Living in the Future

I’m probably not alone in sometimes imagining what my life will be like in the future. What may be unique is the amount of detail that my daydreams include. Often when I’m stuck in traffic or on a tarmac or at the DMV, I will time-travel to the future:

Recently I imagined a day when President Anna (my 5 year-old granddaughter who will most certainly be a politician or a Hollywood agent because she can talk anyone into anything – well me anyway – and is a budding ballet dancer) was presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to her cousin Dr. Charlise (my 9 year-old granddaughter who will be an Egyptologist and a research scientist because she reads everything she can find on ancient Egypt and loves reality television shows or books with titles like Extreme Medical Maladies or Abnormal Sea Life) for discovering cures for cancer, heart disease and boogie fever – which has seen a resurgence from the 1970’s while Attorney General Noah (my 3 year-old grandson “Life’s a Party Noah”, race car driver and brother of President Anna, which is how he’ll get the Attorney General gig) and Pope Ainsley (3 month-old baby sister of Charlise who will be the first American Pope – and a woman!) look on. Of course I’ll be there too.

Long before they were President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Future President, Attorney General, Scientist and Pope

Not all of my daydreams are quite this detailed but more often than not, they are. Should I be concerned? I don’t think so. Don’t we all imagine life in the future? Doesn’t everyone wonder what life will be like someday? I assume that it’s just natural human curiosity to try to work it out in our minds; to imagine what is coming so we can be prepared. Certainly most of my preparation for the future will be figuring out how to accept the nearly constant praise for my amazing grandchildren. I’m certain that I will learn to accept it with humility.

Okay, so most of this was written “tongue in cheek” but I do daydream at times about the future and I always imagine that I’m there. I’m not quite so egocentric that I think life won’t go on without me. I know that someday I will die. But I do like to think that I’ll still be there – in spirit, in memory, in the love that I shared. I believe this because all those that have loved me are still here. In my heart, in my soul, and in everything that I say and do.

God gives us eternal life. And sometimes in the quiet stillness, I get a tiny glimpse of what that really means. And someday, well you know…

Peace,

Denis

In The Days of Noah

On this first Sunday of Advent our Gospel reading tell us:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.                                                                            They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.”                                                           Matthew 24-37,39

normal boy 2I’m living in the days of Noah. Not Noah of Ark fame but Noah of grandson fame. My Noah (our Noah) is a three year-old dynamo who is a self-proclaimed “normal boy”. And so he is! He likes to run (indoors) and sometimes forgets to use his ‘inside voice’. He plays hard, laughs big, and loves us all. He likes to tease. He loves to climb, jump and tumble. One of his favorite expressions is “Hey, watch this!” often followed by some daredevil feat. He is always flashing his trademark grin. He is indefatigable! And therefore I am living in the days of Noah…

But as Advent begins I am reminded that even during (pehaps especially during) times of fun and frolic we must prepare ourselves to receive God. It’s easy for me to need God when I am desperate; when I am hurting; when life has dealt me setbacks. I cry out to God in my pain and sorrow! But during happy times I sometimes put God on a shelf to be taken down and dusted off, admired and replaced upon the shelf again. “It’s good to have you there God, I’ll let you know when you’re needed.”

Advent is not just a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child, it is also a time to prepare for the final coming of Christ. But for me the beauty of this special season is preparing myself to receive Christ in my life right here – right now.

First Sunday in  AdventSo this season as I light the Advent wreath, I will prepare my heart (once again) to find the Son of God in my “Days of Noah”. While Noah welcomes me into his three year-old world of adventure I will take comfort in knowing that God is at our side. As we play hard, laugh big and love one another I will remember that it is God’s love that we share.

And maybe we can shout together, “Hey, watch this!”

