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Bethany Hang Out

Christian contemplative life and devotion

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friendship

My guru

His mother calls him “Pete,” (for “Sweetie Petey.) His dad calls him “Macaroo.” Meet Mac. I know he didn’t say anything  you recognize as “How do you do?” But he knows you’re here, and that you are a new person in the room. I wonder what he thinks?

I like to tell him he’s my guru. He is forever in half lotus position, after all. His legs are pretty much stuck that way. However, nearly every moment with Mac is a Zen moment. So it makes sense that he sits like a Master.

His  eyes can be disconcerting at first. We are used to eye contact from others, and Mac’s eyes tend to be unruly, rolling wherever they want to, unseeing. But once you get used to his eye movements you will find  enchanting blue eyes. There is something wise about eyes that do not see. I think it is because eyes like that imply an inner vision. Mac is not going to give you eye contact. But he seems to give soul contact. It’s one of his mysteries.

When I turn Mac over in the morning, I usually ask him how he slept and whether he had any interesting dreams. He talks to me, too, in “happy Mac sounds,” and I answer, “Really? You don’t say! Oh, not THAT!”

As I get him ready for the day  he cooperates as best he can. Or not. (He has his faults like anyone, of course.)

I pull him into his chair from his bed with ease now. I used to not be as good at it, to say the least. We did some unintended yoga  now and then. Mac had to put up with me.  He looked pretty worried at times.

grayscale photo of wheelchair
Photo by Patrick De Boeck on Pexels.com

Trust is a very important part of Mac’s life every moment. It has to be. I’m so glad he trusts me now. His mother says  Mac is “literally an example of blind faith.” When you watch Mac, you can see how true that is. In even the routine events of the day he has to practice faith, and patience. He more often than not shows great sweetness, even sacrifice, forbearance, generosity and love.

For a goofy example, he will wear hats and glasses just for me. His mother says I am the only person he does that for. I realized he does it to please and amuse me even though he doesn’t like it at all. He will even laugh with me the whole time, just because I am happy. I came to see that these virtues of Mac’s are choices he makes. He has been pressed hard to make these choices by necessity every day, but the choice to be virtuous and loving has been his.

Eating is the hardest thing he does all day. It takes all his concentration. It’s hard for him to get his mouth and tongue to do what he wants them to do. He gives it his best most of the time. He has apparently decided, however, that the food had better be worth the trouble. He makes sure I have a chance to practice patience too, when I feed him.“OK, Mac, PILL!” He knows what that means and reluctantly opens his mouth for me.

At first I had a hard time getting his pills down him. I kept putting pills in the wrong place on his tongue, spilling water so it went up his nose, and generally making the process more difficult than necessary. This was hard on both of us. He was mad at me sometimes. But after a little while he would forgive me and lean his head on me to show it.

The day  the pills went down without a hitch, he crowed with joy. He leaned his head against my arm and nuzzled me–the Mac hug. I felt like the best kid in class. I laughed and he laughed too.

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I speak English, Mac speaks Mac, and we both speak music. When I turn him over on his stomach and put on some music he likes, he arches up, raising and swinging his torso, lifting up against the outward curve of his “C” shaped back, pushing with his elbow a bit to stretch higher. He reminds me of a dolphin leaping from the water. He may begin whooping and howling. I like to howl with him. He thinks that is funny and laughs contagiously. Sometimes we raise quite a ruckus and the dogs come running in, barking.  His  “Macnastics”  dance to his favorite song (on repeat) in the morning is an uncontainable Alleluia– joy concentrate.

A big part of our day is listening to music.  He pays close attention, usually, to any new music I play for him. If he loves it he will sing with it, which might sound a little more like screaming to the uninitiated. If you knew Mac though, you would be able to tell that it is beautiful and soulful.

white dandelion under blue sky and white cloud
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mac loves the wind. He especially loves a sudden gust that rushes against his face. He will sing to a breeze like that. He lunges in his chair with happiness when the wind brings leaves scuttling across the driveway. If he is like me, and maybe he is, he likes the way the wind seems to fill his soul and lift his spirit. Or his happiness with the wind could be something completely unique to the Mac-iverse that we will never know.

Sometimes on our walks I gather rose petals and sprinkle them over his head. He can’t see the petals or even what I am doing but he smiles gently, as if he appreciates the love.

