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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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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 Widowhood

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The widow’s place in the Church in our times seems a bit vague. We are not exactly single. We are alone without our spouses, but they do exist in the next life. Often we are single moms, whose place in the Church seems elusive as well.   

The eventual death of a spouse is not spoken of in our marriage preparation. I think it should be talked about. One partner is sure to experience it. 

I have come to think of my widowhood as “part two” of my vocation as a wife. I just discovered that the Church agrees with me. “Widowhood, accepted bravely as a continuation of the marriage vocation, should be esteemed by all” ( Gaudium et spes, 48) 

I am profoundly altered both by the love I knew and the suffering I lived through.  

We widows have a lot to give. We have learned to be co-redeemers with Our Lady. Our hearts are wells of a unique compassion for all in mourning or sorrow. We have learned the depths of love. 

If you find yourself on the widow’s path, here are my own discoveries I hope will help. 

Your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of his own, and in whom God dwelled.God remembers and cherishes everything about him. He is alive in God and he continues his journey. 

Your relationship with your husband was unique and unrepeatable, containing a universe of its own, cherished and remembered by God. It is alive in God and still accessible to you spiritually.  

As St. Teresa of Avila said, God lives within us, enthroned in the center of our hearts. This means that all of Heaven is there in our souls as well. We share spiritual goods with those in Purgatory, and we are all  one in the Lord. 

In the depths of my agony I would ask my husband in spirit, “How could you go somewhere I could not go? How can you be happy in Heaven when I am going through hell? Do you still love me? Are you still my husband?” 

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Of course death was not his choice. But these were the cries of my heart. I came to understand that he was a compassionate witness to my suffering. I received a strong sense of his continued love for me.

That last burning question, “Are you still my husband,”  caused me a lot of unnecessary pain. On the surface it does sound like the answer is no. “There will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the world to come” (Matt.22:30.) This verse has been historically  emphasized in favor of virginity by Catholic writers. This idea was extremely upsetting to me. Why would every other relationship pass through heaven’s gates but not this one in which I became one with my husband? When I was widowed for the second time, this came up again for me because of a homily I heard at mass on this verse. A visiting priest said that husbands and wives always say they want to know their spouses in Heaven but that we needed to let that go. It just freaked me out. I went outside and cried. Priests, when you preach on this verse, please remember me and every other grieving widow in your audience. Say a word of comfort for us to mitigate the sorrow we feel when you imply our profound loss will not be restored to us as the other ones will be. 

The resolution to this question of whether my late husband is still my husband is this:

 Love is stronger than death. (Sngs 6:8) 

Love is the greatest of the “three that remain” (1 Cor.13.) Love is eternal whatever happens on earth or Heaven, and even though all things pass away. I know both my late husbands are very much with me. Not only that but they will be with me in Heaven as well, and God treasures the love we share. St. Joseph is still Our Lady’s husband. He is still right next to her, even though her ultimate Spouse is the Holy Spirit. What we will be in Heaven individually is not clear to us now (1Jn. 3:2.)  However we will be more not less. I believe our relationships will be more and not less in Heaven. God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or separation. (Rev.21:4)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

In the meantime I have discovered Jesus as my ultimate spouse just as the widowed Saints have done. 

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and you will be called espoused.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 62:4-5

A whole new kind of love has opened up to me. I feel as if I am a mother and sister to everyone with a free and expansive heart. The love I had with my husbands and our journeys  together have made me who I am. Grief, intense loss and suffering have made me who I am. Taking all of that burning love and sorrow before the throne of God constantly continues to transform it into a greater depth of prayer and service in this world. 

This growth required surrender. I had to be able to tell God that for love of him I gave my consent to this way of life I had not wanted, and that I would stay in this world as long as he wanted me to, in the way he wanted me to. I begged him that this experience would purify my heart and draw me closer to him. 

My first husband, Marc, was killed in a car accident when he was only twenty-eight. We had a three month old and an almost five year old. I kissed Marc goodbye in the morning and never saw him again.  

His death and our loss felt brutal and senseless. 

I prayed all the time, “Increase the strength of my soul” (Ps. 138:3.) And God did. 

Nobody tells you how hard it is not to kill yourself when you are suddenly widowed like that. Only the love of God and of my children kept me from it.  

The Eucharist kept me alive as well. It is a gift from God that my husband had a premonition of his death and  said, “No matter what happens we will always be together in the Eucharist.” He had wanted to renew our wedding vows there and then, which we did.  A friend called this “a preparatory gift of the Holy Spirit.”

My kids and I went to mass every day. I needed Jesus more than ever. 