Peace,

Denis

Thankful

Yesterday our granddaughter Anna brought home a worksheet from Kindergarten. It had a picture of pumpkins and a turkey which she carefully colored and a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ that stated:

thanful for NoahNoah is Anna’s 3 year-old little brother. At times he can be a pest. He will sometimes destroy a work of art or un-puzzle a puzzle or disrupt a tea party or throw a baby doll across the room or otherwise torment her. His behavior will likely produce a shrill “Noah!” But Anna loves Noah and Noah loves Anna. And she readily forgives him.

This love that they share is fostered in the love that their parents have for one another. Caring for each other is what my daughter and son-in-law do; it’s what my son and daughter-in-law do; what they model; what they teach. And the lesson is being learned. Loving parents create loving children. And somehow I think that Deb and I started this love fest.

I am thankful, too! Not just for Anna and Noah but for parents that are teaching their children to love one another. Thankful for forgiveness and second chances. Thankful for constant reminders that this life is precious and we are gifts to one another. Thankful that childish squabbles and petty differences can be resolved when we remember that our love for one another triumphs over all. Thankful that anger and resentment will cease when we forgive those who have wronged us (and when we forgive ourselves, too).

I am humbled by the profound and simple love that Anna and Noah share. For me they reflect God’s grace and beauty. To me they are examples of what is to come in heaven.

12-1-X2

Love! Joy! Peace!

The challenge for me of course is loving and forgiving my brothers and sisters. Not just my siblings – that’s easy. But this belief in God is troublesome. If we are all God’s children then we are all sisters and brothers. Ugh! That means that I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in my life. Not only that, but I have to love and forgive all the jerks and losers in all of creation! I suppose I could begin by not referring to them as jerks and losers. And of course I desperately need to receive some love and forgiveness, too.

So this Thanksgiving I will thank God for the honor of witnessing the love between a five year-old sister and her three year-old brother. I’ll try to learn from their beautiful example and attempt to be thankful for EVERYONE. And I will thank God for the forgiveness received when I mostly fail. I suppose I might learn to love someone previously deemed unworthy of my affection. Or better yet I might be loved by someone who finds me unlovable.

I’m happy to take my miracles in small doses…

Peace,

Denis

Storybooks, Legos and Baby Dolls

Our home office is actually a multi-purpose room. It’s truly a third bedroom that was converted into an office and now serves as the toy room, the art supply room, the nursery, the occasional spare bedroom and whenever possible is actually used as an office. I often find my center here. I pray here. I blog here.

OfficeI love this room because it is full of reminders of all the love in my life. This room is comfort and joy to me. And even when it’s a little messy – toys or books or art projects strewn about – it is still a place of repose. Sometimes when I’m alone I read the grandkids’ books to myself, like “You Are My Wish” by Maryann Cusimano Love – “I am your soft lap; you are my climb. I am your story; you are my rhyme.” – what poetry! it just tugs at my heart!

Sometimes this room is full of activity with three grandchildren happily playing or creating some new works of art. Sometimes this room is still except for the soft breath sounds of Noah while he is napping in his crib. Sometimes music is playing through the speakers thanks to a handy son-in-law. And sometimes it’s just me clacking away at the keyboard of my computer and then proofreading and deleting (and re-typing and re-reading and deleting again). It truly is a multi-purpose room.

And the love abounds. It’s found in the favorite toys and books. It’s in the little mementos of our travel abroad. It’s in the photos of friends and family. It’s in a note from Deb of little importance (except it’s written in her beautiful penmanship). It’s in the small plaque that reads, “God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You”.

Office2This room will never be featured on HGTV or shown in House Beautiful. It’s cluttered and a bit haphazard. It’s full of Legos and storybooks and baby dolls. It’s relatively small and it lacks any real style. But it’s our room. And it’s our life. And it reflects our love.

They say that home is where the heart is – this room might just be our soul.

Peace,

Denis

Oh Buster!

My grandson is named Noah but his nickname is Buster. And more than a few times I’ve heard some responsible adult exclaim, “Oh Buster!” Sometimes in exasperation or fear, but most often in amusement. Such is life with Buster. He is a two year-old dynamo!

