Sunday, December 14, 2014

HANGING OUT THE WASH

I started a new poem, with the same title as this blog entry, reflecting on how often the smallest things can light bonfires of thanksgiving in my heart.  In this case, it was one of the last days that I was in Canada helping my daughter Catherine after her surgery.  The freakishly early snow had melted, the two emergency department trips were behind us, baby John had been baptized, and I was helping to catch up on the laundry.  It was a glorious day filled with sunshine--the kind we often take for granted in Southern California--and a respite for the Canadians from the awareness that winter lurked just around any corner.  Catherine suggested that I hang the wash out on the clothesline she had in the back yard.  I hadn't done that since I helped my grandmother hang clean laundry long ago when I was a little girl.  

Somehow, the simple act of choosing one piece of clothing, from the long tall jeans of my 6'7" son-in-law to the tiniest little onesie of the baby, and clipping them to the line with the clothes pins, was meditative with the sun pouring down on my back, the contentment of knowing that my daughter finally was on the road to recovery, and that I had been able to help her when she needed me.  It was a graced period of kairos--time outside of time--that I can slip back into when I need a point of refuge or just a peaceful moment in a busy day.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A MULTITUDE OF (OFTEN FORGOTTEN) PASSWORDS, PIN NUMBERS, ETC.

Sigh.

I had every intention of posting before Thanksgiving, but when I tried to get on to start blogging, I discovered that somehow I no longer had the password I needed.  I think that in resetting it, I also messed up the new passwords for my business, so in all that dithering over my dilemma, I never did get around to the blog.  I keep resolving that I will post more frequently, but I think I need to set a certain time to blog or it won't happen more than once a month or so.  In addition, I went to get cash, and when I went to enter the pin number, the machine rejected it twice, even though I picked one I could remember and entered it very carefully.  Of course I was steaming as I drove home with no money and only as I pulled onto our street did I remember that I now have another card for my business and was undoubtedly using the right pin number with the wrong card!

It has been a busy month, as my partner and I have been getting our website set up, fixed, improved, fixed some more, and finally launched.  It has been exciting to see it live (as well as behind the scenes as we work on it).  We received some wonderful feedback on ways to make it more user friendly, and we have been tinkering with those ideas.  But my most exciting moment was when my son Gilbert was leaving to go work on an app with his friend who has a website that is truly awe-inspiring.  Gil came back in from the car, and told me that his friend had said he really liked my website, and then Gil added that he also thought it was pretty amazing and that he was proud of me for starting a business in my 60s and of how much I had learned about using the graphics program on my business and that now I know more about computers than he does!  Coming from a 22 year old male, that is high praise!  And one more reason to be truly thankful!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TRUSTING IN GOD'S WILL


"Many things happen that God does not will. But he still permits them, in his wisdom, and they remain a stumbling block or scandal to our minds. God asks us to do all we can to eliminate evil. But despite our efforts, there is always a whole set of circumstances which we can do nothing about, which are not necessarily willed by God but nevertheless are permitted by him, and which God invites us to consent to trustingly and peacefully, even if they make us suffer and cause us problems. We are not being asked to consent to evil, but to consent to the mysterious wisdom of God who permits evil. Our consent is not a compromise with evil but the expression of our trust that God is stronger than evil. This is a form of obedience that is painful but very fruitful."
— Fr. Jacques Philippe



On Monday, it was the second anniversary of my dear husband's death from cancer, an evil that certainly none of us willed, and yet God allowed it to happen.  But as I look back over the past two years and see the blessings that God has poured out on us both to comfort us and to give us strength to continue on our journey without the physical presence of the one who seemed to be the very center of our family, I know that He is working out the details in ways that can bless everyone whom my husband has touched.

I thought of that particularly after the Mass for my husband, which was said, reverently and devoutly, by a priest who wasn't even ordained when my husband died.  I told this priest that my husband would have loved the way he says Mass, with such devotion and respect for the great Mystery he is enacting and by paying attention to such things as the requirement that on Feast Days you say the Gloria and on Solemnities you say the Gloria and the Creed.  It was a great trial to my husband that some priests either ignored the rubric or just couldn't seem to remember what they were supposed to do.

In fact, we have been blessed with three new priests in our parish, which is almost a miracle these days, even though it is a large parish.  Our pastor is American, of Irish descent, and the two associates are from the Philippines and Nigeria, so we are well represented from around the world!  They energized the parish, and the Holy Spirit blew in like the mighty wind that "swept over the waters" in Genesis just before God began creation. I can't wait to see what God will create here next!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

CONTINUING THE CANADIAN SOJOURN

When I last wrote, I interrupted the tales of our Canadian adventure just after our first almost full day in the Emergency Room with Catherine and baby John.  I had told Catherine that I would be over a little later the next morning since Gilbert and I needed a little sleep after arriving at the hotel at 1 A.M.  We spent a good part of that Friday planning for the baby's Baptism on Sunday.  They had decided to replace the usual huge Baptismal cake with four dozen Tim Horton's doughnuts (a huge Canadian treat, I am told) and 3 cartons of coffee.  I was sorry that there would be no cake with little John's name on it, but then decided to make a sign saying "God bless John," and let Maria Rose color in the letters, which kept our budding artist happy for quite some time.

This Sunday, which was the Baptism, Gilbert and I asked for written directions to the Church so we actually found it, as opposed to the week before, when we were following our son-in-law and discovered how many Altimas there are on the road.  I finally told my son just to find a Catholic Church on the GPS somewhere nearby, and he did.  This Church, like the hospital, was also undergoing reconstruction, and when we entered it was like going back in time.  There were two screens high on the walls where you could read the prayers, and the words of the songs (but there wasn't a bouncing ball to follow) which were mostly abysmal. Apparently there was a requirement that much of the liturgical music had to be written by Canadians and this was even worse than some of that used in American parishes. The parishioners seemed to be in their 70s and up, but they were friendly, and the one high spot was a trumpeter who had a beautiful descant in the Holy, Holy, Holy.   However, the Mass is still the Mass, and we made it safely back to Catherine's house afterwards.

On the Baptismal day, when we arrived at St. John the Evangelist (baby John's patron saint), I was finally able to experience a Mass at an Ordinariate parish for the first time.
This is a parish that had been Anglican, but the entire parish, both priests, and their families had joined the Catholic Church, but were allowed to keep most of the liturgy they had celebrated in the Anglican Church.  And because my husband had been Episcopalian until he was 19, Catherine and her family were allowed to join.  Catherine said she remembers my husband saying that he missed saying the "Prayer of Humble Access," and then quoting it to her verbatim.  And of course the English of this rite is much more elevated than even the new translation of the Roman rite.  Of course, now they pray for the Pope (but also the Queen, as head of the Canadian government).  But when little John was baptized after the Mass, in the Baptismal gown that my husband's grandmother was baptized in in 1896, he was baptized in an almost identical rite to the one in which my husband was baptized.  Somehow it seemed as if we had come full circle.  And I had a fascinating discussion with the priest who baptized John, who was from England, about his discernment, and that they had wanted to be sure that they weren't just running away from things in the Anglican Church that they didn't like, but that they were going towards the Truth.  It reminded me very much of my husband's journey towards the Catholic Church, and as he was preparing to enter it, one of his college roommates, who was leaving the Church, asked him why he was doing it, and my husband told him, "I came to believe that it was true."

