Below is a text exchange I had today with our teenage granddaughter. “Teenage granddaughter”. I still hold my breath a little when I say those words. That tiny baby girl who I held in my arms just moments ago is a teenager. But today I got a glimpse of the woman she is becoming: strong and smart and loving and faithful.
Here’s our exchange:
Me: We honor Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, as saints. We celebrate the joint feast day of Jesus’ grandparents on July 26th. Their love for one another and for Mary is an example to us of how God calls us to live. They also remind us to honor our own grandparents and to thank them for the blessings they have passed down to us in love. Happy Feast Day Anna! (I have to admit that part about honoring your grandparents was blatantly self-serving but I sent it anyway.)
She:I am greatly blessed to have you and Nana as my grandparents and today I am especially reminded of that. I love you.
Those words: I am greatly blessed… and I love you.
Just when the world seems to be too much to bear. Just when I’m not sure if I’m even fit for humanity. Just when I can’t seem to find a kind word or a kind thought, there she is. My girl. My teenager. She softens my roughness. She calms my restlessness. She looks past my ugliness. She ignores my mean-spiritedness. She digs deep and finds the love and beauty and truth that I sometimes keep buried deep under the angst of everyday living. But she finds it! She lifts my spirit and she soothes my soul.
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?
The link below will take you to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s complete prayer
My father-in-law was a thoughtful and loving man. He was more comfortable as an observer than a participant in most situations, but when he spoke it was always worth my while to listen. I’m more of doer and a talker (too much of a talker, according to some) and I was often humbled by his quiet wisdom.
We lost him last week. And I’m certain that the angels welcomed him to heaven.
Pop was a father, grandfather, great grandfather and father-in-law. Nothing made him happier than being surrounded by family. We are all better persons for having had him in our lives.
He grew up poor in Southeast Missouri. He lived a hard life as a kid. He earned pocket money killing rats in the cotton and watermelon fields as young boy. He lived in his grandparents’ home when his mother couldn’t afford a place of their own but he never complained about his upbringing. He never voiced any regrets. He was grateful for all that he had in life.
In many ways he was ahead of his time. Unlike many men of his generation men he wasn’t afraid to do what was considered “woman’s work” and he often did the grocery shopping, would clean the house on occasion, do laundry and could prepare a meal if necessary.
He enlisted in the Air Force and then had a 40 year career with American Airlines but he never forgot his humble beginnings. What I remember most is that he never uttered an unkind word about anyone. He never looked down on anyone. It didn’t matter where you lived or what you looked like, he accepted you as you were. I never once heard a racist or anti-Semitic word or phrase pass his lips. He truly believed that all men and women were created equally. And he lived his life that way.
He taught my wife how to be a person of dignity and more importantly how to afford dignity to others. Since his passing she has wished that she had asked him more questions – about his life as a boy; his time in Korea in the Air Force; his love affair with her mother; his career; his grandparents and great grandparents; his hopes and his dreams. But if she had been able to ask all those questions, I know in my heart that he would have likely shrugged and said, “I have no regrets. I’ve lived my best life. And as a bonus I got you as my daughter.”
Pop would have done anything for any of us, but he didn’t like being fussed over himself. The night he died we let him get some rest. His health had been declining rapidly and he had had a fitful time the night before. We went into another room and reminisced about happier times. When we went to check on him the second or third time, we realized he had found his way home.
Our son commented later about Grandpa not wanting to be hovered over. He said, “It was just like him to sneak off while no one was watching.”
And so it was…
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
Today is our wedding anniversary. It might have been predestination or providence or happy coincidence but somehow we met and fell in love. Deb and I started out laughing (mostly she at me) and we haven’t stopped laughing since. There is no one funnier and no one who “gets me” more than she does. The rest is history or rather our story. We were married and we never looked back.
We had no idea what lie ahead in 1975, which may have been a blessing in disguise. We somehow managed to find our way, one step at a time, one day after the next. Usually our plan was “There Is No Plan” and we just dealt with whatever came our way. I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart but so far it’s worked for us. Laughter has helped. And patience. And respect. And love. But we always remember to laugh.
