My Sweet Petunia

Today our granddaughter Anna is eleven years old. When she was born she was tiny and pink and delicate and was truly a breath of spring. I said then that I thought she looked like a petunia and the name stuck. My sweet Petunia!

The name just fits. Like she fits. Perfectly. Tunies

Most people call her Anna but often I still call her Petunia – probably always will. “A petunia by any other name is just as sweet.”

She is a beautiful child – inside and out. Her beauty emanates from her soul. She has such a loving spirit and she exudes joy! And I am sometimes the welcome recipient of that love and joy.

Anna is petite. She comes from a long line of short women. 5 or 6 generations of my wife’s family is/was comprised of women who stand/stood around five feet tall (or less). Height is probably not in her future. But stature aside, Anna looms large! She is a straight-A student. She’s an equestrian. She is a Girl Scout who is involved in Robotics competitions. She plays basketball and softball. She sings in the Choir. She journals. She loves to perform in theater.

She’s the ALL-AMERICAN GIRL.

I’ve seen her grab the reins of a horse many times her size and take control. While she climbs into the saddle she looks like a natural – and I suppose she is. I still hold my breath every time she jumps a hurdle but she does it with grace and panache. So confident; so capable. Whether she’s playing on a court or on a ballfield or just with friends in the neighborhood, she gives it her all. Smiling, always smiling. It’s hard to contain her joy.

Anna is a mother hen. She looks after her little brother and loves to be with her younger cousins. She enjoys the friendships of boys as well as girls. And she can be ‘the biggest duck in the puddle’. Still, she’s mature beyond her years, ladylike and respectful. Mostly she loves! She loves God. She loves her parents, her brother, her friends, all animals, and even this old curmudgeon.

She has the sense of humor, beauty, and brains of her mother, the inquisitiveness, determination and confidence of her father and, the kindness of her grandmother. She humbles me. 

Some would call her a pre-teen. I’m not really ready for a teenager, but it’s not up to me. Time marches on and she will continue to grow into a lovely young woman. I look forward to what the future holds for a grown-up Anna. But in my selfish heart there’s a little part that wants her to stay my tiny Petunia forever.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Saint Joseph and Fatherhood

As a father, I have a strong devotion to Saint Joseph the patron saint of all fathers. My prayers always include my sons and my daughter, as well as my four granddaughters and my grandson. But while asking God to take care of them, I sometimes forget to thank God. So, God thank you for my children and grandchildren!

There is something almost primal about my need to love and protect my children – maybe its self-preservation. Maybe when the first dad (Adam?) crawled out of the primordial ooze we were all pre-wired to protect our offspring in order to make certain our species would survive. Who knows?

What I do know is that my children are the manifestation of the love that my wife and I share. Seems almost greedy – to have a love as beautiful as ours and three remarkable children. And even better: five amazing grandchildren.

Throw Back ThursdayMy happiest and saddest times have been as a dad. My greatest joys and greatest heartaches have come from my children. But mostly joy and ALWAYS love. Being a father is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. Sometimes no matter how hard I try – I fail. I say the wrong thing. Or I behave unkindly. Or just forget to let my kids know how much I love them. I take for granted that they understand that they are in my heart so deeply that not a day goes by that I am not blessed by their very existence. They should know, right? Maybe not…

I rely on Saint Joseph to help me. He certainly must have felt ill-equipped, at times, to deal with Jesus. I have been blessed with three incredibly loving, and gifted children. There are times when I know I’m not even in their league in terms of intelligence, ability, and achievement. But somehow God let me have a hand in these beautiful creations, and gave me Joseph to reach out to when it all becomes too overwhelming.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Be The Change

At times I am overwhelmed. There is so much suffering in our world. We are divided as a nation. I feel hopeless and helpless. I have become discouraged and disenchanted. Hatred seems to rule the day. Many of our political leaders have decided to take the low road – creating fear and panic; demonizing whole segments of our population; building walls instead of bridges.

I sometimes find myself waiting for things to get better. As if somehow but just wishing for a better world, better country, better town, better neighborhood, it will guarantee that things improve. I don’t want to get too dirty, too tired, too messy, too involved, but I sure wish someone would.

I thank God for people who have a positive impact on our world. Those brave souls who are doing their part to make a difference. Folks who are willing to put their love of their fellow humans into action. Standing up for what is right and having the courage to put themselves out there to listen and learn and to help others. Saints among us. And examples for us all.

