Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Barry Manilow, a Dirty Refrgerator, and Jesus

I am actually blogging this from Nazareth, from the guest room computer.  I am in the midst of that fabulous week known to many as Companions in Mission when I get to spend the week serving the dear neighbor and spending time with my beloved Companions and my Sister Friends at the Congregation of St. Joseph. 

Today was our first day of serving our "dear neighbor" in the mission fields of Kalamazoo Michigan. Two companions and I went to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission to work today, fully expecting to feed the hungry and see the face of Jesus in the poor and hungry down-trodden folks in Kalamazoo.  When we got toe the Gospel Mission, we were greeted warmly, and set to work...cleaning out huge refrigerators.  "I need you to take everything out of here and detail the entire thing, both of them."  Our guide instructed. She got us buckets of sanitizer/detergent, rags, and turned us loose on the fridges.  These fridges are the size of the coolers that hold pop in convenience stores, and were full of dairy products and donated desserts. 

So I start moving stuff around and pulling out shelves and cleaning up this fridge, and my mind starts to think,"What?  Really? I'm cleaning a fridge?  How is this serving the poor?  How is this helping?  I'm supposed to feed the poor!  I'm supposed to see the face of Jesus in the poor and down-trodden!  There are no poor folks in the fridge, only a ridiculous amount of sweet rolls!   I'm totally cleaning a giant fridge!" 

And then I heard the song start in my head..."when will our eyes meet..."  I think it's Barry Manilow.  "...when will I touch you...when will this strong yearning end?"  Yep, it's Barry Manilow.  I'm cleaning a fridge at the mission, and the soundtrack God has given me is Barry Manilow.  "And when will I hold you....again?"  The song kept going, over and over until I realized that God was trying to tell me something. 

I need to clean my refrigerator. 

Before I can help anyone else, I need to clean my refrigerator.  I need to clean out the gunk that has spilled on my own shelves.  I need to mop up the spoiled milk of my own hurt feelings and disappointments before I can serve anyone else any good and nutritious food.  I need to empty my inner shelves full of sweet fluff with no nutritious value, and reorganize them into an orderly, clean, healthy state of mind, body and spirit. 

Once I figured this out and started cleaning with a higher purpose, I started really listening to the words that Jesus sang to me (with Barry Manilow's voice).  "When will our eyes meet?  When can I touch you?  When can this strong yearning end?"  Does Jesus miss me?  It's been awhile since I've really been attentive to Him in my life.  I mean like totally present and aware of His love for me.  Is he as anxious for me to get my fridge cleaned as I am to see His face in the people of Kalamazoo? 

The last line draws my tears. "When will I hold you again?"  I know Barry Manilow was writing this love song about another person, but when I was without a pulse, it was like being held and loved like a newborn baby.  Loved and held and rocked by one who loved me perfectly and wholly.  "When will I hold you again?" 

Cleaning out the fridge with this new perspective was transforming!  I started talking to the people who were working around me.  Not because they were needy and I came to help them, but because I was needy, and trying to find love.  Barry Manilow made me hunger for physical contact with Jesus, and as soon as I started looking around, I saw he was everywhere. 

So, today was the day our eyes met!  Today I touched you!  This long yearning for you will NEVER end! 

But when will I hold you....again......?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Doomed Dogs

Doomed.  That's a strong word, but accurate.  We went to look for a dog to adopt at Kalamazoo County Animal Control and saw the death row of dogs.  It broke my heart, really.  We saw 2 potential Swager-dogs, and at least 8 that will never again see the light of day, unless they euthanize them outside. 

Simon and Sylvia were totally freaked out by the loud barking of these poor beasts, made worse by the closeness in the rooms.  Cage after cage had signs on the door that read "Caution", "I Bite", and "Do not Open".  There were sweet dogs mixed in with these poor creatures, barking out their protests, "I'm a good pup, I'm not a biter!"  But I was drawn to the eyes of the sad, wild beasts with the warning signs, mostly pit bulls.