In the afternoon I like to do my meditation with Mac’s feet in my hands. He seems to know to be silent with me then, unless he needs something or is uncomfortable. Then he isn’t silent.

Sitting quietly with Mac, his funky little feet warm in my hands, the sun spilling through the windows, the dogs sleeping nearby, is rather heavenly.

close up of a defocused
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When his family comes home Mac lights up as if all the love in the world is right here at his house.  It does seem that way, they are so crazy about him, too.  I feel privileged to be let in on the love they have going there.

What is it like to be Mac? How much does he “understand” in the way we define it?  Mac does not “do” much by the world’s standards. But he participates in and lives life. He loves and is loved. His soul has beauty, purpose, and wisdom of its own.

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There are so many things  Mac can’t do but I hardly ever think about that. I’m fascinated by what he can do, what he might be doing, and how much he shows me what it is to live, to be human, to be a child of God.

He teaches me things I thought I knew.

Mac is a shining light of every truth he lives.

I have  finally received the true initiation from my 23-year old guru, his highest honor, the Mac kiss. I’m going to smile all day. You would too. I think he just taught me all I need to know.

Mac really is my guru.  His teaching is simple but profound: Everybody has a soul, that you can connect with by love. Everyone has love within them. Everyone has a mission from God and is loved, loved, loved by God. We all “know” this. But to see this, really see it, is to be in Heaven already. And in Heaven nobody cares if you drool a little. That’s how it should be.

The Feet of the Master

feet of the master 🙂

 

  • I wrote this article in 2014, with the permission of Mac’s parents, when I was in my first year of working with Mac. I wanted to reflect on my work with him again as my official job with him is ending. We’re not worried. We know we will always be friends.

An Advent Hangout :)

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Come to me,

all you who are weary and heavily burdened,

and  I will give you rest for your souls.

~Matt. 11:28

The invitation said “Shawna’s Day of Silence.” When we arrived, her house was open, breezy, and, obviously, quiet.

My friend had set up areas to be comfortable to think, read, journal or pray or even nap. There were candles burning, and an array of books on various tables; spiritual reading, art books, a Bible. Art supplies and paper were in the kitchen with snacks and coffee. I brought a basket of rosaries to set on the coffee table. A note encouraged us to go for a walk, or do whatever quiet activity we liked.

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I remember walking in her beautiful garden, scribbling in my journal on her couch, smiling at my friends, just hanging out. People came and went as they pleased or as they had time.

Shawna was going through a hard time in her life then. It is beautiful that one of her responses to her spiritual growth during her suffering was to open her home for us as a refuge of silence and acceptance.

You would think such a gathering would feel awkward, but, especially among good friends, it was not awkward at all.

I was inspired, some years later to hold a “day of silence” at my house. I decided to punctuate mine with times of communal vocal prayer.

People could come and go, similar to Shawna’s day, but they would know that at various times we would gather to pray together.

My friend Jocie came early to my “Day of Silence,” and made memorable breakfast tacos for everyone.

I set up an environment similar to the one Shawna had.

We then gathered for Morning Prayer form the Liturgy of the Hours in the room in my house we had set aside as our family oratory. (I called it my chapel but I know that is not actually correct terminology.)

Then everyone could do whatever they liked.

We had a tree house rosary at noon, Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3, and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours on the trampoline at 6.

a book cup of coffee and flavoured donut on square white ceramic bowl
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

It was a great day. One of my fond memories of that day was wandering into the “chapel” and seeing my friend Molly in there with a bucket of soapy warm water and a towel. She asked me to sit down and she washed my feet!

It was very touching.

* (You may ask where my kids were that day or how did I got them to be quiet all that time. Answer: My kids were there some, but mostly at a friend’s house that day- otherwise it would never have been a day of silence!)

I have hosted days of silence and reflection on other occasions, but they have been shorter. They were more like a come and go open house with communal prayer at the beginning and the end for a few hours, and food and coffee and tea, of course.

I have also tried a “day of silence” with my fiancee. In our schedule we made, we set times for walking, reading, quiet prayer togetherandjust open quiet time. We broke silence for meals and for going out for coffee.

At three o’clock, we washed one another’s feet, and anointed one another with oil.

The day was the first anniversary of my brother’s suicide which had unfortunately marked most of the duration of our relationship with trauma and the various crises that emanated from that event. It was important that we have a healing day.

