Old Marley was as dead as a doornail…

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“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come round…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”  Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol 

We all know the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge based on Charles Dickens famous book, A Christmas Carol & written by that genius among authors in 1843.

The 1951 movie starring Alistair Sims as Scrooge remains my favorite version. Though later colorized, the original black & white remains firmly imprinted on my brain; bold, stark and frightening in places, open and flowing with light and warmth in others – each scene carefully crafted to expose the different layers of Scrooge’s life past, present and future.

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The movie begins with the ghostly visitation of recently deceased Jacob Marley, Ebeneezer’s business partner and last remaining friend in life. Marley offers Scrooge a chance to examine the chains he has forged in his own life by spending one night with three Spirits who will examine his probable future based on the past & present paths he has trod.

You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”  “I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” 

And so Scrooge agrees; the tick of time is suspended and the visitations commence. A frightening prospect to most, myself included, but also a chance to see ones life as it truly is? I would have agreed as well…

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Spirit of Christmas Past

The first visitation by the Spirit of Christmas Past; a kind and gentle soul. Warm memories of love and hopeful dreams. Yet here we also see among the glad tidings the seeds that create Ebeneezer’s Present. Choices are made; the delay of love, the focus on advancement. All things that are, of themselves, not ‘bad’.

But choices nonetheless…

The second Spirit looks familiar to us on the surface; portly and jolly and filled with Holiday Cheer. scrooge-2But as he shows Ebeneezer his life in the Present, Scrooge begins to realize that joy, hope and the true meaning of Christmas remain only as memories in his distant past.

Instead, Scrooge is shown his Present through the looking glass of others; his nephew, business associates and especially his poor employee Bob Cratchit and his crippled son, Tiny Tim. Scrooge is not only faced with his Present reality, but that the  underpinnings of his current life come at great cost to others and that true Poverty of Spirit – ignorance and want – lurk under the robes of that seemingly jolly Spirit.scrooge-7

Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?… If they would rather die they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. 

The Spirit of Christmas Future arrives last and is a frightening Specter, filled with dread and darkness and death. Scrooge faces not only his own future mortality but Tiny Tim’s empty chair, caused in part by his own avarice and greed. It is indeed a turning point in Ebeneezer’s life. scrooge-3

What about the turning points in our own lives and in what directions do those turning points take us?

I ask myself this question more frequently as the the years fly by. What choices am I making with the time I have left?  Is my guiding star self love or am I willing to sacrifice some of my own tangible comforts for the sake of others? Do I really need that new toy or does my neighbor need food more? Can I get by without that new car this year? Do I really need to go to Disney World every year?

What chains am I forging in my own life? Is there still time to knock off (or build) a few more links?  Its an important question.

At least I think it is…

So as Christmas approaches and another New Year is about to begin, I am taking some time to make a fresh inventory of my own life; looking more deeply at the Spirits of my own Christmases, both past and present. Some of those memories are wonderful and others are very hard to revisit; but all of it is a valuable ‘teaching tool’ for the Christmases of my life yet to come.

I am not sure how far I will get into the New Year before my own greed and poor choices make themselves known; likely not very far at all. But I am going to do my best to follow the North Star and allow the Eternal Light which shone on both Dickens and the Magi to lead me into a future where I can truly say those immortal words…

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May God Bless Us, Everyone

Christmas Blessings to You & Yours

 

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Knockin’ at the Door

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I am two years in.

Well, maybe not ‘officially’, but two years in since the I knew in my heart of hearts that the wheels had truly fallen off the wagon of my life and this time there was no putting them back on again. knockin1

For the past two years I have done my share (and then some) of crying, grieving, cussing, fist shaking and ‘why me, God’ over and over again. I have fallen down, gotten back up and dusted myself off more times than I can count. I have put every spin, spiritual and otherwise, I could put on the situation. I have gone through self-denial, self-pity, self-righteousness, self-help and every other type of self this or that out there.

I have studied the Bible, listened to tapes and sermons, read a dozen or more books and blog sites on ‘surviving divorce’ as well as received counsel from pastors who have been gracious enough to overlook my potty mouth as I tried desperately to find the right words to express my outrage and sorrow in my quest for ‘why did this happen to ME?’

I have screamed, stomped, yelled at the top of my lungs and spent many evenings in a ‘wanna burn down the world’ state of furious. I have lit candles, said countless novenas, prayed a million prayers; Mother Mary and I continue to have ‘girl talks’ in the middle of the night several times a week. knock2

I have also spent more than my share of solo evenings nursing the creature and reminding myself that I could really use a good local pub because drinking alone is never the greatest of ideas, even if you are enjoying the ten year old version of the nectar of the gods.