They weren't born mean, these American Pit Bull Terriers.  They weren't bred to be beasts of terror that shred small children and attack with such ferocity that their kind is being outlawed in our state.  The United Kennel Club registers these animals, and proper trainers show their sweet kind natures and their willingness to please their owner at dog shows around the nation.  Sadly, it is exactly this willingness to please that lands them here...on dog death row.  They aim to please their owners.  When their owners teach them to attack, they do, eager to bring a smile to that twisted owners face.  When their owners beat them so they'll snarl and show their aggression, they comply, anxiously awaiting a "good dog" or a milk bone.  When they are neglected and mistreated, it only makes sense that they will attack...they are starving and have only an animal instinct to survive to go on!  No one took the time to teach them the right way to behave. 

So these beautiful animals will die.  It is too late for them.  They didn't have the good fortune to be born a Maltese or a Labradoodle.  They weren't someones beloved Pookie.  They were treated like they had no value.  Just a piece of meat... a very muscular burglar alarm.  I looked into their eyes and saw their fear, and I have no comfort to offer them.  Not even a pat on the head.  Even the ones that are well socialized will soon be illegal in the State of Michigan.  Why?  Because any fool can own a dog, and lots of them do.   

When we do choose our new family member, I hope I will remember these other animals.  I hope I remember to treat MY beloved Pookie (or Pepper, or Candy) with the respect that they deserve.                 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Big Three-Part Question!

I am filling out an application for a symposium I'd like to attend, and it asked me the following question," What are the three most important messages about heart disease you want to convey to other women?"

Hmmm.  I wrote a stellar answer which will certainly be published in some Cardiac Quarterly Magazine (not) but it got me thinking... 

#1.  Don't have a cardiac arrest if your sister doesn't know CPR.
#2.  Don't have a cardiac arrest if you don't have an AED nearby.
#3.  TRY NOT TO HAVE A CARDIAC ARREST!  (Mr. Obvious told me this one!) 

Those were not the answers I really wrote, but my Smarty-pants Senses were tingling!  Actually, I started thinking about all of my people that I love and care about.  Then I started thinking about my cardiac arrest...for real.  I let it sink in for a minute, as I sometimes do.  I might cry at this point.  Feel free to join me if you'd like, or not.  It's up to you.

I got thinking of the more important question.  "What are the three most important messages you want to convey to others."  Now, those others could be blog readers, or good friends (or both.)  They could be my kids or grand kids.  What are the three most important things I'd want people to know before my time is up?   That's a lot more to think about.  These may change over time, but today here they are. 

#1.  God Loves You.  I fully and completely believe that this one sentence is the reason I was allowed to survive my heart stopping.  This is my message.  This is the meaning of my entire existence.  It is the peace that allows me to sleep at night, and my purpose for rising every morning.  It carries me through every dark valley, and raises me to the heights of the angels with joy over every blessing I witness.  It is the answer to all my questions, and the greatest gift I have ever received or given.  This is my hope, and my prayer for all of you.  That you will know this in every cell of your being.  Some of my dear ones mistakenly believe that because they were not conceived of a loving relationship that they were not created in love.  Father, Son and Spirit conspired to have you come into being to be a blessing to those of us who know and love you, and our lives would be less without the joy that you are.  That sounds like conceived of love to me. 

#2.  I Love You.  Okay, so this one is considerably less important than #1.  But we all have those days when we wonder if we even matter.  Stop wondering, you matter.  You matter to me.  The fact that you are willing to read my writing makes me feel fulfilled and like I want God to speak to you through my words.  This makes me pray for you.  Which makes me care about you more.  Love you, even.  Especially those I know well.  And you know who you are! 

#3.  You are worthwhile.  This one took a long time for me to learn about myself.  It's not anyone else's fault, I'm kind of a slow learner about some things.  I didn't know that I mispronounced the word "Caterpillar" until I was late into my 30's.  I only recently realized that my Jehovah's witness friend from college wanted me to pay him for the books he shared with me.  Sometimes I'm slow on the uptake.  Still, I'm worthwhile.  So are you.  You are worth the time and effort to listen to and hear.  You have good ideas, and should act on some of them.  If you are Isaac, I hope you only act on the safer ones, and that they involve a minimum of Ninja skills.  Still, it's important to know this about yourself because it totally changes the way you allow people to treat you.  I wish I'd had this list a lot sooner, but time is a great teacher.  I hope that all of my children, sisters, brothers, and friends know that I feel this way.  If I am not treating you this way, let me know.  You are worth my time... and more importantly, if you refer back to #1, you are worth God's time and effort. 

