Thursday, December 03, 2015

Are Our Words Important to Our Nation?

We seriously need to speak with more loving words in this country. We have a crisis. I denied it for a long time, but I've come to believe we do. I don't think we often realize that our words matter. I'm not saying that any particular shooting was caused by our unloving words, but I do believe that we live in an unhealthy emotional climate.
Stories go viral, sometimes instantly, and we get caught up in them, and we feel we have to have an opinion. Whether it's an airline passenger putting his seat back or a restaurant owner scolding a toddler, we hear about it, make a judgment, and we think it's our business. Believe me, I include myself. I got all caught up in that restaurant story a while back before I realized that none of us were there. 
We - as a people - hear stories about things that happen here or elsewhere in the world, and we let unhealthy emotions such as anger and fear color our judgement. We sometimes let fear and speakers and writers who are fearful tell us what to think of this group of people or that.
Fear has its place. In the midst of a shooting, fear is normal. When you don't know if your loved one is safe, fear is normal. Fear can even help us with "fight or flight" in the moment or in the hour of a crisis.
But if we live with fear and anger every day...normal emotions, but if we give in to them to the point of making decisions, and especially judgments, based on them, we can more easily make bad decisions or poor judgments. When our judgments adversely affect other people, I believe it's like a snowball, or a snow fort from which to take potshots. It takes time and effort to go from a snowball to a whole city or nation of snow forts, but it seems to me we are working toward it.
I wonder how inclined we as a nation are to putting people down, when someone who speaks disrespectful words to or about many groups is supposedly a "front runner" for one party's presidential candidate (though I do wonder where that title comes from; no one asked me). I wonder how much respect we have for the individual person when I see people say, "Those people"...whatever supposed "group" they may be indicating. I wonder what our vulnerable teens and young adults are learning when they see and hear fearful and angry and disrespectful words thrown around, all over the web.
I know it's simplistic. I'm a pretty complex thinker, myself. I know it's not the only answer. But I'm more convinced every single day that we need more love and more respect. We need to look at each person and realize that this is an individual; realize this person has a mother or a brother; this person has a backstory that we probably know nothing about (even if we know some of their backstory); and realize that this person was created by the same God who made us.
What if we looked at people who believe differently than we do or who make decisions we don't like, and we said: I wonder where they are coming from; maybe they think they are doing the right thing. We can fight for principles we believe in (whatever they may be, and my friends and family are very diverse in their beliefs)...we can fight for principles without stripping any one of their dignity, without assigning motive, knowing that only God knows what is in anyone's heart.
I'm not saying don't punish individual people, within the law, for hurting other people! I'm not saying don't stop people from breaking the law. I'm not saying don't work to change laws we think need changing. I'm just saying we need to love. We need to respect. We need to show our young people that their world, their country, their community - and today, the online community as well - can be a loving place, not just in deeds, but in words, words which often precede deeds. 
How can we fight evil except with love? 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Book Review - Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Have you ever picked up a spiritual book, opened it, and said, "I ought to read this"?  I have; but this is not that book. There was no ought about it. As soon as I started, I didn't want to stop…except that I wanted to write this review on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary so - for that reason only - I took a break.

Even though each part is written by a different person, each part that I've read so far has been equally engaging. As the title indicates, each of many authors takes one word from the Hail Mary to write about. Who would have thought that reading about the word "of" or the word "the", for example, would be inspiring? And yet it is! These are highly accessible, very real, short spiritual essays.

I look forward not only to reading all of it, but also to reading each essay again and again. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to preview this book, and although I thought I was getting to read a book for free, I am now looking forward to buying the paper copy to add to my little library. Thank you to the writers and especially the editor, Sarah Reinhard, for making this book happen. 

You can order the book, which comes out October 16th, here:

or here:

Friday, October 02, 2015

Grant Peace to Our World

As I checked out at Walmart today, I noticed how nicely people were dressed. I often think of the jokes about people at Walmart, and I often wonder if the people who frequent "my" Walmart are just classier. Maybe…

But this afternoon I had a different thought, also. However people who visit Walmart stores across the nation may dress, I think maybe the way we talk about them is part of what's wrong with our country.  Why do we have so many shootings? I wonder if it might be because we make fun of the way people are dressed at Walmart. Of course I'm exaggerating …at least a little. (And yes, I have probably made fun of the way someone has dressed at some time in my life. I'm not pointing fingers or, if I am, I am pointing back at myself, too.).

But let's think about it for a minute.  Across the airwaves go many angry thoughts every day, every hour, every minute, about all the awful people in the world who don't measure up to someone else's standards. It might be the way someone dresses or it might be the way someone lets their child 'misbehave' in public. It might be about the ultra liberals or the ultra conservatives, the republicans or the democrats, or whatever race or creed or group of people we think is "taking the world down".  

I'm not talking about discussing issues…and so, maybe this doesn't apply to you or me at all today. But I know there have been times in my life when I have been guilty.

What happens, I wonder, when an angry person, or a person who is in a particularly vulnerable position in his or her life, runs across so many angry thoughts? How do they feel when they are – at least at that moment in time – in the target group that some people are angry at, or throwing stones at?  Does it lift them up or tear them down? Does it give them peace? Does it contribute to peace in our world, in our nation, in our community?

Dear Lord, help us - help me - to look at others with your love. Help us to see people as individuals and to find the good in each person, created in your love, redeemed by your love. Help us to foster peace in the hearts of those around us, whether they are meeting us in our physical world or the internet world. We are so desperately in need of your help. Bless us all and grant peace to our troubled world. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

To My Friends Who Are Parents of Young Adults

I would like to share my young adult story. No, I don't mean the story of my kids' lives, but my own young adult story. But first, I will need to share a little background leading to that point in my life.

I was brought up a good Christian.

I was sexually abused by an older cousin when I was a little girl (young enough to be before the use of reason but old enough to remember. Even to this day - although some of the memories are fuzzy - I do remember). I told my mom about it the first time, and she thought she put a stop to it. She never realized that it continued after that, and since it continued, I then thought it was my own fault and my own shame. I was a praying child, but I hid that part of my life not only from my parents, but also from God. Of course, now I know that God knew, and he stayed close to me.