And two years in, it still sucks.

So as the official two year ‘anniversary’ of slogging my way through approaches (just after Easter, but it’s Lent, so indulge me), I decided to make a short list of things I’ve learned (so far) about life as a human who never believed in divorce or that divorce would ever happen to me.

Being married for TWENTY FIVE YEARS was a LONG time and a LOT of ‘muscle memory’. I go to work every day and interact with multiple teachers who were not even ALIVE when I walked down the aisle! 25 years is a long time and the memories of over two decades of life with a spouse are not easily undone, nor do those memories simply ‘go away’ – not in your mind, your body or especially your heart. Sorry, Mick, but time is not always on your side…

Rolling Stones – Time Is On My Side 

Waiting for the doorbell to ring is not a good plan. People have good intentions. They really do. But they also have their own lives and those lives typically do not include divorced women over the age of 40+ who are not part of their already established rule of life or family unit. I do not currently belong to any Red Hat Societies and the few that exist around here are well established, not ‘friendly to newcomers’ and way too tame for my tastes and sense of adventure – more along the line of sweet tea at Golden Corral types of gatherings, which is fine but not my personal version of a ‘girls night out’. I have discovered that the doorbell does not ring nor does the knock on the door come and, despite Burt Parks’ masterful Miss America 1976 performance, the supper invitations (or any invitations, truth be told) rarely happen unless they come from me.

Burt Parks

There are only so many places you can have a ‘good time’ alone. I live in the rural South. That is likely ’nuff said’ for many, but for the uninitiated this means there are no museums, no art galleries, no boutiques, no friendly pubs, no cultural life except for the neighborhood Applebees, Taco Bell, Walmart or Waffle House. Knockin5

I live where a person has to drive at least 30 miles one way to go anywhere with ‘culture’ and then 30 miles (or more like 60 for someplace really decent) back home again at the end of the evening. Alone. Not too terribly likely… Of course, many (including my own son) have suggested that moving is a solution to this dilemma. I do not disagree and I do look around, wistfully hoping that the miracle job will appear on my radar at any time. But finding the right job as an older adult, especially an older woman who needs stability, living on a single salary, having decent benefits and being able to maintain the cost of living is not the simple task that others much younger or just starting out believe it to be.

Widows and Orphans do not often get checked on, despite what the Bible says (and a person only has so many Church Suppers in them). I wont preach a sermon but trust me; it’s tough when you hear more from your mechanic than the folks you go to church with every week (Pastors included). I used to attend the countless church suppers that pass as the only form of fellowship around here (at least for a chaste person who does not want bar stool companions), but honestly; who can do this regularly when alone and in pain, facing the same questions, the awkward ‘I hope someone will sit with me this week’ anxieties? I even avoid the receiving line at church anymore – one can only say ‘I’m fine’ so many times, after all…

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions: I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.” – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Life DOES go on. It really does! I set my alarm, get up, fix my screaming cat her breakfast, go to work, come home, do schoolwork, fix the screaming cat her supper. I pay bills, read books, watch movies. I go for walks, exercise, and catch an occasional school-based event (mostly for my students; 25 years of Friday Night Lights is a helluva lotta HS football). knockin3

When I was young and single, this type of life was new and exciting; I loved the freedom to do as I pleased, have my own place to myself, leave dishes in the sink and dirty clothes on the floor if I wanted. But 25 years is a long time to live with another person. A long time of sharing your way of living, your hopes, your dreams, your joys and your sorrows with another human being. Twenty five years is a long time to simply or easily pick up and move on.

After two years for trying hard to move on, trying hard to do the right thing, trying to be brave, trying to believe that something good will actually come out of this dark night of the soul, it is increasingly difficult to believe there is anything resembling a phoenix left in me still waiting to rise from the pile of ashes that has become my life. Knockin4

Several have mentioned the story of Job to me as I have wandered through these two years of darkness. I’ll admit it – this story has crossed my mind more than once..

JOB 2 (NIV): “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity,though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

A whole lot of hefty sermons have come out of that passage as well as the entire Book of Job – it is chock full of life lessons and contains its fair share of pain, suffering and drama. In the end, Job has all restored to him, though in my current state of weakness, ongoing pain and doubt, I am still pondering how that could possibly be the case; especially after losing absolutely everything he counted as dear to him including the lives of his children. But what often gets missed, what I have – after years and years of hearing sermons about Job NEVER heard preached by any pastor in any church or at any conference – is the passage that follows in the very same chapter:

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11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhiteand Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

It is hard, this Gospel of Life. It is hard to walk it, live it, and especially to BE it to others in need. But at the end of the day our Brothers and Sisters NEED us in their lives. Especially the Widows, the Orphans and the countless Others in distress, burdened by loneliness and despair and searching for hope amidst the ashes of their life.

