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Catholic contemplative life and devotion

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All Soul’s Day 2022

Today is All Soul’s Day, the day we remember and pray for our beloved dead on their journey. It is a day to light candles for them, wash their head stones in the cemetery, to bring flowers. There will be masses and rosaries prayed for them in Catholic cemeteries all over the world today and every country has its own additional customs as well. Around here in some churches people bring pictures of their dead to leave there during the month of November. There will be a Book of the Dead placed near the door at church today so we can write their names in it and we will all pray for them during November at every mass.

Everyone is alive in God and we are still in communion with those who have gone before. I remember my husbands, my grandparents, my mother and my step father, my brother, and my friends who have died every day and I know they are with me. Love is stronger than death. And God is the God of both the living and the dead. All things are alive to him and therefor to me as one who loves him, and to you.

“… the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God. 1 Corinthians 3:22b-23

And Christ is all in all.

God bless you today and all of your loved ones who have died. May the tears you have cried for them be blessed. God holds every one of them close to his heart.

“You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them. ” Psalm 56:8b

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*The reason it says God keeps your tears in a bottle is because of the custom at that time to wear a small bottle around your neck when you were in mourning in which you stored your tears.

The amazing Zane

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I tend to think of Zane in shades of color. The moods and thoughts that cross his face are less flickers of change than slight alterations in tint during most of the day. And then there will come a burst of laughter and squeals of hilarity as well as a series of short jumps from him- maybe from a joyful memory or some private joke. Or maybe he thought of something he looks forward to. Whatever it is he isn’t going to tell me; not because he is a teenager and I am an annoying adult he mostly gives the side eye to, but because Zane does not speak in words. Occasionally he becomes suddenly sad and will even weep and seek affection he usually spurns but I can’t know why usually. All of these triggers of joy and sadness tend to be internal and inaccessible to me. I do know that if a book we are reading has a particularly heart wrenching passage it makes him wilt in sorrow and then he walks away and doesn’t want to read that book anymore. This happened when I was reading him the part in Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield is having a breakdown and keeps begging his dead little brother not to let him fall as he loses his sense of space crossing the street. Zane couldn’t stand that though he had enjoyed the rest of that novel. His feelings can be quite deep and all encompassing though I can lose sight of that in the comparative serenity his facial expression displays most of the time.

Zane can linger a long time looking intently at something that seems uninteresting to those of us who are more “neurotypical.” I imagine he sees patterns or details we don’t see. His favorite place to be is outside in the backyard in his “spot.” Zane feels best in nature. So most of our time together is outdoors. He hardly ever cares what kind of weather it is either. He just wants to be in it. Its not as if he isn’t paying attention to the weather although I think sometimes he isn’t. Nor do I think it is simply low body awareness. Maybe nature is his friend. Maybe he wants to take part in life that way as often as he can. It took me along time to realize that the melodic squeals he makes are an imitation of a backyard bird call we often hear. He amazes me all the time.

He has a little trouble with his gait but he still loves to lope along on long walks and he can really walk fast, especially if I play Cat Stevens on my phone. That is our walking music usually. Sometimes he stops to examine the leaves of a Dwarf Yaupon or a Crepe Myrtle along the way. Nature is his buddy and he’s checking in.

Another way he takes part in life is through love in his family. Zane’s parents and his two older brothers talk to him respectfully and care for him in a matter-of-fact way. Something he loves and is always very happy about is when everybody is home. He loves having his family around him. He loves them all and his occasional outbursts of affection with them are touching. He is loved and supported at home. He goes wherever he wants to go and eats what he wants to when he wants to. His hands don’t work very well so he needs help with this though he is able to feed himself. He likes to gently take my wrist and set my hand on the food he wants me to make for him.

Zane has a sense of humor. His Dad was late to dinner one day and his mom was joking with Zane, “Well it was nice knowing Daddy. We’ll miss him but that’s how it goes. Guess he can move in with Billy.” Zane screeched with laughter. When his dad was finally at the door, Zane put his fingers in his ears in preparation.

He can answer yes no questions. We put our hands out and show which hand is yes and which hand is no. “Do you want Zaxby’s for dinner? Yes or no.” When it comes to Zaxby’s he will always slap the yes hand. Usually he will add “Ah” which for him communicates yes as well, perhaps for emphasis.