Our journey has had it’s ups and downs. But the downs have been few. We raised three amazing children or more accurately: they raised us. During those days of cribs and diapers and preschool and science projects we usually laughed at our mistakes and prayed that they would create no permanent damage to our children’s physical or mental health. Somehow we all survived and still laugh about some of the funnier moments: Having to explain to a 2nd grade teacher that when our son told his class, “An eagle landed on my arm in our front yard!”, he was just using his imagination and we weren’t actually animal trainers. Or the time when our daughter felt the need to correct her 1st grade teacher’s vocabulary (a trait she still possesses) because, “It’s pronounced pretty, not purdy!” To this day we still call that teacher Miss Purdy. Our baby boy provided most of the laughs but I will forever remember the time that he threw himself on the floor of a department store while having a complete meltdown because we refused to buy him a tiny trench coat. He cried and screamed at the top of his lungs, “But I want to look like Inspector Gadget!”, the cartoon detective. Prying him off the floor while he was wailing, “You’re breaking my little arm!” proved to be less humorous at the moment, but we laughed as we ran out of the mall. Those memories still make me chuckle.
Later a new job offer moved us out of state. What a blessing our years in Wisconsin would turn out to be. Great schools; great neighbors; great friends. We survived the teenage years. Of course, laughter was a necessary ingredient in our survival. Our youngest child took us on some unexpected journeys along the way. Turns out, he was smarter than most of his teachers and certainly smarter than his parents. Ultimately our kids grew up and became adults. Along the way Deb and I tried our hand at adulthood too with limited success. We mostly stayed on the “No Plan” plan and stumbled along in blissful ignorance.
After 11 years in Wisconsin we had an opportunity to come back home to Missouri and took the chance. It was a bittersweet moment: leaving two of our children at the University of Wisconsin, and leaving friends we had come to count on plus a home we loved, to return to our roots. But coming back to family and life-long friends was another blessing in this life we share. The ensuing years would bring great joys and much more laughter. Greatest amongst our joy are our five beautiful grandchildren. Who knew all those years prior that our daughter would find love in Wisconsin and gift us with two of those grandchildren? They along with their cousins provide much of the laughter in our lives today. An added plus is that I’ve been able to recycle many of my old jokes for a new audience. I’m certain that the older grandkids laugh out of courtesy these days, but hey, laughter is laughter. I’ll take it any way I can get it.
Work once again provided an opportunity for a new adventure and in 2012 we lived in England. We often found ourselves laughing at our hapless efforts to carry on as ex-patriots. Our misuse of the language, our driving skills, our tiny washer/dryer and the eccentric neighbors and shopkeepers all offered countless hours of laughter. I’m sure we supplied many a laugh to those who encountered us along the way.
Through it all, Deb and I have remained partners, friends, lovers, and two of the funniest people that I know. We have a saying in our house, “Funny Trumps All!” Of course not everything is a laughing matter but even in our darkest hours we have found something to make us laugh. On her deathbed my Mom made us laugh by telling us that although she would miss all of us, she certainly wouldn’t miss Donald Trump. It was her last gift to us all. She took all the sadness out of the room with that simple sentence. Once again she was the Mom who knew just what we needed. I’m sure she’s looking down on us now and laughing at some of our antics.
46 years ago when Deb and I made our vows there were promises to love and honor and to stay together in sickness and in health. There was no mention of laughing. And yet here we are, still laughing all the way. They say that laughter is the best medicine. And I would add that nothing is healthier than being able to laugh at yourself. I suppose God has given some of us more opportunities to do that than others.
A true blessing is having someone to share that laugher. Happy Anniversary – Deb (thanks for all the love and laugher!)
As a Catholic Christian I have a responsibility to respect life. Lately I’ve been thinking about what respecting life means to me. Not “Respect For Life” the pro-life mantra with all of it’s political implications but respecting life; the life we’ve been given and the lives of others.