To hold on to HOPE. THAT is the biggest lesson I have learned (so far) and two years in.

Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

 

 

 

I’m Back! (And I’m fasting from Valentines Day…)

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Every year we try to out do ourselves.

We buy flowers & candy, we make restaurant reservations months in advance and some even propose in the hopes of proclaiming our undying love for our beloved. All of that is excellent; be it for me to put ex-lax in anyone’s chocolate!

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But are we, like the REAL St. Valentine (despite some sketchy history), willing to go to jail for our undying belief that love is worth it? To die by beheading; not in defense of unrequited love or even passion, but in defense of the Sanctity of the Marriage and the Church’s role in the blessing of this Union before God? Seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it…

History of St Valentine

In today’s throw-away world, St. Valentine is so Old School that he doesn’t even get a nod; his reason for dying lost in a sea of candy hearts, paper lace & fat little cherubs who don’t at all look like the cupid of Greek Mythology (who at least seemed to be worth the trouble).

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But every year there are those who suffer on Valentines Day as well. The loss of a loved one to time or disease or brokenness – Valentines Day is a rough holiday for those who mourn a lover, a spouse, a life companion or friend.

REM – The One I Love

Like many who will face this day alone, I will do my best to stay busy. To refrain from making depressing posts on facebook may be a bit of a challenge, but I will put my happy face on & do my best to allow the posts of others not so unfortunate to wash over me like waves of mercy. Bless their Heart… (really)!

I will also spend the day remembering that for some, the Sanctity of Marriage still matters as does our desire to celebrate our bonds before God in places of Faith – til death do us part.

It is hard, moving on.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite modern authors. She tells it like it is and I love her for it. She makes me laugh and cry; sometimes both at once. “She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They feel like shit.” – Anne Lamott

I am ‘two years in’ tomorrow – two years of living hell on many levels, two years of tears and gut wrenching pain so hard at times I was not sure I could draw another breath let alone stand in the storm that had become my life…

STORM OF LIFE

Once upon a time I believed
Storms could be weathered.
Winds of change could blow.
Drifting you would find your way home,
Tattooed from the journey and bearing trinkets of thorny crowns.

Like a widow on her watchman’s peak I waited
For each inbound ship to carry you back.
Dreams shared and promises made;
Pearls of great price inlaid with gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But those winds blew a different course and sirens
Knowing your names from voyages past cried loudly;
Offering promises of ancient berths to new horizons
And ports not traveled by worn & dusty laborers
In the vineyard.

And still hoping in the tick of kairos
I cast off in stormy seas to find you;
Anchors pulled and sails unfurled in billowed winds.
Wave battered, tipping windmills and drowning
In the dust of lands end.

Wounds not self-inflicted, but bravely fought, until finally.
Eyes closed.
Lifeblood spilled forever upon the decks and ramparts.
Shrouded dead in the canvas of fate’s needle.

My heart stops beating.

And with Destiny set firmly adrift
I raise my sails towards uncharted waters
And launch into solitary horizons yet unknown.

(LHL, 2015 – all rights reserved)

I cannot say that I am firmly standing just yet on the deck of Valentines Day 2016. My sea legs are still quite wobbly and I fully admit that I keep gazing backwards, looking for the safety of dry land long gone from sight. But I am on the boat, sea sick and all. And someday as I learn to be a better sailor, perhaps I will stop seeing only blackness and maybe, just maybe, learn to navigate by the brilliance of the star lit sky. I do not know what port of call I will come to or if I will be destined to keep on sailing & searching. But I do know that I will somehow learn to carry on, lay my weary head to rest & cry no more.

And I pray he will too…

Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son

 

 

From the Tomb

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I did not grow up Catholic.

In fact, I did not grow up much of anything at all. My parents were Baptists; my Mother an American Baptist (yes, that really is a denomination), my Father a ‘good old boy’ Southern Baptist. In fact, as it turns out, dear old Dad came from a line of Baptist Preachers in both Virginia and later North Carolina. Both of my parents were basically non-practicing by the time I was old enough to notice, so I grew up un-churched except for the occasional Wedding, mostly of Catholic friends – mystical and strange affairs with lots of standing and sitting down and prayers and more sitting, standing… you get the picture. tomb 1

But the High Holy Days of Christmas and Easter would have me looking for meaning every year and I eventually found my way into the Catholic Church after decades of trying this and that, squeaking in as JP II closed the Doors of Jubilee in 2001.