Something Zane loves to do is shake the bundle of colorful ribbons he always carries, look at it and put his mouth on it. This activity is called “stemming” and he enjoys it very much. Now and then we go to his ribbon closet and cut new ribbon of the color he is in the mood for.

His other great love is his stuffed friend, “Donkey.” Apparently that guy is hilarious. Sometimes they joke and party late into the night and Zane’s parents can’t sleep.

Zane enjoys music and it seems to be a great comfort to him. He likes opera and classical and country. He does not like Nina Hagen. His greatest love is The Wiggles.

His mother gave me a stack of books to read when I first started working with Zane to help me understand him. Some of them had some great ideas for communication and learning. I used to try these ideas out back then. Yes he can spell words on a letter board. But he wouldn’t for me. He would just throw it. He would choose the right answer when I tried a certain technique with him. His cooperation was grudging and I noticed he seemed to hate it when I said, “good job.” It was as if he were saying, “Lady I’ve been at school all day. This is not the relationship I want to have with you.”

One of the books his mother gave me when I was hired was called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. Naoki is a nonverbal and autistic teen just as Zane is. He wrote his book using some of the techniques I had read about using a special computer set up for his letter board style of spelling out words. The young man writes about what it is like in his interior world and why he does the things he does, and what he wishes people would understand about him. It was beautiful; mind and heart opening to read. It occurred to me that since we had been reading aloud Zane would possibly identify with it. So we began reading it. The result was electric.

He listened intently and wouldn’t let me stop reading it. He would bring his head closer to me to listen more intently. We read it all day and during my entire shift the next day. At times he would uncharacteristically grab my shoulders or hands and stare at me with full eye contact with extreme excitement. His parents came out to see him and talk about it. We were all almost crying. It was as if Zane were exclaiming, “This is me! Please listen this is me!”

It was quite a moment, and one I know I will always remember.

When Zane is tired he puts his head on my shoulder and becomes unusually affectionate, even hugging me.

“Zane are we good friends?” I ask. He says, “Ah!” and he lets me hug him.

*Author’s note: I obtained permission from Zane’s parents to publish this piece.

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A reading on spiritual childhood from my book, Come to Mary’s House

What I did this summer plus a surprise!

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I know I’ve been quiet this Summer. It’s been a busy, hot and stressful summer so far. I feel like I’ve either been busy or tired. I’m certainly not one of those writers that sits down at a desk and writes all day the way I have read that some do. I tend to write obsessively for a while and then not write for a while. I am always writing in my head though. So maybe I should be one of those writers who writes all the time. I will have to work on that. Whenever I have an “all the time” to do that in. 🙂

We took in a cat who is a great cat (Annie) but she turned out to be pregnant. She had six lovely kittens April 30. We live in a little apartment so when they began running around and then reached that really obnoxious age where they seem totally crazy and become destructive little gymnasts, it was a bit much even for us. However we had no trouble finding wonderful homes for all but one, the most hapless one who we decided may as well stay on. We love her. My granddaughter named her Princess Buttercup.

I’ve been helping to found a new non profit in my community. That’s been exciting. I will write more about it when we are closer to getting all the way off the ground. It will have to do with helping those in need, helping connect the dots for them and staying with them through the process of finding help until they have actually gotten the help they need. It will be a community center, a food pantry, and a hub for local available services (with comprehensive case management for people in crisis.) We already have an office too! We will have a community garden and oh my goodness we are doing so much stuff! So that’s the gist of it. We have lots of ideas and I am so delighted that more than we even expected is happening, really happening.

I’ve been watching grandchildren on the days I am not working. Those are some stellar little kids. They kill me! My granddaughter I live with is getting ready to begin school again. (First grade!) This is a relief to her and to us as she has been so bored and driving us nuts!

My youngest daughter (who lives with me) started performing in public again. She is a singer/song writer/guitarist. It’s been years since she has done so and we are so proud of her for getting back out there. She heads back to college in a couple days.

My eldest has been into archery and modeling and painting cow skulls she sells at a store called “Cowboy Up.” Also she works as a secretary at an appliance installation place. Both girls are raising their children admirably though, there sure have been a lot of struggles in their lives this summer. Good thing they are both so tough.

I spend most of my work day outside and it’s been a crazy hot summer here in Texas! I can hardly keep my plants alive either!

My friend Molly flew me up to Duluth to see her for a few days. What a beautiful town and a wonderful escape from our weather! We had a blast. She is one of those friends that you end up having four hour conversations with. We talked and laughed our heads off!