I didn’t see how I could ever be OK without Marc. It seemed being OK without him would be a betrayal. A kindly widower gave me peace about this. He said, “If your arm is amputated you learn to live without that arm. But that arm never grows back.” 

And so it was. I never stopped loving Marc. At fifty-four I love him as much as I ever did. But I have learned to live without him in this world. 

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In spite of my sorrow I was able to raise my kids joyfully. Our house was like a cross between Pippy Longstocking’s house and a little monastery; a fun, quirky place where we also prayed a lot. We took in many animals, and always had the neighborhood kids running in and out. We were that house on our street where most of the kids hung out. Our family and friends were often there just to be there, have some iced tea, pray in our little oratory. 

I never wanted to marry again. When I found myself falling in love with Bob ten years after the death of my first husband, I had to pray a lot to be able to accept it. I learned that Bob was not replacing Marc. My daughters and I were only setting another place at the table.  

 Bob wrote to my brother-in-law Frank before our wedding,  “Marc’s stories will always be told around our table, his picture will always hang on our wall, and his ring will always be on her finger.” This is how it was. 

Walking with Bob through his journey with Brain Cancer was the most amazing thing the kids and I have ever done. We fought a beautiful fight and we lived and loved every minute. When the time came, my heart had to expand exponentially to be able let him go with love and even joy amidst the pain. I realized I could not deny Jesus anything, not even Bob. His death was beautiful, loving, and in my arms. Ten years later I still carry that great love. 

A  help to me both times I have been widowed was Ronda Chervin’s book on the widowed saints, A Widow’s Walk. She introduced me to Our Lady as a widow, which has meant a lot to me.  

Saints come to us at different times in our lives. These days I feel close to St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, who has never appealed to me especially before. 

She loved her husband deeply. His death was traumatic for her. She was left with five children as well as seven more, her brother-in-law’s children who had been orphaned. After her conversion to Catholicism, she identified profoundly with Our Lady’s sorrow. 

Through faith and prayer, her suffering love was transformed into a powerful and fruitful love for others, especially those in need. She was a spiritual mother of many, founding Catholic Schools in our country and doing every kind of good work for the poor. 

 I’ve been helping to form a new nonprofit in our town even though I feel unequal in every way. St. Elizabeth seems to be praying for me and helping me be brave. As widows we have an understanding.

Something Bob said as we tried to process his terrifying diagnosis of Glioblastoma multiforme (stage 4- terrible news!) has continued to guide my life. 

As we held each other I asked, “What do we do?” “Well,” he said, “We love, we walk on.” 

“Miracle” by my husband Bob Chapman

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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Soul and Service

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 Pope Francis has said, “Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find you are going out to meet Jesus.” Dr. Esther Miranda is always up to something in this regard and she is practically bursting with ideas, projects and collaborations, with stories of soul and service.   

Esther moved to Bryan-College Station thirty years ago, having grown up in India in the presence of Mother Teresa where the Missionaries of Charity used to meet in her grandfather’s house.  “Poverty is much more visible there. Every day there were people at our gate.” Early in life she learned how much getting to know the poor could open her eyes, and she was inspired to do more. 

When she came to College Station for the first time, she thought, “OH what a beautiful town!” It seemed so clean and prosperous. She didn’t even see any poor people around. She assumed this was because there were none. She volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic organization that works with people in need (where she is now Vice President,) and was quickly disabused of this notion. “There were people living with no windows, no bed, no electricity! There might be eight people sleeping on the floor, getting up and working all the time but there was no food in the kitchen!”  

“It’s about opening eyes, Shawn, opening eyes.” 

She goes on to say passionately, “We are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this messy world! Sometimes we have to reveal the mess to do any good!” 

Her favorite representation of Jesus is of him as the Good Shepherd knocking on the door for us. “He is there waiting! In quiet, just ask him to tell you about himself.”  

She doesn’t think that is all we should do though. 

“So many people want to talk talk talk talk about knowing Jesus.” She thinks the proof is in what we do. As St. Teresa of Avila said, our prayer must lead us to good works. 

Esther says, “You want to know Jesus, get in my car! I’ll show you!” 

If you’re nervous about meeting those in poverty or crisis, remember, “You don’t have to have all the answers for them. More than anything, listen. They need that! It’s good for us too. We shouldn’t assume they have nothing to teach us.” 

Pope Francis says, “The poor always evangelize us  because they show us the true Face of the Father.” 

After the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus in Rome (259AD,) St. Lawrence was ordered to turn the treasures of the Church over to the Roman government in accordance with the law that an executed Christian should have his property confiscated. 