I first experienced the Triduum while already on the Road to Rome, a Confirmand in RCIA, the culmination of a several year journey and thousands of questions. I admittedly drove my long suffering Priest, Fr Allan McDonald, Diocese of Savannah, crazy with my non-ending struggles. Olan Mills, Inc

Go ahead and ask him if you think I am exaggerating; he has a wonderful blog, Southern Orders, and would be more than happy to fill you in on all of the ‘pain and suffering’ I caused him on my journey (nice plug for you, Fr Allan – you owe me)! http://www.southernorderspage.blogspot.com/

But in I came, Lumen Gentium in hand, at the Easter Vigil in the oldest Catholic Church in Georgia, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, celebrating that ancient mystery centuries old; the culmination of our Faith in Christ as Catholics.

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Angels rejoiced, Fr Allan heaved huge sighs of relief. St Peter welcomed a fellow sinner and my Patron Saints, Patrick & Columba, held me up while shaking to the very core of my being I spoke the words of Faith; “I believe in the one, holy catholic and apostolic church…”

And my life was forever changed.  tomb 4

tomb 6I cannot describe fully what it means to be Catholic with its Rites thousands of years old still carried on into the present. A Family Reunion where Traditions that matter have been protected and preserved for the future, like that special potato salad recipe, handed on throughout the generations despite many who would love to say ‘out with the old and in with the new’. For the first time in my life I understood why going to Church mattered, that true fellowship in Christ was corporate and not individual for a reason and that understanding where I came from was as important as where I was going.

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I was home. Finally.

Last night the Triduum began with the Institution of the Lords Supper and the washing of the disciples feet; a reminder to us all that Christ took upon himself the form of a servant, bending down on His knees to honor and invite those to the Feast of His Body and all that was still to come.

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After Mass, the Altar is traditionally stripped of its linen, the burial cloth of Christ. Adornments are covered, the Blessed Sacrament is reposed and the Tabernacle door left open – a reminder that Jesus will be going to the Garden soon and then into the very gates of Hell; the unblemished lamb, blood and wine mingled as the Angel of Death passes by the doorways of our lives. On Good Friday, the Way of the Cross is observed throughout the world – that Via Dolorosa of the Soul – “Behold, I make all things new” tomb 10

We keep Vigil with Him, however poorly. Peter denies, John weeps. Mary is there until the bitter end – she does not leave her Son throughout it all. Finally, “I thirst”.  The veil is rent, the ground quakes, people fall to their knees and the words of salvation are spoken for us all – “It is Finished”…

Easter has become all about Bunnies and Egg Hunts and the flowers of Spring. In fact, if one Googles ‘Easter’ images, you have to scroll quite far down until anything ‘religious’ even appears.

tomb 11As a person who spent decades looking for truth amidst baskets of candy, I sometimes wonder why those of us who call ourselves Christians would allow such frivolity to take primacy in our lives this week of all weeks. People who for decades told me I needed to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior prancing about in bunny outfits and painting eggs – pagan customs, all. I know that sounds harsh and I don’t mean it to be, I really don’t. But I cant help thinking – as a person who searched and searched for meaning in life and who is still on a life journey – how these Traditions build our Faith in Christ when our children know more about the ‘Easter Bunny’ than they do about the Road to Calvary.

Tomorrow evening an amazing Basketball Game will be played – the Battle of the Trees. It will be an epic game; maybe not as epic as ND vs UK, but..! tomb 12

The game begins shortly after 8pm. Just as the Easter Fires of the Great Easter Vigil will be lit…

I admit that I struggled about this; after all I AM Catholic and there are many Masses I could go to and still watch that game! Easter Sunday Mass is certainly an option and I am sure my cousins in Kentucky will be in attendance then – no blame, no shame!

But the Easter Vigil is not just ‘another Mass’ for me. It is also the Anniversary of my Birth in Christ, the night I put on the Garments of Salvation, the night I lit the Candle of my Baptism in Christ, the night I renounced the devil and all of his evil works, the night I was Confirmed as a Child of God, the night I received Jesus in the Eucharist.

The Easter Vigil is the night I returned home from the prodigal journey of my life, never wishing again for the ‘good old days’ of chaos, the night I rose from the tomb of death into life, through the eternal sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. tomb 14

On this night, I am the sinner both on His right and His left. I am Peter in the public square and also in the garden, sword drawn. I am Mary, watching her bloodied and battered son die a sinners death on a criminal’s cross.