There was a "fellowship" corn roast, I suppose with all the corn that people had had to bring in early because of the snow, after the Mass and before the Baptism, and then we had a party after the Baptism at my daughter's house, which was filled with family and friends.  My daughter, who is an extrovert, enjoyed it greatly, but my son, after several hours, asked if we could go back to the hotel, because the hordes of people whom we didn't know well or at all were beginning to overwhelm us.  We left Catherine in good hands, and promised to be back the next morning.

The Home Health Nurse came soon after we arrived, and when she left, Catherine came out crying because the nurse told her she had to go back to the emergency room.  So off we went again, though this time I spent an hour driving up and down in the parking lot until someone finally left as I was driving by.  We moved from one waiting room to another and the one where Catherine was waiting for an MRI was the nicest because we could actually get far enough away from the ever-present TV not to feel bombarded by news or cooking shows or house makeovers.  Catherine had an infection in the incision, with an abscess beneath the incision, full of streptococci and other invaders, and they gave her another round of antibiotics, prescribed a different way of bandaging the wound, required the nurses to come every day, and set up an appointment with a wound care clinic.  

By the end of the visit, we were able to go over to the hotel where we were staying and use the pool and the three story water slide.  Maria Rose, who was an inch too short for the slide, nevertheless went up and down the stairs several times, and then suddenly came hurtling out into the pool at the bottom of the slide.  When I asked her father how he had convinced her to go down, he smiled and said, "Oh, I just pushed her!"  She went down several more times on her own, but later drew a picture of the water slide, with a sign at the top saying, "Do not put me under water!"

After we left, Catherine had another appointment with the surgeon, who numbed her up, cut open the incision and took care of the abscess, and nearly two months after the surgery, Catherine is finally starting to recover.  My two oldest daughters are flying there tomorrow for a long weekend and I know their presence will help in the healing.

Gilbert and I were glad to go and be of so much help, but we were also delighted to be back at home.  I have been busier than I had ever imagined I could be trying to get my website live for my business, revising cards, and fighting with a phantom printer which has long since been returned to the store where I bought it, but which keeps showing up on the printer dialogue when I try to print out cards. I've had two funerals for former choir members that I played for, and today I played a duet with our organist that went well, but that was in between almost constant meetings in person or on the phone about the business, so I canceled one meeting tonight, and hope that tomorrow I can start to catch up a little.
It is such a luxury to be able to stay at home and work at my computer and look out the window at what the birds are busy at in the garden, to slow down for a few minutes and be grateful for all the gifts I have been given, especially for the two newest grandchildren born this year, one named for me and one for my husband.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

CANADIAN SOJOURN

I have safely returned from just under two weeks in Calgary, where I flew with my son Gilbert to help take care of my daughter Catherine, her new baby John, and the two older children, Maria Rose and Rae Maximilian.  We arrived in the evening and met little John, who is a placid, easy-going baby, with a personality that seems at least at first glance to be very similar to that of my husband.  He smiles, both awake and asleep, and I discovered a dimple in his right cheek when his smile is deep.

It was easy to see that we were needed.  Catherine isn't allowed to carry anything heavier than ten pounds, so everyone else became the porters of baby seats, baskets of laundry, dinners from the freezer, and children who needed to be removed to "quiet time."  A Home Health nurse was sent to change Catherine's bandages every other day, and the day after we arrived, her incision began to gush and we were told to get her to the emergency room.

Gilbert took over with the older children, and I took Catherine to the emergency room in a medical center undergoing reconstruction so that it was difficult to find where to park, where to go when we entered (there was blue and red electrical tape that showed you the path), and then we played an endless waiting game, rejoicing when we were finally called after several hours, only to be told to fill out some paperwork and sit back down to wait again.  Little John peacefully slept, nursed, or looked around for hours, and was the object of many smiles.  After four hours, Catherine was finally seen by an E.R. doctor, who said her incision is infected, took a swab to identify the culprit, and said he could just prescribe an antibiotic but he wanted her to wait to see one of the surgeons, and admitted that could take several hours.  We had arrived at 2 P.M., the doctor saw her at 6, and a surgeon finally saw her at 11.  While he was examining her incision, and pulling it about and re-bandaging it, I took John out in the hall since he had finally become a little fussy.
I walked him around for nearly an hour while he cried and I felt like joining in.

When Catherine was finally released from durance vile, I was told to go get the car and bring it around to the front entrance of the hospital.  By then it was midnight, and I asked if it would be safe to go out in the parking lot by myself.  The attendant laughed and said, "You're in Calgary; you don't have to worry about things like that."  What I had to worry about instead was how to get the car out of the parking lot where there was still snow left from an unusually early storm, put in the credit card--no, put in the ticket, then the credit card--and then drive around all the construction trying to find the way back to the entrance.  After entering another parking lot, driving the wrong way in still another, and finally circling the entire parking area, I got back to the hospital entrance, got Catherine and John into the car, and we headed back to the house.  Gilbert had called the hotel we were switching to and let them know we would be arriving late, and when we finally walked into the room it was exactly 1:00 A.M.

And since it is now time for me to get to bed so I can once again play with our church choir tomorrow, I shall leave the audience waiting for the next installment of our Canadian adventures.


Monday, September 1, 2014

CHAPTER 2

It has been even longer than normal since I last blogged and,
as usual, life has been busy and crazy.  I finally decided on the date to have the public unveiling of the mural painted in honor of my husband and the Grand Opening of my greeting card business.  Once we settled on a date, I was busy making cards, and the friend who did the reconstruction and has helped me get organized with my business helped get my new office ready and provided me with professional advice on what I needed to do to get everything in order. 

I sent out Evites, only to discover that the system still has a few glitches, so I did follow up phone calls, made an announcement at choir and gave out paper notices to those who requested them.  By the time I had to give a count to the caterer, I had about 130 people saying they would come.

On Monday, my fourth daughter Catherine, who was due in two weeks with her third child, was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pains.  They talked about inducing her, decided against it, and then she went into labor.  They thought it might be another ovarian cyst, so they wouldn't let her push during labor, but our eighteenth grandchild was born late that evening, a healthy 7 pounds, 15 ounces, and named for my husband.  

The next morning, they scheduled my daughter for surgery because the CT scan showed she had a total bowel obstruction.  While they had hoped to do laparoscopic surgery, it turned out that scar tissue from surgery she had at five had wrapped itself around 20 cm of her intestines and necrotized it, so they had to remove the entire section, but were fortunately able to stitch the two sections together. While she was in surgery, her mother-in-law called and said she thought I should come up as soon as possible since her house is all torn apart and she didn't know how long she could take care of the five and two year old.  So I changed my flight tickets and will be leaving much sooner than I had expected.

When I called my friend yesterday morning about the final details, she said that her husband, who had painted the mural, had just had a heart attack and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  He seemed to be stabilized, and she said she would try to stop by the house to do the unveiling and then go on to the hospital.