First, Lawrence distributed every bit of it to the poor. 

 Then he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to deliver, he presented the indigent, the crippled, the blind, the sick and the poor. “These are the true treasures of the Church!” 

“OOOOOOH! I LOVE THAT STORY!” cries Dr. Miranda. Of course she does. It’s her story; holding dear and caring for the true treasures of the Church.  

Some have objected, “The job of the Church is evangelization.” Esther doesn’t see the conflict. She is evangelizing!

“ Have you ever seen anyone come to church from preaching? I haven’t! If people’s physical and emotional needs aren’t met, none of that stuff makes any sense to them! They can feel Jesus in a warm meal, in someone who cares. They aren’t waiting for a Bible verse, they need someone to care about them and to show it!”     

She repeats several times her favorite maxim, “REACH BEFORE YOU TEACH!” 

“When someone is hungry and has no place to sleep or take a shower, you give them these things, and you listen to their stories. This is what they need, and to know somebody cares. The next morning, maybe they are feeling a little bit better. You get them some coffee and maybe after breakfast you can say, ‘Would you like to pray with me?’ They may say, ‘yes I would love that,’ or maybe not, or maybe they will do it because you have been kind to them.” We should never judge them or require them to do anything in order to be helped. Always respect their dignity. Then maybe you can find out what to do next to help them along their way. 

She says maybe you have planted a seed just giving them a good example of a Christian who is kind and compassionate. “Today this is not the impression a lot of people have of us and it’s very sad. If we can help them see the heart of Jesus in us we will have done something important.”

Dr. Miranda has some tips for being a better listener with people who are in trouble.  “If you are talking, ask yourself, ‘Why am I talking?’  Remember to slow down, to pause, to listen. Own what you are about and remember that listening doesn’t threaten that. Welcome what they have to say.” 

Esther started a furniture ministry five years ago that has grown from two volunteers to thirty- two and has helped two hundred and fifty local families in need so far.  

St. Vincent de Paul and the furniture ministry are not all she wants to do. Esther decided to spend “the year of Covid,” calling every organization that does anything for the poor, getting to know the work they do. She asked each one, “Tell me what doesn’t happen, what frustrates you, what you wish somebody would do.” She found out there was so much she didn’t know about what others were doing. 

She realized, “Our beautiful town needs a community center that does not seek to duplicate the work anyone else is already doing. We need a place where anyone, regardless of who they are, can come, where they can easily get answers! When people are in the depths of despair, they don’t need yet another brochure or list of numbers to call, that may end up being a wild goose chase or a series of dead ends. They don’t need to be told to fill out a form online when they don’t have a computer!” 

Photo by kira schwarz on Pexels.com

Dr. Miranda envisions a place where a single mom can come in and use the computers for her children’s homework, even ask someone to hold the baby for her. 

“If people have one problem, there are a whole slew of problems, complex problems,” she says. We can have the information right there and call for them, help them fill out the forms they need to fill out right there!” 

She wants people to be able to come in and be given a cup of coffee or something to eat, have someone listen to them as long as is needed, and walk them through their next steps.  

She wants there to be not only a focus on service and collaboration but on education and leadership. There can be skills classes people need to better their lives, classes for people who want to serve, programs to train young people to be community leaders. “Government and churches cannot fix these problems alone. It takes small groups of committed, like- minded people.” 

Dr. Miranda is “so grateful, so grateful” for all of the people who have joined her on this journey. “So many wonderful people!” She welcomes everyone to join her in this new echumenical collaboration. 

She has dreamed of this but she felt that Jesus said to her not long ago, “Esther! What are you waiting for?” 

“So I have to go forward in faith! And Jesus has never once let me down! Everything comes to me when I have that attitude! If one organization or one person won’t help, I try not to let it anger me too much or discourage me! I move on! I move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next! And it’s working! It’s coming together! God is making it happen!” 

As for us who are among the more materially fortunate, she says, “We all need places where we can go to get closer to Jesus.” This center will be one. 

  • This piece originally appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper in my monthly column. This is the extended uncut interview with Dr. Miranda

I hear you.

Solidarity and Love: #BlackLivesMatter

Yesterday I walked in a peaceful (though good and loud) Black Lives Matter protest in Houston in response to the murder by police of George Floyd and by the long list of black men and women who have also been killed by police.

It was a powerful experience.

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My daughter drove us so even though traffic was slow and she didn’t know where she could park, I jumped out of the car right away with my sign, my phone in my back pocket and joined the chanting throng streaming into the street from Discovery Green.