So that’s my “What I did this summer” run down.

Most of all, however, I checked on my book today and was utterly astonished to see that it’s already available on Amazon Kindle. I can’t believe it! I wanted to let you know about this crazy surprise, reader!

The print version can be pre-ordered and will be released September 26th. But if you want to you can already read it! WHAT?!

Here it is! Yay!

Christian love: is it fake?

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What is Christian love? After my conversion to Catholicism (quite a leap from the way I was raised which was without religion,) my family had adjusting to do. My brother was the person I was closest to. We were symbiotic and as my mom said, “joined at the hip.” For me to make such a radical change in my world view seemed like a kind of betrayal by me. In the beginning we argued. I would say I loved him, which wasn’t especially well received when he was mad. Once he said, “I don’t want your ‘Christian love.‘ I just want you and YOUR love.” This upset me. I thought “What’s the difference?”

Pondering this interaction on the drive home, I realized what he meant and what his fear was. When we were kids my parents were very young, idealistic and nonconformist. We looked different. Our Hippie family was ill treated in the small Texas town my parents had moved to for school in 1968. It was a college town, yes, but unbelievably conservative. They did not allow women into the University unless they were married to a male student until 1972.

A lot of people who said they were Christian didn’t let us play with their kids, talked mess about our parents right in front of us, were harsh and cold with my brother and me and we didn’t understand why. We saw them as alienating people with fake smiles, and vacant eyes who were prone to heartlessness. When they said anything about loving us for Jesus’ sake it just sounded like they didn’t want to “love us” (whatever that meant) but Jesus wanted them to play nice. Which they didn’t.

My brother was afraid I would now love him in some generalized fake way, judging him as a person the whole time. It took him time and experience with me as a Catholic to disabuse him of that notion.

What does Christian love really mean? What does it mean to love someone for Jesus’ sake? I do think sometimes people don’t go very far with this. Maybe sometimes we do think it means to play nice.

Someone on social media told me he was tired of the Church being “the Church of nice.” I said I knew we weren’t supposed to be “the Church of Nice.” No we are supposed to be the Church of radical love.

I’m still working this out. All of us are, as my granny used to say, “full of prunes.” We don’t know what we’re talking about and we think we do. We think better of ourselves sometimes than we really are. We can wake up feeling like we love everybody and we hate everybody by 2 O’clock, or at least we hate several people. Some people. I’m no different. Sometimes I tell Jesus, “I know I’m not allowed to hate that guy. I know you love him, I know.” I tell him all about it. Then there is a glimmer, a hint, of what Jesus feels for that person, and I can’t go on with my tirade or hot headed attitude. I can perceive my self both as the fool I am and the affection and love God has for me. Most of the time peace comes to me pretty quickly if I’m willing. Life is so hard and I don’t know why it has to be so hard. It just is.

In that glimmer of understanding and touch of peace, I think lies the answer of the beginning of Christian love, real love, personal love for a unique and unrepeatable human being we may not know as well as we could, or a transformed love for someone we know as we know ourselves.

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He has put into my heart a marvelous love

– Psalm 16:3a

Christian love comes from union with Christ, the transforming love of “putting on the new self.” (Eph. 4:24. This is how we begin to love others as Jesus loves us. (See Jn. 13:34.) I don’t think this ability comes from baptism alone. I think it comes from prayer and time spent consciously in God’s presence. It is prayer that taught me how to love more fully, to examine my inner motivations and attitudes toward others and myself. Prayer and fledgling love of God inspired me to own up to my character defects and wrongheaded, prideful or selfish way of loving- even my brother.

With prayer and being with God we receive a new clarity and freedom of heart. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes so much time that often I get frustrated with myself. I have to remember that God will “complete the good work he has begun in [me.]”

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

Teresa of Avila wrote about detachment in relationships, especially in Chapter 7 on spiritual friendship in her book The Way of Perfection. “Detachment” sounds cold to us today. Based on my own experience I think I know what she means a little bit that we can apply here. This doesn’t mean less love for someone! It really means a detachment from self, from selfishness in our relationships.

How do we do that? Admittedly I don’t have this figured out yet. However, there is a lot of mystery involved so I don’t blame myself for that!

Similar to our efforts and experience of prayer there is an active part to this new kind of human love, and a mystical part.

