Monday, November 17, 2014

My Friend, the Atheist

Avowed atheist.  Vehemently anti-Jesus.  My friend passed away this week.  My heart breaks for him. He spent his life seeking truth, a truth outside of any traditional understanding of God.  He leaves this life with his friends left wondering.  What happened?  Why didn't you reach out to us? What the heck?

He leaves me wondering a different set of questions.  What happens to him now?  What did HE believe would happen after his passing?  Did he have a change of heart during his passing and grab onto God in his last moments?  What would it be like to die Godless?  This is why my heart aches so much.  I remember the love that was poured out over me when my heart stopped, and I know it to be the love of a Creator that sees me as his beautiful daughter.  Did my friend have that love to go home to? He was certainly the Creator's beautiful son, and I have no way of knowing what he felt in the depths of his heart.  Lord, I pray, that in your mercy you showed him your love, and let him see how beloved he was.

I wonder how he would feel if he knew he helped me grow closer to God?  His rejection of the idea of God was a healthy challenge to me to look at what I believe and why. He made me "back it up" and in doing so, solidified my stance on my faith. One of the last things he said to me in person was, "How can you be a Catholic when your priests rape children?"  Well, priests obviously don't ALL rape children. He was making a point.  (And he loved to stir my pot, if possible.) Obviously anyone who hurts a child like that is just plain wrong! But it made me remember that the good priests (and there are THOUSANDS of good ones) are called to help people worship God.

Their job, and mine, is to make certain that people know they are made in the beautiful image and likeness of God HIMSELF.  Our job, as Christians, is to help everyone know that they are loved and valued by a Creator who made you the way you are on purpose, because you are beautiful and LOVEABLE! I hope my friend knew that.  I hope he knew that all the way down to the cellular level that he was loved and created EXACTLY the way he was to love and be loved.

And I loved him very much.  Lots of people did.  He was so much more beautiful than he ever gave himself credit for. My friend the atheist did God's work of growing my faith in a way no Christian brother or sister could, and for that I am thankful.  I hope he found peace and truth.      


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Perilous Plight of the Persistent Petunia

Look at this picture and tell me what you see.  This is in my hometown of Climax Michigan, on the side steps of SoundStage One, a recording studio.  We're not that different than lots of other small towns all across America.  We have a liquor store and a post office.  We have a restaurant/bar, cows, cornfields, a church...and a recording studio.  And we have steps like these where people pause to eat ice cream.

When I came upon this site, the first thing I noticed was how large and full these flower baskets are.  They're colorful and lovely, made up of lots of individual flowers all bunched up together, sharing their beauty to create something bigger and more substantial than they could be alone.  They are a community of blooms.  Each a little different, but working together to enhance our little corner of Kalamazoo County. And then I noticed the Persistent Petunia!!! (Cue the dramatic music!)

I love this little flower!

I can relate to this little one's plight.  How many times has he felt like he's looking up at something more complete, more meaningful than his little old self, that he just doesn't belong to.  How many times has he wished to join them, but his roots hold him back.  He has lovely blooms, too, but just a couple, and a few little leaves. He's felt completely alone.  A total outsider.  In this photo, his blooms are bold and daring. When I passed by there the next day, someone had noticed him and tried to pull him out because he doesn't follow the rules.  He doesn't grow where the others grow. That's not where he was planted. He's doing the best he can to spread love and happiness exactly where he is.  He is truly persistent.  

But what does that really mean?  I invite you to look at the definition and find yourself in it.

1:  existing for a long or longer than usual time or continuously: as
a :  retained beyond the usual period <a persistent leaf>
b :  continuing without change in function or structure<persistent gills>
c :  effective in the open for an appreciable time usually through slow volatilizing <mustard gas is persistent>
d :  degraded only slowly by the environment <persistentpesticides>
e :  remaining infective for a relatively long time in a vector after an initial period of incubation <persistent viruses>
a :  continuing or inclined to persist in a course(see persist)
b :  continuing to exist despite interference or treatment <apersistent cough> 

So, where did you find yourself in "persistence"? Are you "continuing without change in function or structure"?  Is that a good thing? Are you "degraded only slowly by the environment" or perhaps, "continuing to exist despite interference or treatment".  How can you be more like our little Petunia friend?  
Speaking of which, where do you find yourself in this photo?  
Are you the tall yellow flowers in the basket, proudly giving height to this community, leading them upward in their pursuit of beauty?  Are you trailing out and down the side of the basket, reaching down to the base of the flowerpot, spreading color and interest where there was once just a plain wooden barrel holding dirt. Are you one little pink bloom, counting on all the other blooms around you to be beautiful together?  
Or are YOU the Persistent Petunia?  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fixing the Dirt

(Lk 8:8) "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest."