When we washed one another’s feet, we also told each other how grateful we were for each other’s strength and wisdom, faith and resilience, acceptance and presence.

In the evening, we prayed Evening Prayer together from the Liturgy of the Hours, and went out for a special meal.

Consider hosting a Day of Reflection or a Day of Silence at your own home, your Domestic Church. There are so many ways to serve others without a lot of “doing.” You can be open and accepting to others, your house like the open heart of Jesus.

You don’t have to make small talk or worry about how you are doing. Just be like Joseph and Mary when they opened the stable at Bethlehem for the Shepherds, for the wise men, for whoever wanted to come to be with Jesus and with them under the light of the Star.

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We all have so many Christmas parties we go to. We have shopping and cooking, baking and decorating, travel and other plans.

Take a moment. Let the fresh air of the Spirit come into your house, the sweetness of silence with Jesus permeate your home and your friendships.

You could have different kind of Christmas party, one that cultivates peace and gives refuge to your friends in the middle of all their intensified seasonal activity and holiday stress.

Put on the coffee pot. Light the candles on your Advent wreath. Set out some good food, some spiritual reading, maybe some art supplies.

Then open up your home and your heart.

The fruit of silence is prayer…
The fruit of prayer is love
The fruit of love is service
The fruit of service is peace
~ St.Teresa of Calcutta

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile
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Praying through conflict

When we talk we can do a lot of good sometimes. When we pray we don’t do anything. We stop doing. Instead we meet one another in the Heart of God. We bring ourselves, and our difficulties before Him in good will and open-ness of heart. What is there to argue about then?

It is a truth I often point out to my daughters, that God will not force solutions on us. “Remember all the times you brought broken toys for me to fix? I couldn’t fix them if you wouldn’t give them to me. God can work with your problem when you trust Him with it and let go.”

We don’t know what God will do but we do know that God responds to prayer, especially humble, open- hearted prayer, and we know it pleases Him when people set aside their differences and come together to seek His will, willing to be changed by Him.

Authentic prayer always brings out the best  in people. It brings them to recognize their own littleness and broken-ness before God, Who is all love, at once perfectly just, full of mercy, and utterly mysterious- thus requiring our open-ness and willingness, for Him to reveal Himself to us. This is when we can come to know the power of His transforming love.

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Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

On the day of Pentecost in the midst of the believers gathered in prayer the gifts of the Holy Spirit undid  the language barrier, the curse of Babylon. People who heard them when they prayed understand now, in the Spirit, no matter what language each one speaks.

God can hardly help Himself, I think, responding when anyone prays with trust and hope. Surely He will bless the prayers of His children who don’t want to fight anymore and don’t know what to do to stop.

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Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

How can we pray through conflict together in our lives?  I think it is of special relevance in families. There is a lot of pain and love in families. There are always issues that need to be brought to the light of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and unraveling. We don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we have talked and talked or we have tried not talking. We have tried forgetting, avoiding each other, pretending nothing happened. What if we came together in honest prayer and let God begin the healing in His own way?

What if our first reaction, when we had a conflict with someone, was to pray about it with him? Imagine how this might look on social media if people with differences stopped arguing for a minute and prayed together humbly instead?

Praying through conflict can help make difficult decisions people are in conflict about. When my first husband, Blaze, wanted to move back to his native Wisconsin, I knew it was  fair since he had been in Texas with me so long. However, I could not help my grief, and he was upset that I was upset. Our talking about it was not doing any good. We were advised by someone wise to pray about it. Our prayer was to be, “If we are supposed to move to Milwaukee, give Shawn peace about going. If we are to stay in Texas, give Blaze peace about staying.” He got peace about staying and we stayed. It was the right thing.

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Once my dad had read about something and wanted to try it. He wanted to sit down on the couch with me and have us look into each other’s eyes for nine silent minutes.  So we turned off the stereo and we sat on the couch and we looked at each other right in the eyes in silence. After the first awkward, anxious moments of wanting to laugh or run away or cry were over, my heart felt such peace and quiet and love.

“What did you think?” my dad asked when the  long beep of the kitchen timer let us know our nine minutes were up.

“I think I saw you the way God sees you!”

My dad just smiled.

