Transformed

Capture2Last Sunday our granddaughter Charlise was confirmed in the Catholic Church. The bishop’s message was that it was indeed a special day and certainly deserving of the pomp and circumstance on display. However he reminded those being confirmed that he wasn’t dispensing magic but instead he was conveying the sacrament that was promised them at baptism. He also reminded these young people that Confirmation wasn’t just something to achieve but that by accepting God’s gift of the Holy Spirit they had an obligation to be transformed. To be agents of positive change in our world. Pretty heady stuff for 13 & 14 year-olds.

I’m most proud of the fact that Charlise chose Confirmation on her own – it wasn’t forced on her by her parents; she wasn’t pressured by peers. She chose to receive this sacrament and make this commitment. It is her choice. A sign of her maturity.

Scripture tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

confirmationI believe that Charlise will meet the challenge to be changed; to be transformed. She will be an advocate for social justice and peace. She will love those who are at times unlovable (including yours truly); bring joy to those in sadness and sorrow; bring peace to our world in her deliberate and thoughtful manner; afford patience to those most in need of understanding; show kindness to those who are hurting; goodness in her manner and in her unselfishness; faithfulness to God and to all God’s creatures; gentleness in her strength and determination; and self-control in her lifestyle choices.

Now I have to try to live up to her example. And pray for a little transformation of my own.

Peace,

Denis

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

 

 

 

 

 

Uber Confessions

I travel in business quite a bit. In my travels I use Uber, which is a ride-sharing or private taxi service. Uber drivers use their own vehicles and provide quick convenient service. Typically the cars are clean, well-maintained and the drivers are safe and courteous.

Because these individuals are not professional taxi drivers their manner is often casual and friendly. What has surprised me most is what these drivers have shared about their personal lives. And why?

Many drivers tell me where they were born and where they now live. Several have told me about their jobs (besides being an Uber driver). Most will share details about their families – married, single, divorced, children, etc. At times I feel like a guidance counselor or a therapist or a confessor.

I had one driver who expounded on his misogynistic and racist points of view, sighting books and Alt-Right websites and publications. Initially I ignored him but finally I asked him to please stop. I think he was offended that I was offended.

I had a driver tell me in detail about her physically ill mother and her emotionally ill daughter who had recently lost custody of her children. I could only manage to say “I’m sorry” and “Gosh that’s tough”. At 5:00 in the morning I hadn’t the necessary wisdom or empathy to meet her needs.

Another driver told me that he and his brother “rapped” and although he wasn’t a professional rapper and hadn’t recorded any of his songs, he was nonetheless very talented. I was spared any spontaneous performances. I took him at his word for how immensely talented he is. And I suppose I just look like someone who would really appreciate a well-rapped verse or two.

One driver, who appeared to be in his nineties complained that people don’t seem to have any respect for one another these days (which I agreed) and then he proceeded to rant for the entire trip about women drivers, Asian drivers, stupid kids on the road, those assholes on bicycles (his words-not mine), truck drivers and various and assorted other “road hogs”. When we arrived, he told me that he really enjoyed our conversation. I don’t believe I spoke a word.

One female driver kept a video playing continually that monitored the front and rear doors of her home because her twelve year-old son was alone and they lived in a neighborhood prone to gang violence and frequent break-ins. Her son’s father lived nearby and had a gun which apparently she found reassuring. I just kept saying, “Wow!” and “I know what you mean” even though I had no idea what any of it meant.

desmondtutu1-2xI had a driver who was from India and we spoke about Indian food that I have eaten and loved but he laughed out loud every time I spoke and nothing I said was truly funny. Maybe it was the way I pronounced chicken tikka masala (I’ll never know). We laughed and laughed!

My latest driver shared a heart breaking account of his girlfriend (bi-polar) and their living arrangements (homeless off-and-on) and his recreational drug use (I was assured he was drug-free that day). I couldn’t help wonder how he afforded the car he was driving but I thought it prudent not to ask. I tried not to think about whether he was high while driving but I was thankful when we safely reached my destination.

It has occurred to me that these drivers are part of God’s creation. They have a need to tell their stories – we all do. Perhaps just listening is the gift I can give to them. I’m not condoning racism or drug abuse or 90 year-old crankiness but I’m not here to judge either. I should be listening for God’s voice in theirs and returning God’s love to them in my limited ability and perhaps that can be part of my story.