Trying to be a Christian and falling short of that ideal is a reoccurring theme in my life. Cynicism hardens my heart. Gossip and hateful rhetoric dulls my mind. Distrust and dishonesty saps my spirit. How do I change? Where do I start?

As I often do, I look for wisdom and inspiration from my grandchildren. They renew my soul. They’re the future. I want to follow their examples of love and kindness.

threeRecently our oldest granddaughter Charlise donated her long beautiful hair to a charity that provides wigs for those battling cancer (she donated enough for two). Her selfless act humbles me. Our granddaughter Anna finished her basketball season this past weekend. She hugged me tight after her game, thanked me for being there, and told me that she loved me. Those words were golden – just being there made me worthy of her love. My grandson Noah told me that someone at his soccer game on the opposing team said something very unkind. And then he told me that he felt sorry for that boy because no one had taught him how to be a good sport. Noah wasn’t angry. He was sad for the other boy. Noah’s coaches and his parents have taught him well.

Once again, I was schooled by the children. They are already having a positive impact on our world. They’ll be the change. They are the future. And I hope that I get to join them there to do my small part.

Peace,

Denis

Another Year – Another Lenten Journey

Lent begins a forty-day journey which commemorates Jesus’ forty days in the desert. As Christians we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God during Lent by sharing in Christ’s passion and suffering. This seems easier said than done.

In his book, “How Big Is Your God?”, Paul Coutinho writes “a consequence of my life with God is essentially a dying, a giving up, and a self-emptying.” He goes on to say, “Jesus promised to give us inner freedom, joy, and happiness that no one and nothing can take away from us, even in the midst of tremendous pain, suffering, sickness, and death.”

Pretty heavy stuff. Couldn’t I just get some ashes on my forehead and give up meat on Fridays during Lent? I could even pray extra hard. Because dying, giving up and self-emptying seems like a little more than I care to tackle. What to do? What to do? Coutinho talks about swimming in the ‘River of the Divine’. I love his words but I’m struggling to put this into action. Most days I feel pretty distant from anything divine.

desertPerhaps this is why I need Lent. Maybe my journey is meant to be a struggle. A challenge. A reminder that God loves me as I am, but I could do more. I am made in God’s image, but my humanity requires that I accept and even embrace my limitations and my sinfulness. I also must accept the fact that because I have free will, I can choose to love God or not. Faith is a choice. Lent should be an opportunity not a burden.

At times I’m angry and discouraged by the world in which we live. I must admit that I don’t always feel God’s loving presence. The injustice of poverty, racism and gender discrimination is heartbreaking. The ongoing sexual abuse by Catholic priests is appalling. Our president and our congress treat immigrants and asylum seekers as pawns in their political battles. As a society we seem to have become numb to the pain of others. I desperately need the inner freedom, joy, and happiness that Jesus has promised.

Refraining from meat and making other sacrifices during Lent is not a bad thing. Giving to charity and serving others is certainly admirable. But I’m also going to try to get to the “desert” this year. After I face my temptations; after I acknowledge my weaknesses; after I empty myself of pride; I hope to jump into that ‘River of the Divine’. And if I’ve eaten a few meatless meals and served some folks who are less fortunate, while on my journey, so much the better.

Peace,

Denis

Love in Action

My wife Debbie, encouraged by our friend Bob, recently spent 10 days at the Mexican border serving immigrants and asylum seekers. When Bob returned to The Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, after having been there in December, she joined him. The Center is supported by Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley. She wasn’t there to make a political statement or to judge – only to serve.

The Center offers legal refugees an opportunity to bathe, get clean clothes, a quick meal and to contact their sponsors in the U.S. after being processed through Border Patrol. Many of these people have traveled great distances and under extreme conditions to arrive safely in the United States. Deb had no idea what she would be doing when she got there, but on day two she was put in charge of the kitchen.

Kitchen PrayerIt turns out that as she was feeding their bodies, they were feeding her soul. She spent most days chopping potatoes, carrots, onions, or whatever was donated. She made soups or stews to feed the families. The first day she was making fruit salad and serving it in tiny Dixie cups. One of the regular volunteers told her that she was filling the cups too full and there wouldn’t be enough for everyone. It brought her to tears as these people were starving and she was only able to serve a very small portion. When she cried, the other volunteer also cried. Deb says they held on to one another for the longest time and sobbed. She also tells me that because they served several hundred people each day they would nearly run out of water, bread, vegetables or fruit, but then there would be a knock at the door and whatever was needed would appear – truly God’s blessings.