This is part of that story that Jesus tells about the seeds that are scattered and some fall on the stones and get eaten by birds, and some are in shallow soil, and spring up and get scorched by the sun, etc...  

WE are the soil to which he is referring, and the Creator is the farmer.  He refers to the condition of our souls in preparation for receiving the Word and how it will grow within us and hopefully bear fruit "one hundred-fold, or sixty, or thirty..."  He clearly would like us to be the good soil, but it takes time, and preparation.  Psalm 65 spells it out so well:  

You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.

So God has watered us and prepared the grain.  He's got the Word all ready to be sown, but as every farmer knows, you don't just go spreading out valuable seed willy-nilly, or the weeds grow up and choke out the good stuff and you are left with nothing of value, except for ground cover for opossums and raccoons, which eat and destroy good crops, dragging them all down to be nothing but waste. (Know any of those types?) The psalm continues:  

Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

This is the hardest part, when YOU are the soil!  Yeah, God's gonna drench our furrows. He'll spread fertilizer, which for those of you who don't know, is actually animal feces. Yes.  That's right, some literal "bullshit" (pardon my language) is coming your way!  We'll be drenched and fertilized with some really serious crap! We'll be broken up and smashed and crushed to dust, and reduced to our smallest bits. It will not make us happy or comfortable, but it will bless our yield. It's gonna hurt.  It's gonna stink.  Showers will fall and they may be showers of tears, and we may feel like we're drowning.  But it will soften us in preparation.  Farmers fix their dirt OUT OF LOVE.  They want it to be productive, and make the soil all it can be.  Which is great, if you aren't the dirt.  But here comes the good part:  

You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;

While your being fixed into good ground, remember this last bit. Wait for it.  

Be blessed!     

Friday, June 20, 2014

...Now I just sit in silence....

There's a song on the radio by a group called 21 Pilots called "Car Radio".  It's basically the thoughts of a young man with a lot of quiet in his vehicle now that someone has stolen his car stereo.  "...And now I just sit in Silence..." is repeated over and over.

As a child, silence was my enemy.  Church was excruciating, because I knew that as soon as I entered the silence, it wouldn't be silent for long.  I had a hard time being still and quiet.  It just wasn't part of my genetic make-up.  Even when I tried so hard, my mind would bounce from this thought to that thought, and before I knew it I was being shushed again.  Apparently my thoughts leaked out in the form of humming, whistling, and in some cases, full out singing and dancing.  What's a kid to do?

When I was old enough to drive, my 1972 Cadillac didn't have a car stereo.  My friend Terri and I didn't mind, since we were usually bubbling over with the REALLY IMPORTANT conversations of two teen girls full of an intense love of life (and teenage boys).  Boys were discussed for hours, and girls were discussed without mercy.  I remember once on a Late Night Taco Bell Run when we just sat in silence.  Terri's feet were out the window on a warm summer night, and it was quite calm and comfortable.  Until a bat hit our windshield on Terri's side of the car, causing her to scream at the top of her lungs, yanking her feet into the car, and nearly giving me a heart attack!   The silence was over for that night!  E-gads!

It wasn't until I was much older that I started to feel comfortable in the silence. The silence of holding my babies and watching them sleep in my arms is the most wonderful kind of feeling.  It feels the most like Heaven.  In fact...

The most profound silence I've ever experienced happened in a room full of rush and hurry and panic.  I was blissfully unaware of the chaotic fight for my life going on around me.  I, however, was enjoying that kind of quiet when the baby is fed and bathed and sweetly sleeping.I was held in the arms of my Creator. It was a silence so deep, so perfect that even my heart stood still.  I didn't even break the silence with my breath.  I just sat in silence.  I wasn't alone, and it wasn't scary.  My thoughts stopped, except for the knowledge that I was being that silence.

I'm back from that silence.  My life is full of sounds and things to do and people to love.  My home is full of music and laughter and silliness, and people who are happy I'm here, and that I treasure in return. I have parties to throw and celebrations to attend! I have so much of life still to live!

  But there are times when I just sit in silence.  Remembering.   Being loved.  Loving.

How do you sit in silence?