At 2:00 P.M. friends started arriving, and soon most of the 130 were here.  My friend was here just in time for the unveiling, we asked for prayers for her husband and Catherine, and then pulled the curtain on the 8 foot high mural.  It was greatly admired, a tribute to the artist's skill and my husband as well. 

Everyone circulated around the house, toured the new office, enjoyed the outdoors and the delicious food, and seemed to enjoy themselves.  And as I said just before the unveiling, those who were there are many of the people who have supported me, both when my husband was ill and after he died, and I wanted to thank them all for the prayers and love that have kept me going, not just surviving but thriving.

After the guests left, my two oldest daughters and their families enjoyed the leftovers for a late supper and rejoiced in the success of the celebration.  Three of our priests came: our first pastor, an Irish priest who was much beloved while he was here, and the two new associates, one from Nigeria and one from the Philippines, who was just ordained in May.
Their presence was a true blessing, and tied together my old life, when my husband was alive and our children were small, and my new life as a widow with grown children and 18 grandchildren, in a parish where I've lived for 30 years which seems to be coming alive even more fully with the presence of the Holy Spirit thanks to our three new priests (our new pastor was holding down the fort at the rectory and was unable to come).  God has been showing me more every day how many blessings he showers down on me, and as our Nigerian priest reminded us in his homily today on taking up our cross, that we are all called to glory at the end of our journey.  The gathering was a glimpse of the love and harmony that will be the eternal constant when we arrive!
The mural in honor of my husband
The parrots at the top, the gecko on the left, and the bird in the nest at the bottom, as well as the brick work, are all three-dimensional.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

GOD HAS DIRECTED ALL YOUR JOURNEYING

Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.
                                                                                                    Deuteronomy 8:2

Yesterday I wallowed through the Slough of Despond for most of the afternoon, though the day started off well.  When I awoke, after two days of a viral gastritis that left me unable to do anything but sit in a recliner and sleep, read, or pray (except when my son drove me to the doctor to be diagnosed), as I got out of bed, I thought, "Something is different!"  Then I realized I actually had the energy to make my bed, take my shower, and get dressed.  Once I had eaten the doctor-prescribed chicken broth and toast for breakfast, I felt energetic enough to practice my French horn, which had been languishing in its case for the last two days.  I had a great practice session, though the high F sharps eluded me, but I know they will return as I keep practicing.  

But then I called a friend I was worried about, and soon became steeped in indignation and despair as I heard the latest chapter in her struggles with Obamacare, the car insurance company that totaled her beloved car, and the demise of her computer that is the core of her business.  I was furious at the government bureaucrats that have made health care a morass of incomprehensible red tape and inexplicable decisions to cancel MediCal in the middle of chemo treatment and to give an English speaking Austrian a card only written in Spanish!  

By the time I left for Confession I was angry at God for all the unfair situations that I see all around me, even though I could see that none of them were really his fault.  When I mentioned my anger to my priest, he asked me if I had taken all this to God in prayer.  I talk to God all the time, but I hadn't really thought of "taking it to God in prayer," in the sense of bringing all these burdens and feelings to him and acknowledging that he is in charge, that he may be allowing afflictions to test us, and that when we look back we may find that the afflictions have strengthened us or we have been given the grace to go through them in unexpected ways, as I was with our flood.

I had just finished reading an article in our diocesan paper, "John Paul II's Heroic Soul", by Christopher Stefanick.  After delineating the loss of every family member whom he loved by the time he was 20, Stefanick commented, "John Paul II didn't become a heroic soul despite his suffering; he became one precisely because of it.
His response to personal pain wasn't to retreat from the world but to embrace it with the love of Jesus himself, whose Sacred Heart is simultaneously the icon of profound pain and perfect charity."

It is with a sense of perplexing paradox that I look back on "how for forty years now the Lord, our God, has directed all your journeying in the desert."  The end of May would have been our 40th wedding anniversary, and I can look back and see how God directed me, not only in all the wonderful, amazing experiences of our marriage, but also through the desert of my various depressions, pneumonia, the miscarriage of our last baby, and now my widowhood.  As my daughter Elizabeth reminded me last night, it was interesting to see how I tried volunteering for something I had thought was right for me, and my husband had told me he thought that is what I would do if he died, and they only needed volunteers who could come on the evening I have been going to Holy Hour every week for over 25 years.  As soon as I had finished talking to her, I went to check on my emails and there was a request from a group who had given religious retreats to my children in their teens for help with editing a website.  I spontaneously added a note at the end of my email saying I would be glad to do it, saying I hope I can grow closer to Mary, Queen of Widows.  I don't know that that is one of her "official" titles, but it gave me the hope I needed to take up the gauntlet and set forth again.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

GOD OF ASTONISHMENT

Blessed are they who mourn, 
     for they will be comforted.
                                  Matthew 5:4

For most of my life, when I read or heard the Beatitudes, I skipped over this second one.  I didn't want to think about mourning or the reason why I might mourn, and I went on to think about something else (and often not the other Beatitudes, since they are all very challenging to me).

But when I was reading the Gospel which included the Beatitudes recently, that finally caught my attention.  I reflected that God has indeed comforted me since I lost my dear husband, through my children and grandchildren, and through all the friends who have been so wonderful at helping me create a new life that I never would have thought possible.

What struck me, though, was that the flood, which I saw as a disaster, was in actuality, a great grace.  I was required to think and act, to make endless decisions and to move forward whether I thought I was ready to or not, and I now love going into my office in the morning, looking out at my garden, praying, and planning my day.  The gift which was even greater was the growing friendship with my reconstruction agent Marie, who was here usually five days every week, and with her husband Edward, who painted the amazing mural in honor of my husband. When Edward was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to take him to some of the tests, visit him in the hospital after a stroke, and give them both a place to rest on the long journey between the chemo facility and their own home. 
I told them that I felt as if had been given a new sister and brother in the many months since the water heater burst.  It was not anything I ever expected, but it meant that the long empty days that might have overwhelmed me were instead filled with life and hope and laughter.  And so, as Psalm 89 proclaims, "The favors of the Lord I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness."

Monday, June 2, 2014

THE CURIOUS THING I LEARNED FROM MAYA ANGELOU

As a poet, I suppose I should say I learned more about writing from Maya Angelou, but the inspiration she gave me shivered down my spine in a greeting card store quite a few years ago.  I was looking for a card (I probably didn't have time to make one then) and I came upon one with a poem of hers in it.  I think there was a whole line of cards with her poems in them.  I remember staring at them dumbfounded:  Maya Angelou cards?  I was stunned that a great writer would actually put her work in greeting cards, which until that moment seemed like a small, back door form of art.

My dear husband and I had gotten very good over the years at finding cards that did not rhyme.  If by some chance we had missed a more subtle rhyme scheme, we felt cheated and apologized for not reading more carefully.  The "poems" in many greeting cards were simplistic doggerel, heartfelt and well-intentioned, but the sort of lines condemned in many literary journals' comments on what they don't want: "no greeting card verse."

