Growing Up

My twelve-year-old granddaughter Anna is growing up and our relationship is changing. We discuss books she’s read. I marvel at her intelligence, poise and thoughtfulness. She has enlightened me on the finer points of the musical phenomenon, “Hamilton”. She shares her arts-and-crafts projects with me; looking for approval I suppose, but confident in her abilities. I study her beauty which emanates from within a deep place in her soul. I listen with intent as she describes her love of horses and riding, while never sharing that I am frightened of the beasts. I am delighted to see her in the kitchen with her Nana; learning and sharing the joy of cooking that completely escapes me. In my eyes she is ageless and fearless and flawless. I am equally astounded and amused when her mother or grandmother seem to take over her body with their words and actions, as I am transported to some distant place and time. She is already a nurturer, protector and enforcer as are all the good women before her. Her younger brother is often the recipient of her caring, her teaching, and her demands, after all, someone must be in charge. She has no idea of the power that she possesses.

I’m carrying a secret little sadness concerning Anna. I fear that I am becoming unnecessary – still loved and respected but not needed to hold a hand, wipe a tear, fix a toy, or mend a torn page in a favorite book.

She’s impatient, as she should be. She needs to explore more, give more, learn more, and experience more independence. She is growing up. She is finding her wings. She is finding her way.

Our relationship is changing, and I need to learn to adapt. I’ll get there, but some journeys take detours. And some journeyers stumble along the way.

Recently Anna climbed onto my lap, as she often did when she was much younger. She’s still tiny and easy to hold. So, she climbed up and I held on for dear life. Perhaps she sensed that I needed her affection and her tenderness. Maybe she knew that I needed her loving embrace. Or gasp – maybe she needed me! I wanted to hold her forever. Even in my dotage, I am still able to remember how I once felt when her mother was on the verge of abandoning childhood. I remember the panic, the sense of loss. I was frantic and sad and angry all at the same time. Thanks to memories still intact, I can take comfort in the knowledge that age doesn’t equal apathy; growing older doesn’t mean growing apart. As Anna continues to mature, I’ll try to behave maturely as well, knowing full well it won’t be easy.

Our relationship is changing, but we can cherish our past and we can look forward to our future. That day when Anna crawled on my lap I asked her, “Do you think that someday you won’t want to call me Pawpaw anymore and that maybe you’d prefer a more mature sounding name like, Granddad or Grandfather?” She looked at me in disbelief and said, “I don’t really like the way that sounds.”

As a tear escaped and a prayer was answered, I thought to myself, “Neither do I, Anna, neither do I…”

Peace,

Denis

This Little Light of Mine

On Saturday as I was watching our granddaughter Anna play basketball I marveled at her spirit. She is the smallest player on her team. Most of the girls that she encounters on opposing teams are much bigger than she. Some seem twice her size. And yet, there she was giving it her all. She has such grace and determination.

Anna knows she is tiny. Anna understands her physical limitations. Anna realizes that she can be out-distanced and out-played by most other sixth graders. Recently she told me that she knows she’s not a great basketball player but that she loves to play and she loves her teammates. It touched my heart to hear this. I wanted to tell she was a great player – the best! I wanted to hold her and tell her that she was a superstar. But there was no need. Anna is a realist and much smarter than I. Anna knows herself.

So on Saturday she was undaunted and joyful and just loving the game. There she was making rebounds and fighting for jump balls and letting her light shine through it all.

It occurred to me (again) that Anna has a light that shines through in everything that she does. Her beauty emanates from deep within her soul. That I am allowed to experience God’s loving embrace through Anna is part of why I marvel when I am in her presence. What a gift!

So this is my hope and prayer:

Anna never be diminished by your size. Know that God has great things in store for you and will expect great things from you. Remember to only measure yourself against yourself. Always be the best that you can be. If you need examples of strength and beauty and love you needn’t look further than your mother and grandmothers.

Anna never let your light stop shining! You are my superstar.