My mom tried to be a good mother, and she was...although when I was a teenager, I looked back and thought that when I was a child she hadn't been as present as I would have liked. She was physically present; she stayed home for my sister and me, but not as emotionally present as I would have liked. I wonder now if she had sleep apnea, as she slept a lot, and I believe sleep apnea was not yet a diagnosed "thing". I also wonder what perfect world I was wanting.

At any rate, with the abuse from my cousin hovering in my background – with me both thinking it had been my own sin and at the same time blaming my parents at some level - I was always trying to prove to myself that I was a good person, a worthwhile person. In the sixth grade I worked in the school cafeteria, not because I needed the free lunch but because I wanted to work; and I played flute in the band, was in Girl Scouts, and served as a Patrol Boy to help children cross the street safely. (In those days the position was called "Patrol Boy" even though I was a girl). In my senior year, I was the editor of my high school newspaper, and I also worked 20 hours a week at J. C. Penney.

As soon as I graduated, my J. C. Penney store promoted me to full time. About that time I found a note on the kitchen counter one day in my dad's writing. It said so much money per week (I don't remember how much now) if chores are done, so much if chores are not done. Yes, in my senior year I had gotten in the habit of neglecting most of my chores, leaving my mom to do most of the work (at that point there were only three of us).

Perhaps if my parents had sat down with me to discuss my neglect or their desire for me to pay my way, it would have been okay. I've even wondered, since then, if perhaps they were only considering charging me. But seeing it in writing on the counter, it seemed so arbitrary, and I made a decision. I would move out on my own.  I found an economical but nice place. In those days, I could afford that on a salesclerk's salary. I've compared the numbers a few times, and that kind of pay would not do today what it would do then. But at the time, it worked for me.

In the meantime, I had decided to become a Catholic. But my Catholic girlfriend's mother introduced us to what turned out to be a traditionalist cult instead. Of course, she didn't realize it was a cult; she thought it was the right thing. My girlfriend and I went to a ten day summer camp in another state where we were brainwashed into thinking there was no salvation outside the group. We stayed on without telling our parents why or where we were!

I, who had been so responsible, both seriously worried my parents and let my employer down. With no notice, not even a single phone call, I simply didn't come back to my job, and I never did get in touch with my boss, a dear lady. I simply didn't come back to my apartment or pay the rent either. After some time (maybe a month), we finally got in touch with our parents, and I also mailed my landlady a letter of apology, offering my furniture as payment for the one month's rent I had neglected to pay. My parents later told me it hadn't been my furniture to give, although I was sure they had given it to me. The way I saw it was that I had just been trying to be responsible, to pay the missed rent the only way I knew with what I thought was mine.  They saw it differently.

I learned the words of Jesus the hard way, "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3.)

At that point, my girlfriend and I went home to settle our affairs before returning. I can't even tell you how much I hurt my mother's feelings at the time, and it's still hard to deal with that shame. I think I was mad at her that I was leaving her. Go figure. Maybe I was mad at her for not really stopping the childhood abuse that had affected my life so much, even though she wasn't really aware of it. Maybe I thought she should have been more aware. At any rate, it wasn't a great farewell, and then I left.  

When a woman prepared me for reception into the Church (supposedly the Church, supposedly all that was left of the Church), she told me I had to "take a Christian name", that Peggy was not a Christian name, only a nickname. I did not want to change my name, but I didn't think I had a choice. (I did, however, choose my own new name.) It was a missionary priest who had recently returned to the States - who didn't realize what this group really was - who baptized me. He didn't realize my birth name was Peggy Ann or else I know (now) that he would have set us straight. So, not really liking it, but thinking it was necessary, I changed my name. Unthinkingly, I told my mom on the phone, "I had to take a Christian name", and I broke her heart again. Have you ever wished you could take back your words but it's too late?

After I had returned to the group, whenever I was anywhere with a phone, I use to wish my parents would call me, just to say hi, just to ask how I was doing. I told that to my father many years later, and he said, "We didn't think you wanted us to." Well, that made sense. And I wasn't trying to blame him; I just wanted him to know that I missed them and wanted them.

I only stayed with the cult for a short time, but life, and new contacts, took me in different geographical and career directions. I never went back to my home town to live, and later my father told me that had always bothered my mother. Always, although we were in touch, I felt there was a curtain between my mother and me, until our last visit before she passed away unexpectedly. That last visit was the best.

I've learned much over the years but especially I've learned that I believe in family. I believe in friends. I believe in God (I've never ever stopped). I believe in the Catholic Church. I believe in the Pope. But most of all, I believe in love!

As my son who died a few years ago used to tell me, "God is love."

What else is there, really, but love?  

And so, I don't always do well at hearing that young adult children are "awful". I was one of those awful ones!  And both my parents and I could have handled it better. I also had a young adult child who, at one point in his life, sometimes stayed out late, drinking, and sometimes worried me not coming home (staying over with a friend but forgetting to call me) who later became a great witness for God and Mary and the Faith. He died in his sleep at the age of 26. Both the visitation and the funeral were filled with people he had touched with his short life.

So when I sometimes hear parents talk about what awful things their young adults do, it kind of breaks my heart a little for so many reasons. For one thing, as parents, we signed up for this when we said "I do". Our kids didn't sign up for it. They didn't ask for us. They are trying to find their way. They have to find their way; we can be there for them but we can't do it for them. And sometimes we don't even know what kinds of past experiences, thoughts, and feelings they are dealing with.

Even when we think our hearts are breaking for one reason or another, let's keep trying to give them our best, unconditional love. It's not easy, and I think I often fail, still. But we can just keep trying, and keep forgiving ourselves, when we fail them in one way or another. We can keep forgiving them, when we think they have failed us, or themselves, in some way or another.  

And let's trust in God, who is Love, always loving all of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What I Meant When I Said "I have no regrets"

"I believe I've reached this point where I have no regrets and no bitterness," I wrote recently on Facebook. A few of my friends questioned that statement, so I would like to clarify. 