Winning a ribbon for what he does best - jumping, running and tumbling

Winning a ribbon for what he does best – jumping, running and tumbling

Noah has one speed – fast! And he is fearless (well he’s not afraid of me). He’s the kid that leads you right up to the precipice and then beams that beautiful smile while you tumble head-over-heals into his abyss of toddler silliness. I have snatched him out of harms way more than a few times (nearly running into the street, jumping off a too-high platform, grabbing a knife off of the counter, dragging the dog by her tail). He’s NOT a bad boy; he’s a TWO YEAR-OLD boy. He knows how to do a lot of things; he doesn’t understand the consequences of most of the things that he does. It’s this delicate balance of danger and freedom and joyfulness that is fascinating to him (and maddening to his beleaguered grandfather). Oh Buster!

Still I love it all. And of course I love him so much it breaks my heart every time he gets a new bump or bruise or gash on this perilous road to self-discovery. He is undaunted and usually just picks himself up and brushes himself off and moves on to the next challenge (danger). Always with a bounce in his step and smile on his face.

Proudly displaying his bandaged gash!

Proudly displaying his bandaged gash!

Of course he’s a lover-boy, too. There are plenty of hugs and kisses dispensed by my little man. I suspect he knows just how disarming his smile is and he employs it as a defense mechanism. It’s hard to be angry over his minor transgressions when they are accompanied by a twinkle in his eye and his beaming smile. And few things sound sweeter to me than when he and I are walking somewhere together and he announces, “Pawpaw carry you!”, which is two year-old for “Pawpaw will you carry me?” And of course I will!

So we’ll be buddies as long as he allows. It’s such great fun! His spirit of adventure reminds me that usually it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. So I’ll do what I can to keep us both out of trouble. And I’m certain that we’ll hear the occasional “Oh Buster!” but we’ll just keep smiling.

Peace,

Denis (Pawpaw)

Santa and The Wise Men

My two-year old grandson Noah likes to have Santa stand alongside The Wise Men at our nativity scene. Noah knows that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. He also knows that birthdays are lots of fun. And Santa is the fun Christmas guy so why not make him part of the celebration? So we mix our fantasy with theology here. Or is it the other way around? Either way Santa has “come to adore Him” at our house.Santa and The Wise Men

Christmas is always a mixed bag. We embrace the secular (you know because we actually live in the world) and we exchange gifts and write letters to Santa and leave cookies and reindeer food and all the rest. And we go to Mass and sing and pray and shout the joy of our Savior’s birth. We we are a bi-celebratory family! If Noah is a little confused about where Santa belongs, it’s not surprising. And it’s also okay with me. Santa, a guy who is spreading love around like mad, is welcome in my home.

Our family usually plays a game on Christmas Eve called “Rob Your Neighbor” – everyone brings a few small gifts (some are gag gifts and some are treasures). All the gifts are beautifully wrapped, concealing their simplicity or beauty or hideousness. After all the gifts are doled out and unwrapped revealing their value or lack thereof we then roll dice to see who can “rob” the most from their “neighbor” until the time runs out. When the bell chimes what’s left is what you get. Often there is fevered excitement trying to obtain the few treasures amongst the cache of gifts.

This year we toyed with the idea of changing the game to “Love Your Neighbor” with the idea of giving the treasured gift(s) to another but that seemed a little lame for our family. We like our mercenary little game of theft and avarice. And there is always plenty of laughter while we’re fighting over the treasured items. And in our game we are loving one another in our own slightly twisted and aggressive sort of way.

This morning at Mass, Father Joe reminded us that God is love and that we will find that love in those sitting next to us in the pew. I looked at my family and I saw God there. Then Father Joe told us that God is in us. That was a little harder for me to imagine until my four-year old granddaughter Anna looked up at me and smiled her sweet innocent smile. I suppose she might have seen a little glimpse of God in this tired old sinner. And now I have a new responsibility to her and her brother and the rest of the world. God is in me??? That changes everything.