But if Maya Angelou could include her poetry in her greeting cards, then I could, too!  For me, it also underlined her status as a "Renaissance woman."  She didn't draw boundaries around her body of work and insist that she would only color within the lines.  I began to include some of my poetry in a few of my cards, and that trend is growing, along with my knowledge of Adobe Elements and a desire to uplift the person who will be receiving it.  Many years ago, a friend told me that she saw greeting cards as my mission, and I am growing into that each day.  

Yes, the caged bird sings, but when she soars free she sings a new song that sparkles the grass with dew drops, unfurls rose petals, and draws back a curtain of clouds on an opening day of blue.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?
                                                                                                 Luke 24:32

The story of the disciples traveling the road to Emmaus, discouraged and disheartened by the apparent loss of the Messiah to crucifixion, has always been one of my favorite Gospel passages.  It was our reflection point at Christian Community on Sunday, and in my written comments I said I felt
"unfinished....I don't have any perfect insight or resolution to all the struggles of the week other than to keep moving forward, accepting whatever comes into my life, and hoping God will strengthen me. "

When I went to Mass yesterday morning, our associate pastor said that the key to spiritual growth is relationship--with Jesus Christ and with his heavenly Father.  Somehow that simple statement struck me with unusual force.  I realized that often my prayer life can be similar to approaching a dispensing machine, as I ask for graces or favors but don't spend time trying to develop a heart felt conversation with the One whom I am approaching.

This morning, The Word among Us took today's Gospel from John 6:30-35 and compared the Jews' romanticizing the time when God gave them manna in the desert and refusing to accept the Bread of Life standing in front of them to our own tendency to look back at God's past work in our lives instead of the challenges he is giving us today.  "It's hard to be patient with such an incomplete and unfinished work, isn't it?  We'd rather cross items off our list than return to them every day, with mixed results."

As one who has a long list and only crosses off a few of the items each day, I can testify to my desire to be finished--to become completely spiritually mature, never to judge anyone, always to listen attentively to others, and mostly not to have to walk the road to Emmaus as a widow.  Yet Lent and its spiritual desert comes around faithfully every year and then we celebrate the astonishing news of the Resurrection.  But for those of us traveling in sorrow to Emmaus, the news can come later than Easter.  We don't see the angels at the empty tomb or the burial clothes wrapped up neatly.  What we are given, though, is perhaps what we most need:  a vision of Jesus at table with us, taking the bread, saying the blessing, breaking it and giving it to us, looking deeply into our eyes in a way that fills us with his presence even as he vanishes from sight.  But that strengthens us to "set out at once" and return to Jerusalem.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

CHALLENGE

Look upon each day that comes as a challenge, as a test of courage. The pain will come in waves, some days worse than others, for no apparent reason.  Accept the pain.  Do not suppress it.   Never attempt to hide grief from yourself.  Little by little, just as the deaf, the blind, the handicapped develop with time an extra sense to balance disability, so the bereaved, the widowed will find new strength, new vision, born of the very pain and loneliness which seem, at first, impossible to master.
                                                                                 --Daphne Du Maurier

Yesterday was such a challenge, and I didn't realize it as such until I read this morning's reflection from Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss, headed by the quotation above.  Hickman went on to say, "When the waves of pain rise highest, we think we will be swept under, that we cannot make it.  But we can.  Our work then is to accept the pain, and to wait.  We can do other things while waiting--talk with people, go to the store, read, work in the garden.  Even as we do these things, we are aware of the pain, scraping against our heart. But if we accept these bad days as part of the course of healing, then better days, better moods will come.  The pain will moderate, and we can be confident--proud, even--in our newly acquired strength."

What tipped me into a downward spiral was a letter that came in the mail saying that my COBRA insurance coverage would end next month, when my husband had told me that I would be covered for a full three years.  Of course, being Saturday, there was no live person at the number they told me to call if I had questions, so I called my oldest daughter who has dealt with insurance issues for many years to see if she had any ideas about this.  She said I probably just needed to call and switch it to the state plan, but of course I can't do that until Monday.  I've been watching friends attempting to find their way through the Obamacare morass in an attempt to get treatment for two serious cancers, so I know that the bureaucracy is uncaring and usually ineffective.  And how I found myself wishing that my dear husband was still alive to talk with me, help me, and explain it all to me in loving, comforting terms!  My son was at his Sea World job all day, and although I went to the farmer's market, several of my favorite vendors weren't there, the cashier at the grocery store was non-committal, and I felt the aloneness in my house descend like a wall that cut me off even from the beautiful flowers filling my garden with color.

This followed a day when I had felt nourished and healing.  I had been able to get to Mass in the morning, I had a great French horn lesson when I was able to produce clear shining notes on my new horn, I wrote and thanked one of the poetry journals for publishing a recent poem, and I submitted three poems to a well known writing contest, where every other year I submitted only one.  All three were written since my husband got sick, and two since he died, and I judged that they had more heft than some of my earlier poems.  But one of them dealt with 
     cruel stupidity’s unexpected stings:
     the official who insists your husband
     must sign the form, just after you told her he’s dead.
It was probably revisiting that traumatic telephone conversation added to the insurance dilemma that sparked the oppressive heaviness of  most of the day.  

Fortunately, I was lifted out of it in the evening when I went to a dinner for the school some of my grandchildren attend.  My daughter Mary (whose two oldest boys are in third grade and kindergarden) came with me, and when I picked her up at her house, seeing all four of her little ones rush up to me with delight on their faces, was balm and solace to my empty heart.  It was nice to see a few friends from the days when three other daughters went to the school, and to meet Mary's friends, who were at the table with us.  The event was rather different than when my husband and I used to go--and I outbid everyone on three different scrapbooking baskets!--and that reminded me of time's inexorable rush forward. When I got home I was so exhausted that I fell asleep without any difficulty, and that was an unlooked for blessing since the past two nights I woke up almost every hour.  

When I got up this morning at 5 so I could practice before I left for Mass, life seemed to be opening the door to beauty and companionship again.  
People in the choir were glad to see me back, the couple who are the greatest admirers of my French horn sat in the pew next to me, and I will be going to a gathering of our Christian Community this afternoon with three couples who have journeyed with my husband and me longer than almost anyone else in the San Diego area.  Just being in their presence is like being wrapped in a warm and enduring hug.  Even when I slog through the pain, I know I am continuing to heal and find new vision.

Friday, May 2, 2014

INTO EASTER

I knew it had been a while since I last blogged, but when I finally bestirred myself to look at the last date, I discovered it had been exactly a month. When I wrote last, we were still in the depths of Lent, and now we are celebrating the 50 days of Easter.  It has been a very busy month for me. At long last, I made the last payment on our 30 year mortgage and have the joy of knowing that the house is fully mine!  The reconstruction is truly almost finished; while I was away for almost a week, my reconstruction agent painted the studio upstairs, so now everything in "Chapter 2" has been painted, I have new windows which make a huge difference in keeping the 90+ degree heat from a brutal Santa Ana outside all through the addition, and I'm slowly reorganizing files, making new cards, learning Adobe Elements and writing.