Tomorrow night will find me at the Easter Vigil. The most Holy Night of the Year for Christians world over, the anniversary of my death of self and the defining moment of my life in Christ. I will wait with Him for the sun to rise upon the empty tomb and in doing so, renew my vows to Him.

“To whom shall I go? You have the words of Eternal Life”…

tomb 13“Oh truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the Underworld! The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners”

Blessed Triduum, Blessed Easter! ALLELUIA!

And she called his name Samuel

Twenty One Years is a long time. And it is also a moment…

Like Hannah, I had more than a few issues bringing my own son into the world. But after years of wondering ‘if’ and the pain of the loss of our first child, here he was – our miracle baby! E22

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life…” I Samuel 1:10-11

Months before, I had awoken in the middle of the night – a dream still strongly in my mind, heart pounding and certain that I had been visited by God. Waking Wes, I pronounced “We are going to have a son and his name is Ethan Samuel!” “Go back to sleep and we will make sure it isn’t indigestion in the morning” was the reply.

It wasn’t.

“So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.” I Samuel 1:20

E21Our Ides of March baby, Ethan Samuel, came into the world shortly before 3:30am on the 15th of the month, 1994 in that beautiful city of San Francisco.

And my life was changed for ever…

Ethan Samuel’s entrance into the world was not without drama and there were some touch and go moments that first year for us both. E16

 

I cannot describe the feeling of watching your child go into major neurosurgery at age six months; the helplessness you feel as a parent, standing at the surgery door and handing your only child – the only child you will ever have – over to people who will literally have his life in their hands. “Don’t worry” said the Anesthesiologist as he gently took my son from my arms. “I will take good care of him. I have children of my own at home.”

“When her husband went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.” I Samuel 1:21-22

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E29 E3

E2 E25 E28

The years spent with this precious gift from God have gone by quickly, filled with love and laughter and so many memories. Others have journeyed with us, bringing joy into our lives and enriching us all the more – it truly takes a village…

E13 E19 E11 E14 E9 E17 E18 E30E35“After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the Lord there.”

E41 E43

And so, dearest Ethan Samuel, on this special day of full emancipation, my hand is stretched across the miles and my heart and prayers and vows to God are with you: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious to you. May He turn his face toward you and give you peace.” -Numbers 6:24-26

You are my Navy Bean, my Lima Bean, my String Bean, my only Bean. You are all that I could ever hope for or want in a son. You are the sunshine of my life and I love you to the moon and back. E37

Happy 21st Birthday, Ethan Samuel. Now – go out and change the world…

E40Unceasing Prayers and all the Love I have to give, Mama

Goodbye, Father Ted – A Man with Hope to Bring

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In the spring of 1968 a man gave his life for a cause he believed in – the dignity of all humans, regardless of creed, color or faith. And on that fateful day at a small motel in an obscure part of Memphis, TN my life was changed forever. MLK death

I was living in Trenton, NJ at the time and my family owned a business; a white owned business in the ‘black part of town’. The riots all over were bad and Trenton was no exception. The NJ National Guard was called in, receiving orders to allow the rioting and looting to continue and to not intervene unless loss of life was threatened. And a casualty of the riots was my family’s business which was looted, burned, gutted. Quite a lot for a not quite ten year old to take in…

MLK Riots

But growing up in the 60s and 70s was like that and all of us who were young then were profoundly affected by Dr. King’s death, and later by Bobby’s and by the events of the time like Vietnam and Watergate. It is hard to explain to others who came along before or have come after. We are a generation of people who experienced these things when we were young and were forever changed. We went on to become social activists and spawned the Environmental Movement, the first Earth Day, the Women’s Liberation Movement and Walk Outs on college and high school campuses around the country.

MLK hippiesYes, we were radicals and hippies and ‘One Way’ Jesus Freaks too. We believed we could change the world we lived in if we believed enough, were passionate enough, cared enough.

And we did.

In the midst of all of this turmoil, drop in, turn on, tune out, peace, love and rage, I discovered a man who was going to change my life forever despite never meeting him, or ever seeing him in person. His name was Father Theodore Hesburgh of the Congregation of Holy Cross. A Catholic. A Priest. Father Ted. MLK - Hesburgh

All my friends who lived in the Trenton/Philly area where I grew up were Penn State fans, but I loved Notre Dame. I don’t know why. I did not grow up Catholic – I wasn’t even a Christian; just a fan of all things Notre Dame. It was perplexing, even to me. But I bled green even as I watched Saturday football games on an old behemoth of a black and white TV, marveling then and later as the color TV arrived, changing my world both inside and out. I lived for the Notre Dame football teams of the 70s – those smash mouth defense days of Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine and Rudy of course! MLK rudy

But more than Notre Dame Football, more than the movie Rudy, more than my love for all things IRISH, Father Ted was calling my name.