Really, there are a few things that I would - if I could - go back and do differently. Definitely. 

Probably there are many things I would do differently, but there are a few that stand out from the rest.

There was the time I told someone I was thinking about what to do with the rest of my life, but what she heard was, "I'm going to take you down". Of course, it was way more complicated than that. But I could have been more careful with my words, and I've always been sad it turned out that way.

There was the time I got caught up in a cult, and because I had to leave my mom, I got mad at her (go figure). 

There have also been simple human mistakes I made that may have caused serious harm to loved ones. 

I would be irresponsible or calloused if I said that if I had all those things to do over again, I would do exactly the same thing. 

But that's not what I meant when I said that I have no regrets. Here's what I meant: 

I no longer beat myself up. 

I'm not only a sinful person but I'm also a fallible person. I guess that's why they call me a human. And I'm in good company.

King David saw a beautiful woman who caught his eye, so he sent her husband into battle to be killed. David repented, and he went on serving God. 

Mary and Joseph, the best of parents, lost Jesus for three days on the way home from the temple when he was twelve. True, Jesus knew where he was and what he was doing. But, although Mary was sinless and Joseph is called "the just man", they were human, and they didn't know where he was. 

Maybe what I meant when I said I have no regrets is that God made me human, and I don't regret being human. 

I laugh. I cry. I get mad. I rejoice. I sin. And I make mistakes. And God "gets that". Sometimes there are consequences to sin, and I might regret the consequences; and sometimes simple mistakes that are not sins at all go horribly wrong. Because darn, we are human. And sometimes I might still be sad about some of those things. 

But I no longer beat myself up. 

Because God is good. And God is love. God loves me. God loves those who have been hurt in some way because I am human. God loves my loved ones way, way more than I do. 

Know that God loves you. Know that He loves your loved ones even more than you do. God loves us every minute of every day - until he will love us every moment of eternity. 


Friday, July 17, 2015

Chop, Chop -- Book Review

A Review of the Book, Chop, Chop, by L. N. Cronk, currently available for free as a Kindle book.

I just finished crying over this book. At least I think I finished. It was a satisfying cry.

I loved this book all the way through, and I can't tell you how rarely that happens.

Who would have thought a 60 year old woman would enjoy a book that starts from the viewpoint of a preschool boy and follows him through to young adulthood? But it was simple, yet captivating. The conversations, the characterizations; all of it made me feel like I was right there, enjoying the friendships of these young people and of their families. Religion is an integral part of the story - it is called contemporary Christian fiction - but the religion comes through in a natural and caring way.

Throughout the book there is a tension, the knowledge that the book is leading inexorably to both love and tragedy. The tragedy might have been too much for me even a year ago. When it came, it did bring me to tears of sorrow; but as I continued to read, I was brought again to tears of joy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On the Other Hand - The Woman who Needed Gas

Yesterday, I wrote about the woman who came up to my car window to ask for money to buy some food. I was just about to leave Five Guys, and absolutely no alarm bells went off in my head. So, as it turned out, I not only gave her money for lunch but we had a nice chat, too. 

On the other side of that coin, there are times when my intuition tells me to avoid a situation, and I listen to that voice in my head. 

This morning I received an email from someone who listened to the voice of caution but felt badly about the situation. If we care, we are going to feel badly about others sometimes. Sometimes, it might likely not be what they claim, but we might still feel badly. Here is, approximately, what I wrote to him:

"I understand your distress about the woman who asked for help the other night because, whatever her intentions, she was in distress. We don't want to see someone suffer and not be able to help. But I don't think it was within your scope to be able to help her. You are right; if she needed gas and her mother was having a heart attack, she should have called 911. If she didn't have a phone, she could have asked you to call 911, or raced into the store to ask someone to do so. You might not have thought of 911 until afterward because you were being approached for help, asking for another "solution". But who wouldn't think of it if was their own relative having a heart attack and they were short on gas?  And when you recommended she seek help in the store, she just stood there. 

"Thinking of reasons, other than her "mother's heart attack", that she might have been talking fast, I thought about your location: a grocery store parking lot, shortly before closing time, in an area where you can buy alcohol in the grocery store. 

"I thought, "Can alcohol withdrawal make someone hyper?"  I Googled that, and I found several sites that said withdrawal can cause hyper-excitability, anxiety, and agitation, among other things. So her anxiety could have been very real and valid.

"Looking at her story at face value at the time, you couldn't help her because you knew the gas station didn't accept cash at that hour, and you were wise not to offer to go to the pumps with her to use your debit card. But she probably didn't actually need gas, and she probably hadn't thought through all the details of her story.

"I'm guessing she had a real problem, but probably not her mother having a heart attack. It could have been a more long term problem than you could possibly do anything about since you can't follow her around and feed her habit. If she has one. Because, of course, I am making up a story! And I wasn't even there. It is absolutely not for me to say or know what her intentions were! But I do think that the pieces of her story don't seem to fit together. 

"Whatever her real story was, you were probably seeing someone in true distress, but someone you couldn't help. And that is always a tough feeling."

I share this to say, no, I don't recommend we do just anything that would naturally follow from someone's request. They need gas? The only way to do it would be to go to the pump, where no one else is at this hour, and use our card? No, I don't recommend that. 

Or,  someone else I know was once approached on a bus to get off at the bus stop and go together to an ATM to get some money from his account. No, I don't recommend that (and he didn't do it). 

There are some ways we can help people, and others that are not so wise. At the same time, we can still have compassion in our hearts. It is always right to have compassion. 

Just sharing some other thoughts.   

Here was my post about The Woman at my Window

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Woman at my Window

After a long and fruitful appointment with the new (to me) sleep doctor, I headed off to get something to eat, but I didn't really have a plan. I thought: Five Guys. No, too greasy. I know, Panera Bread. I headed to Panera Bread, came to a detour, missed a road, and ended up going back the way I had come. Okay, Five Guys it is. (And I only got a hamburger, not fries, so it wasn't greasy.)

When I came out of Five Guys and got in my car, a woman came up to my window. I started to groan and moan on the inside, and then I remembered that groaning person is not me, and that this is a real person at my window. So I listened.