"I ponder of something terrifying
'Cause this time there's no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it's that we're all battling fear
Oh dear, I don't know if we know why we're here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound"

21 Pilots Car Radio


Friday, June 6, 2014

The day YOU became a Heart Sister...

There was a day when everything changed abruptly.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, everything you knew changed in an instant.  You were told that your body was insufficient at doing what it is supposed to do to sustain your life.  If it hasn't already killed you, it most certainly could at any time.

So you wait.

Thankful for every passing moment of existence, you check and recheck your pulse.  You measure your life, first in heartbeats, then in minutes.  Eventually you can go a whole hour without feeling for the throbbing beats in your neck, indicating that yes, in fact, your heart is still beating.  Even though you don't want to know the answer, you ask yourself, ask your Maker, "Is this my last heartbeat? How about THIS one? This?"

You make it through a whole day, then fall to your knees, thanking God for the gift of one more smile from your husband.  One more "I love you" from the kids.  One more hug.  Just one more chance. You relish it, and cherish it, and treasure it in your heart.

But still you wait.  Because lurking in the dark quiet of your mind is the reality of your mortality.  Your pulse feels more like a ticking time bomb some days than a reassurance of good health. Your doctor already told you that the one organ that's been beating since you were just a wee speck in your mother's womb is failing.  It can't be trusted, and this is the hardest thing to make peace with.  Your own body has betrayed you!

Doctors can explain how and why your heart malfunctions the way it does, but unless they have felt the fear and abandonment of having their own heart fail them, they can't truly understand.

That's what Heart Sisters do.

I can't fathom 42 million women living with heart disease.  (Although it is true.)  What I CAN fathom is Carrie and Wanda and Erica and Georgia.  I think of Stephanie, Eileen and Sherry.  I remember sharing what a Sudden Cardiac Arrest felt like with Sue, and I remember discussing AICD shocks with a different Sue, and Julie.  I am saddened by the fear in Carol's eyes, Vicki's eyes, and the eyes of every new sister.  I appreciate what these ladies go through.  I know that the story above is their story. With a few modifications, it's all of our story.

Heart Sisters are women living with heart disease.  We are women living beyond the fear and doubt and emptiness of a "body gone bad".  We hold each other up.  We cry together, and pray with and for each other.  We help each other find a new normal.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The thing about my son's graduation is....

Isaac just graduated from high school, and I feel a certain kind of way about that.  However, I can't really pinpoint what way it is that I feel.  Mostly I feel inadequate.

Don't get me wrong, I try to be a good Mom.  I strive to be a great Mom on occasion, but I still feel like my parenting is unfinished, lacking, and incomplete.  It becomes painfully clear HOW many ways I am failing when it comes to my child graduating.

I remember being pregnant with Isaac, and giving birth to him.  He's my 3rd son, so I knew how to care for a baby.  I was completely capable of changing his diapers and singing to him, feeding him and reading to him.  I just loved him (still do!)  And it wasn't too long before he got a little sister, then another, and a brother, and another sister. I wasn't really thinking too hard about raising my toddlers, I just tried to help them become kind and compassionate people.  No hitting, don't spit, don't pee on other people's stuff, you know, the basics.

From the moment of his birth, Isaac has been busy! He moved fast!  To this day, he thinks fast, he writes long detailed scenarios in his mind then plays them out with swords and sticks and heroes and bad guys. He remembers EVERYTHING he reads.  He's a big hugger, and doesn't stop hugging until he hears bones crack. (Which really helps his wrestling career.)  His childhood was a whirlwind of stories and stitches and amazing adventures! He is a fantastic guy who works hard to overcome life's challenges, and to make the world around him a more loving place.  He's the guy that makes others feel welcome and safe.

And I am his inadequate mother.

It happens every time one of mine gets ready to go off into the big wide world.  The questions arise.  Did I teach him all he needs to know?  I meant to teach him how to iron. Have I been too soft on him?  Too hard?  He's so caring and so trusting!  Have I made him an easy mark?  Should I have prepared him better for a cruel world? Is it my shortcoming to let him believe in people and trust them?  The realization that I can't protect him is overwhelming! Have I taught him how to demand that his dates treat him with respect?  Would he know what to do if she doesn't?  Will he be taken advantage of? Did we ever talk about how to handle money?  Will his heart get broken?  Will he always be my little baby?  Will I always be able to see that little boy in the Super Isaac Man costume in his eyes?  Will he be okay without me?

He will.

