Hope

This has been a tough couple of weeks. A dear friend died unexpectedly. Controversy at work and school has been brewing over Covid-19 mandates. Family members have been displaced from New Orleans due to Hurricane Ida. Our friends’ son underwent emergency heart surgery. Everywhere I turn there is something else to worry about; pray about; ask God “WTF?!!” about. Not to mention the 24-hour news cycles of Afghanistan, Texas’ abortion laws, the January 6th insurgency investigation and subsequent political wrangling, flooding in New York and New Jersey and the seemingly endless fires in California.

Hopelessness has come crashing in around me. My prayers seem shallow. My worry keeps me awake at night. And my questions remain unanswered. While praying my feeble “why?, why?, why?” prayer last night, I remembered Anne Lamott’s book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. In it she writes: “Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.”

That sentence reminded of a time many years ago when when we were living in Wisconsin and I was feeling hopeless. Battles with our then teenage son Blake were at times cataclysmic. Raising any teenager can make you feel hopeless and completely inept. This one managed to really push all my buttons. As with many teenagers, there were the usual sullen and angry moments. Life was unfair. His teachers were unfair. We were unfair. There was a lot of unfairness. I grew tired of his sulking and decided that I should show him some real unfairness up close and personal. Back then I occasionally volunteered at a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen in one of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. He would come with me the next time that I volunteered at the soup kitchen. We’d see if his bitching about how unfair life was would be silenced for a day or two and my hopelessness about being an ill-equipped parent would be eased for a little while longer than that.

When we arrived at the church we joined the other volunteers, some from our own suburban parish, and others from city parishes, and still others from rural parishes. We were all there to do God’s work – to serve the poor; to feed the hungry. We began with prayer and then were given our assignments. I was to dole out a (not too generous) spoonful of green beans to each person; Blake was to clear and wipe tables.

As our “clients” came through the food line and settled into the battered folding chairs and worn cafeteria tables in the humble church hall, I realized that Blake was also sitting down. What was he doing??? He was supposed to be serving the poor! He had an assignment to clean the tables. I asked another volunteer to take over my bean-serving job for a moment so that I could have a word with my son. How dare he? I was going to set things straight! I was going to make this kid understand he was there to serve others; to stop thinking solely of himself for a change!!!

When I approached him full of arrogance and self-righteousness (after all I had been serving the poor for months now) I was determined to teach him a lesson in love and compassion. Instead I came upon Blake and an elderly gentleman having a conversation. Blake was talking to this man; really talking and listening to him as well. It occurred to me that while I had been dutifully dispensing food all these months, I had never taken the time to speak with anyone. I barely looked folks in the eye. Was it my embarrassment because I believed that I had so much more than they? Or was it my shame because I couldn’t face the reality of living in a world where so many have so little?

Now I was the one being humbled. I was the one learning about God’s love. My son, my beautiful son, taught me that I had been missing the point. I had been feeding bodies but he fed this man’s soul. He showed he cared. He gave this gentleman dignity. He loved him.

And I’m still thankful for the lesson he taught me that day and how he restored my hope in us. Hope is not about proving anything. It’s the grace of God through others that sustains us and gives us hope.

Peace,

Denis

Then and now (he still gives me hope)


Mom

Mom, I love you. And Mother’s Day seems like a good day to thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

I'm sure I was listening then...

Mom & me – circa 1955

Thank you for giving me life.

Thank you for teaching me about God and how to pray. Your example of faith lives on in your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you for loving Dad (and by the way, he adores you, too). I also appreciate that I inherited your energy and sense of humor – even though Dad thinks he’s the funny one (and we all know he’s not the fast one).

Thanks for throwing or kicking a ball, running bases and always joining in whatever game was being played in the backyard.

Thanks for being a good cook and for always having a dessert with every meal. Also for never making me clean my plate as a kid – your mantra “just take one more bite” saved me from some otherwise torturous mealtimes.

Thank you for always keeping a clean house and having clean kids (even though we often resisted your nearly constant need to wipe our messy hands and faces).

Thank you for being a ‘force to be reckoned with’. At 85 years young you can still work circles around the rest of us.

Thanks for laughing so hard at times that you cry. And for crying when you are sad, hurt, or heartbroken (and for allowing us to cry with you).

Thank you for teaching me how to do addition in my head – no one can do it as fast as you!

Thanks for teaching me how to drive a car, too and for never losing your patience with me while I was struggling to learn.

Mom & me

Mom & me – circa 2014

Thanks for staying beautiful and up-to-date in your appearance and attitude. I’ve always been so proud to be seen with you Mom.

Thank you for loving Debbie as much as your own daughter. And for always saying that you couldn’t have picked a better daughter-in-law yourself.

Thanks for loving our children and always making time at Gram’s house special for them. Two words: blueberry muffins!

Thank you for always keeping a toy box in your sewing room. And for letting the grandkids and great grandkids sometimes take a toy home.

Thank you for being you. And for surrounding our family with your love.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

If The Prodigal Son Had A Sister…

FULL DISCLOSURE – THIS IS A REPEAT. Today’s Gospel was the story of the Prodigal Son and I decided to repost this from September 2011…

I have two sons and a daughter. The sons both live a distance from us – one in Wisconsin and one in Korea. The daughter lives nearby. We see the sons (if we’re lucky) a couple of times a year. We see the daughter (and we are lucky) several times a week.