The active part is more obvious. We decide to be more self aware to notice what to let go of in our ways of relating. Some of this is simple. Let’s have a look at my brother and me. When he went to rehab at age 16, we learned from the staff there how to better communicate. At first we felt silly like we had to learn to talk all over again and we would get tired of it sometimes and revert to old ways. Or we lost our tempers and had outbursts. We talked about this. We decided to see our progress. The progress was we noticed what we were doing wrong. Then with practice we got where we noticed even before we were mean and stopped ourselves. Then later, we didn’t even think about being mean anymore. Or controlling. Or selfish anymore. This is basic stuff for some people but to us it was a whole new fish bowl.

In the mean time I was learning to pray. I must have been quite an emergency to God because he set about teaching me what real love felt like right away. It was the way he loved me, and the way I learned to love him back. His love is simple and tender and clear. It stops the thoughts and worries running through your mind and you don’t even think “Hey I’m being loved.” It just is.

My own love started to simplify itself, both my love for God and my love and regard for other people. I learned to listen to people in the same way I was learning to listen to God. This took work and came from an urging I think was from him, that I do so. But the transformation took time.

My brother decided I was still me and that he didn’t have to worry about me turning into someone else or loving him in some impersonal creepily fake way. He noticed me growing as a person and that he could translate my new language of spirituality into his own understandings about life and his pragmatic view of spiritual things. He noticed I judged him less, not more. Sometimes, like his early sober days, we reverted to old fears in our relationship, both of us afraid of not being accepted as were were. We both learned, we both grew. We learned to accept one another.

And that’s how it is. What do you know? When we are able to love someone in a Christly way, they don’t just experience Jesus through us, we experience Jesus through them as well, whether they are Christian or not. We want to know a person better when we meet them and we know that every one of them belongs. We may not know how we know, but we know.

And pretty soon the whole thing gets out of control and our way of loving grows a new dimension. The world opens up and the possibilities are endless.

What does God say about this?

Beloved,
we are God’s children now.
What we shall be
has not yet been revealed.
However, we do know that when he appears
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he really is.

1John 3:2

Applied to learning to love others, I take this to mean in this case that we are already God’s children, but we ourselves are a mystery unfolding, known only to God. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are transformed as we come to know him and love him as he is, which is for himself; the way he loves us. We will not be perfect at this in this life. However we can cultivate God’s kind of love through prayer, self awareness, God awareness, and the service he inspires. In his mysterious way he will work his beautiful will in us all our lives more and more in pathways of love.

And then we have so much to look forward to: the absolute fullness of love, the fullness of God and union with him.

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On the revocation of Roe v. Wade

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I feel like I can’t be happy about this and I can’t be sad either. I understand too well how this feels to the other side- that a good share of women feel that their bodily autonomy is being violated by the (mostly male) powers that be. Sexual assault survivors are particularly sensitive to this and many are triggered into PTSD symptoms today. Many women are terrified right now. I can’t rejoice because of that.

I can’t be sad about this situation either, however, because I believe that the unborn child is worthy of protection. Every human life is worthy of protection.

I can’t be happy because of the suffering this will cause and the fact that the burden of it will fall on women and girls who are without money or resources. Rich women will always be able to get an abortion that they won’t die from or be physically harmed by.

I am morally puzzled by the idea that the authority over life and death should go to the states. It seems inappropriate. If this revocation of Roe v. Wade has to do with protecting human life abortion should be illegal everywhere.

Those with the means can simply go to a state where it is legal.

I also know through many a conversation that too many intensely pro-life people more often than not seem not to care one bit about the poor and tend to blame them for their suffering, as well as support policies that deny more of a safety net, or even simply reasonable help for struggling single moms who are trying to get an education, and other policies that keep the working poor poor. This decision will keep generations of families trapped in poverty. I am skeptical that there will be any realistic remedy for that outcome.

I am troubled because it seems to me that some people’s desire for abortion to be illegal is only a wish to punish women for their perceived promiscuity or their wanting to sidestep their “proper sphere” of motherhood.

I can’t be sad today -because I want abortion to end. I can’t be happy because I don’t think this is the way abortion will end compassionately. And compassion is everything to me. I am obviously ambivalent but I can’t imagine condoning the violent act of tearing apart a helpless human life. I understand everybody. And it makes me just sad today… but not really.