So for today, this is my big three.  I don't know that they will change any one's life but mine.  Putting them to paper reminds me of what's important.  That should affect the way I treat people.  I hope you all know you are loved...by God, Me, and hopefully by yourself.                      


Monday, June 20, 2011

My name is not BUT-MOM!

That's right, my name is not But-Mom.  Just Mom.  I love being a mom. I love everything about my kids, except the name But-Mom.  I heard that name a lot this last week.  "Lydia, please wash the dishes."  "But-Mom, Isaac doesn't have to do anything."  "Simon, could you take out this trash?"  "But-Mom, you said I could be done with chores!"  But-Mom is the name that can only be pronounced with the whine in the middle.  "But-Moouuuuuuhhhhhoooom."  I don't love it.  Really. 

But what I do love is the other stuff I heard this week.  "Thanks, Mom, for letting us have our friends over."  "Thanks, Mom for the s'mores."  "I'll miss you when I'm in Chicago, Mom."  "Thanks, Mom...just thanks."  I love my kids.  I may have mentioned it several million times to them, and anyone willing to listen. 

Right now Sylvia is the only one home.  She is watching TV all scrunched up in her Daddy's chair.  She didn't get to go to the beach with Simon and her cousins because she's had a rash all week.  The doctor said it's Fifth Disease.  It's a common, viral, mostly non-threatening, highly contagious childhood disease.  I wonder what the first four diseases were.  The odd thing is that I saw 2 other kids at school with the same rash and wondered aloud if it was Fifth Disease.  I also have some nieces with it, so having an answer was wonderful.  We can stop throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of body wash and bug spray, since it's NOT an allergy. 

Isaac Lydia and Harriett are gone to Chicago for a few days.  They are touring Chicago with the Youth Choir, and will be performing at a retirement home, and at open-mic night Wednesday at Pot Belly's.  It's a sandwich store that has musical entertainment (I looked it up.)  So if you're in the Chicago Area, drop on in for some local talent.  You might hear Isaac belting out some Free bird!  That boy's got PIPES!!!!   My girls may be doing a duet also, maybe "Lean on Me".  They love that tune almost as much as Journey's "Don't stop Believin'." 

I didn't realize how much I miss them until I got home and no one "But-Mommed" me.  I took out the trash myself.  I didn't even complain...much.  I am typing at the computer, and Harriett's not trying to put her feet on me.  (She knows I don't like feet touching me.)  No one is trying to argue with me right now, and it feels very empty and lonely.  Someone should be asking what's for dinner, fully prepared to "But-Mom" the answer, even if they like what I'm making.  I miss my kids.  I hope Chicago is fun. 

Saved by the Sylvia!  I have officially been "But-Mommed", again!  Sylvia: "Mom, can I have a special treat?  You know....ice....cream...?"  Me: "We have to have dinner first."  Sylvia: "But Mom, Isaac bought me a sno-cone from the ice cream man, and it's in the freezer!" 

So here I go to make her dinner so she can eat her sno-cone from her beloved brother that she misses terribly.  No one understands how much she misses the kids, But Mom.              

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Deep Deep Depths of Faith

I went to my nephew/godson Zeke's Confirmation tonight in Eaton Rapids, and was totally blessed by it!  He's growing to be a fine young man, and I love him very much.  People I didn't know were telling me what a neat person he is, and I know that God has blessed him. The Bishop of the Diocese of Lansing is not the same person as the Bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, but he does a lovely Confirmation ceremony.  It was a little different from the way we did it at our church, but not much.  Still, I found myself looking for the deepest meaning in this amazing Sacrament. 

First, the bishop asks the people getting confirmed (Confirmandi is what they are called) to renew the promises made for them at baptism.  Since a baby's cry is generally not a reliable sign of consent, most of these people had their baptismal promises made for them by godparents and parents until they are old enough to answer for themselves.  This was their big chance to speak for themselves.  (Mostly they answer "I Do.")  By rejecting all that is unholy and embracing that which is Holy, the Confirmandi speak their desire to become full-grown Christian Catholics, ready to go out and be a disciple of Christ, to continue learning their faith, and to strive to be the saint that God calls each of us to be. 