And it wouldn’t kill me to give them a tip once in awhile…

Peace,

Denis

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1

 

 

The Great Equalizer

Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. When he had washed their feet and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  John 13:5, 12-15

In our Catholic tradition we celebrate Holy Thursday with foot-washing during the Eucharist. We are reminded by Jesus’ example that to truly serve God we must become servants to one another. Jesus challenges me. How can I be a servant when I so desperately want to be served?

Yesterday I came home after a week-long business trip to discover that our sump pump had stopped working and that our basement was wet. Very wet. So I began trying to salvage things and mop up the mess. Then of course  a trip to purchase a new sump pump. That kind of job ALWAYS requires a second or third trip to the hardware store to buy the additional parts that are needed. I struggled and cursed for what seemed like hours (actually minutes) to disconnect and re-install the new pump. Finally my son-in-law and hero came to my rescue. And peace was restored in the land.

CaptureAt Mass last night I was contemplating this servant-serving thing. My back ached and my knees were sore from my afternoon of unexpected labor. I realized being humbled in the muck of my basement clean-up and repair, I had become a servant of sorts. But even more profoundly my son-in-law Travis had served me. And I had the grace to accept my defeat and allow his much-needed support.

I believe that the Eucharist is our great equalizer. We come together as servants or those being served. We join in servitude or privilege; as peasants or nobility; as haves or have-nots; and leave as equals. We are reminded that we are ALL created in God’s image. As we attempt to serve God by serving one another, we are served the ultimate gift – Life in Christ.

Peace,

Denis

Good Sport

Two of my grandkids play organized sports – basketball, soccer, softball and baseball. There are plenty of good reasons to play: health, socialization, teamwork, discipline and commitment. In my opinion the best reason for young children to play sports is to learn good sportsmanship. Winning is fun but learning to lose with grace is a gift. Statistically most grade school students are not destined to become professional athletes, however most will have to learn to deal with disappointment, failure and loss in their lives. So being a good sport is more about being good and less about sports.

Recently my nine year-old granddaughter played in a basketball game. The coach on the opposing team screamed at the top of his lungs throughout the entire game. He was truly hostile. He berated his players, he yelled at the referees, he shouted direction and correction non-stop. He was a textbook example of poor sportsmanship. How sad for the young girls on his team – several of whom shouted back at him to “shut up!” during the game. I was dumbfounded. This is 4th grade basketball in a Catholic school! It was hard to watch.

My first reaction was to give this guy a piece of my mind and then to send an angry letter to the Athletic Director of his school or the pastor of his parish or the Archbishop. But then I decided my energies would be better directed in a more positive way.

So instead here’s my open letter to Anna’s coach:

Dear Coach,

Anna B-ballThank you for your kindness toward my granddaughter. Thank you for your time and talent with these precious girls. Thank you for helping them learn and letting them have fun. I know that Anna loves her team and loves to play. I also know that she lacks height and talent but she has heart and soul. You are teaching her valuable life lessons: teamwork & team spirit, willingness to try harder, self-confidence, and most importantly good sportsmanship. She may be the tiniest player on your team but you and I both know that she is almost always the first to take a knee when a teammate is hurt. You can teach her to play tough but you are also teaching her compassion. Thank you for your good example.

God bless you,

A Grateful Grandfather

It’s interesting to me that during that awful game, my seven year-old grandson leaned over and said to me, “The other team is winning but Anna’s team is playing a better game, because they’re being good sports.”

Out of the mouth of babes…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Lenten Struggles

Growing up Catholic, Lent was mAsh Wednesday 2ostly a time of sacrifice and sinfulness for me. Promising to give up candy or soda or dessert and then not being able to keep the promise. So much pressure to be extra holy and sacrificial and so much guilt when I failed. I was sure that Jesus was very disappointed in me. After all, he suffered and died on the cross for my sins, so the least I could do was live for 40 days without Bazooka Bubblegum®.

As an adult I still struggle with Lent. I’ve given up stuff faithfully through the years: cursing, chocolate, cursing when I could find no chocolate. And I’ve done the “positive” spin on Lent, too. You know, doing good deeds and giving to charity. Being kinder, less judgmental, and not voting for Trump. But somehow it never feels like it makes a real difference. Not deep down. Not permanent.

