Someone To Lean On

The last few weeks have held their share of joys and sorrows. Desperation and hope. Doubt and faith. This is life.

Our granddaughter had surgery to correct a bone disorder that she was born with but only discovered after a waterskiing accident this summer. This surgery will have to be repeated on her right arm after her left arm heals. The blessing is that this was discovered and can be corrected while she is still young. She’s a tough little girl who has a positive attitude but multiple surgeries and recovery is daunting for an active 13-year-old. And it is my prerogative to worry and pray. And pray and worry.

We hosted a dinner party for friends and it was so good to have a reunion of sorts after more than a year of social distancing and postponements. Much needed love and laughter and food and wine was shared. More prayers – those of thanksgiving!

My cousin Michelle passed away. Michelle was a gentle soul who managed to find the good in everyone and everything. She was a model of unconditional love. She loved humans, animals, nature, and me. I hope her mother and her siblings find comfort in knowing that we have another angel in heaven. And I hope that they are held up by the prayers being sent their way. Anne Lamott wrote, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Our dear friends celebrated a 40th wedding anniversary. Joy, joy, joy! What a wonderful celebration of their journey that has touched so many lives. I thank God for their friendship and for their example of a faith-filled marriage.

My 95-year-old father is struggling with dementia and age-related health issues. I had a tough visit with him recently. I failed him because instead of showing compassion, I was more concerned with his forgetfulness. Instead of meeting his needs I was focused on his appearance and his behavior. Fortunately I was able to lean on my brother and sister who shared my concerns and forgave my short-sightedness.

Faith in God is not easy. What is easy is to explain away all of our hardships and struggles and sadness as random acts in a world full of chaos. What is easy is to accept that some folks will always have better luck/money/position than me. What is hard is to find solace in times of sorrow and desperation in a God who at times feels very distant. Sometimes it’s challenging to find joy in others’ happiness when you are feeling overwhelmed with your own difficulties. But this is the essence of faith. I learned long time ago through trial and error to stop looking for God in the stars. To stop praying to the clouds. God is in my friends. God is in my family. And when I look deeply (this is the really hard part) I can find God in me.

A good friend shared this truth with me: “The road to the empty tomb is rocky.”

I’ll keep stumbling along my way, but I may need to lean on some of you once in a while.

Peace,

Denis

What, why, when, where, how?

We have two of our granddaughters, aged 5 and 7, staying with us for three weeks this summer. It has been a lot. A lot of fun. A lot of laughs. A lot of ice cream. A lot of laundry. A lot of love. A lot of questions.

You forget sometimes when you are an adult to ask questions. I mean we already know everything anyway, right? What is there to learn? We’ve been there and done that. We stand by our convictions and our restrictions and God help anyone who tries to get us to open our eyes (or minds) to new ideas or experiences. And please don’t make me learn anything new. My brain is old and tired and full.

Sadly, there is a loss of fascination and wonder as you age. And I am guilty of not-wanting-to-know-anything-else! Ignorance is bliss. I don’t have to be responsible for anything if I don’t know how my irresponsibility contributes to the pain or suffering in our world. I believe in God (most days) but there was a long stretch during the Trump administration that made me doubt His (Her) existence. So much hate. So much darkness. So much divisiveness.

But my granddaughters are full of wonder. They ask questions about EVERYTHING. They force me to think about the whys and wherefores. They force me to take off my blinders. Their innocence and joyfulness and energy reminds me that I need to be more mindful of my responsibility as a human being. Their curiosity rekindles my need to better understand what is happening in my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world. I cannot afford to be a silent bystander when there is so much to be done. There is such a need for compassion and love in this world and I can do my small part.

On those days when I curse my fellow humans and stick my head in the sand I will try to remember that my granddaughters desire a better future. I must stay hopeful and faithful. I must keep asking questions. What can I do to help others? Why is there so much hate in our world? When will we learn to love one another? Where can I find hope and strength? How do I improve myself, my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world?

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a prayer that includes: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self-righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from complicity.