She says, “Overwhelming is an understatement. These are beautiful people and grateful for the smallest thing. Each day I was bone-tired and an emotional wreck but couldn’t wait to return the next day.”

Some of her stories from her time at The Center are heartbreaking: the child separated from her parents; the young pregnant woman so exhausted and yet so grateful for a late-night meal; the old man who said that he cried himself to sleep while in detention; the mother who considered the “coyote” she paid to help her on her journey, a good man because he hadn’t raped her or her daughter.

But every day was also filled with joyful moments: the many ‘gracias’ she received for the simplest gift of food or drink; the little boy who ran to Deb and hugged her; the other volunteers who welcomed her; the man who told her that she had a loving heart and beautiful soul and that he would remember her forever; the reunion of the little girl who had been separated from her parents; our dear friend Bob who “carried her” through each day.

Every evening Deb left the Center exhausted and yet thankful for being given an opportunity to serve; to be able to put her love into action. At night she would often lie in bed praying for the asylum seekers and hoping they found their way “home” and she would recall the words from a ‘Kitchen Prayer’ that her grandmother gave her many years ago: “…Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates. Although I must have Martha’s hands, I have a Mary mind. And when I black the boots and shoes, Thy sandals Lord I find…”

We all need heroes in our lives. I’m blessed to be married to mine.

Peace,

Denis

A Nation of Immigrants

For most of us we needn’t go back more than a few generations to find ancestors who immigrated to the United States.

In my own family we are descendants of fur traders who journeyed from France to Canada and ultimately to the Midwest around the time of the Revolutionary War, as well as Germans seeking political refuge and Welsh miners and laborers escaping possible starvation in the 19th century. Some came seeking fortune and wealth. Some were fleeing poverty, political injustice, or religious persecution. All came hoping for a better life.

In the 18th and 19th centuries when our nation’s economy needed foreign labor, my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents (and many other immigrants) provided it. Most of them suffered great hardships yet they built lives and in turn they served their new homeland. They worked hard. They built homes. They built churches. They raised families. They built our nation. They built a better life for the generations who followed.

Today our nation’s economy still demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand and a political climate that denigrates immigrants. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unreasonably long separations, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be changed. Today’s immigrants are also hoping for that better life that we take for granted.

immigrant familyWhy do we often label those who are seeking asylum as villainous? Why do we disregard the humanity at our borders as pawns in some political game?  Why do we only see danger, terror, and suspicion in those searching for a better life?

There may have been some who were frightened by my 13 year-old great-grandmother when she immigrated to the U.S. alone in the late 1800’s. She spoke no English. She had no marketable skills. She had nothing to offer. Nevertheless, she persisted. She found a better life for my grandfather, my father and ultimately me.

The next time we think of immigrants as non-persons or some problem that we wish would go away, we should remember that for most of us it was only a generation or so ago that we were in their shoes. And how much better is our nation because our forebears crossed that border?

Let’s be a nation that welcomes our sisters and brothers.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Love is Perfect

wedding debI still vividly remember our wedding day and my bride walking down the aisle. It felt surreal. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and the light seemed to be emanating from her. I believe I saw my future in her beautiful green eyes at that very moment. That was 44 years ago and the light still shines. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this life, but the one thing I did right was on January 4, 1975 when I said, “I do.”

I do. I did. I will.

Debbie and I have had an incredible journey along the way. Raising three children and pursuing multiple careers. Living on two continents. Meeting new friends while holding on to those we’ve known since childhood. Being blessed with five grandchildren. Traveling the world together. Praying together. Laughing together. Crying together.

We do. We did. We will.

I have a friend who says he’s the lucky man alive. I think I could challenge that, because I’ve always thought I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I have been blessed beyond measure. I know that I don’t deserve the life I’ve been given. So, I thank God everyday.

I do. I did. I will.

IMG_3774Life hasn’t always been easy but the good times outweigh the bad. The laughter drowns out the tears. And sometimes hanging on means holding on. Holding on to one another. Never letting go. Remembering in our darkest hours that our love will survive. If all is lost, our perfect love can still be found.

We did. We do. We will. Forever.

Peace,

Denis

P.S. Happy Anniversary Deb!

P.S.S. I would have written this song for you 44 years ago, except you know that I don’t have any musical ability whatsoever. Anyway, you’re still perfect for me.