serenely in the ocean. Surrounded by love. In me. With me. Around me.

The Corona Virus is awful and it is life-changing but I am determined to stay prayerful and be grateful for what I have. I will cherish what I have now because I know that it is not guaranteed to last.

And when I am with my loved ones, with my friends and my family, I know that I am in the ocean. Our presence is prayer. And God is with us.

Peace,

Denis

Weary Traveler

Life is a journey. As with any journey, there are good times and bad. There can be unexpected turns or detours along the way. And sometimes EVERYTHING feels like an  uphill climb.

Losing Mom and making arrangements for Dad to live with assistance has been emotionally draining.

Mom’s funeral was a healing experience. The liturgy was beautiful. The luncheon was perfect. Our family held each other up both physically and spiritually. We cried, but mostly tears of joy for a life well spent. Mom would have been pleased and proud.

weary heartGetting Dad moved into an Assisted Living apartment was trying – lots of red-tape. Furnishing his new apartment with some of his (their) furniture has been bittersweet. It’s nice to give him familiar things but hard to take apart the house that had been their home for 57 years. Still harder is watching Dad grieve and trying to be strong and gentle at the same time while struggling with my own grief.  Nothing prepares you for this.

Mostly, I’m tired.

No one told me that grief could be so exhausting. Sleepless nights. Or nights interrupted by dreams or reminders of things left undone. Also the seemingly endless activity that is required in planning a funeral, finding and getting Dad settled into a new home, moving furniture, filling out paperwork, hours on the phone with my siblings reassuring each other that the decisions we are making are the right ones, staying strong and “holding up” and doing all of this while life goes on.

I’m not complaining. We were blessed with a Mom who lived to be 90 years old. I’m just feeling weary. I will rest later. Right now I have to keep on journeying.

Peace,

Denis

Being a Minister of Hospitality with an Inhospitable Heart

I had an Uncle Les who was one of the kindest men I ever met. Always smiling and ready to shake a hand, he appeared constantly happy – always approachable and utterly charming. Fittingly, he was an Usher at our Parish Church. Never a Sunday went by that he didn’t hug our kiddos, give Deb a peck on the check and offer me a pat on the back. It remains one of my greatest joys about attending mass at our old parish. And Uncle Les didn’t reserve his hospitality for his nephew and family. He greeted everyone in the same manner. “Welcome!”  “Good to see!”  “How are you?”

Fast-forward about forty years and now I’m an usher (we’re called ministers of hospitality today) and I try to be a friendly face and welcoming presence like my dear uncle. Usually I fall short of that goal.

I have a secret: I became an usher (oops – minister of hospitality) because I didn’t like most of the people I encountered at Mass. Ours is an upscale, very conservative parish where I often feel out of step with most of my fellow parishioners. I thought that if I could stop judging and start greeting people I would learn to love them as they are and let go of my need to have everyone think and act like me. Some days are easier than others.

But it’s working.  S L O W L Y –  V E R Y  S L O W L Y.

usher-pic_origI smile and shake hands and offer the occasional hug or pat on the back. I’m the ‘Minister of Hospitality’ but in truth I’m the one being ministered. These folks that I’m greeting, that I know I would have never engaged in conversation before, are also welcoming me and greeting me and loving me. I’m certain many are misogynists, and racists, and xenophobes, and all manner of despicable human. But isn’t that why we gather? Aren’t we at Mass to be changed? Aren’t we building the “Body of Christ” in our flawed human way?

So I continue to show up on Sundays and do my thing. I smile. I greet. I welcome. I especially enjoy the ‘late-comers’ – the folks who try to slip in unnoticed. They often have a look that’s a mixture of shame and astonishment (“How did this happen? I’m sure I left my house on time!”) I greet them with a special smile and knowing nod – “It’s okay; you’re here; you made it; welcome.” I particularly love our “back of church” officially called the “Gathering Space” It’s an amazing and wonderful place.  Normal ‘Mass behavior’ can be abandoned there; beleaguered parents can allow their children to run and giggle; crying is completely acceptable; teenagers can skulk about like parolees.

In all of this, I see God’s love. Jesus is greeting me with each smile and kind word. I’m beginning to look at the “Body of Christ” in a whole new light. And little by little my stone cold heart is being chipped away.

Some Sundays I even feel Uncle Les smiling down on me.

Peace,

Denis

Sweating the Small Stuff

How many times in my life have I heard someone say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” Usually it’s meant to comfort me when I feel anxious about something that appears to be trivial to another or offered as an excuse or permission to fail to meet some expectation not shared by the person offering the solace. And there are scores of books written about not sweating the small stuff. You can purchase wall plaques, pendants, caps, key fobs, T-shirts, etc., all emblazoned with the phrase.

There seems to be a universal assumption that little things don’t matter. That unless something has monetary or political or social significance, it is not worthy of our time. But I think that little things do matter. So I will continue to sweat the small stuff.Little things

After all, if the best things in life come in small packages then why not give them their proper attention and respect? The idiom, “The devil is in the details” implies that there is something hidden in the details; something that might seem simple at a first but will reveal itself to be more than expected.

I prefer the phrase “God is in the details”. The little things. Watching glimmering snowflakes cascading down from the sky. Taking a walk on a crisp fall day. The sweet smell of a summer rain. That first cup of coffee in the morning. A favorite book. Resting under a shady tree. Hearing a child’s laughter. Receiving a friendly smile. Or a soft touch. Or a kind word. Simple things perhaps but hidden inside each of these is comfort, joy and love. And I believe God is there, too.

So I’m sweating the small stuff. I will take the time to appreciate the details. I will hold the door for you. I will carry your load if you let me. I will set the table properly. I will use good penmanship. I will clean my house and mow my lawn. I will drive courteously. I will try to be a good citizen; a good neighbor; a good friend. I will say thank you and please and you’re welcome.

But more importantly I will say I love you. And I will say it again. And again. I want the gifts that I give to be wrapped literally and figuratively in all the beauty that I can muster. The gifts that I have to share may not be significant or of any financial value. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, my gifts are all just small stuff. But I will sweat them out. Anything less would have no meaning…

Peace,

Denis