In 1996 when our daughter was in high school she had the opportunity to be a foreign exchange student. At sixteen years old she traveled alone to Santo Domingo, Ecuador and lived with a host family for the summer. Her hosts welcomed her as part of their family. She attended school with her sisters, joined in family events, was never allowed to walk the streets alone without her brother’s protection and was completely immersed in life in Santo Domingo. During her time in Ecuador, she and several other international students spent a bonus week in the rainforest. They rode an antiquated bus into the jungle, slept in hatched huts, encountered huge snakes, fought off marauding monkeys who would snatch food from their picnic tables, and experienced a life most hadn’t realized even existed. Part of that week also involved meeting indigenous peoples in order to appreciate their culture.
Because this was before the days of smart phones and texting and easy access to the internet we were able to only receive one fax and two phone calls from our daughter during her time abroad. Needless to say, when she arrived home she had much to share.
I remember vividly her telling us about her experience in the rainforest. Her best friend was over and our daughter was sharing her photos while describing in detail everything we saw. She mentioned how they had all been offered a drink of some concoction from a wooden bowl. I believe it was considered a blessing or sign of hospitality. She took the vessel and held it up to her mouth but she didn’t swallow. Pretty discerning for a sixteen year old. She was respectful but cautious. (Her mother’s influence should be credited for that gracious maneuver). When we looked at the photos of how the people were dressed (and undressed) and had painted their faces. Her friend exclaimed at the top of her voice, “Oh my God, I would stare!”
Those two girls, at sixteen, respected life. My daughter concerned by what might be mixed in that unknown concoction, nonetheless was respectful enough to accept the gift given. Her friend’s reaction to the native Ecuadorians unusual costumes was only an embarrassed, “I would stare!” Neither girl expressed disgust or hatred or fear of a different life. They were respecting life. A life so different from their own but deserving of dignity and respect. I was so proud of those girls then and I am proud of the women that they have become. They are both mothers now and they are raising their children to also respect life. And they are changing our world. One works in immigration; one works in education.
In a interview in America Magazine on October 1, 2020, Jeannie Gaffigan said, “My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant.”
Our daughter and her best friend were also given a Catholic education and faith and love of family was instilled in them as well. I can’t take too much credit for the amazing person that our daughter has become but we did teach her to respect life.
So here is my prayer; here is my hope. That one parent will teach one child to respect life. And our world can be transformed one child at a time.
When I was in high school, I was 6’-2” and weighed 120 lbs. soaking wet. My parents’ friends and some family members would often ask if I played basketball. The assumption was of course that because I was tall and skinny, I should be a natural on the court. The truth was that I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Come to think of it, I kind of looked like a newborn giraffe. I doubt that I could have run down the court without tripping myself. So, no I was not a basketball player. But folks thought I should be.
When my wife and I got married we were young and had no idea of what might lie ahead. We were a couple of small-town kids in love and that seemed like enough to get us through. Lots of people felt obliged to tell us that it would never work out and that we were making a big mistake. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but our love survived and thrived. I was (and am) happy to be married to this amazing woman, even though people thought I wouldn’t be.
When we had children, I tried to be a “hands-on” dad. I could change diapers, burp and bathe babies, read bedtime stories, dry tears (sometimes my own), and all the rest. My wife was the true nurturer, but I was no slouch. I did everything she did (except breast feed) and I believe it made me a better daddy and a better man. Other men, I knew at the time, questioned why I would be so involved in what they believed should have been my wife’s job. Even my own father wondered why I was so wrapped up in all this baby business. The kind of dad he was – that’s what he thought I should be.
As our children grew, I stayed active in their young lives. This “hands-on” dad would be faced with challenges in child rearing. Three teenagers each with different interests and divergent paths at times felt overwhelming. With prayer and patience (mostly the prayers were for more patience) I did the best I could. Once, another parent questioned why I wasn’t “helping” my son with his science project. The implication was that he would do a lousy job without parental supervision. When I replied that I didn’t want to do my son’s work and I would rather see him fail on his own than succeed with me covertly completing the science project, the other parent thought I was dead wrong. A few years later our other son decided to dye his hair bright green when he was in high school. I remember a parent asking me why I would let him do that. I shrugged and said, “First of all, he didn’t exactly ask for my permission and secondly, I was only disappointed that he didn’t dye it blue, which is my favorite color.” These people didn’t think I was the father that I should be.