There is a lot of incense, and the Confirmandi are prayed for, and sealed with the Oil of Salvation.  This is the same oil used at Baptism, since Confirmation is the completion of Baptism. It smells wonderful.  It smells like hope, and new babies, and holiness and Heaven.  It smells like the Confidence to try courageous things like Joan of Arc, and St. Joseph of Cupertino and Blessed Mother Teresa.  It smells like being annointed Priest, Prophet and King, just like Jesus.  It encompasses me in its presence and makes me feel one with every Christian who has ever walked the planet or spoken His beautiful name.  To say I like it just doesn't do. 

One thing this bishop did that was different (and very old school) was that after he marked their forhead with the Sign of the Cross in Chrism he patted them on the cheek.  Almost a smack, but not quite.  Kind of like your old Italian Grandpa would do while saying, "Ah, You're such a good boy!"  There is an actual meaning to this action.  It was done to remind the newly Confirmed that being a Christian involves some amount of suffering.  Following Christ will cause you some discomfort, but it's worth it. 

One thing the bishop did was the same, and I've been pondering the meaning of this action for weeks.  After the bishop puts the oil on the students, he rubs his fingers on a lemon, then rubs them on a piece of bread.  Hmmm.  Perhaps the lemon represents the bitterness of the suffering discussed above.  Maybe the bread refers to the "I am the bread of Life..." discussion in John 6.  Maybe it's something I don't know yet.  What could it be? 

Well, I was standing around with Betsee and a priest walked up and asked me who I was.  I told him my name, then asked the question. I was all poised to learn some new mystery.  Some amazing way to know God on an ever deepening level.  "Oh, Father...Speak to my HEART!" my mind cried out!  "Well..." He began in an Indian accent, "The acid of the lemon removes the oil from the bishops fingers, then the bread absorbs the lemon juice and any left-over oil."   

Really?  That's it?  Acid trumps oil and bread is absorbent.  That's the lesson? No.  The real lesson is that GOD LOVES US and wants us to be a part of his life through His Son, Jesus.  The rest of the lesson is that you might be trying so hard to unravel a deep mystery that you miss the most obvious thing in the world!  Sometimes a lemon is just an acidic fruit!  Sometimes bread is just really absorbent, and you can throw it away without oiling up lots of other stuff.  Find God where you see God, but don't look so close you can't recognize Him any more!

So quit trying so hard, and let yourself be loved.  Love someone today.  Maybe someone difficult or crazy or some pot-stirring no-good rabbit-stealing neighbor who may or may not be on Meth.  Maybe it's the simplest love that runs the deepest. 


Monday, June 6, 2011

New Glasses

I got new glasses today.  The prescription isn't really that different, but the first time I put them on I almost fell over.  It's just such a different perspective.  My left eye's pretty good, but my right eye is kind of a mess, so it's a really uneven, trippy, odd feeling to try to walk through the mall with them on.  You'll be happy to know I put on the old ones to drive home.  I enjoy properly judging distances.  I highly recommend it to all of you other drivers out there! 

So the real reason I was at the mall was to birthday shop for Sylvia.  My beloved youngest child is going to be 7 on Wednesday.  (Which is also my wedding anniversary.  We had our 7th child on our 8th wedding anniversary!  Isn't that sweet!)  Sylvia has been celebrating all month (is anyone surprised?)  and now the time is almost here.  As she was going up to bed, I mentioned that tomorrow is her last day to be 6 years old, and she'll never be 6 again!  She tried to console ME about that thought by reminding me of the nieces and nephews and grandkids I have who have not yet achieved that lofty mature age of six yet.

The truth remains, my baby is going to be 7.  I tried to tell her that if she didn't get brushed and in her pajamas I wasn't going to LET her turn 7.  That smart little stinker is totally on to me!  I can't stop it.  I just have to adjust to this new reality. 

So I've got new glasses, and I'm seeing things a bit differently.  I took Sylvia to bed and prayed with her.  She asked God to show His compassion to our pet bunny, Dottie, that was stolen last night.  This is not the first time our bunnies have been stolen.  Maybe we should be praying for the rotten, low-down jerk that would steal a six-year old girl's bunny right out of the cage while she's SLEEPING!!!!  Anyway, I sat with my 1/3 of the way to legal adulthood daughter and listened to her prayers.  We chatted about school and when Daddy would be home. 