Father Ted was, first and foremost, a Priest; a man who had dedicated his life to God. And though I was not Catholic and really did not understand what any of that meant, Father Ted represented hope in things that mattered – things that mattered very much to those of us who grew up in those tumultuous decades. Things that matter to my generation still. MLK quoteThings that mattered to me.

I didn’t realize it then, but on the day my family’s business was destroyed, my own life truly did began to matter and the world around me began to matter very much as well. I was drawn in first by disbelief and then by anger and later by a recognition that these riots were an outpouring of a grief too deep to contain: a sorrow and an overwhelming rage  that needed physical expression. Finally, much later, I also came to realize that only love could truly give Hope to a world in despair.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – MLK

My own father – a southerner – understood this somehow. And from this white man, born in North Carolina and raised in the bigotry of the south, came words I will never forget: constant and unfailing words of support for the black community, words of shared grief over the death of a great leader, words of hope in my small world gone seemingly mad. We rebuilt and reopened our business and continued to serve the black community of Trenton as one of the few white businesses to return after the riots gutted downtown. But Trenton never recovered from those days and the streets surrounding the world I grew up in and the bridge that I drove by on my way to our business became mean and ugly and what might have been was instead replaced by despair giving way eventually to hopelessness, anger and hate. MLK Trenton

There were men who understood that these horrors could eventually stand as reminders that we still had an opportunity to ‘do the right thing’, to ‘see justice served’.

Men like Father Ted. Men with Hope to bring. MLK jfk

Years passed and I protested and carried on and had my moments in the sun. Our Lady stood quietly by, silently watching over me in my foolish and determined attempts to find meaning in life. I eventually discovered that Pearl of Great Price, hidden in my heart all along, though it took many years and much gentleness on God’s part to remind me that I too still believed in things that mattered.

When my own son was born, my life was forever changed. Hope was defined in this precious life I now held in my arms. Little did I know that his birth would lead me back to the days of my youth. Back to Father Ted. Back to Notre Dame. Back to the school I had never visited, back to the man I had never met. MLK dome

Decades later and now (miraculously) Catholic, my only child expressed a desire to discern Priesthood with the Congregation of Holy Cross. And for the first time in over 50 years, I stepped onto the hallowed campus of Knute Rockne, the Gipper, the Four Horsemen: to see for the first time that holy grail of stadiums, to walk the campus, every step thick with traditions, to soak in the history of all things Notre Dame.

And MLK rudy 2 the moment I stepped on the sacred ground of that amazing place that is Notre Dame, I remembered Father Ted was also here – and my dreams of changing the world for good all came rushing back to me like a tidal wave of faith.

Father Ted is gone now; one of the last icons of the world I grew up in, a world that experienced so many hardships and yet still held on to Hope. Dignitaries came from all over to say goodbye to Father Ted. People who had met him, spent time with him, knew him. Famous people. Rich people. Important people. People I will never meet, or walk with or eat with. MLK holtz

MLK - funeral 1My own son, now a Seminarian with the Congregation of Holy Cross, was not there for Fr Teds’ passing as he is studying abroad this semester. It was frustrating that neither of us got to say goodbye in person. Thousands lined the streets to bid their final farewells – a fitting tribute to a life well lived…

I discovered the Holy Cross Cemetery on my first visit to Notre Dame and have returned to it every time I have been on campus. I go on my own when I visit and walk among the graves and pray. IMG_2666

For many, the famous Grotto is their pilgrimage place, but for me it has always been the CSC cemetery. When I am anxious about the future, I go there and light a candle in my mind and praying over the things that concern me, ask the men who are buried there, Men with Hope to Bring, for their prayers for me and for my son. It gives me great peace to walk among the simple gravestones of so many who gave themselves completely for the world they lived in, these men who believed as do I that there is still good to be done, still faith to be lived and that even in death, Hope abounds.

MLK - csc cemetaryAnd this week as the world took a moment to remember a great man of faith, I realized I would finally get a chance to meet Father Ted in person the next time I visit that little cemetery – its simple crosses a powerful reminder that Hope still exists.

AVE CRUX SPES UNICA, Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC – your life changed mine forever.

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Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Dusty Shadows

imageAs you are now aware, I am a fan of classic movies, Broadway musicals (at least the old ones) and, perish the thought, family-based TV specials. All of the Peanuts specials hold a place of honor as does Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and of course the Wizard of Oz (which hits all THREE of my categories)!