Your light must shine before others ~ Matthew 5:16

Peace,

Denis

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Our two youngest granddaughters spent last week with us. This was kind of a big deal because these two haven’t spent any time away from home without their parents. Ainsley is five and Gwen is three. The five year-old thinks she’s in charge but the three year-old is often the one who is calling the shots. We all learned a few things from our week together. We laughed a lot and cried a little bit, too. Most of my tears were silent. You NEVER flinch or show fear or a three year-old will have you over the barrel! When she cried it was because I said NO! In fairness, nobody wants to be told no.

back yardMy lovely wife had the lion’s share of the responsibility, as I worked all week, but in the evenings and on the weekend I joined in the fun, too. We played outside everyday. We would have “dance parties” on the patio. Our inflatable pool was a source of joy and learning, as we tried to hold our breath under water (and learned to spit the pool water out after gulping some of it). We played ball in the backyard – soccer or wiffleball or “chase the ball” or whatever. Sometimes our outdoor play included looking for bunnies in the garden and then chasing the elusive beasts back into the lilies or honeysuckle.

It was exhausting and exhilarating. The girls sometimes pick at one another as sisters often do. Mostly over silly things: “Look what I have!” followed by, “I want it!” Or “Let’s play Disney Princesses” and then the fight would ensue over who got to be which princess. Usually we would let the squabbles play themselves out because really Ariel and Jasmine and Elsa and Tiana are pretty much one in the same. However at times adult intervention was required. One thing is for certain, we all went to bed early every night and slept soundly.

poolI learned that there is a bully at daycare (whose name will not be used to protect the innocent). This girl has been very rude (or WUDE as Gwen explains it). Apparently she has told our adorable granddaughter that she isn’t her best friend. And of course this hideous child has also pushed in line on occasion and says “oh my gosh” – which apparently are bad words in some circles.

One day Gwen told us that her baby doll would need to go to the doctor. This was all the more amusing because Gwen has the raspy voice of a two-pack-a-day smoker and declared matter-of-factly, “My baby’s dead!”  I thought it seemed a little late for the doctor but I’m not three.

Both girls learned a new word: consequences. If you make a choice you must live with the consequences. Crying because you wanted the green cup until your sister asked for the blue cup or throwing yourself on the floor because you didn’t want a hair clip until your sister had one and now you can’t live without one – these are consequences. This is tough territory for a three year-old and five year-old. But someone we all survived.

Truth is, I learned more from them than they learned from me. I learned we should all play outside whenever we can. We should dance on the patio and not worry about who may be watching. Ice cream cones should be served with every meal. We should all take more time just to be silly. We should all laugh more and cry less. And we should all (not just the girls) wanna have fun!

Maybe they should stay for two weeks next summer. I think I have a lot more to learn.

Peace,

Denis

Women’s Equality Day

Today is “Women’s Equality Day”. At my house that’s everyday. I suppose I’ve been blessed to have had some extraordinary women in my life, not the least of which is my best friend and soul mate, Debbie. We’ve shared (equally) in good times and bad. Carrying one another or being carried by the other as needed. Our life together has proven time and time again that she is my equal. She is simply unafraid. She is love and pure joy but she is also tough and resilient and relentless when necessary. She has taught me that tears don’t make you weak and laughter is truly the best medicine (especially when you need to laugh at yourself). And she has instilled the same spirit and strength and humor in our daughter.

Of course I’ve known and loved many other strong women. In fact, I believe that in my family the female role models are the ones that stand out as leaders.

women's equality dayMy Mom runs the show at her house. She will be 87 this year and remains in the know about politics, current events, style and fashion trends. For someone not afforded an education she is smarter than most women that I know and Dad knows not to mess with Mom.

My three aunts, Lucida, Noel and Gene Marie, were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. These were intelligent women who were well-traveled and well-educated, not something to be taken for granted by women born in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were teachers, administrators, catechists, and persons of authority.