I can't stop him from making mistakes and bad judgements. I can't go everywhere with him and make him do his homework and be responsible and turn in his time sheet and brush his teeth.  I can only be here for him and love him.  I can nag him and be his Mom, like I always have, and be supportive.  Since I truly love him, I can let him fail.  And when he does, it will hurt, but I can wait by patiently, praying like a monk in a monastery, waiting for him to come around.  I may be inadequate, but I can pray.  

I can pray he won't make monumentally bad life-destroying choices.  I can pray he won't enjoy drinking so much that he spends his life locked in a bottle. I can pray that he gets so busy enjoying life that he doesn't have time to discover the pain of addiction.  I can pray and pray and pray that in all of those ways that I have been completely inadequate at meeting his needs JESUS will be there to fill in the gap.  I can pray that he will seek his Creator's input in the choices he makes and the directions he goes.  I'll also pray that I can accept whatever that path may be, and that it's not MY path to choose for him.  It never was!  I can pray that he be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that he never loses his trust in people, even when a few let him down.  I pray that he will always be exactly who he is.  Nothing less than God's very own child!

I pray he knows this.

If I have taught him this, he has everything he needs.            


Monday, April 28, 2014

Join me for this Exodus!

Exodus 14:19-20     "The angel of God,* who had been leading Israel’s army, now moved and went around behind them. And the column of cloud, moving from in front of them, took up its place behind them, so that it came between the Egyptian army and that of Israel. And when it became dark, the cloud illumined the night; and so the rival camps did not come any closer together all night long."

This part of the story of Exodus keeps playing through my head.  The Israelites (who are not the most trusting people) follow Moses out of Egypt, where the Egyptian Army is in hot pursuit. Pharoah is one angry little potato who feels he's been hoodwinked by these Israelites, and it's about to get Epic! I've heard this story lots of times.  The Red Sea parts, the Israelites pass through on dry land, and the Egyptian pursuers are drowned.  All of them. 

When I listen to Bible readings, I try to put myself in them.  I wonder where I would be.  This one was easy. A few verses earlier, the Israelites are (once again) complaining to Moses that he's going to get them all killed.  The Israelites are now following a pillar of cloud and fire!  They've been encouraged forward by a massive tower of cloud that leads the way and stands, unmistakeable, in front of them. It's easy to follow the fire!  It's easy to follow the power when it's in front of you, and it shines in favor of YOUR TEAM!  But then it changes...

The cloud moves behind them and it becomes dark.  Some translations describe it as a massive storm cloud that lights up the night sky and keeps the camps apart.  So here's me.  "Greaaaaaaat. So much for the pillar.  We're all gonna die.  Thanks a lot, MOSES." (I might be a little Isrealite-ish.) How many times have I lost sight of my pillar?  How many times have I felt like I have no direction, and no idea which way to turn?  How often is the power NOT right in front of us?  

I have those days.  No clue.  I feel so alone.  The love I was travelling with can't be seen, so I question if it's gone.  Then I read the rest of the verse.  The cloud comes around behind us with a great purpose. The pillar of cloud, the "Angel of God" has moved from in front of me, to stand between me and those that would pursue me and enslave me and threaten my life! I was never alone.  I was safe. Protected.  The One that loves me into existence every moment stands guard, whether I can see it or not.  

I am learning to trust that when my pillar is missing from sight, God is actively standing between me and my foes, so that "the rival camps would not come any closer together all night long."  I guess that makes every day a good day to be on God's team.    

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Please, Have (Divine) Mercy!

Today is a really special day.  It is Divine Mercy Sunday.

It's not a Hallmark holiday, and you'll probably never receive a "Happy Divine Mercy" card.  There's no special donut, or cake, or even a special dance, but for me, this is one of the most important days of the year.  Divine Mercy has saved my life, my soul, and restored my hope, and THAT, dear reader, is worth celebrating.

There was a very surreal day years ago, when Harriett was the baby.  Luke was in Delaware for a business trip, and he was expected back that weekend.  I had been single-parenting for the week while he was gone, and anticipated the joy of morning sickness with the 9 week old fetus I had recently confirmed I was carrying.  Baby #6!  I was so excited! The kids were playing, and all was well, until things got weird.

Lydia came running into the room yelling about a tiger trying to get the treasure, so she hid it and now she couldn't get it back, and she needed my help NOW because she needed the treasure back!  Turns out, that is Three-year-old Lydia code for "Mom, I put a button up my nose and it is now stuck."  This was the first time anything like this happened during office hours, so I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing.  We got to the doctor's office and I stopped to use the restroom.  I didn't expect to find blood.  I knew right away what was happening, but everything in my heart and mind pleaded, "NO!!!", even as my body cramped up into an unmistakable, "Yes".