It felt so good to be able to do something, to show support at this time along with so many others of every possible race and ethnicity. I saw “Arabs for Black Lives” t-shirts. I saw Jewish men with their prayer shawls on. I saw Hispanic people, Asian people, and plenty of other white people. There were families with their children too. Mostly I saw everywhere beautiful black people standing up for themselves, and for their murdered brothers and sisters and their families, supporting one another, demanding righteous change. It was awe inspiring.

One of the chants were the last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!” He also had said to please let him up and that they were killing him. And he called out for his mother. There was so much heartbreak that day at the protest that at times it seemed like a funeral. Sure enough that is partly what it was. As the leaders of the March said, “We are here to lift up his name.”

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That was another chant: “SAY HIS NAME!” And the response, “GEORGE FLOYD!” Over and over they said this and I think it is so important. We should not forget the individual people who have died in the seemingly never ending stream of police violence against people of color. They were people, individuals. We are standing up for them specifically, as well as the entire African American community.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” of course, was shouted throughout.

*For the “all lives matter” crowd, maybe I can be of some help as to what “Black Lives Matter” means and why it is a non starter to keep saying that.

My friend, here is what I gather about this: black people are telling us they feel their lives don’t matter to us. Can you blame them? They are not trying to tell us other people’s lives don’t matter. They are asking us to notice what’s happening when they say that. And they are reminding themselves that their lives matter in the face of all this. When people say back “all lives matter” it sounds like “you aren’t suffering from this,” “It’s all in your head,” or worse, “We don’t care.”

Suppose a fire truck arrives at your home as it is burning and begins to fight the flames; and a neighbor runs up yelling at the firemen, “all homes matter.” Think about it, or better yet, pray about it.
-Julian Mcmurrey

We marched to the courthouse where there were speeches I couldn’t hear very well. I understood that at least one woman who spoke was a mother of another black man killed by police. The drift of what a lot of the speakers were saying, though was that we should not stop here with this protest, that there is a lot of work to be done once we got back to our lives.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

There were signs about different organizations and their websites so people could follow up on their commitment. I will include a couple of these at the end of this post.

It annoyed me that there were drones buzzing around close enough we could have swatted them. Helicopters flew overhead constantly. Eventually we noticed snipers on the roof of the court house and on other nearby buildings.

“See?” a woman said to me, “They don’t even care about us. We’re trying to speak out but they aren’t listening. This is how they do.” It was over kill, I thought. And so many children in the crowd too.

I texted my daughter who had her little one with her, and told her about the snipers. That was her cue to head in another direction. (By the way I also told other people coming into the area who had children with them as well.)

I stayed a while longer. Eventually, after a couple of hours, I started to head back to the car.

A couple of women from the march stopped me and wanted to take a picture of me with my sign. I said sure I would be honored. My sign was a quote from Pope Francis, “Racism is the greatest evil in our world today.” I had a bright red rosary wrapped around my wrist. Its dangling cross against my hand reminded me constantly of what I was doing there. I absolutely considered it my Christian duty to be there. I wanted to bring Jesus and Mary with me to love the people and stand with them, to try to radiate their love and solidarity. Also I was there as a Catholic. If anybody noticed my rosary maybe they would know “Catholics (some Catholics) “are with you.”
That was my idea anyway.

Volunteers were on corners handing out masks (I already had one) and water bottles. It was so hot so I took one. Im glad I did because after that my phone went dead and my daughter and I had a harrowing few hours where we couldn’t find each other.

I also couldn’t find my way back to the car although I had a general idea where it was.

I got kind of lost but then I managed to get back to the courthouse. There was a group of women on a corner there talking about prayer not being enough, and how God expects us to take action too. (I have noticed this too about God.)

“Its the Holy Spirit,” another woman said. “This is the Holy Spirit.”

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels.com

I asked if they could point me back to Discovery Green because I hadn’t paid attention to the route we all took earlier, having been too excited to do so. They laughed kindly about that and said all we had done is go straight down the street behind them. It would take me straight to Discovery Green.

They liked my sign and I told them I had carried it in the Richard Spencer protest at Texas A & M too. One lady asked if I knew my daughter’s number. No I did not. She asked if Roise was on Social Media, and eventually she found her and sent her an instagram message for me that I was headed to the car.

Expressing my gratitude I started to pick up my sign and go. An older lady said she had an assignment for me once I got safe home. I was eager to hear it. She said, “Memorize. Your daughter’s. Number!” “I know right? Thanks ya’ll, for telling my daughter her ridiculous mother is headed her way.”