Tonight it occurred to me that if Santa can hang with the Wise Men and if God is in me then our silly little game BELONGS on Christmas Eve. It’s a celebration of our love. Everyone takes part and we all leave a little richer for the experience. God made us imperfect so that we can be perfected by His love. And if we play a few silly games along the way, so be it…

Peace,

Denis

Noah Boy

Tomorrow is grandson Noah’s second birthday. It’s hard to believe that two years has passed since that miracle occurred. But here he is: a two year-old!

Noah is all-boy. He is fascinated by airplanes, trains, trucks and helicopters (real ones and toy versions). He loves to kick or throw a ball; climb a wall (or a hill, or tree, or table, or railing, etc.). He loves to run, and play rough & tumble. And he always has a smile on his face. When he gets hurt (which is more often than not – a side effect of rough & tumble play), he usually shrugs it off, picks himself off and moves on to the next challenge. He’s undaunted. He’s joyful. He loves to laugh – and does it often. He is absolutely tireless and runs at full-throttle.

Noah is also a lover. He worships his big sister Anna. Of course he loves his Mommy & Daddy, too. He even loves the often unlovable (me) and can make the hardest heart melt away with his sweet-boy charm. One of his hugs and sweet kisses can sooth the crankiest of beasts and turn a lousy day into a vague memory (I know this from personal experience).

Mostly Noah is just Noah. In two short years he’s managed to carve out a special place in our hearts that only he can fill. I can barely remember life before him and can’t imagine what life would be if he hadn’t been born. Fortunately I don’t have to. He’s my grandson and I’m his grandfather. And our souls are entwined.

And life is good…

Happy birthday Noah Boy! I’ll be home soon and we can share some birthday cake.

Love,

Pawpaw

Make A Joyful Noise

My son-in-law is not a very good singer. No, that’s not quite accurate; he’s a really bad singer. Poor guy couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But you what? He sings. He sings out loud. He sings with his kids. And most importantly, he sings in church. He makes ‘a joyful noise’!

Sing out your love!

Travis is an example of how children learn by modelling their parents’ behaviour. Both of Bess and Travis’s children love music and grandson Noah really loves to sing. He loves to sing in church just like Daddy. In fact, he so loves church singing that while he was in England every time we entered a church or abbey or cathedral Noah would sing Alleluia. Of course at 21 months old his ‘alleluia’ sounds more like al-lay-loo-la. All the more beautiful and endearing! Somehow a baby singing al-lay-loo-la at the top of his lungs has a transformative power. And Noah has brought joy to many with his vocals. Recently at Mass back in the U.S. he asked the song leader (and our good friend Tracy) for “more loo-la; more, more loo-la!” And together she and Noah made ‘a joyful noise’.

So God bless Travis for singing his heart out heedless of being off-key and for remaining confident that God loves all voices; perhaps especially those that struggle with melody, lyrics, tone and rhythm.

Granddaughter Anna likes to say “that’s the way God made me” or “I’m still learning.” Usually she invokes these sentiments when she has failed to meet some challenge or doesn’t want to try to learn something new. Example: “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up all my toys but I’m not as good at that as you are because I’m still learning” or “I can’t reach the pedals very well on my bike because this is way God made me” (meaning short). But Travis doesn’t seem to care if he is singing is off-key and maybe he celebrates his singing because that’s exactly the way God has made him.

Regardless, his example of ‘joyful noise’ has reverberated in our worship and made an impression on my grandchildren that will last their lifetime. And I thank God for his gift to them and to me. I’m not a good singer either (although I’m better than Travis) but I now sing out  loudly in church, too. Travis and Noah have taught me how to ‘make a joyful noise’, and let go of my fear of not sounding good enough. I’m still learning to love my own voice (warbles and all) and I’m reminded that it’s okay because this is the way that God has made me.

Al-lay-loo-la!

Denis

Alleluia!

Easter. Spring. Rebirth. Resurrection. New Life. Alleluia!