Let’s go together and look into the eyes of Our Father without words or agendas of our own. Maybe we will finally see each other, and maybe even see God.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)

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Jesus in the press room

This is a story of a love that grew between a very Catholic thirty-something widowed mom and a crew of very rough men who were not only physically dirty but rough in all the ways blue collar guys can be. They drank, they cussed, they smoked (and not only cigarettes), they did other things there is no need to mention or think of, some of them engaging in varying degrees of what one might call debauchery. I didn’t care though. And I was right not to.

 

Luis, Mike, Shawn, Red and Mel
Some of us at the mall working on the Christmas Village (Luis, Mike, Shawn, Red, and Mel)

 

They all knew me because my brother, Mark, had worked with them for many years though he was now in a different part of the production department. The crew had worries about my coming. First of all, I was female and they were and had been an all-male crew for twenty-five years in a job that isolated them from the rest of the paper, the rest of the world, most of the time. The press room is it’s own little world with its own culture and social structure, its own legends, history and lingo. How would a new, small, alien being fit into all that? They were also worried because my job would be very tough physically and I am a very small person. How would I manage — and were they going to have to do my work for me? Could I handle the rough environment, their dirty mouths, their nasty talk, their supposedly bad manners? They knew I was very religious…really, really religious. What were they going to do? How was this going to work? Would I try to convert them or get them to pray with me?

 

I was worried I wouldn’t be any good at this job, which was basically being their helper, “the Catcher” and catch-all, doing whatever was needed in that loud, filthy, fast-moving place, to help them every day. (Don’t worry I held my own. I think this helped a lot in getting along with them).

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Luis, Bob and Mike behind the press

 

To start with, I made a goodwill gesture by sending muffins for them with my brother a few days before I was to start. I got an e-mail from my future foreman that they were the best muffins they ever had and they ate every one of them. Still, my first day in the Eagle press room, the crew was nervous and could hardly talk. I could tell they were uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what to do about it. But the first thing I did was laugh at their jokes. They were very funny guys. I got them to tell me their wild stories from back in the day when they were all young and played crazy games and pranks on each other and were generally very bad. I laughed at the stories too, which surprised them. I said I was going to write a book of “Eagle Legends.” They said not until they were all dead.

Jose and Stefan representing for the younger generation of pressmen
Jose and Stefan representing for the younger generation of pressmen

 

They still seemed to be nervous by the afternoon of that first day so I waited until the press was rolling, until we all had our head sets on, so they wouldn’t have to look at me, before I brought anything up. This way they could just go on being busy while we talked so it would be less tense. I pushed the button under my right ear that would let them all hear me. “OK,” I said, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Silence. “Do I make you nervous?” They looked around at each other.

 

Finally Mike said, “We’re trying not to make you mad, or make you cry. We’ve been trying not to cuss or say anything bad all day.”

I thought about it.

“Well, I know I am supposed to but I really don’t care if y’all cuss. So that’s not going to bother me. Just don’t talk dirty to me and we’ll all be fine.” They thought they could comply with that. And they did.

Not only that but they were such gentlemen in the true sense. I already liked them. In fact, they turned out to be the best guys in the world. They still are.

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Red by Unit 8 painting by Bob Chapman

I was in the lowest place, certainly, but the lowest place is not so bad when the people above you make little platforms for you to stand on so you can reach things, when they make a big deal about everything you do right, when they clap when you come out for the first time dressed in your blue pressroom uniform, when they are rapturous about everything you cook for them, and laugh at all the things you waste time on (like the day I decorated all their coffee cups and another time I figured out each of their Captain Underpants’ name, and that one prank I pulled that was pretty funny if I may say so myself).

I obeyed them with love and devotion and all my work was to help them and keep them safe. When I mopped behind the press I did it to keep them from slipping. When I helped them at my end of the press (catching and stacking the bundles of paper as they came out) and agreed to go for hours and hours on a long run without a rest when they had a heavy day, it was to ease things up for them and help them get their work done smoothly. I found out this was how they worked, too, they each worked for the sake the others.

They loved me and I loved them. We were happy.

Some of us at our morning meeting. Bob, Mike, Red, Shawn, Luis, and Mel
Some of us at our morning meeting. Bob, Mike, Red, Shawn, Luis, and Mel

I listened intently to their problems, put Band-Aids on their wounds when they got hurt (pressmen get hurt a lot,) and they tried to help me with my troubles, comfort me when I cried, and make sure I didn’t lose my keys.

Ways we confronted the culture clash between us were playful and respectful. When they used the Lord’s Name in vain, I smiled and said, “I LOVE that guy!” At first they stared at me but then they laughed.