She said she lives in a shelter, and she would like to be able to get something to eat. I had been planning to give her a protein bar, but at this point, being right outside Five Guys, I pulled out $8 and told her she could get a small hamburger and a drink with that, as that's what I had just gotten. She thanked me, put it in her purse, and started chatting. I started to groan inside (again! Yes, I'm human, folks). But I thought: I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time this afternoon and I can listen to a woman tell her story.

She had lost a small but nice apartment because it got burned during the riots. She said it wasn't just about police. Well-spoken, she described gentrification without actually naming it. She told me all about corporations coming into the city, buying up property, and building expensive apartments. She said many people don't realize it's going to hit them, too, eventually. She also said these corporations come in, and they don't hire local people who live in the area (black or white).

I wish I had had a tape recorder going, as it was fascinating, although it was heart breaking too. When she finished talking, I put my hand out the window to shake her hand and told her my first name. She looked so surprised, shook my hand, and told me her name too. She said she's writing her story, and she will put me in it. Then she walked into Five Guys, and I drove away, thinking about Matthew West's song, "Do Something".  I told Our Lord, "I don't know what you want me to do."  (You might notice that's not a direct question. I'm so afraid he's going to tell me one of these days.)

Really, it's so big, and I don't know what I can do. But there's a saying posted around here a lot (maybe where you are too), "If you see something, say something." Well, this is a different kind of "something" than the slogan has in mind, but I feel I need to say something, in whatever ways it comes to me.

But please understand that I'm not telling anyone to do what I do…what little I do. I know some people get defensive about the idea of giving money, and I usually say: I give food, not money. But recently, I've begun carrying a protein bar in a baggie with a folded paper towel and a couple dollars, so someone can get a bottle of water or soda. Today, I gave a lunch but I think the lunch was less important to her today than having someone to just listen. 

But we are each called differently in this world. Some give at the office…and yes, I mean that to sound cliché, and I don't really mean "give at the office", as in monetary contributions (though that's good too). I really mean many give of themselves at work: nursing and teaching and so many jobs; every honest job contributes well as parenting and caregiving, and so forth. 

But sometimes, what I can give is a smile or a listening ear; and it feels right. It doesn't feel like enough, but it feels right. 

Post Note the next day: I do think we need to exercise caution, think, and follow our intuition. I received an email today from someone who was feeling uneasy about a situation. Here are my comments on that.
On the Other Hand - The Woman who Needed Gas.


Monday, July 13, 2015

When Life Changes, It Doesn't Mean it's Over

Paul and his guide dog, Chicago

I wrote this at the request of a dear friend of many years. Thank you for asking me to write it, Sarah Blake LaRose, and I hope it comes close to what you might have had in mind.  I took your suggestion to write about my sons' lives after losing their vision, and I let my mind and heart go wherever they might.

When Life Changes, It Doesn't Mean it's Over

When I was a young teen, some of us discussed the question, "If you had to be one or the other, would you rather be deaf or blind?"

Since I was already deaf in one ear, I figured I could handle the deafness. But blindness? Oh no. I had viewed myself as a writer since fourth grade. So, I thought, blindness would mean my life would pretty much be over. But it was just a game, anyway, kind of like asking, "Would you rather have your arm broken or your leg broken?" Yes, we asked that, too. And then we ran off to play.

Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that one of my sons would one day become legally blind or that, later, another son would become almost totally blind (only able to perceive a little light).

So, what about my childhood fears? Were my sons' lives "over"? Not hardly.

My son who became legally blind at age nine got behind academically for a bit, while the doctors worked out a diagnosis and while we arranged to get him adaptive equipment for reading. For us, personally, as homeschoolers, getting a little behind was okay, because we could catch up on our own timetable.

I'm not going to kid you. Of course his vision loss was hard for him! He couldn't play baseball anymore, and he'd been enthusiastic and a good catcher. He couldn't see the squirrels or deer someone would point out, just outside our back door. He was no longer allowed to go out and ride his bicycle by himself, and he had been more active than his siblings, so he suddenly became less active. There were many things that he lost, but he didn't lose his personal drive, and he adapted. I don't just mean he adapted and learned other ways to do things…although he did that, too.

He adapted to the joy of life as it had become now, rather than longing for the past. That doesn't mean he doesn't occasionally wish he could drive. And if someone offered him back the vision he lost, he would gratefully take it. But he doesn’t dwell on those things. He golfs with his dad on occasion. He walks with his white cane for identification. He takes the bus to his paid internship in accounting. He takes the train or flies for business trips, by himself, always with his confident walk and his friendly smile. He's active socially, and he is a leader in a church club and in a business organization at his college.

Twelve years or so ago, his life changed, but it wasn't over.

About seven years ago, another son lost his sight at age 22. He was an artist. Within a few weeks, he couldn't drive any more, and within a few more weeks, all he could see was some light.  Naturally, he didn't get very good grades that first semester that he lost his vision; but later on, he liked to say, with a laugh, that he got better grades after he lost his vision than before. Like his younger brother, he lost many things. He lost the freedom that went with driving and the joy of his art. But like his younger brother, he didn't lose the core of who he was. He was thankful for what he had, and he trusted in God, saying, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

He laughed as much as ever, and he enjoyed crazy adventures with his friends. Where his younger brother used screen magnification, he used a screen reader. He wrote stories; was active in leadership at college; graduated; and gave speeches at churches and schools.

Seven years ago, his life changed, but it wasn't over.

As some of you know, though, four years later, his life actually was over. He died in his sleep, and no one knows for sure why. Of course, as he would tell us if he could, his life wasn't really over, but only beginning. We believe a better life awaited him, and I like to imagine it with the ability to see beauty again and with the freedom that he had lost when he could no longer drive…the freedom he had regained in spirit even before he passed away.

But the lives of all my family changed this time.

How does life change when a mother loses a son? I don't know, really, because I am only one person, only one mother. For me, in the beginning, I cried easily and often; I obsessed over things I hadn't done for him in his lifetime, especially during those recent years; I worried over things I had said to people after he died and things they said to me; and I took wrong turns while I was driving to somewhere I had been a hundred times. I once drove away from the grocery store, leaving my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot (fortunately, I got it back).