When we talk (Skype) with the sons, it’s usually about important upcoming events and significant happenings – weddings, births, travel, careers, etc. When we talk to the daughter, it can be mundane – what’s for dinner, aches and pains, the weather, etc.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps our daughter might sometimes feel like the older brother of the Prodigal Son. Needless to say, she’s here day-in and day-out listening to our latest complaints and answering our latest requests – always supportive, always cheerful, always ready for more. When “the boys” come to town it’s cause célèbre. And she often helps plan and carry out whatever festivities take place. By contrast, when she comes to dinner, she’s expected to set the table, help prepare the meal and clean up afterwards. Hardly seems fair…

Lucky Dad with Best Daughter in the World

But fairness is never part of the equation. Bess (our beautiful and gracious daughter) has inherited her mother’s gift of charity. She seldom thinks of herself first. She wants EVERYONE to be happy (and cared for, and well fed, and loved, etc.). She always gives of herself and she rarely expects anything in return. Her cheerfulness is contagious and she makes others happy by just being around her (again – a gift from her mother).

She’s here. She’s available. She’s constant. And I know that they say (whoever they are) that familiarity breeds contempt. But in our case it seems to me that familiarity creates family. We are family. And I need my daughter. And I hope she knows how much I love and appreciate her. I try to tell her in lots of small ways because we don’t have big celebrations for her and Travis and their children. We just have small celebrations and familiar and comfortable times together. And for me those small intimate gatherings are almost always more meaningful than the grand events planned for our sons.

And because of who she is, I doubt that Bess has ever resented her brothers or felt pushed aside when we “slaughter the fatted calf.” But just in case, she should know:

My (daughter), you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. ~ Luke 15:31

Peace,

Denis (Dad)

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

Learning About God From Children

Recently our (almost) 5 year-old granddaughter Anna was discussing Easter with her Mommy. She was talking about Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead. She knows that we live forever in heaven even though our bodies remain on earth after death. She wants to know if Grannie is an old lady in heaven or has a ‘zero baby’ body. Also she’s super excited that Sophie (our aged Maltese) might someday be a fuzzy puppy in heaven and that we’ll all be with her and Grannie someday. But “not for like a hundred years”.the-story-of-easter

Pretty profound stuff.

Anna’s conversation with our daughter reminded me of a time years ago when our younger son Blake was 4 or 5 years old and was attending ‘Pre-school Sunday School’. He was learning about Jesus and Easter and Salvation. And of course as anyone with a preschooler knows, there were lots of questions:

Why did Jesus have to die? He died to forgive our sins.

Is God Jesus’ Daddy? Yes.

Why didn’t his Daddy save him? Because God knew that Jesus needed to die to so we could live in heaven forever.

I’d rather live here than in heaven. You would save me, wouldn’t you? Yes.

Do you have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven? I’m pretty sure that you do.

What about Greg (his older brother’s Jewish best friend)? Well I’m not sure. Ummm, can we talk about what the Easter Bunny will bring you?

A few days later he woke me up in the middle of the night. “Blake why are you awake?” “I’ve been worrying about Greg, but just I figured it out!” “What’s that Buddy?” If God made Greg Jewish then that’s what he should be – God wouldn’t be wrong!” “So Greg can come to heaven, too.” “Oh, okay Pal, can we go back to sleep now?” “Sure!”

Blake fell fast asleep that night. I on the other hand laid awake for hours amazed at his insight. Great scholars and theologians couldn’t have spoken more eloquently.

And then I just stopped pretending to have all the answers. In fact, I realized back then (and still know today) that I had few of the answers.

What I do have is faith. Faith in the unknown; the unseen; the unproven. I’ve been blessed to have glimpsed heaven a few times through the eyes of a child.

As we enter Holy Week may you stop looking for answers and rest assured that God already has them all.

Peace,

Denis

Lessons Learned

Years ago when we were living in Wisconsin I occasionally volunteered at a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen in one of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods. During that time our younger son Blake was a teenager, and as with many teenagers, there were the usual sullen and angry moments. Life was unfair. His teachers were unfair. We were unfair. There was a lot of unfairness. I grew tired of his sulking and decided that I should show him some real unfairness up close and personal. He would come with me the next time that I volunteered at the soup kitchen.

When we arrived at the church we joined the other volunteers, some from our own suburban parish, and others from city parishes, and still others from rural parishes. We were all there to do God’s work – to serve the poor; to feed the hungry. We began with prayer and then were given our assignments. I was to dole out a (not too generous) spoonful of green beans to each person; Blake was to clear and wipe tables.

As our “clients” came through the food line and settled into the battered folding chairs and worn cafeteria tables in the humble church hall, I realized that Blake was also sitting down. What was he doing??? He was supposed to be serving the poor! He had an assignment to clean the tables. I asked another volunteer to take over my bean-serving job for a moment so that I could have a word with my son. How dare he? I was going to set things straight! I was going to make this kid understand he was there to serve others; to stop thinking solely of himself for a change!!!