When my rosary broke they thought that was very funny and tried to figure out how I broke it. (Praying too hard for them?) Red fixed the rosary for me with the tools for tiny parts in the workroom. He asked me how to say the Hail Mary. He never made it all the way through the prayer without a joke you wouldn’t like. But when his dog was bitten by a rattlesnake he said he couldn’t remember what to do with the rosary, but he had held it up and asked God to please help Chester. Chester, happily, is alive and well. I gave Red a rosary. It still hangs in his truck.

I made fun of them about how they couldn’t get anything done when the female electrician was there and they kept tripping over things. They laughed too.

 

Eagle Pressrroom: painting by Bob Chapman
Eagle Pressrroom: painting by Bob Chapman

 

As to the question about handling gossip…truly, I loved them so much, I didn’t care what they said. But I teased them that  they gossiped like Jr. High girls, which made them laugh. They did try not to “talk mess” around me though, since I explained I wasn’t supposed to. “I can’t be doing that,” I said… and I tried not to.

If they messed up and talked about anything dirty, I had playful ways of dealing with that too, though it hardly ever happened. One time I said, “OK let’s talk about sex then!” They were very uncomfortable. I started talking about Theology of the Body and got my Bible from my backpack and started reading them the Song of Songs with a big smile on my face that was totally authentic, I promise. You wouldn’t believe how bashful, sheepish and embarrassed they were and how much they balked at the steamy language in the Song of Songs. They didn’t really want to talk about sex. They just wanted to be gross, I guess. I could not stop laughing about their reaction, and they wondered why I was so crazy.

 

We laughed at each other. We laughed at each other a lot.

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Donald, King of the mail room by Bob Chapman

 

Eventually if they had something they wanted to say that was “bad” they would tell me to turn off my head set. So I would roll my eyes and turn it off. After a while I did not have to turn it off so much. We liked to make each other happy that’s why.

 

Richard got me a kid chair to put with everyone else’s in the formans’ office so I could have my own seat at our morning meeting even though the catcher is not usually a part of that at all. I didn’t find that out until later. I just assumed the meeting was for me too and they treated me like I was supposed to be there. They accepted me. They let me in.

 

One of them had trouble letting me in. That was Luis. I could hardly get him to talk to me. But I found out he liked whistle candy and got him a big box of it. We played with the whistle candy and slowly started talking. We ended up great friends. Whistle candy is one of our inside jokes.

 

I loved hearing about their lives, and Mondays were my favorite days because I missed the guys over the weekend.

 

One time they were talking about a new girl that was working up front and I asked if beauty was kind of healing for them because they liked looking at her so much. They liked this a lot. “Yes,” one of them said, “I guess you could say that.” They were all smiling. They thought I was funny. And I thought they were funny too. We knew how each other was. And it was all fine.

I got mono one time and they kept calling me to see about me and ask when I was coming back. One time my brother got on the phone, “Get back here! They are right back to the way they used to be before you came! They’re awful!”

 

I loved that these guys had been together all their lives, watched each other’s kids grow up, had been there for each other in bad times, had played maybe a thousand or more basketball games together and remembered every one of those games and could tell you about it, as well as every repair they had done on each others’ cars and motorcycles and houses and plumbing and so on. They were the best press crew in Texas, and rightly proud of  the excellent work they did. They were honorable guys in so many ways. There was so much good and beauty in each of them.

Bob and Mel
Bob and Mel

They came to like me too and accept my quirks and oddities — like the way I don’t eat meat, (or drink, or date, or smoke, or do anything fun as far as they could tell at first), the way I will cry easily, don’t take criticism well, the way I daydreamed and lost count of the bundles coming out or how many skids I stacked at times. I alarmed them by blowing  bubbles on the roof when we were supposed to be putting up the Christmas lights (and people on the busy road were staring at us and the publisher was sure to hear about it.) I glazed over when people talked about boring stuff like engines, money or tools.

I got mad at Wayne from the mail room when he refused to take a cookie from me and stalked past me without a reply. I put a handful down his shirt.

Wayne and I learned to live in peace. He shakes his head when he sees me, and I call to his attention how much I love him- “See? I love you so much, I didn’t even say anything when I saw you! Not even good morning!”

The guys put my impulsive loss of temper at Wayne into verse. Never mind about that.