I can't say all of that has completely gone away, but all of it happens less now. I'm still a serious person but I always was a serious person. However, I was always a lover of life, too, and I still am. I'm still friendly; I still smile; and I still laugh at my own silly jokes.

Three years ago, my life changed, but it isn't over.

If you or your children have had major life changes, your experiences might be different than ours were. Some of it depends on individuals, and I'm guessing maybe some of it also depends on the kind of changes that have occurred too.

But sometimes I think we look at what happens in other people's lives, and we think, as I did as a young teen, that we could not deal with that particular trial, that life would be "over". I wonder if that very thought is sometimes what leads to fault finding thoughts. "I couldn't deal with that, so it wouldn't happen to me, or mine, right? So, it was someone's fault, right? So, I can prevent it, right?"

While we need to exercise some caution in life, most things happen because we are human: genetics, accidents, and so on. But we aren't each going to experience all the difficult things in the world, so there is no reason to go to the defensive-offensive mode. We can just say, "I'm sorry".

Is there anything else we can do? Thank you for asking, yes. This: Please don't run away. And believe me; I know this one from both sides. I still have a tendency to run away…or to stay away, if someone is suffering or has gone through a loss. After all, I might not know what to say. I might even – gasp – say the "wrong thing". (I've been known to do that a time or two, or a dozen or...).

You know what I've found in my own life? If someone says the "wrong thing" to me, I might get hurt or annoyed, but I'm usually glad for their presence, anyway. But if they say the "wrong thing", and then they don't come around after that, then I'm more apt to dwell on the hurtful thing they said, than I would if they continued to be there for me.

So, we can put on our moccasins and try to tread softly, and we can try to walk in their moccasins. But let's not take our moccasins off and sit by our fire when our friend's life has changed. Let's keep on being there for them, and especially if they have a harder time getting around, like my son who lost vision in college and was no longer able to drive.

From my experience, another thing we can do for those who experience a major or traumatic change is to accept it. When my youngest son suddenly lost so much of his vision, many people prayed, and I really appreciated that. But after we got a diagnosis - after we found out it would be a permanent loss - a few people would respond to that by telling me to pray to this saint, or pray that novena, in order to get my son's vision back. I told them: "Thank you for your prayers. The prayers are being answered. He has accepted his loss, and he is adapting to it well."

My feeling was kind of like this: I know it hurts you. But it hurts me more than it does you. And it hurts my son more than it hurts me. But we are going to go on living life as it is now.  And we will adjust to a new normal and a new life. 

Life has changed, but it certainly isn't over.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Saints in Our Midst

For those of us who are Catholic (and some of the rest of you, too), we have all these saints in heaven that we look up to, and we can pray to. We honor them (for those who might not know, no, we do not worship them).

We make much of them as great people, and rightly so. But what if we were to find out some day that we had saints in our own circle of friends, indeed, in our own homes, even among our own children? If we thought of that, would we, today, treat them differently than we do now? 

But they aren't perfect, we might say. No. No one living today - or through many past centuries - was perfect. Jesus was perfect. Mary was sinless. Saint Joseph must have come in at least a close third. But the rest of the saints? Were they perfect? Nope.

A saint, I was taught, is someone who practices virtue to a heroic degree. I never read anything about them practicing every single virtue to a heroic degree. They often had some particular virtue they were especially known for. What I think? I think we have a whole lot of saints running around right now, right where we are. Okay, maybe many of them are actually walking, not running, but they are out there, and we are bumping into them every day. 

So, what if we treated every person like he or she is a saint? What if we honored the good in each person? What if we overlooked the familiarity for a moment ("it's just my..." child, friend, neighbor), and thought about what Jesus did for each and every soul. What if we overlook the sins we think we see, and notice the good? It wouldn't be easy, would it? 

For me, the difficulty would be especially apparent on the road. Just yesterday, I caught myself glaring at a woman in her car for her offense, whatever it might have been; I don't even remember now. And then I realized what I had done, and I thought, "Who appointed me the teacher of drivers?" I don't know why she did what she did in that moment, but I do know I've made my own driving mistakes. And I've had to forgive myself for them. Can I do less for someone else?

What if we stopped, stopped the judgment and criticism of ourselves and others? What if we treated everyone - children, adults, neighbors, strangers - as the saints they have the potential to be?  We might fail many times. I will probably still find myself getting mad at other drivers. But if we just keep getting back up and trying again, we might begin to experience on earth some of the joy and peace we shall experience in heaven, the joy of living among the saints. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Is Imperfect Love Still Love?

I've heard people ask, sometimes, if this or that parental love is real love. I've always thought it was an interesting question. Is a love that punishes too harshly real love? Is a love that is too permissive real love? What does it take for love to be "real"? 

I'm referring here specifically to parents with their children, but some of this could also apply to the myriads of personal love: among parents, children, siblings, spouses, and friends.

I once read a memoir by a girl who was badly abused by her mother (even given the worst room and little food), and yet somehow she grew up to be very loving. Of course love comes from God, but how did she connect with it? Did it come only from others in her life? Or did some of it come from little crumbs of love her mother may have given her, too, even in the midst of so much abuse? I wonder these things as I read these kinds of stories.

Or let's say parents raise their children in a loving environment, but when the children grow up, they believe and behave differently than the parents expected; and as a result, the parents choose not to communicate with them. Does that mean the parents never loved them to begin with, but only wanted them to be clones? As strongly as I disagree with parents verbally or emotionally shutting out their children - as unloving as I believe that is - still, somehow, I find it hard to believe that the love with which they brought them up wasn't real, even though it's so very painful for the now-adult children to be cut off. 

And of course that can work the other way too. I've known cases where a grown child cut off communication with a parent. Again, it's so painful for the parent. I can only imagine! But again, does that mean the child never loved his parent? Probably not. Probably he or she is hurting, and may even be wishing he knew how to mend the gate.

