Once Upon a Time in a Land Far, Far, Away…

Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore in high school now and our second oldest granddaughter is in 7th grade and is looking at high schools. Because of this I’ve been reminiscing about high school lately.

For many of us high school was a distant time and place. Still, high school wasn’t just the school building or the four years spent there. It was the people. It was the experiences. It was social order or disorder as the case might be. For many of us high school left an indelible mark on our psyches. Being accepted or rejected socially; being scholarly or not; being on the team or not; being physically attractive or not; these things in many ways defined our ability to succeed as adults. In some cases rejection may have made us work harder to find our real worth. In other cases gliding through the high school years might have given us the impression that life would be a breeze and we ended up stagnated or unfulfilled. Regardless if we were jocks or geeks, cheerleaders or bookworms, trouble makers or do-gooders, those four years had an effect on us.

I was a geek who thought he was cool. Kind of a hipster-doofus with most of the emphasis on doofus. I was not a good student. I was not athletic nor particularly attractive and I think I was invisible to most of the popular girls. Although I wasn’t a target of abuse or bullying like some of my geekier friends, I was nonetheless relegated to the “loser” group. I had some popular friends too but it’s likely that I thought we were better friends than they thought we were. I wasn’t miserable in high school, I just knew my place. If there was a contest (and thankfully there wasn’t) I would have probably been voted “Most Likely To Be Forgotten”.

Then the strangest thing happened. I graduated. I got a part-time job near home and went to a local college. I met a girl at that job who had attended a neighboring high school and was attending a different local college. I flirted. She flirted back. We dated (in that we’re-both-poor-college-students sort of way). We had fun together. And she really seem to like me. I learned from others that she had been popular at her high school and was on the Coronation Court – the royalty of high schoolers. It suddenly occurred to me that I was no longer defined by the high school cliques. I was still a geeky weirdo but she didn’t see me that way or she was too polite or too kind to point it out or maybe, just maybe, she liked me the way I was. This changed everything. Everyone seemed to know her and love her. She had been in the upper echelon of high school and I was, well, just me.

But she liked me, in spite of who or what I was. The Princess and the Frog! I learned a valuable lesson from that girl. She took the time to look past my outward appearance. When she looked at me she didn’t see the kid who didn’t measure up. She saw a young man with potential. With one kiss I turned into her Prince. And she changed our lives forever.

I hope that all our grandchildren have good high school experiences. And whether they’re the popular girl on Coronation Court like their grandmother or the doofus standing on the sidelines like their grandfather, I hope they measure their self-worth by what’s inside and find a princess who will hold the mirror up to their soul.

Peace,

Denis

The House That Love Built

My wife and I have been married for a while. We’ve weathered our fair share of storms through the years. Money problems; career challenges; parenthood; health issues; the loss of loved ones; 2020.

Somehow we’ve always held on; held out; held up. I know that we’ve been blessed with some great fortune. Not the monetary kind but the true treasure in life – loving family and friends and faith in God. I also believe that early on in our marriage we learned some valuable lessons in humility. Those humbling experiences weren’t fun at the time but they strengthened us and tempered our resolve to make our marriage work – even on the worst days.

Respect for one another is a big part of our success as couple. Folks say that marriage should be 50/50 but those of us who have been at it for a while know that sometimes it’s 80/20 or 30/70 and you have to step in and step up for your spouse when they need you. Being respectful to the one you love when they need more from you than they can give in return is challenging. It requires patience from the giver and humility from the receiver. I believe that it is even more challenging when you’re the one who needs to be carried for a time. But that’s what love is. Love builds us up. Love holds us together. Love gives us the strength to be the “carrier” and the grace to be the “carried”.

This has been a tough year for most people but at the end of each day I am blessed to able to look back and realize, once again, that I have had an amazing partner by my side. We’ve laughed and cried. We’ve cursed and prayed. And yet, even in 2020 somehow we’ve managed to hold on, hold out, and hold up.