When I made fun of them they thought it was great. One time they went too far teasing me and I went in the bathroom and cried and wouldn’t come out. They were totally freaked out until I did come out. When I finally did, they were so sorry and I just wanted them to forget about it and not feel so bad.

Usually when I showed evidence of my shortcomings, they would start laughing and say, “We gonna tell them Carmelites you said that!” Or Mel would tell me I would have to go to Confession that Saturday if I didn’t stop that. “I’m surprised at you!” he would say. When I got on their nerves, Jason would start asking if it was 2:45 yet. “Isn’t it time  you went to pick your kids up from school?”

I tried not to annoy or offend them.  I want to be good for them and they want to be good for me. At the same time we accept one another. I think this is a good balance.

On my birthday one year they wrote me a song, “Our Angel,” and performed it at our morning meeting. Bob played guitar and they all sang it to me. I cried, I was so touched. I could barely stay in the room with all that love, appreciation and acceptance. They understood. They had to tell me it was OK . “Just listen.”

One time Red had said they wanted to heal my broken heart. I hope they know they did. They brought me out of myself and loved me and helped me be part of life again.

I remember all their middle names. I remember their birthdays. I make them cakes every year for their birthdays still and one of them (usually Mike or Mel) will call me on mine on behalf of them all. I ended up marrying the only one of them who was a complete atheist. (That was Bob, and he ended up Catholic).

Divine Mercy painting by Bob Chapman
Jesus, Divine Mercy painting by Bob Chapman

They have fixed my cars, helped me around the house, cared about my kids and at times have fathered them when they needed it, and are still there for me though I have not worked there officially for a few years now.

When I bring a cake there for one of their birthdays they stick to the tradition I started of singing Happy Birthday to the birthday person and telling stories about him. If I forget, they remind me.

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Morning sun in the pressroom

 

Now and then they remind me that my rosary that I prayerfully hung on one of the press motors when the press was down one terrible night,  is still there, (at this writing,) melted into the metal that got so hot during the crisis. I think that is symbolic. We are melded into each other’s hearts.

Looking at them one time, and thinking about who each of them was, I prayed to Jesus about them, that He would bless them and not worry too much about some things, because the good things were so good. I reflected that He knew them better than I did and loved them better too. He brought us together and He knew what He was doing. I realized that I was finding Him in them.

Maybe that’s what “bringing Christ to the workplace,” or any place, really is. Maybe when you look for Jesus in others, you transmit His love and grace in a mysterious  way the Spirit knows. If you find Him, you give Him, and receive Him, too.

Willie, Jason and Bob

 

Jesus said, “Whoever hears you hears me.”I hope it also means, “Whoever loves you loves me,” because I love those guys. And they love me. “Where my disciple is there will I be also.” We all turned out to be disciples even though maybe some of us didn’t know we were. “Wherever there is love, there is God,” said St. Thomas Aquinas.

So what is the advice in this story? “Look for God in your co-workers so they can see Him in you,” or “Find Jesus everywhere,” or maybe, “ Stop being so uncool.” After a while Jesus shines out on both sides. It’s easy then.

If you’re reading this, guys, I love you! Get back to work too!

Mark and Bob in front of the press (unfinished) painting by Bob Chapman
Mark and Bob in front of the press (unfinished) painting by Bob Chapman

 

* Dear Reader, please take a moment and pray for my guys. ❤

 

Yellow roses for Cindy painting by Bob Chapman (Cindy in the Production office of the Eagle)
Yellow roses for Cindy painting by Bob Chapman (Cindy works in the Production office of the Eagle)

* Originally this article was published in the Flos Carmeli, the Provincial Newsletter of the Secular Discalced Carmelites of the Oklahoma Province. I was asked to write about “Bringing Christ to the work place,” as a Carmelite,  and to offer advice about dealing with the everyday worldliness, gossip and rivalries lay people encounter at work. I decided to tell you a love story instead, and maybe the story would cover some of those points. It was later re-published for ATX Catholic and also The Eagle in my monthly column in a more edited form. I thought it would be fun to bring it out in honor of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 🙂

 

A Dog’s Forever Love by Mark Hudgins

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Guest blogger, Psychotherapist and artist Mark Hudgins, tells us about the love of animals he has been close to, and shares with us a story about how he has experienced the providential spiritual love of one dog even after her death, leading him into a whole new story of the healing love of animals. “All things work together for the good of those who love God.” (Rom. 8:28)

In the past year and a half, I have experienced the loss of three beloved pets dear to my heart. The first was Peanut, my orange and white rescue cat. Peanut lived to be 19, and died peacefully from kidney failure in August of 2016. The next was Simone, a beautiful long-haired white cat that I adopted from my sister’s vet in San Antonio. She died in April of 2017 from pneumonia at age 16. The last was my fiancé’s family dog named Flower. She died way too young from a cancerous tumor at age 8 or 9. I had grown quite close to her and she spent a large part of the last year of her life with me in my condo in Austin.