Or, on the other hand, sometimes a parent won't let go of their mature adult child (perhaps a child who is a parent himself or herself), and won't seem to recognize that their child is not a "child" anymore. Maybe the parent thinks they recognize their child's adulthood, but maybe that older parent shows displeasure whenever the adult child doesn't meet his or her expectations in some way. I once saw a mother so mad at her adult daughter's choice of where to live - it didn't meet her standards - that she threw a bowl of potato salad across the kitchen. Another time I saw a woman yell at her adult son who came from out of town to visit, and the local grandchildren became afraid of their uncle, because, to their young minds, if Grandma thought he was awful, he must be. 

If we brought our children up in an authoritarian way, maybe we need to let that go, and realize that maybe we are still "punishing" our adult children when we yell at them or sulk. Or if we were permissive, maybe it's because we weren't emotionally present enough. Maybe we should run our attitudes by the filter of how we would treat other adults. Would we yell at our friends, or not make an effort to spend time with them?

But does any of this mean that the parent's love isn't real? Or does it only mean that the love is imperfect? 

No human being walking this earth today is perfect. We all, young or older, have room for growth. We grow, and then we find we need to grow again. We get weary, and then we find we need to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and work at it some more. I, for one, find it exhausting. Yet I think the rewards are great.

It's scary to grow, though, because to grow, we have to admit, somewhere in our being, that we were not perfect. But you know why that's scary? I think it's partly because some of us tend to treat ourselves like that "bad" child too. We beat ourselves up with our words or thoughts or our feelings of shame. Whether it's for the way we treat our children, or the way we used to treat our children, or out of some shame we felt as a child ourselves, we sometimes tend to be harsh with least I know I sometimes do; I don't know about you. 

I think we need to forgive ourselves, not once, but seventy times seven times. Not to forgive ourselves as permission to continue as we are. But to forgive ourselves so that we will have permission to change, permission to keep on growing in kindness, to keep picking ourselves up and trying again. I believe imperfect love is still love. But I believe we can have so much more happiness, and give so much more love, if we just keep forgiving ourselves, and if we just keep trying to be kind to both ourselves and others, over again, and over again. 

At least, that's my opinion. What do you think? 

I would like to add a few words about where this came from. Several years ago, I saw where someone said that conditional love isn't really love. I wasn't sure I agreed with that, but I mulled it over, remembering experiences I had seen, thinking about memoirs I was reading, where one theme I kept seeing was that most people, however harsh their childhood was, still love their parents. So then I had all these ideas roaming around in my head. And I kept feeling like I had to get these ideas out and work them over, like clay. So tonight I tried to get them out, and make sense of them for myself. I hope they made sense to you, too. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

In Which I Backpedal from Saying "All We Need is Love"

We argue about religion and race and gender orientation, often acting as if intolerance is a virtue, forgetting or not realizing how many of our grandparents or great-grandparents got along with their neighbors who weren't always just the same as they were.

We read about people who have been exonerated so many years later from crimes they didn't commit, and still, we exercise capital punishment in many states, and wish death, and sometimes hell, on suspects who haven't even been tried yet, except by the press and public opinion.

It becomes harder and harder for informed parents to have a voice in their children's medical care, or for teachers to teach from the heart.

We dehumanize people by labeling them, talking as if we can put everyone into groups, and therefore know how they think. And forget how they feel.

I believe we can turn the dehumanization around, although I don't know when, maybe by the end of our time on earth. I believe we need to look at each person as an individual.

Maybe you don't agree with some of the views I've implied here, but if you're still reading, I'm hoping that means you respect me, anyway. And I think that's the key to this mess we've gotten ourselves into. I believe we as a society can learn to respect each person as an individual, instead of viewing someone as part of a "group".

I speak of "love" a lot, but that word can be twisted. I remember someone once preaching, "True love is telling someone when they are wrong." Although there might be specific situations where that is true, it's certainly very far from a universal truth. What if I'm the one who is wrong? Or what if they believe in their heart they are right? Will my telling them something change that? I was always taught that only God can judge the heart. 

I still believe in love, but I believe we are badly in need of respect. Respect for life. Respect for parents. Respect for children. Respect for the rights of individuals who have had different life experiences from our own, respect for the rights of individuals who were - each and every one - born with free will. 

Most of all, I believe we all need to stop and think - yes, I'm definitely including myself, all of us - I believe we need to stop and think, day by day, conversation by conversation, stop and exercise respect for the rights of individuals to be viewed, and respected, as individuals.  And that's a tall order. Really, it is. We will need to work together. I'm going to try. Will you join me? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Learning Self-Compassion from a Long-Ago Disney Trip

"People get lost at Disney," my husband said today in reply to something I had said. I realized he meant adults get lost, not only young people like I was when I got lost in Disneyland as a teenager, trying to find my way back to an outdoor restaurant from a restroom. It had never occurred to me before that getting lost at Disney was something an adult might do.

I had always been proud that I had kept my cool that day, had retraced my steps to the restroom, had asked an employee for directions, and had found my way back to my parents, sister, and our friends.

But when my husband said that today, tears sprang to my eyes with sudden relief that I had not been stupid - after all - to get lost. Tears of compassion, too, for the girl who had thought she was irresponsible for not paying enough attention, or else she would never have gotten lost.

It was a healing moment - that thought today, that moment of love today for the self I was, that day, long ago.

I had already had plenty of the "I can take care of myself" tools in my tool box as a child. What I hadn't had, back then, was the tool of self-compassion.

What's the difference between self-compassion and self-pity, though? Self-pity, I think, looks at others' problems, and says, "I can't help you or empathize with you; I can only feel sorry for myself."  On the other hand, someone with self-compassion may care very much about the problems of others; but also takes the time and care for an inward look, at his or her present or past self, to say lovingly, as we would say to a good friend, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry you feel - or felt - badly. You are valuable and you are loved."  