I won’t be at any protests over this ruling. Of course not. Nor will I be gloating about it because it isn’t a real victory until the causes of abortion are fully addressed.

It’s been hard for me to find my home in the pro-life movement for the above reasons and some others too that maybe I will write about at another time. When I found Feminists for Life of America I was relieved. Now there is also New Wave Feminists. I included these links because perhaps you feel as I do; that there has to be a better way. Maybe I should say there has to be more. We need to be “pro-life for the whole life.” And we need women to truly be as important to us as our pro-life convictions.

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Advent tea with St. Therese

“The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You shall see his glory within you.” — Liturgy of the Hours

We are sitting in my living room, reflecting silently together in the glow of the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. It looks particularly lovely in the dark. Its light turns the smooth, gentle face of my companion from pink to yellow to blue and back again. She seems content with her tea in a flowery cup from our kitchen.

“St. Therese, what is Christmas?” I ask.

She likes this question. I have been trying and trying to write about her, but she wanted me to interview her about Christmas. So we’re talking about Christmas.

“It is the time that the children of God remember and celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus.”

She smiles with a faraway look, “It is also a time that once again the doors of heaven swing open, great graces and torrents of spiritual light are poured into the world. The child Jesus will come to each person in a special way, to be reborn in each soul, all the world receives a blessing from heaven.”

“So many people have a hard time with Christmas, St. Therese. Some people have trouble with their families, don’t have money for gifts, or are agitated and stressed at Christmas, or they get their feelings hurt at their family celebration, or things don’t go the way they want them to, or they feel lonely or they are grieving. Can you address situations like that?”

She looks at me tenderly, knowing my mixed feelings at this time of the year, and that, as I said, they are shared by far too many others. She herself suffered grief, sorrow, loneliness, depression, severe illness and disappointment.

“I want God’s children to know that Jesus truly comes to them in all humility and with love. Just as he left his beautiful heaven to be with us on earth, so he comes to be in your soul, a heaven infinitely more dear to him because of his love, his personal love for you. When you are tired, look inside and find the little beggar of love. Cradle him, cherish him; look at him. Find a moment of peace there in the Christmas stable of your heart and he will give you his grace.”

“What should we do if we are disappointed or get our feelings hurt with our families at Christmas?”

“One Christmas when I was 13, my family got back from midnight Mass, and my father was very tired and grumpy. I overheard him say he hoped this was the last year for presents for me because I was getting a little old for this. I was crushed! I had been a very sensitive child ever since the death of my mother when I was little. My family doted on me, but they knew a torrent of tears was coming and they dreaded it. I ran upstairs to cry. Somehow something happened before I reached the top stair. Everything changed for me. A new strength, a new tenderness touched my soul. I encountered in the depths of my heart the light and tenderness of the Holy Child and in an instant I just … changed my mind. My tears dried, I turned around, came back down the stairs and surprised my family very much with my joyful opening of presents and sharing with them all the happiness of the occasion. It was a Christmas miracle!”

“How do we get in touch with the grace you describe in that transforming moment of your life?”

“If I reflect on it, I see that I had been preparing myself for that moment by making small sacrifices wherever I could. I saw this as adorning my heart with freshly gathered flowers for Jesus. Some of these were violets and roses, others were cornflowers or daisies or forget-me-nots. I wanted all the flowers I could gather to cradle the baby Jesus in my heart. “

She is leaning forward now, and I see how her face lights up talking about this.

“It seems to me you are talking about how you trained yourself not to let an opportunity to do a kindness, or make a small sacrifice slip by. Is that what you mean?

“I found that life would bring me plenty of opportunities. So if one of you should find yourself naturally irritated with someone this Christmas, decide for peace and serve that person nicely. It will set you free.

“If your Christmas isn’t going the way you planned, give up your expectations as a sacrifice to Jesus, and you will feel your burden lightened.

“If someone wants to argue, let her win; just this one time.

“You will be surprised how you can walk away happy, or even find that you regard that irritating person with genuine affection. Find opportunities this Christmas, to be kind, to serve, to take the lowest place. I will be there winking at you!”

I laugh, imagining this. “That’s perfect!” I say. “I will be looking for you.”

I lift my tea cup for a toast and we clink our cups together, smiling.