When we were first married we had no idea what lie ahead. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Predictable journeys are, well predictable. Ours has been a serious of adventures. We’ve been surprised, heartbroken, blessed, scared and delighted along the way. We’ve grown up (and grown older) through it all. And we’re still standing…

Peace,

Denis

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

Judging

I’ve heard friends say, “don’t judge me!” when they’re involved in some questionable activity or embarrassing behavior. Or I’m sometimes scolded with “stop judging others!” when I feel the need to assert my superiority/intelligence/breeding/better fashion sense over someone else.

The assumption here of course is that my opinion matters. Not likely.

Judgment, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m certain that judgment has saved me from a possible mugging or an obnoxious salesperson on occasion. God gave me reason for a reason. I try to know my surroundings, understand who I’m dealing with, and steer clear of dangerous situations or unwanted circumstances. But that’s not the kind of judgment that gets me into trouble.

I judge people who I perceive don’t share my views on politics, culture, religion, art, child-rearing, personal hygiene, etc. If folks would just realize that I’m pretty good at everything and smarter than the average person, life would be much easier. I know a lot and I like being in charge. And most of the time, I don’t even have to hear one word from the “judged”, I can judge them by what they look like, how old they are, the way they dress, the car they drive, where they live, what they eat and where they worship. I am really good at this!

I’m particularly good at judging myself. That voice in my head is often saying,“that was a stupid idea” or “you’re too old, too tired, too fat”. And don’t forget regret. Regret is the ‘Ghost of Judgment Past’. “What were you thinking when you bought that Pinto in 1977?” “Why didn’t you apply yourself in school?” “Why aren’t you better prepared for retirement? “Why weren’t you kinder, more loving, more everything?”

My beautiful wife Debbie often reminds me, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” or something like that from her Southern Baptist upbringing. Then I feel ashamed – which is sort of like self-judgment on steroids.

But here’s what I’ve learned (also from my beautiful wife): LOVE IS THE ANSWER. Love mitigates judgment. Love makes it possible to accept someone as they are. Love allows me to accept my own imperfections. Love allows me to be loved.

Deb, Jesus and others keep giving me second chances. Everyday I have new opportunities to be more loving and less judgmental. Every encounter is a new chance to be a reconciling presence in this world. Okay, so maybe I’m not really the smartest guy out there but I am loved. And that’s a good place to start.

Peace,

Denis

Take My Hand

“Take my hand.” It’s such a simple phrase. It can be delivered as a command. Many times with my children and grandchildren it is imperative that they must ‘take my hand’. It guards against danger – traffic or crowds or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be offered as a gesture of kindness or friendship. Please ‘take my hand’ and I will help you along the way over rough terrain or an uncertain future. It can be a request. ‘Take my hand’ and help me, steady me, hold me, give me strength and the courage to continue on.

For me, it has mostly been an expression of love. ‘Take my hand’ and join our souls. Walk with me on this journey of life.

I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a wife of 45 years who is still the light and love of my life. I have three grown children who amaze me and challenge me and love me as much as I love them. I have five grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy and laughter; they give me hope for the future. I have friends and family who give tirelessly of themselves and bring balance to my life.

Each of them – all of them, have held my hand; have strengthened me; have pulled me up from the depths of despair. They have held my hand in times of joy and sorrow. We have clasped hands in times of immeasurable happiness. I have felt their heartbeats pulsing through my own veins. They have rescued me from mundane annoyance and incomprehensible pain. All of this by simply ‘taking my hand’.

As a child I held my parents hands. Whether crossing the street or being consoled, I felt protection in that hand. I was rescued from fear and uncertainty with the simple gesture of having my hand held. Now with aged fathers, Deb and I often find ourselves holding their hands. The roles have reversed in a way. The protection that our Dads’ afforded us is now being returned by steadying old hands that need support, tenderness and guidance.

I believe in a higher power. I believe in a God who has brought these loved ones into my life. I know when they ‘take my hand’ it is God’s hand holding mine. Each of these people is bringing Christ to me.

My prayer is that I can be allowed to be Christ to them as well. God rescues each of us; sometimes we just need a hand.