All of these losses have affected me deeply, especially Peanut and Flower. Simone spent a lot of time outdoors and was somewhat aloof. But she was just as special as the others.

I will have to admit that these deaths have affected me as much as the death of my own mother and even my beloved grandfather. At first I felt silly even thinking that. Or at least admitting to it. But it is true. Peanut spent just about every day of his life sleeping right by my head. We woke up together, spent much of our days together, and he was around long enough to witness my changing from a young man into middle age.  He came when I called him, (not always the case for cats, as many of you cat owners out there know)  He gave few other people the time of day. The closest he came to accepting someone else was Shawn, my fiancé. He grudgingly started allowing her access into his world. And then she took a large role is caring for him in the last few weeks of his life.

As much as their deaths affected me in a deeply painful way, the positive and uplifting aspects of how they affected my life mad that pain worth it.

Peanut was a constant, a reminder of being in the moment, of not sweating things, and unconditional acceptance. When I came home, he was there. He did not care what kind of day I had, or how much money I made, or even how accepting I was of him. Sometimes I was exhausted and needed a bit of time. He seemed to get that. Peanut was just there, content to meow at me (sometimes grumpily) and give me the honor of petting him. It was unconditional love in the purest of ways.

Later in his life he spent some time in the outdoors, but every time I came home I would call him and he would come bounding up, his slightly fat belly rocking back and forth at his steps.

Peanut was a stoic little cat. Once, he accidentally got locked in a hot closet for a day without food or water. I came home and called for him, and no Peanut. To my horror I opened up the closet door and found him. He sort of sauntered out and went directly to his food and water and then hopped to his usual spot on the bed. Oddly, he still had no fear of the closet after that, either.

It is as if he knew it was an accident and he trusted me not to do it again. I didn’t.

He had the prettiest green eyes. And he sometimes would bite me for no reason and sort of look at me like “I don’t know why I do that either”…..

He also was the last living pet connection to my mother, who died in 1998. She gave me Peanut in October of 1997. He was a very small kitten when she found him under a shed in her backyard in San Antonio.

I miss my mother often. I miss Peanut daily. He was a great cat. And at the end of his life, he got to know and be friends with Flower. I have a picture of both of them sleeping together one sunny afternoon. I treasure that photo and always will.

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Goodbye Peanut. You gave as much to me or more than I gave you. Thank you.

Simone was a very skinny, somewhat neurotic 2 year old when my sister brought her up to me from San Antonio. Peanut, who was already living in the house, accepted her from the get go. She hissed at him a few times, but he never hissed at her. At the time I adopted her I had carpets on my floor, and the smell of pee (she was sneaky) in various corners of my place suggested strongly why Simone had trouble being adopted.

It didn’t stop me, as I realized it was time to pull up the carpets anyway. After she got more used to things, I let her explore outside and she stayed out there often after that. She would come in to eat and be petted. But often she ran from me when I approached her. Up until the day she died. When I had company, she would decide to get friendly and start meowing in a very loud voice (Peanut, on the contrary, had a very soft half meow, half bird call voice). She then would approach whoever was there and offer her best side, her butt. Right in their face.

I found that I could make this somewhat obnoxious behavior stop when I would merely cough. She would run back outside. But she rarely ventured far. And in the morning she would be just outside the door for food and a morning greeting.

People would comment on her beautiful white coat and my vet often wondered how she didn’t get picked off by some falcon or large bird. But she did fine outside, and even the raccoon who came over to try and eat would ignore her and her him. She wasn’t the least bit aggressive. She was just Simone.

Goodbye Simone. It is weird not seeing you outside my door.