She tells me a story about life in the convent when now and then one of the novices would lose her temper with St. Therese and tell her angrily exactly what she thought of her. “I decided to savor these incidents like good vinegar on a fresh salad.” She chuckles. “You could use that at Christmas, to counteract all those holiday sweets! I will be there to give you a high five to celebrate your glorious victory over yourself, and Jesus will grant you immense strength, you will see.”

“This is hard stuff, though,” I say.

She knows it is hard.

“I had such a longing to be one of God’s great heroes. I had such overwhelming desires to do great things. I came to understand that doing these small things with great love offers plenty of challenge. Yes, these are almost the hardest things of all, these little things to do! But before you know it, you will find such joy. You will realize the presence of the Little Beggar of Love in your soul. And you will be glad you gave him what he wanted for Christmas most of all. The milk of your love at every opportunity you had.

“Ask the good God to show you an opening to do a small bit of good around you, to lighten someone’s burden quietly.”

I am smiling now because I know she is right. This is a way to be good soil for the seeds of the Gospel Jesus came to bring. If we give ourselves over to little Jesus in this way, he will find our souls full of flowers for him to be cradled in, and he will make his sweet presence there known.

We will find ourselves not only doing small things with great love, but with great joy.

And if you burn the cookies, or you say something you shouldn’t have, be patient with yourself, she says.

“Little children fall often but don’t have far to fall, so they don’t hurt themselves very much.” So strive to be little, even to yourself.

Practice this “Little Way,” for his Christmas presents, fill your heart with these flowers, and the little Jesus will come to you with his grace to be cherished within you.

That is the Christmas spirit, I believe, according St. Therese of the child Jesus.

“Love him,” she says, draining her teacup.

“Love him in everything. It’s that simple.”

“In this brilliant night which illuminates the joy of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, the gentle little child of the hour, will change the darkness of my soul into torrents of light.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

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Love in a time of fear and uncertainty

My late husband, Bob Chapman, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive Brain Cancer, in February 2010 while we were still engaged and dreaming about our wedding. We married in May that year just after he finished his initial treatment, a period of simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy.

He lived 2 ½ years. The course of his illness was hands down the most terrifying thing I have ever had to go through. If you know me, you know this is saying a lot.

However it was also the most beautiful time of all my life. He said the same for himself too. My daughters remember it as the happiest of times for them.

We had to make a daily decision not to live in fear and sorrow every minute. This does not mean we didn’t cry sometimes, or that we pretended not to be afraid. We were scared to death. Of course we were. But who wants to live like that? We decided to live happily as long as we could, and to “lovingly eat the bread of the will of God,” as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity expressed holy acceptance.

We thought if we did go down, we would go down swinging. We did all we could as enthusiastically as we could to fight cancer. We strove to leave the rest up to God. It was empowering.

We knew that things might not work out the way we wanted which was a horrifying prospect. We also knew that sometimes people did survive it. We ignored the statistics and tried to live in the hope; not with false expectations, but real hope. We knew that Bob would not be taken from this world without God’s permission. We decided remaining positive but without stifling our feelings when we were sad, angry or afraid seemed best. And we looked to God. As Bob said to me the week he died, “God is IT!”

We decided to love and to serve as much as we could. After a frightening MRI result we were really scared. All we could do for a while was hold one another. When he was ready to talk, he said. “Well, what do we do? We love, we walk on.”

And we did.

We learned to allow others to love and serve us. We grew in our appreciation of community.

We grew to understand that each day could be seen as an entire life -time, being born in the morning and dying in the Father’s arms at night. Getting dressed for work one morning, Bob said, “I’m alive today. That’s all anybody’s got.”

Living like this begins to bring out the beauty in all things. Life becomes more vivid. Connection with people and all living things becomes profound. The heart expands.

When we were overwhelmed we had a designated spot we pretended was our “clubhouse” where cancer could not go. We needed to take time out in that spot sometimes.

As a family we learned that almost anything is funny. Bob had speech problems that came and went for a long time. They were hilarious! One of his more famous utterances then was when he said, “What time do we eat the kids? 6:30?”

Trying to talk to someone on the phone about a bill, he explained to her, “My voice is broken but my THINK is fine!”

At M.D. Anderson, the staff seemed horrified that I kept laughing at Bob’s speech mistakes. I told one of them, “Hey we can laugh all day or we could cry all the time!” And anyway, he was laughing too! “What!?” he would say, “I speak the King’s English!”