They thanked me earnestly for being there that day. I hadn’t expected that and I didn’t feel I really deserved it since it was something I wanted to do. But I knew what she meant. And I said thanks for having me.

Actually my daughter and I got that all day from people, “Thank you for being here.” Silly us! We hadn’t been quite sure we would be welcome or if it was appropriate. We know this is a black lead movement and we want to support that. Sometimes it just isn’t clear to us as white allies learning on the job, what we should do. I feel like I understand a little better now.

A long, tired, hot time later, I finally found the car. Two other people let me use their phones to try to call my daughter on social media along the way. “This is mom. I’m at the car.” I also had good conversations with them.

Of course my girl had the keys. Exhausted, I climbed on top of the car with my sign and prayed the rosary. After a while though, I started to get scared. Where was she? Did she get held up? What should I do if she never came back? What if something bad happened to her or the baby? My other daughter, I reflected, was going to kill me if anything happened. She had been very upset and scared that we were coming to this, given what happened in Minneapolis. I started to get that cold feeling you get in your stomach when you are really worried.

I saw a group of police officers getting out of a car near me. One of them pulled his baton out and said, “Yeah now we’re going to have some fun.” He caught my eye and looked (appropriately) a little embarrassed. As far as I know he never got to have any “fun.” For which I am grateful. I should say though that the police I saw around yesterday were trying to be relaxed and non intrusive.

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On I waited. I checked nearby restaurants. No luck. I went back to my car.

I think I had been sitting on the car for an hour and a half before I happened to look up at the right time and see my daughter, pushing the stroller a couple blocks down. I was astonished when she didn’t turn to come down the street where the car was.

After thinking about why she would do that, I scrambled down from the car and took off running. When I got to the street she was on, she seemed hopelessly far away. So I put on the mom voice I used to call my daughters home with when they were out playing in the neighborhood as kids. “ROSAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” A man nearby resting with his sign on his lap chuckled.

To my relief she turned around and started coming toward me. I jogged toward her and was surprised to see she had been crying. She started crying when I hugged her and said she had gotten lost and her GPS was acting crazy, sending her all over the place. She had gotten overheated and collapsed and some people from the protest had helped her up, some talking brightly to her daughter as other people gave her water and stood by until she had drunk the entire bottle. They had her sit on a curb with them until she was better. Someone called her phone and helped her find it. They gave her directions to Discovery Green but she stopped to get a soda at a pub which made her sick and she promptly forgot the way. My granddaughter, Arelani, was glad to see me. She started chattering like the loquacious little being she is.

I walked them back to the car and drove us out of the city and toward home.

We were kind of in awe about the day, grateful there was at least something we could do, and so glad of all the kind people we had met, and how amazing the solidarity and unity had been. So many people, thousands of people, coming together to do a good thing, a holy thing, really. It had felt sacred to me, as well as sad and angry and hopeful too. It was motivating and we intend to do whatever we can to help out in future.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

I want to say that our dearest black friends were very supportive. LeeAnne and her husband said “God bless you.” Mel told me to play Bob Marley on the way there for him. Between Mel and me this is how I keep him present at special times, like when I am making his birthday spice cake every year. He and his wife Lilly sent pictures of themselves to me too so I could carry them with me. My daughter’s best friend wept when she told her where we were going. “Why are you crying?” “I just feel thankful that y’all are doing this.” We hadn’t expected that but I think it is worth noting.

I remembered an article I had seen, and the photo in it of a big sign that said, “White people. Do Something.” Maybe it felt to them that we were responding. And that is what the black community wants from us, y’all. That’s what they want. For us to listen to what they want to say to us, to care and respond and be willing to help the way they want to be helped with this.

I’m slow but I am learning.

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In the car, my four year old granddaughter, who is half African American, started chanting “BLACK YIVES MATTER! BLACK YIVES MATTER!” And “GEORGE FYOYD! GEORGE FYOYD!” Well, she had heard those things a lot today. We took video of her doing this and sent it to her dad (who is black.) It was adorable but also touching to see her do that. This is all also about her and her future.

On the way home we got a flat tire. I had forgotten my spare had been stolen so we were in a pickle. A friend picked us up and we are home safe and incredibly tired today. But it is a “good tired.”

In spite of the trouble, we are both profoundly glad we went, honored to have been there, to have been a part of it.

*photos not taken by my daughter, Roise Manning-Pauc, have been used with permission from the photographers.

Think Twice (Before you call the police, consider these alternatives.)

What white people can do for racial justice

Racial justice organizations that you should support

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com