Peace,

Denis

Saints Among Us

On September 8, 1845 a small group of young women from Baden, Germany journeyed to Steinerberg, Switzerland due to government oppression of religious orders. There they formed a community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The early years were not easy. Ultimately the Sisters were forced to leave Switzerland because of the Swiss government’s hostility towards them. In 1848 they found a home in French Alsace. In 1857 a request for teachers came from Gurtweil, Germany, and so back to Germany they went. Once again, a hostile German government forced the Sisters to seek refuge. This time a group of sisters from the Gurtweil foundation traveled to America. In 1870, nine Sisters arrived in Belle Prairie, Illinois. In 1873 the Sisters temporarily moved to St. Louis, and in 1875 they established the motherhouse in O’Fallon, Missouri.

175 years later, their goal is straightforward. To love God and to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they serve. Often when I’m feeling spiritually bankrupt, I think of the Sisters and their determination to bring Christ to others. And I know that I am living among saints.

With my Aunts ~ circa 1958

As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church. I just occasionally struggle with being part of “We”. Sometimes my prayer life is what I can best describe as anemic. “Hey God, you know what I need, and I’ll try to do better about ‘that thing’ we’ve discussed, and oh by the way, you know what I’m thankful for, too. So, thank you – bla, bla, bla – the end.”

During some of those “desert days”, when I struggle to find God in my life, I am blessed with faithful friends who lift me up and humble me by their love and devotion.

Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group of lay people known as “Partners in Mission” have joined to help bring peace to our world. Fortunately for me, I have been accepted as a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. As Partners, we stand in solidarity with the Sisters in their commitment to social justice. Together, we join in prayer and worship. We are offered Spiritual guidance and renewal. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty we find refuge with these women who have devoted themselves to bringing the the love of Jesus to our world.

With my Partners in Mission ~ circa 2019

I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or a friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present its own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish.

Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectation of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved. The best part is that there is no test of worthiness or holiness required – which I would almost certainly fail. No financial obligation or talent is necessary – again I am lacking in both regards.

When I am bereft of enlightenment or clarity or purpose, I am reminded that alone my journey is not easy, but I am never alone. I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy by the Sisters and the other Partners in Mission.

And I am part of “We”.

Peace,

Denis

If you would like to learn more about Partners in Mission, click the link: http://cpps-ofallon.org/partners-in-mission/

I Am Who I Should Be

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.

Perhaps that’s exactly who I should be.

Peace,

Denis

Nine Years of Joy

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. 

SelfieNoah 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. 

Noah and meStill, 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.

Noah and NanaAs 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.

Just boundless love and eternal joy.

Peace,

Denis 

P.S. Happy Birthday Noah Boy!

P.S.S. This is one of Noah’s favorite songs. 

 

 

Go Debbie, It’s Your Birthday!

My wife celebrates another birthday today and I love this life that we share.

Our story is not all that unusual. Small town kids who met and fell in love and according to the experts got married too young. We fell in love and there was no way out! Most of our journey together has been unplanned. I’ve heard it said that man plans and God laughs. But what about us? Stumbling through life and making the most of it without any plans. Sometimes I feel like we’re still those nineteen year-olds rushing down the aisle into the unknown. But here we are (a few years later) still side by side on this crazy ride. We have a saying in our home “funny trumps all!”. We laugh and love and remain grateful for the joy of our life together. Our laughter rings out and it can even drown out our tears. I’m sure we’ve still given God plenty to laugh about, planned or otherwise, but we’re laughing, too.

GlacierThe older I get the more I realize that where we’re headed is nothing compared to being on this journey together. On the darkest of days, when all seems lost, I look beside me and know that everything will be alright. When happiness abounds, I know that it’s because of the love that Deb brings into my life. 

Here’s what you need to know about my birthday girl: If you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/daughter/mother/grandmother to call on. If you need a laugh, she will always deliver. If you need someone to hold or if you need to be held, her arms are always open wide. If you need to cry, she will cry, too. Debbie has this incredible gift of making you feel that when she’s with you, no one else is more important or more needed at that moment than you. You have her complete undivided attention. She gives her entire self.

And as for me, well when Deb walks in the room it’s like everyone else fades into the background. All the light in the space seems to be emanating from her. She just gets to me. So we fell in love and there was no way out. But why would I ever want out?

So go Debbie, it’s your birthday! Thanks for all the love and laughter. It’s been a wild ride.

Love,

Denis

 

 

Holding Noah’s Hand

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.

Noah meMore 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.

Peace,

Denis