When our only daughter got married, I was an emotional wreck on the inside. I loved her fiancé and was certain he would be a good husband and I knew that we had raised a strong, intelligent, confident young woman. Still, I could only think about the baby girl that I had held in my arms and I wasn’t sure if I could get through her wedding day without being a blubbering idiot. I prayed and asked God to give me strength. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my potential tears as unhappiness or displeasure in her decision to marry. Thankfully I got through the day with a smile on my face and not one tear fell (at least not from my eyes). Later at the wedding reception folks marveled at the fact that I wasn’t crying. They all thought that I should be.
Now that I’m a grandfather, people mistake me for an old conservative. Maybe it’s because I live in a bastion of conservatism – in my county Republicans often run unopposed for elected offices. I can’t be the only white-haired old guy who is also a progressive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have white hair and they’re not wearing MAGA hats. I’m certain there are other men my age who consider themselves feminists. Surely other 60-somethings want humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the end of discrimination against minorities and women in the workplace, dignity afforded to those in LGBT community, effective gun control legislation, protection of our environment and the abolishment of capital punishment. I find myself often silent in social settings – not wanting to be offensive and trying hard not to be offended. My friends know me (the real me) but it seems at times that even they don’t think I’m who I should be.
I guess I’ve spent my whole life not quite meeting other people’s expectations. I’ve never apologized for not being who or what others thought I should or shouldn’t be but at times I’ve been sheepish about it. Sheepish – not in the shy or embarrassed sense (“Oh please don’t tell anyone that I changed a diaper last night and that I voted for Jimmy Carter”). But sheepish – in the following blindly along with the other sheep. (“I don’t like your racist, homophobic, xenophobic blather, but I’m just going to nod and walk away without challenging it”). Shame on me! Because that’s not who I think I should be.
So, I pray. I have a small faith group that I meet with monthly. My prayer partners help me put things into perspective and remind me to rely less on myself and more on God. My wife keeps me grounded and loves me more than I deserve. My kids constantly astound me by being even more generous and loving as adults than I ever dreamed possible. My grandchildren are the jewels in this crown of goodness called life that has been bestowed upon me; none of which is deserved but is nonetheless cherished beyond measure.
Sometimes I still feel like that newborn giraffe – clumsy, frightened, ridiculously ill-equipped to take even the smallest step but somehow I trod on.
Our Grandson Noah turns nine years-old today. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time.
Noah has filled those nine years with love and joy, There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Noah has that gift. Any encounter with this joy-giver always makes me feel better; better about myself; better about life; better about this world. Noah has spirit. He has an amazing sense of adventure. He’s often the life of the party. He’s always looking for the good time; the big laugh; the happiness in every situation. He’s fun and funny. And he shares his boundless joy!
Noah is moving forward at record speed. He is growing in leaps and bounds.He seems to be in a hurry to get on with life; to learn more; play harder; face new challenges; enjoy new adventures; love more deeply. He is always looking forward to his next test; his next game; his next school year; his future.
Still, as he races toward that future, I know that he remembers to look back, too. For that, I am forever grateful. I hope when he looks back, he sees the love and security he has in being part of this family. I hope when he looks back, he sees that he has been nurtured and loved beyond measure. I hope when he looks back, he can take pride in his home; his school; his church; his community; his country. Those will be the building blocks of that future he seems so ready to take on.
Sometimes when I fear my future, I think of Noah and how he will conquer this world someday and make it a better place. Come to think of it, he already has. His kindness and joyfulness are much-needed antidotes for the sickness and sadness and corruption that I see in the news every day. When we are together, he and I, we share our stories – mine of boyhood memories of long ago; his of successes or challenges on the ball field or in the class room – we connect in way that is both physical and spiritual. Noah meets my every need, just by smiling at me; holding my hand; embracing me; telling me that he loves me.