When I approached him full of arrogance and self-righteousness (after all I had been serving the poor for months now) I was determined to teach him a lesson in love and compassion. Instead I came upon Blake and an elderly gentleman having a conversation. Blake was talking to this man; really talking and listening to him as well. It occurred to me that while I had been dutifully dispensing food all these months, I had never taken the time to speak with anyone. I barely looked folks in the eye. Was it my embarrassment because I believed that I had so much more than they? Or was it my shame because I couldn’t face the reality of living in a world where so many have so little?

Now I was the one being humbled. I was the one learning about God’s love. My son, my beautiful son, taught me that I had been missing the point. I had been feeding bodies but he fed this man’s soul. He showed he cared. He gave him dignity. He loved.

Beneath his snarky teenage exterior beat the heart of a true Christian. Blake was being Christ to others in a way I had never considered.

All grown up now (Blake, tto)
All grown up now (Blake, too)

And I’m still thankful for the lesson he taught me that day.

Peace,

Denis

Parenthood

The trend today is to ALWAYS make our children happy (at all times; at any expense). Recently I encountered a young family at Chik-fil-A® (I don’t agree with their politics but they serve a great chicken sandwich and my grandkids love the place!) who were cajoling Junior into eating his nuggets with the promise of ice cream and the indoor playground – so far so good. But when Junior was presented with the ‘free book’ that came with his meal, he threw it at the beleaguered mother and screamed, “I don’t like this one!” The frazzled father promptly promised to stop on the way home and buy him a different book after he had his ice cream and play time. I then promptly gave my grandson a ‘don’t even think about look’ while he was taking all of this in.

Now I’m compelled to share my wisdom as a service to all young parents out there (even though my own children would likely tell you that all their scars are emotional). So here in no particular order are my Rules for Parenting :

  1. Stop trying to be the perfect parent; they only exist in your mother’s imagination.
  2. It’s easier to negotiate with a terrorist than a two-year old.
  3. Don’t try to be your child’s friend (be a parent; it’s more rewarding in the long run).
  4. When doling out punishment, don’t flinch; once they see your weakness they won’t let up (give up, shut up) until you cave in.
  5. When they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to pick up their toys.
  6. Stop buying them so much stuff; love is free and it’s worth so much more.
  7. Be silly sometimes; be serious when you must.
  8. Pray (even if you’re just praying for sanity).
  9. Pick your battles; no child ever died because he didn’t clean his plate or take a proper nap.
  10. Reasoning with a preschooler can be like trying to nail JELLO® to a tree; it’s okay to just say NO (and mean it).
  11. Close your door; give yourself a TIME OUT when things reach the boiling point.
  12. Remember who the adult is and behave like one.
  13. It’s okay to be angry; kids can sometimes really piss you off. (But use your inside voice when you’re angry).
  14. Go outside; get some exercise and breathe some fresh air (and take the kids with you).
  15. You don’t ALWAYS have to have all the answers; it’s alright to say, “because I said so; that’s why!”
  16. When in doubt trust your instincts; my parents did and look how well I turned out.

Peace,

Denis

If The Prodigal Son Had A Sister…

I have two sons and a daughter. The sons both live a distance from us – one in Wisconsin and one in Korea. The daughter lives nearby. We see the sons (if we’re lucky) a couple of times a year. We see the daughter (and we are lucky) several times a week.

When we talk (Skype) with the sons, it’s usually about important upcoming events and significant happenings – weddings, births, travel, careers, etc. When we talk to the daughter, it can be mundane – what’s for dinner, aches and pains, the weather, etc.

It occurred to me recently that perhaps our daughter might sometimes feel like the older brother of the Prodigal Son. Needless to say, she’s here day-in and day-out listening to our latest complaints and answering our latest requests – always supportive, always cheerful, always ready for more. When “the boys” come to town it’s cause célèbre. And she often helps plan and carry out whatever festivities take place. By contrast, when she comes to dinner, she’s expected to set the table, help prepare the meal and clean up afterwards. Hardly seems fair…

Lucky Dad with Best Daughter in the World

But fairness is never part of the equation. Bess (our beautiful and gracious daughter) has inherited her mother’s gift of charity. She seldom thinks of herself first. She wants EVERYONE to be happy (and cared for, and well fed, and loved, etc.). She always gives of herself and she rarely expects anything in return. Her cheerfulness is contagious and she makes others happy by just being around her (again – a gift from her mother).

She’s here. She’s available. She’s constant. And I know that they say (whoever they are) that familiarity breeds contempt. But in our case it seems to me that familiarity creates family. We are family. And I need my daughter. And I hope she knows how much I love and appreciate her. I try to tell her in lots of small ways because we don’t have big celebrations for her and Travis and their children. We just have small celebrations and familiar and comfortable times together. And for me those small intimate gatherings are almost always more meaningful than the grand events planned for our sons.

And because of who she is, I doubt that Bess has ever resented her brothers or felt pushed aside when we “slaughter the fatted calf.” But just in case, she should know:

My (daughter), you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. ~ Luke 15:31

Peace,

Denis (Dad)