When Holy Week comes I don’t have a spiritual awakening. When Lent is over I don’t feel like a changed man. Spiritual renewal – easy words to say; much harder to put into practice. Where to start? What to do?

Today’s Gospel helps:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

So maybe if I pray in my inner room (my heart) I will be changed. And maybe I have been changed a little each Lenten season and God is just waiting for me to figure that out. Perhaps that’s the little secret that God and I share – spiritual renewal doesn’t come in a flash of lighting or crash of thunder but in infinitesimal ways like tiny droplets of rain that erode the hardest granite after countless drops and unending persistence.

What I have to remember is that Lent is not a time for me to fix me. My only hope is that God will save me and that I will have the courage and humility to allow it.

Peace,

Denis

A Reason for Seasons

I often joke about the fact that no sooner than we rid the house of all the Christmas glitter and tinsel, it’s time to get out the Easter decorations. And then when we finally wipe that last bit of fake plastic “grass” out of the nooks and crannies, it’s time for barbecues and fireflies. And then pumpkins and so on and so on…

Perhaps my need for seasonal change is the reminder that life is indeed in constant motion. I mark time with events – birthdays, holidays, graduations, anniversaries. For me the cyclical nature of seasons is reassuring. It’s comforting to know that with the unknown comes the known. I face change and uncertainty with each passing day but I also have the reassurance of yet another season. Another Christmas, another Easter, another Thanksgiving. I believe the traditions that we celebrate with each season help keep me grounded. I believe that holding on to what I know helps me handle the unknown.

seasonThink about a favorite memory. Was it summer or winter? Spring or fall? That moment will never return but that season will. I’ve been told that we are creatures of habit, but I am also a creature of adventure. I need the security of the familiar, but I long for new experiences. I think that having seasons, those repetitions, those traditions, gives me an advantage while I summit the mountains; while I swim the oceans; while I explore the unknown. My life changes but soon it will be spring again and I will return to a familiar place.

The seasons also remind me that I can’t just expect tomorrow to be better. Life will always be challenging. Disappointment and heartache may fill my days but I must learn to be thankful for what I have. I should find peace and happiness now. I should treasure the gifts of love that I have been afforded in this life. Because winter comes, too.

There is some comfort in the surety of it all. The seasons help me remember to slow down once in a while and savor the moment. I thank God for my blessings (and even my struggles) and then I step out to face the unknown.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honor Your Father and Your Mother

My parents are old. 89 and 91 respectively. That might even qualify as really old. Of course my idea of “old” changes with each passing year.

One of the commandments (I know it’s in the TOP TEN) tells us to honor our parents:

Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12

mom dad 12-1-17Those are nice words but it’s not always an easy task, this honoring of your parents. Anyone with elderly parents will likely understand. At times it seems as if the roles have been reversed. My parents need more attention. They need more help. They need more understanding. They need more advice. They need more patience. They need more love. Their needs remind me of when we were raising our three children – always needing more than we had to give. And us always “running on empty” just doing the best we could.

Don’t get me wrong. My parents are doing very well for their ages. Remarkably well. And this may be part of MY problem. I still need to be “parented”. I still need their advice. I still need their attention. I still need their patience. I still need their love. And I don’t want to let go.

Recently Mom has had some health issues but she should be fine. Still her recovery at eighty-nine is not like it would have been 10 or 20 years ago and she is frustrated by this. The fact is: she has “Senior Citizen” children that expect her to live forever because she’s always been strong, healthy, active and alive. It’s selfish but it’s true. We need her to be our Mom not the other way around. Just the other day my Dad asked, my wife, Deb if she thought there was life after this life. It’s a startling question but when you’re ninety-one I suppose mortality is often on your mind. Another fact: Dad we don’t want you to leave us. Not now. Not ever.

But reality being what it is, I know that our life here on Earth cannot go on forever. I also realize that I am going to likely be facing some tough times ahead with my parents as they continue to age. Many of my friends and cousins have already lost one or both of their parents. Deb lost her Mom nearly 5 years ago. And none of us is ever ready to let go.

I will honor my parents them by giving them their dignity. I will honor them by helping where I can. I will honor them by “backing off” when I should. I will honor them by allowing them to make their own decisions. I will honor them by respecting their wishes and trying to be patient. I will honor them by remembering that THEY ARE THE PARENTS even if it seems at times that they need to be “parented”.

And I will do the best I can.

Peace,

Denis