I love spending time with her, but seeing her as one of the big kids is like walking the mall in new glasses. It's clumsy and awkward.  I'm not sure if I can trust what I'm seeing is in the proper perspective. I feel like I'm leaning hard to the right or something.  Stuff that used to look close looks really far away.  (Like diapers and Tinkerbell, and Disney Princesses.)  It isn't as comfortable as the old vision I had of her being my baby girl. However, if I put the old glasses back on and choose not to use the new ones, I might miss out on the ways they will make my vision sharper and more clear.  I might miss the important details of what's going on around me.  I might not see her, or my other kids as clearly as I should.  That would be devastating to my Mother Heart.

So I'm going to tough it out for a few days with the new glasses.  We'll celebrate Sylvia's birthday, and pray for many more.  I'll love my husband and be thankful for the 15 years we've been married to each other, and pray for many more.  It might be uncomfortable for a while, but I'll adjust to this newer, sharper vision of my beloved family.         

Friday, June 3, 2011

Our Hospital Room

Today I walked into the same hospital room where I once lay semi-conscious.  I went to visit my friend Carrie who was recovering from a heart attack, and subsequent open-heart surgery.  The nurse says she is getting stronger and moving in the right direction.  I've only known Carrie as a bubbly, smiling, energetic fellow heart-sister.  It was really hard seeing her in a hospital gown with all the tubes and wires.  I touched her hand, and she opened her eyes for a second.  She looked towards my voice as I told her it was just me, and it was okay to just rest.  I was flooded with memories of my own time in this room, and others like it. 

Luke said this had been MY room, right across from the nurse's station in the CSU at Borgess.  I can't tell by looking, because I couldn't see for awhile after my cardiac arrest.  I knew the smell, though.  It took me straight back to a scarier day.  I remember the sounds of that time, and Liz telling me to stop making that face with my eyes, because it looked creepy.  I remember hearing the voices of lots of people I love.  I remember hearing Luke's voice, mixed with Boo's laugh. I remember the feel of the sheets against my feet.  I remember being afraid I was going to wet the bed in front of my brother, until they convinced me I had a catheter.  I remember Tracy wrapping up the blanket to look like a baby so I'd think that was my reason for being there.  I vividly remember being afraid in the hospital.  I remember a few days later, walking to the bathroom to see why my teeth hurt, only to remember that I hit them on the floor when  my heart stopped. 

My heart stopped.

The immense reality of it floods over me again when I smell those smells and hear that background, and go back to that room.  My heart stopped.  MINE!  Why?  What did I do wrong?  How did this happen?  How did I get to this whole new crazy kind of life?   When did my own death become so much a part of my life? There are so many questions and answers that race through my head, as I am sucked back to that place and time.  God's unwavering stead-fast answer remains comfortingly unchanged, "Because I love you."

Did you visit me in that hospital room?  Or in another room on another floor?  Was it awkward and uncomfortable to see me weak and vulnerable (which I have always been, and hoped no one would notice).  I am certain it was weird to see me quiet, if I ever was.  I'm sure my hair was a mess, and I had adhesive disks all over from the EKG's.  Did it break your heart a little when you saw me laying there like that, and wonder if I was going to be the same? That was how I felt visiting Carrie. 

Her rare heart disease is the exact reason we met.  We were at the same "Go Red for Women" luncheon.  I've met lots of heart sisters that way.  We share diagnoses, medications, procedures, cardiologists, all kinds of things. The odd thing is that even though we've talked about the stents and ablations and devices we have, I've never seen any of them as weak or sickly.  Carrie's a strong woman, and her heart stopped.  It's going to take her a while to get back to her usual self.  I want to support her.  I can't fix her, but I know some of the fear she's going through.  I pray I can carry away a little bit of her pain and fear, and remind her that He loves her, even when it doesn't feel like Love. 

I'm not like all the other girls. I have heart disease.  I have a wonderful group of heart-sisters that I AM like who have "worn the gown", or walked a hallway in my grippy socks.  ("A mile in my shoes" is asking a bit much, I think.)  They are a blessing and a comfort to my soul.  I am so fortunate to have that support, and I hope to be support for them as well. 

Thank you, God, for reminding me of the gift of life you gave me.  Twice.  Help me to use these gifts you have given me to bless your people.  Help those who question find your answers.