I was able to play for all the special Liturgies of Holy Week and the Triduum, and I even took my French horn down to visit a priest friend recovering from a knee replacement and played "All Glory, Laud and Honor" for him for Palm Sunday since he couldn't go to Mass.  We sang a Tenebrae Wednesday night, and I played for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.  It was a time for remembering the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, but also for thinking of my own personal journey with my dear husband, who began his own passage toward death on Holy Thursday two years ago and drew heavily upon the graces won for us by our Messiah.

On Tuesday, my son and I drove up to LA together and stayed with my oldest daughter's family.  She made my favorite meal, Cuban Chicken, and I went to bed early since we had to make a 6:30 AM flight from LAX to Philadelphia the next morning.  For my daughter, who is a night owl, it was an even greater sacrifice, but there was no traffic, an extremely short security line, and a relatively smooth flight.  When we landed, my nephew Zach picked us up, and took us to the Cathedral where he had celebrated the Rite of Sending earlier in Lent.  Back in the fall, he had contacted me and told me that the way my husband lived his faith had inspired him to look into the Catholic Church, and he asked if he could call me each week to discuss his lessons and read the Readings for the coming Sunday Mass.  So we had had many meaningful discussions and I came to know him much better through them and was brought myself to deepening my Faith as we wrestled with the questions and issues brought up along his journey.  

He showed us his new parish church that serves 5,000 families!  I guessed right on the statues--St. Therese, St. Patrick, and St. Anthony, though I wasn't as sure of St. Anthony.  They have very old and beautiful stained glass windows brought from another church that were made in Germany.  The parish gave a dinner for all those coming into the Church that evening and I was happy to be able to meet his pastor and the DRE and quite a few other parishioners.  

On Thursday, his wife took us to Longwood Gardens, an astonishing showplace even in early spring when most of the fountains were still empty.  There were huge beds of tulips and daffodils, and the Conservatory had an almost endless variety of rooms filled with exotic plants, many of which I had never seen before, and hibiscus in colors I've never encountered in California.

On Friday, my son wanted to go to Valley Forge, and my sister-in-law took us there.  It was very moving to walk over the ground where Washington and his troops suffered during a brutal winter in order to protect the newly fledged country's chances at independence.

Saturday was the big day.  In this parish, those who are entering the Church but not being baptized come in during the weekend of Mercy Sunday.  My youngest daughter had driven up with her one year old daughter so she could be there as well.  We had front row seats as Zach professed his Faith in all that the Catholic Church proclaims, was confirmed, and received his First Communion as a Catholic.  His Confirmation saint was Moses the Black, whom my son had wanted to choose for his Confirmation until I told him that they would only use "Moses" when he was confirmed.  But Zach wanted the saint who had started out as a robber, and he had done a lot of research into his life.  He was also confirmed as "Moses," but we all knew which Moses it was!  We had a wonderful dinner with the family afterwards, and my son and I flew back to California with beautiful memories of time with family and Zach's beginning journey in the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

RINGING THE ANGELUS IN NAGASAKI

Not even an A-bomb can silence the bells of God.
                                                 A Song for Nagasaki, Paul Glynn, S.M.

On Sunday, Catholic Caravans, a family enterprise which visits parishes with books and religious articles, was again set up on our church's patio, and I strolled past the bookshelves looking for additional reading for Lent.  My eye was immediately caught by a lone book, A Song for Nagasaki, and I decided to buy it for my daughter Elizabeth's birthday, which is on Easter this year.

She and her family had gone to Asia a few years ago.  Their trips always include elements of a pilgrimage, and they had gone to Nagasaki when in Japan in part because St. Maximilian Kolbe, who founded the missionaries who gave the retreats our children went on as teenagers, had been there.  He was having a religious house built there, and those who were with him (as I remember the story) assumed he would build in the main part of Nagasaki, where most of the Christians in Japan live.  He told them instead to build on the other side of a hill and that it would become apparent later why he chose that site.  When the atomic bomb exploded, none of those who were living there were killed.

While she was there, she learned about Dr. Takashi Nagai. who also survived the blast, although his beloved wife Midori was killed.  He worked tirelessly to help the survivors of the explosion, although he had earlier been diagnosed with leukemia and was further exposed to the radiation from the bomb.  Even though he was dying, he wrote books that speak his own faith in the Christian message of love and forgiveness, including The Bells of Nagasaki.

She called me the next day and was very excited and speaking so fast that only gradually did I realize that she had seen the book somewhere else and bought it for herself!  I told her that I had gotten it for her birthday, and we shared a long discussion about greatness of this man to whom she had introduced me several years ago.  I had read some passages from the book and although many were truly horrifying, ultimately it is a book about hope, and the Faith that carries one forward along that path, no matter what losses you have sustained.

For me, the passage that highlights that hope describes the two bell towers of Urakami Cathedral. The atomic bomb hurled one tower yards away and cracked the bell beyond repair.  The second cupola fell straight down and was buried by tons of brick, masonry, girders and ash. In December, Dr. Nagai and some helpers decided to start digging for the buried bell. By late morning on December 24, they could see the top of the bell.  After lunch, they said the Rosary, cleared the bell and found no cracks.  The set the bell on a tripod of logs.  It was already dark and almost 6 P.M., the traditional time for the Angelus.

They, "not knowing if the buried bell would ring, had not advertised their project to the Urakami Christians.  At that moment, the latter were sitting down in drafty huts for skimpy suppers, with nothing to look forward to but the drabbest-ever midnight Mass in a burnt-out hall of St. Francis Hospital.  Then suddenly a real miracle transformed the winter darkness.  The nostalgic Angelus!  The peals were all the clearer for the absence of any tall buildings in the suburb of huts.  It seemed to them that the cathedral had arisen from the ashes to herald Christ's birth.  They listened in awe like the shepherds when singing came from the dark sky above Bethlehem.  That night the title of Nagai's book was born--The Bells of Nagasaki. Its message would be that not even an A-bomb can silence the bells of God."


Friday, March 28, 2014

YOU ARE NOT FAR...

You are not far from the kingdom of God.
                                                      --Mark 12:34

Jesus spoke these words to one of the scribes, a group that was often at loggerheads with him.  But this particular scribe seemed to approve of Jesus, noticing how well he spoke and listening to what he was saying. He asked Jesus "Which is the first of all the commandments?"  

Jesus answered with two: love God and love your neighbor, and summed up by saying "There is no other commandment greater than these."  

The scribe then responded, "to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

Answering with such understanding then drew forth Jesus's comment, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

My reflection from The Word among Us suggests that because this scribe was not yet ready for the revelation of Jesus's divinity, Jesus left him with the invitation to keep searching, and that in many ways we are all encouraged to keep looking for a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus throughout our lives.  As one spiritual writer explained, "We are always only at the beginning of love."

Each day offers us new opportunities to grow spiritually, and I am very conscious of this during Lent, particularly this year when my nephew Zachary is going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and will be received into the Church during the Easter season.  We talk about his class nearly every week, read the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday, and I always feel enriched by his questions, his astute observations and his deep desire to become a better person, husband and father.  We are not far from the kingdom of God, yet each day we can take one step closer in the light of His love.