The stories of my great-grandmother Elizabeth are legendary: Coming to this country alone at thirteen from Germany. Marrying and then raising her young family alone after my great-grandfather died. I’m told that she was tough, stubborn and a force to be reckoned with.

My three great aunts Marie, Minnie, and Liddy lived together in the family home that became the base of operations for all Wilhelm family gatherings. Aunt Minnie was a business woman – the County Nurse’s secretary. And she was well-respected in our hometown. I remember walking downtown with her many times and people would greet her very politely as “Miss Wilhelm”. I was always so proud to be with my Aunt Min!

And then of course there was my mother-in-law. She was a tough lady who fought for justice and looked out for the underdogs in our world. She was fiercely loyal to those she loved and protected her children like a lioness. She taught her daughter that real beauty requires confidence, kindness and a sense of humor. Jackie never went down without a fight. I’m not sure if you can “raise hell” in heaven, but if you can I’m sure she’s leading the charge.

Finally there are my four beautiful granddaughters. They each have so much to offer. I can see into the future because of them and I want it to equal and fair.

In the many decades since suffragists organized and mobilized, countless advocates and leaders have picked up the mantle and moved our Nation and our world forward. Today, young women in America grow up knowing an historic truth — that not only can they cast a vote, but they can also run for office and help shape the very democracy that once left them out. For these women, and for generations of women to come, we must keep building a more equal America — whether through the stories we tell about our Nation’s history or the faces we display on our country’s currency. On Women’s Equality Day, as we recognize the accomplishments that so many women fought so hard to achieve, we rededicate ourselves to tackling the challenges that remain and expanding opportunity for women and girls everywhere. ~ Barack Obama

I’m proud of the women in my life and I am a better man because of them.

Peace,

Denis

 

“Let the children come to me”

garyLast week our newest granddaughter Gwendolyn Elizabeth was baptized. Our good friend Deacon Gary baptized her; as he has baptized our four other grandchildren. It was beautiful celebration of God’s love for us. I was reminded (once again) that Baptism isn’t just for the baby being Christened but for the entire family gathered to experience the sacrament. We all renewed our faith and promised to help Gwen in her spiritual journey. As Gary so eloquently pointed out, Gwen really had no idea what was happening to her but our love and support would give her a foundation on which to build a life-long relationship with God. So with parents and siblings and Godparents and grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, Gwen was welcomed into a new life in Christ. And we were all blessed.

bannerBaptism doesn’t end with the sacrament. This will be the beginning of Gwen’s life as a disciple of Christ. She was presented for Baptism but her parents and Godparents will bear the responsibility for her formation. We will all support their efforts in raising her as a Christian but ultimately she will have to choose to accept her faith as an adult.

But how often do I think about my responsibility to be a witness of Christ’s love? How often do I forget that we are all called to this in Baptism – to be Christ to one another?

As her grandfather I can model Christ’s love in the way in which I love and honor Gwen’s grandmother (my wife) and her parents and Godparents (my children) but most importantly it will be in the way that I will love her. Gwen’s journey in life is unknown at this time but my belief in Jesus’ saving grace is certain and it will sustain her forever; inasmuch as my love for her will never end.

Peace,

Denis

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Granddaughtered

Today I’m counting my blessings.

In 2004 our first granddaughter was born. In 2008 another granddaughter was born. In 2010 a grandson joined our brood. In 2013 our third granddaughter was born. In 2016 our blessings continue! Gwendolyn Elizabeth Wilhelm was born last week. That makes four granddaughters and one grandson in case anyone is keeping score. So we are definitely granddaughtered. And I love these girls (and that boy)!

gwenWhen our first granddaughter was born I didn’t know that one tiny little creature could possess such transformative powers. But she changed my life forever. She made me realize in so many ways that life is worth living and that our world needs more love, especially the kind that little girls bring. Maurice Chevalier sang “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and I do. I thank God each day for my beautiful granddaughters. They are kind, brave, smart, and loving little girls. Someday they will become women who are kind, brave, smart and loving. And they will make our world a better place. These granddaughters of mine might do great things. These granddaughters of mine might create new inventions, cure diseases, save the environment, create peace in our world, and be remembered throughout all of history as heroines. None of that matters to me because they are already my heroes. Their joy fills my soul.