As I read her prayer I realize that I too need to be delivered. I need to be delivered from my self-assuredness and pride and I need to start asking some questions. I need to ask the ones that are especially hard to ask – like where is God in my life? I need to learn to be patient with myself as I search for those answers. I also need to let go. I need to stop carrying the weight of anger and resentment. I need to unload those obstacles that consume so much of my energy and brain activity. Then perhaps I can wonder and wander. And maybe even carry someone else’s load for awhile. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Peace,

Denis

The link below will take you to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s complete prayer

https://thecorners.substack.com/p/sunday-prayers-october-25th-2020

Coping and Copying

Recently I reached out to some friends to see how they were managing during this most unusual year. Of course, calling 2020 an usual year is the understatement of this unusual year. And now I’ve done it again; unusual. Clearly I need a better adjective – perhaps abysmal or abnormal or outlandish or freakish or monstrous, but none of those words truly do justice to the pain, disruption, and misery of 2020. Eight years ago we lived in England and my British friends consider 2020 a terrible inconvenience. My American friends consider it a sh*t-show; not nearly as eloquent but certainly to the point.

While inquiring how friends are coping, I’ve learned a lot about resilience, good nature, humor, perseverance, hope, love, and faith.

Here are some of the comments my friends have shared:

“Summer is here with its ‘heat warnings’ and ‘water restrictions’. We thank God for AC and don’t venture out for walks, unless it’s early in the morning or late in the evening.”

“It helps that Missouri is one of six states with no open container law!”

“I cope with humor. I haven’t had a haircut since February and my hair gets frizzy in humidity. I am worried about my memory. Every time I see my reflection I think that although I don’t remember putting my finger in a wall socket, I must have.”

We have closed the office and are all working from home. My wife’s office closed before mine so she commandeered the study. I am reduced to working at the kitchen table. Schools are closed now, and with the boys locked up, they have turned feral!”

“Sure miss you guys. Hope to be able to get together soon.”

“I just finished one of our “chat sessions” where a dozen of us were on Zoom. It isn’t perfect but it is surely a good solution.”

“I miss friends and all of the activities we enjoyed. We are just watching and waiting.”

“We are just driving around. Pretty much the only thing we can do safely.”

“These are very difficult times, but we will be okay with God’s help and our friends holding us up in prayer.”

So, my friends are coping, each in their own way, and I am trying to cope by copying some of their positive attitudes and gentle humor. I am also trying to remain hopeful and prayerful. It certainly helps to know that even though we are not physically together, we are NEVER apart in spirit and love.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

Peace,

Denis

Let’s Prepare the Way

John the Baptist is often thought of as this (sort of) crazy hermit who lived in the desert and wore camel-hair and ate locusts and wild honey, all the while preaching and telling anyone who would listen to prepare for “the one who is coming!” History tells us that actually his diet was common for poor people of his time. His clothing is reminiscent of Elijah which validates his role as a prophet. And while he may have gone off by himself to pray, he likely didn’t actually live in the desert. Gospel accounts confirm that he was not altogether social but somehow attracted significant numbers, who came to him for baptism. So John is an enigma. He wanted to prepare folks for a Messiah but he lived outside of the normal conventions and lacked social status. He was not necessarily part of the accepted religious community of his time and yet he still attracted followers.

So I’ve been wondering lately who the John the Baptist’s are in my world today? Who are the prophets in my life? From whom am I receiving the good news of Jesus coming? And who is urging me to prepare the way?

Much has happened in my own community in the last few months. The killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, the grand jury’s decision and the subsequent riots and looting of businesses. Life has been lost. Property destroyed. Families and friends and neighborhoods divided. In my beloved Mexico, where I spend much of my time working, the country has been rocked by the devastating slaughter of 43 Mexican students. The students who disappeared in September are believed to have been turned over by a corrupt police force to a drug cartel who in turn killed them and burned their bodies. So much pain in a world already torn apart by hatred and injustice.

Where is my prophet? Where is my good news? How can I prepare the way for Jesus coming? Where is my messenger of hope?

desertI can’t undo the these tragedies but I can stop the violence in my own heart. And I can defuse the anger and hatred in my own life. Perhaps this year I will follow John the Baptist’s example. I suppose I’m not that different from John – I sometimes live outside of normal conventions, I lack social status and I am certainly not embraced by my church leaders.