Monday, March 17, 2014

A GOOD MEASURE

Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. 
                                                                                               --Luke 6:38

This Gospel verse has been one of my favorites for a long time, and it brought to mind the experience, probably 35  years ago, when our parish chose to become a tithing parish.  We had three speakers, from three different financial backgrounds, from quite wealthy to relatively poor, talk about their journey to tithing, giving 10% of their income, before taxes, to the Lord, with half going to the parish and half to other charities.  The parish, in turn, gave 10% of its income to other charities, including a sister parish we adopted in the inner city.  

Although we had always given to our parish and other charities, we had never given the full 10% of our gross income, but this seemed to be where the Lord was calling us, and taking a deep breath we began right away, and we did always experience the Lord's provision, whether my husband was doing well financially or when he lost his job for seven months and we had no savings, three small children, and a mortgage that had doubled in size when we moved to California.  We experienced God's arms around us through our community, especially our parish and our Worldwide Marriage Encounter family.  When my husband chose not to pursue a possible job opening with a company that turned out to be one of the largest producers of artificial birth control pills, the local right-to-life group gave us a large check that enabled us to keep going.  Our M.E. couples gave us a Christmas party complete with Santa Claus, gifts and a new dress for each daughter. One couple babysat for us and gave us a small cash gift that enabled us to go to lunch together.  Another couple hired us to help them reroof and the money we earned meant we could buy a new pair of shoes for one of the children, and we felt so happy that we could actually make some of the money that we needed.  We were preparing to give a Marriage Encounter Weekend, and couples brought us meals so we could focus on finishing our talks.  

Before he died, my husband told me that all the money we had saved had already been tithed on, so that it would be entirely up to my discretion as to what I donated.  He forgot about the life insurance, so I now have the ability to be more generous than I might otherwise have been, and I feel truly enriched to be continuing the legacy that he left for all of us.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

THE STRENGTH THAT COMES FROM GOD

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. 
                                                                                                                       II Tm. 1:8

When I read this verse from today's Mass readings, it resonated with all that I have experienced since my dear husband died over a year ago.  As I have told many people, I have experienced being lifted up and carried when I didn't know how I could put one foot in front of another and get through each day.  I've taken the train to my daughter's alone, and traveled by plane four times, waded through the flood caused by our exploding water heater, started a business, and learned a great deal of patience during the nearly nine months it is taking for the reconstruction to be finished.  

I know that I have not done this on my own but that, supported by prayers of family and many friends, I have been given God's own strength to keep moving forward into Chapter 2, to listen for God's voice and see where it is He wants me to go each day.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

BAPTISM

I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
     when I have learned your just ordinances.
                                                     --Psalm 119:7

I set my alarm for 6:00 this morning so I would have time to have breakfast, reflect on Scripture, journal, and practice my French horn before I left for a Baptism.  I had also set my phone to go off at 7 and 8 so I would stay on task and get out the door in time to drive down to the church.  Instead, I slept through all three alarms, woke at 8:30, and had to really rush to get there in time.  It was the first time I had been to this parish since my husband died, but I was thankful that I made it, the family of the baby girl coming into the Church seemed delighted that I was there, and I had the chance to talk to many friends at the reception whom I hadn't seen since the funeral.  

In addition, the priest who baptized baby Minh has been a friend of ours since before he was ordained, and he had come back from studying for his doctorate at Notre Dame to officiate at the Baptism.  His homily on why we baptize babies was beautifully thought out, particularly since he is a convert from a faith that baptizes when one is older.  His comparison of the freedom the world proposes, where the more choices one has, the freer one is, to the freedom of being set on the path to Truth at the beginning of your life, was succinct.  He illustrated his point with the image of driving into a traffic circle, and once you take a turn off it, you are now limited in what direction you can go, so that if you choose the freedom of the world, it would seem that the greatest freedom would be to keep going around in circles forever!

Little Minh has been set on the path by her parents to begin learning the just ordinances of God, and to pursue her Savior, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A BUTTERFLY IN THE DESERT

They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.
                                                                                     --Edith Wharton

I have been thinking about this quote since I came upon it several days ago in the book that has been my companion through grief, Healing after Loss, by Martha Whitmore Hickman.  Although I live in Southern California now, for half my life I lived in states where winter was serious business, and three of my daughters now live in areas where this long winter has seemed oppressive and endless.  From last Thursday until yesterday, we had downpours, and cold, dreary weather that seemed to creep through every crack in the house and seep into my bones.  I even had a fire on Sunday since I had friends coming over and wanted to welcome them with warmth.  I would never have expected to see a butterfly anywhere about, and even the birds were subdued and silent, except for the crows who carried on much as usual, banging their nuts on the roof and having extended conversations across tree tops.

On Saturday, when it wasn't actually raining, I suddenly heard a huge bang and went looking to see what had caused it.  When I looked out the family room French doors, I saw a small goldfinch splayed out on the doormat with one wing spread out at an awkward angle.  I could see he was breathing rapidly, but I judged that with the force with which he must have flown into the window, he had probably broken something and wouldn't live long.  The doormat was soaking wet, and then it started raining again.  I went out with an old towel, and picked him up in it and moved him under some bushes where he had a little shelter.  He barely moved and I assumed he didn't have long to live.  It poured the rest of the day, and the next morning when there was a break in the rain, I went outside to check on him, and discovered he had flown away.  I wondered if he had been the goldfinch who skittered up and down a long climbing rose branch that leans outside my office window where I worked at designing my new logo, that includes a colorful little wren who has all the colors of Carolina, Bewick's, purple topped, and fairy wrens and then some.  So when I realized this golden yellow finch had returned to the skies, my heart lifted and soared in an unexpected burst of happiness. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WHOEVER RECEIVES ONE CHILD

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.
                                                                                       ----Mark 9:37

For much of my life, I have been comforted by this promise Jesus made to his disciples--whenever I could catch my breath in among all the things that had to be done to raise six children!  And now that they are all adults, I see my daughters caught up in the fray, often overwhelmed by the chaos of babies and toddlers and children in school needing something the next day that requires another round of bundling up small bodies into snowsuits (for three of my daughters) or jackets, stuffing them into car seats, taking them all back out, hoping the store they're going to has a basket with a car theme in whatever is their favorite now--fairies? princesses? police cars?  fire trucks?--and that the store has the item they are searching for at a low price in whatever multiple they need.  Then they reverse the process and hope they make it home before someone needs a bathroom stop or before the next blizzard rides into town.

It can all seem like an endless round of drudgery if we don't occasionally pause and look at the little ones whom we are called to serve, and rejoice in their sweet faces (often dirty), their unique personalities, and remember the One whom we are serving when we take care of them.  I had this opportunity the last time my oldest daughter was in town.  Her youngest little girl, Ahm-chul, who isn't quite two, had always been very shy when she was here, clinging to her mother and only occasionally acknowledging my presence.  But this time, she climbed up in my lap, and I cherished the peacefulness of my time sitting holding her and rejoicing that she now feels comfortable enough with me to snuggle down and fall asleep for quite a long nap.  And I think her mother enjoyed the time without Ahm-chul singing out her litany of "Mommy, mommy, mommy!"