Gwen is not even two weeks old and she has already carved a hole in my heart that only she can fill. She brings me great hope for our future. She will fulfill dreams that have yet to be dreamed. She will witness things in her life that I cannot even imagine. She is a precious gift from God. I will always be her grandfather and she will always be my granddaughter. We are linked forever. Nothing will ever change that.

I believe that all of my granddaughters (and my grandson) are reminders that God thinks this world is worth carrying on. While I’m holding Gwen in my arms, it’s easy for me to imagine that someday she may be steadying my old hands and helping me walk alongside her. She may be the one who brings this old man comfort in his final days. And I will have one more blessing to count.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

First Holy Communion

Our granddaughter Anna will make her First Communion on Sunday. This is a big deal for Catholic families. It’s a coming-of-age in a young person’s spiritual life. A very young person. Anna is just eight years old and is truly a holy innocent. Her world is full of rainbows and butterflies. She ALWAYS sees the good in everyone and she is absolutely astounded when someone is deliberately unkind. She is a good girl. Actually, she is more than just a good girl, she is a perfect little girl. Smart, sweet, loving, kind and full of joy.

Anna and Nana

           Nana & Anna

As Catholics we believe that we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Anna has prepared with her class and prayed with her family and now the time has come. She may not feel much different afterwards but I suspect she will recognize that God has blessed her in a special way on her First Communion day. Anna will be changed.

And the rest of us? We will all be blessed on her First Communion day. There will be a party with extended family and friends after the mass but the real celebration will take place as she walks up that aisle to receive the Eucharist for the first time. But that’s not enough, we must receive and believe, too. We become changed.

We have a big word in Catholicism – transubstantiation. It means that by consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. Sounds a little heady but the idea is simple. We consume Christ and we are changed. We receive the Christ who makes us one with himself and with one another. Not alone, but in community, we become the Body of Christ. The words the priest says during the consecration is only part of it. Not until the Eucharist is shared with the congregation does transubstantiation truly take place.

Eucharist is the great equalizer. Sinners and saints. Rich and poor. Young and old. We all come to the altar. We receive and we are changed. We become Christ to one another.

I know that this Sunday will be a special day for Anna. My prayer is that every Sunday after this one will also be special for her as she becomes part of the Body of Christ. She is already an example of God’s overwhelming love for us. And my blessings continue…

Peace,

Denis

He  broke the bread and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24-25

 

Anna Writes

Our seven year-old granddaughter Anna likes to journal. She carries her journal with her most days and jots down notes or stories. She also sketches and adds drawings to some of her writings. Anna starts second grade this year and I don’t believe that her writing is extraordinary for a second grader but she writes because she loves to and I find that extraordinary. When I was in primary school I would never write during the summer months and each school year would begin with a challenging week or two trying to relearn what I had forgotten.

Anna may never be a gifted author but just loving to read and write will make her a better student; a better communicator; a better citizen; and a better person. And of course I believe that she is brilliant, so others’ opinions of Anna mean little to me.

Anna's blog post

The bottom line is this: Anna writes. She reads. She thinks. She reflects.

We as a society have become so used to instant gratification. Instant messaging. Instagram. I have more information at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen than is housed at my local library. I carry microprocessors around in the form of my smart phone and tablet and yet at times it seems that I am stunningly unaware of the beauty around me. How often have I missed the song of birds in my own garden because my ear buds are plugged into my iPod? How often have I missed the smile of a stranger (or a loved one) because I have my face planted in my iPad as I read emails or text messages or Facebook posts? How often have I neglected someone “in person” while chatting away on my iPhone?