Not to be outdone are the 1960s television versions of Cinderella and Peter Pan. I watched all of these made-for-TV events over and over again as a child growing up. I can still sing many of the songs and quote whole sections of dialogue. No matter that Prince Charming went on to become a soap opera star (only true die-hards know to whom I am referring) or that Peter Pan was actually played by a woman. I loved those shows and would watch them again if they came on the television tomorrow (many still do)!DUSTY SHADOWS 1

A reoccurring theme in all of the Peter Pan versions – from James Barrie’s book to Mary Martin’s TV rendition – is Peter & his shadow. imageAs a young child I was mesmerized by the thought of losing one’s shadow and then re-attaching it after a successful chase. Did the shadow have feelings? Did it really want to escape from Peter, or was it only seeking a taste of freedom? Was the reconnection to the personage of Pan an imprisonment of inner self or a rejoining necessary for completeness? And just WHAT was that shadow THINKING when it escaped to begin with?!

Shadows are revisited themes for most of us. The dark edges of our lives collect them like dust bolls under the bed; seen but examined infrequently. Hiding in those shadows are much bigger things, but we tell ourselves we can wait for the annual spring-cleaning; that dreaded but necessary time of year when bucket and mop in hand we steel ourselves to face the unpleasant task of exposing the true extent of the accumulated grime in our lives.

Even when we are determineBed Cleand to clean, shadows have a mind of their own – shifting in the light like a game of ‘hide and seek’. We often only halfheartedly stab at the hidden debris because exposing the dirt to the light of day may require time and effort we are not willing to spend. Or perhaps we are actually content to clean in low light in our hurry to move on to items more appealing on the check list of our lives.

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Unlike many of us, Peter Pan, despite being known as the ‘boy who never grew up’ does a very brave and ‘grown up’ thing. He doggedly pursues his shadow and upon catching it firmly sews it back on – with help from Wendy – who tells him to “be brave because it will hurt just a little”. Peter has no intention of allowing his shadow to run freely again, bringing that unruly part of himself under control while also clearly seeing that Pan’s Shadow, left to its own devise, can bring disaster to both Peter and his beloved Neverland.

Me and my Shadow – who has the lead in your dance of life..?

Finding Rainbows End

Did you watch the Oscars the other night?

UNLIKE much of America, I did NOT! I have no real excuse like I was ‘fasting’ from TV for Lent or ‘just say no’ to media hype. I just didn’t watch.

But I DO wish I had seen the Oscars tribute to Julie Andrews as well as the entrance by the Grand Dame and Icon Herself – WOW! Lady Gaga tribute to Julie Andrews

LIKE many Americans, I grew up with the Sound of Music as a favorite annual event on television. I never saw the movie in the theater (that I can remember at least), but we watched it every year and even bought the VHS tape so it could be viewed anytime – it was definitely one of the ‘Favorite Things’ my Sister, Mom & I liked to do!

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Every scene was perfection; from the opening with Maria in the mountains to the last, again in the mountains with the VonTrapp Family escaping to safety. Every. Picking. Scene. Just like real life, right? Well, maybe not exactly…

RAINBOWS 8

But there are so many parts of that wonderful movie that give pause and encourage us to ponder the mountaintop (and valley) experiences in our own lives that we find ourselves watching it over and over again, relishing all those bits and pieces – laughing, crying, cheering when Georg FINALLY figures it out!

As we watch Maria struggle with her own definition of destiny, we see her desperately and earnestly desire to pursue a different path – a path she both admires and longs for. A path that IS admirable. A path that seems so ‘right’ on so many levels. And yet, not right at all as it turns out. RAINBOWS 4

Maria just can’t seem to make the perfect life she has envisioned for herself work and ultimately has to lean on the wisdom and guidance of Mother Superior, even when that wisdom seems too hard, too unwanted, too crazy to even believe!

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That is beginning to sound a bit like real life to me at least…

“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him… (not) hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Maria obeys her Mother even though she does not see the path for herself and in trust begins to slowly, reluctantly, painfully climb a new mountain, this one not of her own choosing. Her journey is fraught with many humbling moments, requiring the loss of pride and self-direction and the acquisition of humility; of doing “small things with great love”.  This new, unexpected mountain leads Maria to places she never thought she would go, experiences she never would have otherwise had, people she never expected to know or care for or love. RAINBOWS 10

Bless my own journey, Mother. I too want to be obedient and yield to your wisdom. I need strength to climb this new mountain you have seen in your thoughts and dreams for me. Help me to be faithful until the storm lifts, the fog clears. Until I am able to see for myself the rainbow He is making of my life…

Trouble in Mind

I grew up on Black Gospel, Blues and Motown, with lots of what would now be called ‘Classic Rock’ thrown in for good measure. In my High School years I developed a deep passion for many forms of Jazz (Dave Brubeck & all those amazing Quartets of the day), classic Big Band (though not too fond of swing) and Latin Jazz – especially Cuban – if you haven’t listened to the music of Calle54 or watched that film documentary, you are definitely missing out! I still love music in vinyl form, have a turn table and a decent album collection, though I am by no means a collector.