Monday, February 24, 2014

FEEL BELOVED ON THIS EARTH

I do believe, help my unbelief!
                                  ---Mark 9:24

This morning I was listening to the check in and meditation session that is part of Jennifer Louden's Life Navigation Course that I have been taking now for five weeks.  I signed up for it at the very last minute, assuming that it was like the Great Works MBA I had taken earlier, where you could listen to it at any time within 24 hours of the actual talk.  Then I discovered that it was live, and scheduled at the same time as my French horn lesson, so I had to scramble to get my horn lesson rescheduled, and it makes for a very busy Wednesday:  two hours of French horn, followed by an hour of the Life Navigation course, a quick dinner, and then my Holy Hour.  Later I learned that the talks are recorded so I can listen to them at a different time, but I like being able to ask questions or make comments, so I continue to listen to them live.

The meditation this morning introduced the idea of feeling beloved on this earth.  As I was listening, I began to realize that I have not really felt beloved since my dear husband died. I know my children love me and they show me that in many ways, and many dear friends also love me, but I have not felt beloved as I did when we were married and I knew I was his one and only.  This left me feeling somewhat bereft, but as she continued the meditation, she asked us to find something that helps us to feel beloved on this earth, and my eyes immediately went to the small stained glass that my beloved gave me years ago. It is a picture of a king or prince kissing his wife, who is seated at what looks like a small organ.  Her hands are on the keys, her furry robes have fallen back on the organ bench, and she is returning the kiss with delight.  The early morning sun is still lighting up the glass giving it a brilliance I have never seen before, and I know when I look at it now, I will feel myself beloved on this earth.

Even the phrase "on this earth" makes me smile as I think of one of my granddaughters, who started kindergarden this year.  She drew a picture of my husband at the top, and labeled it, "Papa, in heaven."  At the bottom, she drew a picture of herself, and wrote, "Hyun-Joo, on earth."  Her simple faith strengthens my belief:  I am beloved on this earth.
And in a lovely follow up to yesterday, as I was finishing the morning meditation, the air outside was suddenly filled with birds singing in spring!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

AND FILL WITH SINGING BIRDS

It may be
     that some little root of the sacred tree still lives
Nourish it then
     that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds.
                                                                ---Black Elk

This quote from Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss touched me this morning in a particular way.  Yesterday, the friend who painted the mural in honor of Wes had sent me his first draft of a drawing for my business cards.  He designed an entirely new font that expresses my personality so well that I was almost stunned.  It included a sketch of a wren; he had told me that there was an old story that all the birds were quarreling over which could fly highest, and the eagle contended that of course he would win.  But a wren hid herself in the eagle's feathers so that she actually soared higher than the eagle.  When he first proposed the wren, it reminded me that my mother had told me they always had a nest of little Jenny wrens outside their farmhouse when she was growing up, so this draws in memories of family as well.  And the template I'm using for my business website includes a nest with two little birds that could be wrens overlooking the green fields I remember from childhood.  

When our son was born, we sent out a birth announcement that said, "The more the merrier,"  which included a sketch of branches with the six little birds to represent our children.  Since two of our daughters are now expecting our 17th and 18th grandchildren, it does seem as if our tree is living and flourishing and filling with singing birds:  three of our grandchildren sing in their parish choir, and one of them sings in his school choir as well as playing the trumpet in the band, and I'm sure there will be many more little warblers coming up behind them.  I might even someday see one of them take up the French horn!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

DENIED

When I was going through my finances after my husband died, I was advised to apply for long-term care insurance.  An independent agent helped me submit my application, and after a few weeks, he called to say I had been denied for coverage.  I knew that my high blood pressure, although it is under control with medication, might be a factor against me, but the agent told me that it was actually an MRI from seven years ago that caused the denial, because it said that a finding "probably represents a [sic] old lacunar infarct."

I asked him what that meant, and he said they interpreted it as meaning I had probably had a small stroke and therefore wasn't a good candidate for long-term care insurance. 
He said, however, that he was willing to appeal my denial if I could get my doctor to indicate in writing that this was not the case.

I began with the GP who requested the MRI, but her office said I needed to call the neurologist to whom I had been referred.  When I called his office, I was told that I needed to call the radiologist's office.  When I called them, they offered to send me a copy of the MRI report, which I had not had, but said that was all they could do, and I should go back to the GP.  I called them back, and said I had remembered that they had had a second radiologist look at the report and conclude that it probably wasn't anything to worry about, but I didn't have that in writing.  However, I told them if this MRI was serious enough to have me refused for long-term care insurance, I needed to know if there is something else I should be doing to avoid any future difficulties, or whether in fact this was not actually a stroke. 

They made an appointment for me to see my doctor on Tuesday morning, and asked me to bring a copy of one of the MRI reports which I had, but they didn't.  I found this somewhat disturbing, and I was told that they were only required to keep records for seven years.  In addition, I discovered a small notice on the report copy that said "Prior images from 8/1/2003 are not available due to archiving error."   I had a vision of those images surfacing in some other person's file to disturb or console another patient. It also made me remember my oldest daughter calling up to her get her grades when she was at UCSD, and the recording said, "Physics, F." Since all her other grades were A or A+, she didn't immediately have a heart attack, but called the school to find out if a recording mistake had been made, which it had.  But I often think of the student who should have had an F, and when he or she called, discovered the A. It made me determined to ask for copies of any future reports!

In addition, I have what I think is a bad sinus infection, with laryngitis that has become severe enough that I have descended from being a soprano in our choir to being able to sing with the basses!  So, I hope I can not only get further information on the probable "lacunar infarct," but perhaps get some medication to relieve my much less serious condition.  When I did a little research on lacunar infarcts, I discovered that they are the subject of some controversy in the scientific literature, and I felt hopeful when I read that they can be "related to systemic hypertension, cause a variety of defined clinical syndromes, and imply a generally good prognosis."  

So I shall enjoy the Wexford Blue Iris and pink azaleas in a vase on my desk, and the view of pansies, snapdragons, and petunias in my garden, a sudsy fringe of clouds just above the pine trees and hills and clear blue sky above that.  As my dear husband used to say, after we moved here from New Jersey, "It's February 1!"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

TELL THE STORY

Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.  That is his duty.
                                                                                                                   --Elie Wiesel

Today, nearly 30 years ago, I had a phone call from my parents.  My father wasn't usually the one who made the call, and he spoke somberly, saying they had some bad news from the little town where my grandmother lived.  I assumed it was that she had died, since she was elderly and suffering with dementia.  Instead, he told me that my mother's sister and her husband had been killed in a terrible car accident.  I was in shock and burst into tears, and then spoke to my mother, who was also crying.  They had been traveling back from the hospital where my uncle had had surgery, skidded on an icy road and were hit by a huge truck.

I was pregnant with my fourth daughter at the time, and my husband was out of town on business. I managed to call him and gave him the news, but I remember feeling very alone and isolated, half a continent away from the rest of the family.  On the day of the funeral, the only other cousin who wasn't able to go, called me from Colorado, and we shared our love for our aunt and uncle over the phone.