As much as I need this beautiful boy, I believe he needs me too. My love for him is unconditional. I’d like to think that I love Noah the way that I hope God loves me. No proof of worthiness required. No test of loyalty needed. No apologies necessary.
I remember as a child playing “Red Rover” with my cousins at my grandparents house. Because we were Catholic and growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s, there were always a lot of us. Having 45 first cousins didn’t seem exceptional in my little world. Games that required a large group of small kids were pretty easy to play at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The object of “Red Rover” was lost on most of us. Certainly it was lost on me. I think we were supposed not let someone break the line or maybe trap them when they attempted to break the line. Perhaps there were no rules or we made them up to serve our purpose. Anyway, we would laugh and capture or repel one another or whatever we thought we were supposed to do. And we would do it over and over again.
When I think about those days of long ago, I realize that my cousins were my first friends. My cousins were my first peers. They were the ones that would laugh at me when I burped or farted or peed my pants or picked my nose – good peer pressure. I’m still thankful for their encouraging ridicule. Thanks to them, I am (nearly) socially acceptable.
My cousins were also my first partners in crime. We laughed when we heard our uncles and dads talking and some of them would use cuss words. Their cussing was pretty mild compared to today’s standards but we thought it scandalous and hilarious. On occasion we would “pretend smoke” our candy cigarettes and try out some cuss words. We were not allowed to play in the corn fields or in the beans or in the tomato plants but we could be persuaded to step foot into the forbidden zones when the adults were otherwise occupied. Grandpa always said to leave the barn cats alone, but at our own peril, we messed with them. These were not sweet little house kittens. These were nearly feral cats whose only goal in life was to keep the mice at bay. Picking one up would usually result in scratches and bites. The fact that the barn cats were “forbidden” made them that much more enticing.
I’m still close to many of my cousins. Three of us are the same age (which I suppose happens a lot in big families). We still laugh and play together. We three still use some cuss words now and then and although we’ve given up candy cigarettes, we enjoy an occasional adult beverage together. Our lives are simultaneously different and the same. Being connected to one another in love and friendship makes the months and years between our get-togethers seem merely like days. And being together makes us feel like kids again.
My cousins were the ones who taught me that belonging is important and necessary. We belong to one another – we share a history. Somehow I think God is mixed up in all of this. God decided we belonged together. For better or worse, we are family.
I hope that there is a heaven. And I hope that if I’m fortunate enough to be there at the end this life, my cousins will be calling out,“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Denny on over…”
My grandson Noah is a fierce competitor who likes to win. He’s the family’s UNO® champion and I really do try to beat him, but I just can’t. He plays soccer and basketball and baseball. And whether he’s on the field or the court, he gives it his all. He’s a good student, too. He works hard and gets all A’s. He’s quick-witted and loves to tell jokes. He’s thoughtful, inquisitive and he understands things beyond his years. He’s a human dynamo; always on the move; always ahead of the curve; always ready for the next adventure. I struggle to keep up with him. Most times I feel like he’s an adult in an eight- year old body.
And then he holds my hand.
He holds my hand when he feels uncertain about a new place or a new experience. He holds my hand when he feels frightened (although usually he’s fearless). He holds my hand when he meets people for the first time. He holds my hand and he’s a little boy again who needs his grandfather’s love and protection.
More importantly, he holds my hand when I desperately need it to be held. I’m not sure if he knows it or senses it, but lately I need my hand held more than he needs me to hold his. He might be the toughest kid on the field or the court or the playground, but he still holds my old hand in his. He doesn’t seem to mind if anyone sees us walking hand and hand together. He takes my hand and makes me feel necessary and loved and blessed.
My Mom’s funeral was last week, and Noah was my shadow. He sat with me and held my hand and eased my pain. His great-grandmother was gone, and he was heartbroken, too. Yet he was more concerned with comforting me than being comforted himself.
Perhaps he is an adult in an eight-year old body. But all I really know is that he’s an eight-year old boy who brought Christ to me on the saddest of days by holding my hand.
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.
Recently 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.