We tried to make scary things fun. Bob took his guitar to the hospital with him and played it from his bed. The nurses loved it.

One time he went to a scary appointment with half his mustache and half his beard shaved so he had a perfect half and half face. The doctor did such a double take! It was so funny!

At chemotherapy we used to sit and blow bubbles together in the treatment room. He brought his guitar there too and played for everyone with the I.V. in his arm.

Bob was a do-er. He was always moving. One month almost to the day before his death he was mowing the lawn, pushing his crazy big mower uphill. I took a picture. Well that was Bob. He was unstoppable. Bob was into helping. Even when we went out to eat he would end up fixing the cook’s car in the parking lot or something like that. Once he saw a young woman having to put back her purchases at the grocery store so he went behind her putting the same items in his own basket. He bought them all for her and sent me to give them to her outside.

He fixed things for the elderly he saw struggling with something. He was all about service and not creating hardship or work for others. He called this his “skin religion.”

He brought me breakfast in bed on Saturdays and put on Bugs Bunny for me. He did everything he could for all of us for as long as he could.

Being able to serve was important to him as a person.

Eventually, he began to be paralized on one side. Still he dragged himself by one arm horizontally out the back door to work on a drainage project. Sometimes he got tired and had to lay down in the grass for a while.

He was a do-er and he was tenacious. We called him “The Atomic Bob.”

He was an artist but he began to lose his ability to paint. He couldn’t play guitar. He started dropping dishes so he couldn’t do them for me anymore. He got where any speaking at all was very difficult. He had trouble at work and finally took that extended sick leave he had not taken yet. He could no longer play guitar.

He was confined to his chair for a lot of the day. One afternoon he called me to him and said,
“Shawn! I can’t DO anymore.” I nodded, tears in my eyes. Then he said, “I can’t DO!” Here he put his hand on his heart, sobbing, “but I STILL LOVE!”

I knew what he meant.

He realized his love, doing or not, was valuable. He was reaching out to everyone, loving them, and that in his very inactivity, his great big heart was active and spreading love on a whole new level. “Hey,” I told him, between kisses, “you’re speaking like the great mystics of the Church now!”

We are such do-ers in this world and often this is a great thing. Through the history of our faith, though, some Christians have felt called to withdraw into holy seclusion to live a hermits’ life and to pray.

To us this looks like not helping, not doing. But as Servant of God Catherine Doherty wrote, “Look at the Man on the Cross. He is not doing anything because He is crucified.” Ah but He was doing EVERYTHING, wasn’t He?

Our family found humor and beauty, mindfulness, joy in service, acceptance, courage, tenacity, renewed faith, a closer bond, community and the spiritual gift of understanding right in our crisis. In the midst of sorrow, loss of control, uncertainty and intense fear we found the Kingdom of Heaven. When the situation was “down to the wire,” we found the true power of love.

God is with us. There are jewels in the rubble that are there for us to find and to share as we deal with Covid-19 as a community. If we seek this treasure we will find all we need and more. It is there for every one of us.

This is my husband’s painting of us praying together during his fight with Brain Cancer. He called it “Miracle.”

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* This piece originally ran as my column in The Bryan College Station Eagle

The flight into Egypt

The bond I had with Yeshi was, I felt, even more deep that one of blood. A blood father is chosen by God to be the parent of a child. As my wife said to me so often, I was chosen for Yeshi by God. The Lord gave me such a powerful attachment to this son of mine I was wild with terror at the angels’ news. I sat up, jumped to my feet, immediately on full alert. My wife was asleep next to him. I tried to wake her gently. I watched as her face hardened when she understood. Quickly she strapped the protesting baby to her back and helped me load the donkey. We had become a good team and she was nearly as strong as a man. In only a few minutes we were on the road.

We were frightened about passing the watchman. But we were both ready for anything, ready to give our lives if we had to. As we drew near I tried to walk calmly and confidently,though I was so taught with fear I ached to break into a run. I knew Mary was frightened too. I heard her trying to slow her breathing. I was conscious of the knife at my belt, praying to God I would not have to use it.

I needn’t have worried. The guy only greeted us and remarked on the fact that we were leaving in the wee hours. I managed to laugh and say that with a newborn we couldn’t sleep anyway so we thought we may as well be our way. We passed without incident.