But I can cry out in the desert!

I can pray for peace and justice! I can let go of my prejudices. I can remind others that Jesus is coming to save our world (again).

Won’t you join me?

There is hope amidst the shock and sadness we face. And as we journey through this Advent, maybe just maybe, together we can create some peace on earth. Let’s pray.

And prepare the way of the Lord!

Peace,

Denis

Sister Stories

St. Catherine University in Minnesota is inaugurating National Catholic Sisters Week as part of Women’s History Month. Part of the planned events include Sisters telling their own stories.

“In an attempt to record untold stories by women who have served for decades in challenging ministries, St. Catherine is sponsoring a student-led initiative. Students are producing interviews or short films about sisters they know to create an extensive oral history.”

You can read more about here: http://ncronline.org/news/sisters-stories/inaugural-catholic-sisters-week-set-march

I’ve been honored in my life to have heard some Sisters tell their stories. And I have been even more honored by actually being a small part of some of those stories.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters - Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters – Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

As one of millions that was blessed to be taught by religious Sisters, I thank God for their dedication and guidance that carried me through my grade school and high school years.

As a nephew of three religious Sisters, I thank God for the love that they brought to our family and the remarkable examples that they each gave me. Simple, courageous, faith-filled, loving women – all three.

Some of my very dearest friends are religious Sisters and I have received countless blessings and boundless joy from them. What would my life be like without the vocation and service of these women? Thankfully I will never have to know.

I have three granddaughters and while I don’t know if they will ever become religious Sisters, I do pray that the examples of the women religious that I know and have known will strengthen them on their journeys through life. I hope that they are fortunate enough to hear all of these Sisters’ stories: Courage, compassion, dignity, devotion and love.

What more could I ask for my beautiful girls?

Peace,

Denis

Rock Solid

“These are uncertain times we live in.” I’ve been hearing that a lot lately – the economy, the unrest in the Middle East and Libya and Egypt, the crazy governor of Wisconsin, exorbitant healthcare costs, unemployment, the housing crisis, the general moral decline of our society, etc., etc., etc.

And those things are all real and they do create uncertainty and anxiety. But are “the times we live in” any less certain than any other time in mankind’s history? I doubt it. I believe that because we are human and subjected to life (with all its good and bad) we will always feel some uncertainty. Perhaps if we don’t dwell on all the bad stuff maybe life will be a little easier to live. And I suppose it might be true that (a little) ignorance is (a little) bliss(ful). This reminds me of a joke:

There are 3 kinds of people – those that make things happen; those that watch things happen; and those that say, “What happened?”

I must admit that sometimes I fall squarely into that 3rd category. It’s not that I live my life with blinders on but there are times when I feel absolutely overwhelmed by the injustice in our world. There are those days when I feel so powerless to the suffering and heartache many in our society face that I want to bury my head in the sand. I don’t want to face the truth.

Recently in Madrid, at the Metro Station near my hotel, each day I encountered a woman begging. I just turned and walked away. I couldn’t bring myself to look her in the eyes. I think that I was afraid that if I looked at her (really looked) that I might feel some compassion and give her money. What was my fear? Was she truly powerless and in great need or a scammer looking for a quick buck? I’ll never know because I walked away. And even if I had given her a few Euros I still wouldn’t have known. That’s what troubles me now – why did I need to know? Jesus doesn’t ask us to judge; he asks us to give. And sadly, in Spain, I chose to run away out of fear or ignorance!

But I have hope. I know that bad things will happen and that life will have its share of difficulties and disappointments but my trust is in Jesus. I believe that even through the crappy stuff He won’t abandon me. And even with my selfishness and lack of compassion He has offered forgiveness to me. It’s now my job to accept His forgiveness and promise to do better the next time. So I can either ignore my anxiety and fear or I can embrace it and “hand it over to God”.

Because even in these “uncertain times we live in” – Jesus is the ultimate certainty.

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”
Mt 7:24-25

Peace,

Denis