We both went to the emergency room at the hospital, where she was given multiple doses of Versed, and still wouldn't go down.  She staggered like a drunken sailor, but wouldn't be still enough for the button to be extracted from the soft tissues of her nasal cavities.  (It was surgically removed the next day.) I received an ultrasound that confirmed my fears.  The baby was dead.  I had to call Luke and tell him. There was no surgical removal for me.  I spent the next 3 days at home, in labor, delivering the tiny remains of my hopes and dreams for this little person and what his life would be like.  I was in and out of the emergency room as the bleeding got intense, and then it was over.  My soul was crushed. My hope was gone.  Nothing much mattered.

During the time that all of this was happening, I received a package from my Aunt Patty.  She had no idea what was happening, but she sent me a booklet she had found among my grandfather's things.  It was called "The Divine Mercy", and told of Saint Faustina Kowalska, and her visits with Christ.  He offered her prayers to share with the world for Mercy.

That was exactly what I needed.  Mercy!

Mercy from this despair!  Mercy from this desolation!  Mercy from the pain and disappointment!  Mercy for a child I would never hold!  Mercy that his little soul would wait for me in Heaven, and we would meet one day!  Regular Mercy can't do that.  Only Divine Mercy.   How I needed that Divine Mercy!  And as much as I needed it, the prayers weren't for me:

 "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!" 

I prayed it again and again, through the pain.  I prayed it through the anger, with clenched teeth.  I prayed it expecting the whole ordeal to be a bad dream, and that God would set it right, and I'd wake up pregnant.  I eventually prayed it with abandon through tears, giving up everything. I prayed it allowing myself to be carried by the God who loves me, and is the source of EVERY Grace and Mercy.  I prayed it until I wore the paint off my prayer beads.  Then I prayed it some more.  

Divine Mercy.  

It was AND IS the only thing that keeps us going.  Is that the kind of Mercy you need today?  Is it the kind of Mercy you'd like to show to someone else?  Try it.  One time.  While you pray it, think of the ones most in need of His Divine, all-encompassing Mercy that is greater than mourning, greater than anger, greater than death itself.  Be blessed.    


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Heart Rant

This is not my usual kind of post, but I am not in my usual state of mind.  I had an appointment at my pacemaker clinic this week.  These appointments are usually happy, upbeat meetings with some of my favorite people at my cardiology office.  Sarah, my usual tech, was not there.  In all fairness, the lady who took care of me was kind and professional.  She can't help but report what she sees.  However, she's not Sarah.  Sarah has become the cardiological equivolent of my bartender.  I have cried with her and rejoiced with her.  I feel comfortable admitting to being terrified in her presence, and she has been strong for me when I was a hot mess.  She even lent me a book written by another of her patients that really helped me through the acceptance of my diagnosis. Everyone should be so lucky to have a Sarah.  She works somewhere else now.  So will my favorite cardiologist.  And I'm just a little lost without them.

So anyway, I made friendly chitchat with the new tech while she worked her magic.  This includes her manipulating my heart rate with her computer to make sure my device will pace when my heart rate dips below 40 beats per minute.  Yes, it is exactly as it sounds.  She types in codes that slow my heart rate then makes sure the pacemaker speeds it up.  Real science fiction, this machine in my chest! She tells me I haven't been shocked lately.  I knew this.  I would notice. It's like a Chuck Norris kick to the chest while you grab the electric fence.  My elbows would still be vibrating, and my mouth would taste metallic. I guarantee I would notice. Nope, no shocks here!  I should be happy.  I should feel lucky.  I do.

But I'm so angry!

I watch my heart beat on the monitor, and I see how sloppy my rhythm is.  I know what this means, I can feel it.  Most days I just ignore it, or put on my happy face, or plunge myself into the necessary tasks of raising my kids at home, and enjoying the company of my grown ones.  Looking at the monitor, I can't just pretend I don't see it.  The tech and I discuss the possible therapies that could make my rhythm more comfortable (but will put extra stress on my ventricles.)  I should be thankful that these options exist, and I am....

But today I'm angry. Why?


Whew.  It feels good to get that out.  I'm just a real live person with real live fears.  I know I have it better than some, and worse than others.  I try to keep it all together and handled, but we all have our moments of weakness. Thank you for allowing mine.


Want to know why I should feel thankful?  Here's why:
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