A few years back we were in Memphis for several days and visited both Sun Studios and the Lorraine Motel at the National Civil Rights Museum. Sun StudioThese places were pilgrimage sites for me: shrines of my youth on many levels – joyful and sorrow filled, bittersweet and heart breaking.

In the quiet night hours of the long weekends, songs of my youth come flooding back, bringing the blues with them in a way I can better understand now that so much sand has fallen from the hourglass.

I want to believe, as Richard Jones wrote, that ‘the sun is gonna shine in my back door someday’. But in those long quiet hours all I hear is the far off whistle of the train…

“Trouble In Mind”
Trouble in mind, I’m blue
But I won’t be blue always,
‘Cause that sun is gonna shine in my back door someday

I’m going down to the river
I’m going take me a rocking chair
And if the blues don’t leave me, I rock on away from here

Trouble in mind, that’s true
I have almost lost my mind
Life ain’t worth living, I feel like I could die

Trouble in mind, I’m blue
My poor heart is healing slow
I’ve never had such trouble in my whole life before

I’m gonna lay my head on some lonesome railroad line
And let that 2:19 special ease my troubled mind

Trouble in mind, I’m blue,
But I won’t be blue always
‘Cause that sun is gonna shine in my back door someday

Rending Our Hearts

Like many Christians around the world, I went to Ash Wednesday services recently and marked by the sign of my faith, ventured out into the cold night to ponder anew the ‘essence of mankind’ during this penitential season. lent ashes

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is that the scriptures read are universal. It comforts me to know that others around the world are hearing the same timeless words from the Ambo, including my son who is currently living a continent away while studying abroad.

One reading was from the Book of Joel, a minor prophet of whom little is actually known. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.” -Joel 2:12

The church was filled with ‘regulars’ but also with those who for whatever reason come to pay homage to the remnants of their faith each year. It is my experience that most faith traditions have these persons among them during the High Holy Days of the spiritual calendar. I am not certain what motivates this attendance; guilt, fear, nostalgia, the expectations of loved ones? But as in other churches on Ash Wednesday, our pews contained many who are only seen two or three times a year. church people

Every Catholic Priest has something to say regarding the sacrifices of Lent during their Homily. Our Pastor asked the congregation about the items they intended to give up for Lent. The typical litany was proffered: candy, chocolate, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol. No one said sex, though I was waiting for a few ‘wise guy’ remarks to emerge…

I am always intrigued when I hear Lenten Lists or see them posted on social media like New Years resolutions; quickly proclaimed and then just as quickly forgotten about – like no meat on Fridays – or ignored when that colleague brings your favorite cake to work (mine is carrot cake by the way…).

Our Priest took an interesting tack this year. Using the list developed, he gently reminded us that it is easy to give up things that will only make us healthier in body and encouraged us to instead consider taking on spiritual exercises to help us grow as Christians in our faith during Lent.

I was a bit taken aback by his spiritual candor as my church is not known for its liturgical high bar or depth of spirituality. So as to not completely confuse me, we did manage to lustily sing that OCP favorite, In these days of Lenten Journey, thus quelling any questions that were brewing in my mind about where we might be heading with this dangerous admonition to look inward…

But renewed in spirit and smudged of forehead I ‘journeyed’ homeward (with that dang song still in my head, even as I write this) and thus inspired, decided to read Joel 2 before retiring for the night.

Have you read Joel 2 lately? Forget the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Joel has it all over Tolkien! I was lifted up, pounded down, chest beating, heart rending, on the edge of my seat, mountaintop, valley of death, and carried into the heavenlies by the love, power and majesty of God for his people! There were so many gems to be mined in this one chapter, written in obscurity by a little known prophet of God, that even Gimli would have been overwhelmed by the wealth contained within!

As I reflected upon that incredible passage of Gods’ love story to His people, I was reminded of those precious souls who come only once or twice a year to hear these words from the heart of God:

“Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” -Joel 2:13

And I was reminded afresh what Lent is really all about – God rending His heart for us all.