I don't share this story with you to elicit your compassion for me, but to encourage your compassion for yourself. It's something I've been learning about for some time now, in theory, but it was cool to see the lesson fall into place, and I wanted to share that lesson with you all, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I've Crossed a River You Cannot Cross

This is my "Open letter from a mother who has lost a son". I didn't plan this letter or essay. I'd just been talking with my daughter, and after we got off Skype, I just started thinking about this river concept, and all of this just wanted to be said. Of course, there are - unfortunately for them - many mothers on my side of the river, for one reason or another. I don't know whether or not they would relate to what I am saying here. This is just one woman's musings of the moment. 

I've Crossed a River You Cannot Cross

I've crossed a river you cannot cross. No! Stay there. But would you do me a favor?  There's a shallow place just a little bit upstream. It's so shallow that it's more like a creek there. Would you go up there, and sit across the river from me for a bit? Bring your thermos, and I'll bring mine. We can talk or, maybe for a bit, we can just listen to the running water and the frogs, and smell the honeysuckle and the pine.

While we sit, if you are willing to listen to me, I would be very grateful. And I don't mind listening, too. Even if you want to tell me your troubles, that's okay; just know that I can listen sympathetically, but I can't come across the river with you. My place is here now. Maybe I can come across to your side for an hour, or a day, maybe even longer; but I will always come back, because this is my home now.

While we talk, I might tell you - when you get ready to go home on your side of the river – to go ahead and do what you remind each other to do. Love your loved ones each and every day, as if it were the last. But don't dwell on that, really. If you dwell on it, it might even spoil the moments. And yes, I don't try to eavesdrop, but I do hear you saying things to your neighbors like, "You never know when you won't see your loved one again". Yes, sometimes when I hear that, it makes me sad to think of the last time I talked to my son, when I said, "Can I call you back?", and then I forgot, until I got that phone call. 

But I want you to go on with your life on your side of the river. I want you to keep on reminding each other how important the little things can be, even if sometimes I wish I couldn't hear so well…even if sometimes I wish the river would rush a little louder.

I might tell you about other conversations I hear across the river, too. I hear you say how sad you are that your son went away to college, and I laugh. But then, I'm sorry, because I shouldn't laugh, and I know that you missing them is very real. And my other children go away, too, and I miss them, too, so I understand. Really, it only takes me aback for a moment, and then I can understand with you, in the way that you understand it on your side of the river.   

I so appreciate you coming to visit with me. But before you go, after you stand up and brush yourself off, and get ready to go home, will you take my hand across the water? I must warn you that I might hold your hand like I will never let it go, but don't worry because of course I must, and I will.  

And I hope you will come again. Come sit on your side of the river, across from me, and listen to the running water and the frogs, and smell the honeysuckle and the pine with me.

PS (added another day): I would like to add something. I had never wanted to 'scare' parents, and then this post just sort of "slipped out" one day. Also, many have "crossed a river", in so many other different ways, and I don't tend to think mine is worse than someone else's, only different.  And, I can only speak for myself, but I want to say that grief is not ever-present in a heavy way, but comes and goes in waves. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

It's not the words we say (or Dealing with other people's sadness)

There are many different problems and causes for sadness. We grieve someone moving away, the loss of a job, and so much more. And others can sometimes help us on that path. Or they can strew rubble on it.

I'm still not an expert in dealing with other people's grief, even though I've had two sons with sudden vision loss; even though I've lost a son; even though I've lost six people close to me within four years. But what I've learned is that we don't have to be experts. We don't have to think of the perfect words to say, because there are no perfect words to say. 

"I'm sorry" and "I will pray" are probably the words that have helped me most, but most of all people just 'being there'.

But if we feel words are important, if you want to use your words, let's consider this as a cardinal rule before we speak: Avoid Judgment. 

"Of course!" someone sputters. "Who would judge, when someone has a loss?" 

Ah, but it is not so clear as all that. There are so many different ways to make someone feel judged without even stopping to think about how it's going to come across. I wish I could give examples from things people have said to me, but there are people for whom hearing some of those comments might only add to their suffering. 

So here's the thing: Most statements, by their very nature, that try to answer "why" questions feel like judgment. The people who grieve, whether grieving a death or any kind of loss, are going to have to make their own peace on their own timetable. Let's not make it harder by throwing our "guesses" into the mix.

Let's remember that most often only God has full knowledge of any "why's". And in saying that, I'm saying he is all-knowing, but I'm not saying that God wanted a bad thing to happen. Jesus said, "What you do to the least of mine, you do to me," and he cured people of disease. Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, coming home from the temple. Jesus was nailed to a cross. So let's not try to place blame. 

I know, I know. Most of my readers would not place blame. But I know I have unintentionally said hurtful things at times in my life. It's so easy, because it's so subtle sometimes. 

Let's just try to carefully remove anything that might be perceived as judgment of any kind before we speak. And if we find that we have failed, we can say the same thing we might have said in the first place, "I'm sorry." Because, most probably, we meant well. 

And if you wonder why I brought this up tonight, there's another mystery for you.  Actually, though, I came across an article about the invalidity of the "prosperity gospel" (that if we just do the right things, everything will go our way), and I wanted to share about that topic myself. And it took the path I know, or at least one of the paths I know. 

But you know - we all know when we stop to think about it - that God is not a vending machine where you put in your quarters of prayer and good works, and you get out an equivalent amount of earthly happiness. God allows (and "God allows" is not necessarily the same as "God wanted", which I believe we can't know). But God allows us to experience the heavy sufferings of this earth, just as he did his Son, and the saints. 

But he is there for us, always; he is listening to us, and comforting us. He often gives us peace and joy in the midst of suffering. And sometimes he gives us human angels to be there for us along the way. "Lord, help me to be that to those I love, and those you send to me." 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How I Ended up in a Cult

Some of you have heard me say, "When I was 18, I went to a cult". Who would do that? Why? Why would I leave my family, and all that I knew? Believe me, sometimes I still ask myself those questions, so I can imagine others asking them, too. Intellectually, I still don't have the answers, but maybe I can share a fragment of the emotion.

A few years ago, I wrote a sort of free verse - poem of sorts - that expresses it the best way I have been able to so far. I don't remember sharing that poem publicly before now. Maybe it was because I didn't think it would stand alone without explanation, and I wasn't ready to write the explanation. Maybe I wasn't ready to humble myself by sharing that pain and confusion. 