Fortunately I had been curious about the beautiful maps the wise men had poured over before they left. For some reason I remembered a side rout to Egypt. We needed to avoid the Northern Way most people took. There had been a lot of talk about the Child around Bethlehem, certainly about our fantastical visitors on camels who had followed a star to our son, saying he was a long expected king. We knew if they got a lead Herod’s soldiers could pursue us into Egypt, also part of the Roman Empire.

I walked as fast as I could, leading the donkey with Mary and the baby on its back. We kept our voices low. I tried to squeeze Mary’s foot now and then to reassure her. She was grave and resolute whenever I looked at her. If anything she seemed angry rather than afraid most of the time.

blur close up donkey eyes
Photo by Leroy Huckett on Pexels.com

We traveled in this way until we were sure we were well away. Hours after sunrise we hid as best we could behind a large rock and took turns sleeping and keeping watch.

Again we left in the night.

The way was treacherous. I tripped several times on rocks and brush. Finally one trip sent me flying. The pain in my ankles was bad enough I could not walk at all no matter how I tried.

Mary got down from the donkey, running to me. We still had plenty of frankincense and she spread the fragrant oil over my fast swelling ankles. My wounded leg she cleaned with water and then healing myrrh. The oil and ointment helped but not enough for me to walk, even with her help. What to do?

“We have to get you on the donkey and let me walk,” she said. I was opposed.

“Joey,” she insisted, “there is no other way!

After several painful tries, together we pushed, pulled and lifted me onto the little donkey. I felt ashamed that she had to do this. Also, “I’m a big hairy man on a donkey!” I complained. “I look ridiculous!”

She laughed. “You DO look ridiculous.”

“I’m worried about you,” I said. I was. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach.

“Take this,” I said, handing her the knife which she solemnly took. “Remember how to use it if you have to, the way I showed you before?” I asked her. She nodded.

“OK now make yourself useful,” she said, handing me the baby. I could see his eyes shining in the dark. I pressed him to me.

We went ahead bravely.

She insisted on stopping now and then to put more oil and ointment on my injuries. She tried to joke with me to make me feel better. I told her she was my warrior queen.

We were scared but we trusted God. There was nothing else to do. We tried to encourage one another. We had a saying together: “God is it.” Our lives were for God. “Everything will be OK,” we said to one another, “and even if it’s not OK, it will be OK.”

We belonged to God.

moon and stars
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

We had to stop to nurse and change the baby every few hours. Soon we would need supplies. We had gold from the wise men. We knew that a poor young couple trying to buy food with foreign gold was going to cause a stir but it couldn’t be helped.

We continued to travel by night, exhausted and afraid. Our minds started to fill with every possible thought. We talked about King Herod. How could any grown man, a king no less, be so insecure about his power, so angry, hateful and afraid, he would seek to harm a child? Why would anyone obey such a man?

The wise men had told us they were warned in a dream that Herod had become hostile about their mission, and that they must leave by another way themselves. How could anyone fear the signs of God and fight God himself instead of being joyful that God was coming to his people? What kind of person dares to fight God?

“Satan, “ Mary whispered with certainty. “He is possessed by Satan.”

At one point we were trudging along on a seemingly endless night and I began to worry about my sanity.

“Mary?” I whispered tentatively. “I see them too,” she said.

All around us we saw fellow travelers, people of all colors in various costume as if they were from far away or from another age. They carried children, belongings, what food and water they could. They too were fleeing something, trying to protect their children; frightened, determined, doing their best to trust in God. Some of them died or fell to robbers along the way. Others pressed on because they had no choice.

“Mary,” I said after an awed silence between us, “I think God is trying to tell us something.”

She nodded in understanding.

Even after the vision ended we talked about it for a long time.

We concluded that God was showing us peoples of the ages who would be refugees like ourselves.

We resolved together that in time to come, we would always be with these people in whatever way God allowed us to be. We would walk with them, ease their suffering, protect them, pray for them, be their advocates before the throne of God. We would see their children as our own.

There would always be mad kings, we knew, until the age of the Lord would come fully.

Eventually my ankles were in good enough shape I was able to relieve Mary, and take that knife back.

The night we were sure we were in Egypt their was a beautiful full moon. Mary was happy. She jumped off the donkey and danced, holding Yeshi high, singing,

“Lift up your heads, O gates;
be lifted, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in war.

Lift up your heads, O gates;
rise up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the king of glory!”

I laughed.

low angle photography of golden gate during evening
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com