On Easter Sunday after six weeks of Lent, the Alleluia returned. Triumphantly we proclaimed that He is risen – He is risen indeed! And we sang Alleluia. And we shouted Amen!

Easter Joy!

This Easter Sunday was exceptional because I was shouting and singing Alleluia because He is risen and because we were re-united with our children and grandchildren. All the more reason to shout Amen! And so there is new life and rebirth and hope and joy and love in our lives. We are experiencing the eternal springtime that we find in Christ.

Next week we will head back to England but we will carry with us a rejuvenated spirit in our hearts and we will fill our home there with it until we are re-united again. Don’t misunderstand me. Our life in England is good. And we are thoroughly enjoying it all – the travel, the sightseeing, the new experiences, the new people but I miss my life here, too.

So this week we are savoring simple pleasures and quiet moments. We are sharing time with family and friends and filling up those empty places in our soul. And it is wonderful. And being here this week and tucking my grandkids in at night after bathtime and bedtime stories and prayers is the sweetest reward life has afforded me. It’s God’s gift to me; so precious and true. And waking up to smiles and hugs and kisses. And chants of “Pawpaw, Pawpaw, Pawpaw!” is music to my ears.

We’ll head back to England next week and make more memories and have some experiences of a lifetime (I hope). And we’ll remind ourselves (most days) how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

And when we get homesick and melancholy we’ll remember that just like the Alleluia, our life here will return, too.

Peace,

Denis

A Different Lenten Journey

This year my Lenten journey has been different from any year that I can recall. It’s not just because I’m living in England (although that has something to do with it); it’s that I’ve made a conscious effort to find God in all things – even the shitty stuff.

Each year I look at Lent as a time to cleanse my soul; refresh my spirit; and let go. This year I’ve decided to hold on. I’m holding on to grudges, hurts, disappointments, and hate and ‘staring them square in the eye.’ I’m forcing myself to encounter my own sinfulness. I’m examining the times when I have failed to love. Self-examination is not for the faint of heart but I’m reminded that God is always with me. Even during my lowest points I have not been abandoned.

Often when things don’t go my way I want to cry or scream or cuss (or all three). But usually the bad things pass or the disappointment fades or the hurt heals and I realize then that I could never survive without my faith. The faith that is nourished by my family, my friends and my community. The faith that sustains me during life’s heart-breaks, setbacks and disappointments.

It seems that disappointments come in all forms. My 18 month-old grandson Noah attends a gym class. Said gym class consists of running around on padded mats, swinging from bars, throwing the occasional ball and following some limited instructions with a bunch of other 1 or 2 year-olds. It’s great fun! This week while doing his “routine” he spied an obvious grandfather watching through the visitor’s window. Occasionally he would stop and wave at the man. At the end of class while Noah was walking toward him, the grandfather scooped a little girl up in his arms (apparently his own granddaughter). With that, Noah sat right down and cried. I’m not certain if he mistook the man for me but that’s what my daughter suspected. Maybe he just wanted to be held – don’t we all? Maybe he was wondering why he wasn’t the one being swept up into his Pawpaw’s arms? We’ll never know exactly what was going on in Noah’s little heart and mind.

Of course after hearing that story, I nearly sat on the floor and cried, too. Why did I leave my grandkids to come to England? Why must Noah cry? Why does the separation have to hurt so much at times? What can I do to make it right? At that moment I desperately needed Noah in my arms and still today I ache for his touch. On Easter I will have the joy of holding him and his sister and his cousin. Until then I will just hold on to the bittersweet thought of his disappointment. Poor Noah – poor me!

Jesus’ victory over death on Easter Sunday is our victory, too. But perhaps first we must embrace our own suffering to be truly joyous on that glorious day. I know that I will be beaming on Easter with Noah in my arms. Until then, I will have to continue my soul-searching and confront the pain and disappointments in my life. And remember that God will never abandon me.

Peace,

Denis