When I graduated from high school, I had a car of my own; my part time job had turned into a full time job as soon as summer came; and at the end of June, I rented my own apartment. My middle name was responsible, and I was flying high.  

I had also decided I wanted to become a Catholic, and I was just waiting to receive instructions, so I could come into the Church. But in the meantime, my Catholic friend's mother had read a book about the changes in the Mass, and how "awful" those changes were; and I read it and believed it, along with my friend. 

Then she got introduced to a group that was traveling around the country, giving talks. My friend and I went to hear them. A really nice, upbeat lady, who traveled with them, suggested we go to a ten day seminar coming up in August in Idaho. She said, with such enthusiasm, you can go to Mass every day. Well, I hated to ask for time off work; but when I was growing up I had always loved church camp, and I decided to go, and my friend did too. I asked for the time off, and my boss graciously gave it to me. 

When we arrived, the first thing they did was take our watches. I was very uncomfortable with that. (Imagine someone taking your phone for ten days...and you didn't know ahead of time).  I had been wearing a watch pretty much all the time since I was in third grade. 

We had Mass, as promised. It was offered by a retired priest who, I later learned, was senile and had no idea what this group really stood for. 

Most of the rest of the time we spent listening to the leader, Francis Schuckardt, talk about how awful the changes in the Church were, how awful the world was, how no one who seemed to be in the Church was really Catholic any more. He would rant, "All the bishops are apostates, and anyone who follows an apostate bishop is ipso facto excommunicated!" Salvation was only with him and his group. Sitting here, writing it, I feel very foolish. Sitting there for hours on end, not knowing meal time from sleeping time from listening time, and it felt like mostly it was listening time, all I could feel was darkness and despair. 

And so, when the ten days were over, we had to stay with the group. It wasn't a decision, consciously made; it just was. It was desperation and it was fear. It was...I can think of no other word but craziness. We couldn't go home, except to say good-bye and get a few of our things because, out there, in the world (oh, am I really saying this publicly?)...out there in the world there were all these "humanoids and possessed persons", and we were in grave danger. If you hear something enough times, over and over, you can begin to believe it. And there were all these respectable adults who believed it, so why not us?

Here's the verse I scribbled down a few years ago:

Ten Day Seminar:

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Free time – one time.
Time alone, with God.
“What should I do?”
“Keep My commandments.”
Moment of connection.
Moment of sanity.

Cling to the connection.
Cling to the sanity.

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Connection fading.
Sanity sliding.

Endless time ending.
Watches returned, intact,
But broken to our needs;
Our spirits broken, like their usefulness.

Time to go home,
Yet not home, to the world,
Where dangers lurk
And devils dwell. 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Were They Really "The Good Old Days"?

My View from the Front Porch

Scrolling through headlines tonight, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, tell me something new". And then I had a thought. Maybe I could write headlines about my childhood and my neighborhood. I laugh every time I see a Facebook post, or a chain email, about "the good old days", and how great it was that children had so much freedom back then, and how different things were. 

The facts expressed in each of these mock-up headlines are true. I was that child. I was that younger cousin. I was that granddaughter. I was that classmate. It was my mom, my school, and my neighborhood park. 

Most of the time I had a pretty good childhood. My mom showed her love with her cooking, and took good care of me when I was sick; and my dad loved to support us, and to build and repair for us. 

I went to church, and I read the Psalms, and I loved nature; and I found God in all of those. But please don't tell me that yesteryear was better than today. Life is really pretty universal. Or, as Dickens said, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

Here are my "mock-up" headlines:

Local School to Serve as Bomb Shelter for Community

10 Year Old Boy Sexually Abuses 5 Year Old Cousin

Mother Warns Young Child Not to Unlock Car Door to Men from Tavern While Waiting for Her to Shop

Couple with Party Line Worries, when their Visiting Granddaughter Calls Home to Parents, Because of Teen Boys' Lewd Talk

Mother Tells Child to Sit on Porch if she isn't Home after School, Not to Go to Neighbors: "They will think I'm a bad mother"

Estranged Husband Kills Kindergarten Teacher at School, Shoots Himself, and Flees into Woods

Hurricane Destroys Roof over 5th and 6th grade Classrooms; All 4 Classes being Held in Gym

School Bullying Commonplace, as Children Ridicule, Put Lipstick on Back of Classmate's Coat on Bus

Children Warned Not Safe to go to Leverich Park except for Organized Large Group Activities

Let's remember as we read headlines, that just as the ones I created here covered six or seven years time, that the ones we see every day often cover many areas of the country and world. Sensational things, hurtful things, sometimes horrifying things will always be with us. They are nothing new. 

And sometimes we can help, or pray; but let's also remember to live in the life we are in, not in another area or another time. 

May we be at peace, and may we find some joy in each and every day. 

Important Follow-up Note:

I want to clarify something. I have great respect and love for my late mother. She wasn't perfect...and neither am I...but she lived in the times she was in.

I have learned from talking to people my age, over the years, that my mother leaving me in the car while she shopped was a fairly common practice at the time. 

Even as far as my sitting on the porch, she always expected, of course, to be home when I got home from school; it was just that sometimes she was  running late. And adults worrying about what the neighbors thought was a way of life that permeated the society I lived in as a child. 

Some years later, when my youngest was a baby, my husband and I went to a neighborhood watch (in a different state), where someone asked the speaker something about children alone, and he said they are safer alone outside than alone inside the house. I don't agree, nor am I sure it should be an "or", depending, of course, on age and maturity. But I just wanted to clarify that it wasn't so much about my mother, but about a general way of thinking during, perhaps, a fairly wide span of time...a time period that some people look back on as having been perfect. 

For those for whom the "good old days" really were (almost) perfect, I'm really happy for them...for you, if you were one of them.

Some of us looked back in adolescence and saw some flaws in our childhood, and over the years came to believe that there is no perfect world. 

But there is much good in the world, and so much love and, with our eyes open to all of it, we to try to embrace the good. 

Peace to you, and all good.