Anna WritesDon’t get me wrong: Technology is wonderful. Abundant information makes for informed consumers and citizens. But sometimes we have to experience life – real life – with all our senses. We need to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell all of God’s creation. We need to unplug. Quiet ourselves. Read a book. Listen to nature. Hold a hand. Share a meal.

And then maybe we can pick up a pencil and write about our experiences.

Anna does.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

Come To The Water

baptismWater gives life.

Our lives begin in water. Water makes up 60-70% of our bodies. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. Plants need water to grow. Fish need water to swim. Animals and humans need water to drink. Human beings can survive for weeks or even months without food but only days without water. Water is essential for life on Earth.

Water destroys.

Flooding devastates homes, crops, and at times kills human and animal life. Flash floods can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Drowning in the United States is the second leading cause of death in children 12 and younger. Tsunamis and tidal waves can wipeout nearly everything in their paths.

Water fascinates.

Most people are drawn to water. Swimming pools and water parks draw millions everyday. Water fountains, pond pumps and sprinklers dot our landscapes. Ocean-front and lake-front properties are sold at a premium. We spend precious vacation time getting to beach destinations just to play in the water. Boating, skiing, canoeing, kayaking and various other water recreations vie for our time and money.

Yesterday, as our youngest grandchild Ainsley was being baptized, I was thinking about how basic water is to our human existence; how ordinary; how necessary; how miraculous.

It’s fitting then that Baptism requires water. Through the waters of Baptism we are born to new life in Christ and sin is destroyed. After Baptism we live the rest of our lives fascinated by God’s unending power to transform our lives. Baptism isn’t a one-time event. It’s an invitation to “play in the water”. To immerse ourselves in the love around us. To refresh ourselves when our journey becomes burdensome. To cleanse ourselves when darkness overtakes our spirit. The life-giving water of Baptism never leaves us. It remains essential for our life on Earth.

cousinsMy prayer for Ainsley is that her life will be filled with love, peace and joy. And that she will always know that she has been strengthened by the power of that baptismal water. We have all been blessed by having experienced it with her.

Peace,

Denis

Ainsley, I hope you find your wings. Love, Pawpaw

 

 

 

Family Values

In our family we have a saying: “Who said it, Anna or Nana?” That’s because our 7 year-old granddaughter often says things that sound as if they’ve come directly out of my wife’s mouth or vice-versa. Example: Upon getting new earrings, “I believe that perhaps emerald has been my color all along.” Or after an exhaustingly long and fruitless shopping day, while being reminded that we did in fact find one of the sought-after items, “But that wasn’t really a present for me!”

I’ll let you decide who said what. The point is that these two often express themselves almost identically. It’s funny and adorable and baffling. Is it possibly hereditary? Or is it learned behavior? What makes a 7 year-old want to be like her grandmother? And what makes a grandmother (at times) behave like a 7 year-old?

Anna NanaSeems mysterious but I believe it can be explained. In the truest sense, these are family values. Not the “Traditional Family Values” which is often a religious or biblical distortion with a thinly veiled political agenda. True family values are the things that your family or my family value. It’s not a list of rules that we’ve been told to follow. Our family values come from our hearts and souls.

In our family we value love above all. “I love you” is a constant in our home and nothing sounds sweeter. Respect for one another. The right to disagree without being disagreeable. Caring for one another. Lifting each other up in times of need and allowing others to carry us on occasion. Joy. Laughing first and foremost at ourselves and sharing laughter, good times and fun whenever possible. Tears. We cry for one another. Our hearts break when one of us is suffering and when one of us cries the others can taste the salt. Honesty. Being true to yourself and being accepted by those who love you as you are. Prayer. We pray for peace, compassion, understanding, gentleness and courage. We thank God for our blessings and our strength in times of hardship.

So if Anna acts (and talks) like Nana or Nana acts (and talks) like Anna, it’s only because they mirror the love that they have for one another. And reflect our family’s values.

Peace,

Denis