In general, when I was growing up, we went to see my relatives, and they seldom came to visit us.  All had big families, and most were farmers, and it was hard for them to leave. But once, just after my husband and I had moved to Northern California, before we even had a phone, I was walking past a front window in our home, trying to unpack, and I looked out and saw my aunt and uncle coming up the sidewalk.  They had come out for a family funeral not far from where we lived, but hadn't been able to call, so just arrived.  We had a wonderful evening together, in the midst of the chaos of just having moved in, with boxes and toys everywhere.  I managed to find my spaghetti pot and made a big batch of spaghetti, and we laughed and reminisced over dinner.  But the greatest blessing I received from that evening was when my aunt told me that when I would visit them, I was constantly complaining to her that "those boys" (her sons) were always doing things to me, taking away my games, and in general not letting me torment them by following them around wanting to do what they were doing.  She said she thought I had been spoiled and wondered how I would turn out.  But she told me that seeing me now made her realize that I had turned out all right!  It is something that I return to often when I am doubting myself.  

At the time they died, their oldest son had been out of the Church, and he remained so for over 30 years.  I'm sure they prayed for him indefatigably from heaven, and eventually he returned to the Church, he and his wife made a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend, and then he applied to the diaconate program.  When he was ordained, my husband and I flew to Reno for his ordination and spent a wonderful weekend there with his family, including many of "those boys" whom I had seen as my childhood tormentors! He is now filled with zeal for the many ministries he has undertaken in the Church as a Deacon, and I am in awe at the crooked paths the Lord continues to make straight.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE JOY OF APRONS

Yesterday as I was waving goodbye to our son, off to classes as a full time student again, I realized I was wearing one of the new aprons my children had given me for Christmas.  I have taken to wearing aprons much of the time, realizing that I am a messy person and very likely to spill something either when I am eating or cooking or cleaning up.  However, the only apron I had was one my parents had given me years ago.  It was also a Christmas present, but they had used it to wrap up the lamp they were giving me.  It didn't go with many of my clothes, but it was serviceable and reduced the laundry load.

My daughters, who spend a good deal of time on the Natural Family Planning message board, discovered a woman who makes aprons in the color and style you request, and I now have two new aprons in different prints of blue; I think one is a Regency style.  They go with almost everything I wear and they are quite classy.

As I stood there waving and thinking how nice the apron looked, I also reflected on it as a badge of my occupation for most of the last thirty-eight years.  While I often listed my occupation as writer, the majority of my time was spent as a homemaker, raising six children and trying to subdue the chaos that threatened to overwhelm the house whenever I turned my back.

I can remember driving home from a school run one day and thinking that my mother had done the same thing for us when we were growing up, and a sudden eruption of happiness poured through my being as I realized that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, even though I often kicked against the goad about the details. (Why did the kindergarden teacher send home a note saying we needed 6 rolls of clear contact paper the next day?)  Once when my beloved husband and I were talking about our childhood goals, he said that as a child he saw his father working, married and raising a family, and he told me with a smile, "That's all I ever wanted."  I used that as the last line in my novel (now being considered by a publisher in England).  As I'm beginning a home business I will undoubtedly use my aprons more than ever; may they remind me of the contentment I can experience as I follow the vocation that rolls out before me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

                                 Emily Dickinson

These are some of my favorite lines from Emily Dickinson, and when I ran into them this morning when I was reading the reflection in Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss, it triggered a cascade of memories like linked windows suddenly opening one above the other from ground level to the sky.

I chose Emily Dickinson for my "Junior Poet" at the University, but since I had been a Spanish major my junior year, I had to do the Junior Poet work my senior year, along with my senior thesis.  Although my first choice was Gerard Manley Hopkins, I finally decided he was too difficult, when I was in New York City most of the year and couldn't just drop in on the professors for advice.  Dickinson turned out to be a good choice in conjunction with my thesis topic, the Puritans in literature, since much of her writing wrestled with them on their New England turf.

The window that opened closest to the clear but pale blue sky as I reflected on these words was the burgeoning hope that often springs up unexpectedly when I have started early in the morning and the day rolls out with promise before me.  The Gospel reading for today is one of my favorites:  Jesus has just fed the crowds with miraculously multiplied bread and fish, he sends the disciples off in their boat, dismisses the crowd, and goes up the mountain to pray.

Later,  he will walk on water and calm the storm.  But I have often been caught up in the time he went up the mountain and imagined I was a child leaving the crowd and following him.  What would it have been like to be there in the shadows with Jesus in communion with his Father?  Did he speak or was the silence around him pregnant with the mystery of the Persons of the Trinity?  When I feel flattened in my prayer life, as if I were a one dimensional being, perhaps I need to ponder the immensity of that communication beyond dimension and time and space, that reaches out to include me with all my limits and give me a glimpse of prayer caught up into eternity.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

HAPPY NEW YOU!

Last night  I celebrated the New Year twice.  The first time was at 9 PM, when the fall of the ball in Manhattan is first shown in California.  My morning lark daughter and her family came to stay overnight, and we played games, fixed little bagel pizzas and mini quiches and had sparkling cider for the three boys and champagne for the parents who wanted it.  The only problem was that we were on the wrong channel until the ball had already fallen, so all we saw was the confetti and the ending strains of Frank Sinatra (a Jersey boy) singing "New York, New York." They were all in bed before midnight.

I was planning to follow their example, when my oldest daughter and her family returned form a party where they actually watched the ball fall at 9, and then came home, but since they are all night owls, they were just getting started, and my son-in-law found a station that was replaying the NYC ball fall at midnight...except it was a certain news station which was actually running three minutes late.  However, it meant that I got to see the ball fall at 12:03 and welcomed in 2014 in the appropriate manner, and then went to bed.

Since the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is my Feast Day (from my middle name), I always get up for Mass on January 1.  It was easier when it was a Holy Day, because then we have later Masses to choose from.  But today the latest Mass was 9, so I went off to Mass in the company of the morning lark family after we moved the night owls' minivan and set off their car alarm in case anyone in the neighborhood was still asleep.

Our priest said that when he was a boy in the Philippines, his bishop used to greet everyone with Happy New You, since all of us have the ability to change ourselves, and thus change the world around us.  This resonated with a quote from G. K. Chesterton that was included in our church bulletin:
"The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul."

And I do feel a new soul bubbling up in me as I set forth on the untested waters of 2014.  My resolution is tied up in one word:  "outside,"  to remind me to get outside a least once a day, for sunshine (or rain), fresh air, the garden, and a chance to be mindful of all the beauty around me.  I'm sitting at my new desk in my new office looking out at three of my grandsons playing some version of soccer, and tomorrow I take off for the north with my son to visit my youngest daughter's godparents.  It is out of my comfort zone, but that seems to be where I need to be right now, and it will be the last chance to get away before he starts school again.

A new year, a chance to begin again, and to celebrate all the ongoing things in my life that I can easily take for granted:  a small granddaughter who sat with me quietly all through Mass, sunshine gleaming on green grass on January 1, and friends who look forward to our visit, as well as all the family and friends to whom I will be sending my belated Christmas cards.  But that is a story for another day!