Flower came into my life in a bit different way. She was the family dog of my fiancé, Shawn. When I first met her, Flower nearly bit me. I was visiting her at her brother’s house where she was staying. As I got out of my car in the driveway, I wasn’t sure if anybody was home. Then suddenly, out of the blue came this medium sized brown dog running up with teeth bared. Some dogs stop with a warning, but Flower wasn’t set on warning me. She chomped down, but I was quick enough to move my hand. Within a couple of seconds, her tail was wagging and a friendship was born.

Flower was a special dog in more than one way. The first thing I noticed is how smart she was. And how in tune she was to her surroundings. While still getting to know me, she was sure to come to me after making the rounds of all the family members present just to let me know I was accepted. She also could run like a rabbit, which she loved doing. She learned how to help Shawn corral her chickens in the evening.

While it took a bit (she wasn’t ready to even go for walks with me for a while), Flower and I grew close. After the tragic suicide of Shawn’s brother, I began taking Flower back with me to Austin for weekends and some days. She was a rock for me in those times, always smiling, always looking intently at my face for signs of what I was feeling.

We started taking long walks together and she became a part of my life. Sleeping on the bed with Peanut, she was a staple for over a year. We would go to the dog park here in Austin and she would be nervous but eventually get excited. Flower was a rescue as well, and you could tell she had a rough go of it early in her life.

But she grew into herself. And her unique personality shone through. She could be stubborn, even sometimes diva-ish, but she was a sweet, gentle, in tune dog that helped me through one of the most stressful times in my life. Seeing her sleeping next to me, I swear she was an angel sent by God.

Unfortunately, Flower developed a tumor on her back that required emergency surgery to even have a hope of saving her life. The way she co-operated with the process, all the pain, all of the inconvenience, was inspiring. The staff at Texas A & M Vet School fell in love with her.

Flower bravely fought her way back from the surgery. Shawn, my fiancé took care of her in Bryan the first few weeks after her surgery. The dog was in a lot of pain for much of that time, but she retained her sweet spirit. Shawn carefully took her to the backyard to pee, and Flower often took an interest in smelling the flowers and looking at the dog next door. On some days, she just wanted back in the house.

The first time I saw her after the surgery she was in her kennel that Shawn got for her. She whimpered upon seeing me, and I cried to see in her in such pain but also cried in gratitude that she was still with us. Flower took the myriad of pills and liquid pain meds with surprising cooperation, even though she hated the taste of some of them.’

The first time she came back to Austin she came we were nervous about the ride. When she saw my backporch area where she hung out so many sunny days, her first inclination was to chase my cat. We saw that as a good sign.

A few days went by and she still struggled walking. But one evening I took her out with her cloth support under her legs. At first she did her usual “I just want to go back inside”, but on this night I encouraged her to walk a bit more per vets instructions. As if to say “alright lets do this” she began to walk briskly around the back area of my condo, sniffing around as if it were old times.

The next few days and weeks saw steady improvements, along with the expected accidental peeing in the bed and having trouble getting up. You could tell this hurt her pride a lot, but her courage and good attitude continued to amaze and hearten me. There was so much pain and tragedy all around and seeing this, although hard, was also uplifting. By taking action in her healing I was healing myself.

One day Flower was ready to walk in the neighborhood were we took so many walks in the last year. Although still having trouble, she wanted to walk as far as I would let her. I cried again. It couldn’t contain it. Maybe she was on the road back.

Flower had a couple of months of good days after that, traveling to Houston with us to my new apartment there, sitting in the sun, eating heartily and laying by my new cat, Miriam. She had trouble with climbs, and her patented athleticism was not the same. But she was determined to enjoy her life. And that she did. She may have had trouble physically, but Flower remained Flower. Begging for food, being stubborn, being sweet, sleeping soundly with me.

After several months, you could see that she was having trouble again walking. We didn’t want to admit it, but the tumor, as the vet warned could happen, returned.

She travelled to Bryan to have a check up and it didn’t look good. But she did get to spend time with Shawn and her young adult daughter, Roise, whose childhood dog Flower had been. There are pictures of the girl with Roise and her then infant daughter, Lani. She still was happy to be with her people.

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I took her back to Austin and things declined to where Flower could not get comfortable enough to even lay down. We tried upping her pain meds and giving her steroids per vets advice, but she still couldn’t lay down. It was sad, but it seemed like it was time to say goodbye and end her suffering.

The last day of her life I carried her around the back area that she loved and let her look around. She really did seem to understand what was happening. That day my vet came over and we had a Catholic tinged ritual with Flower there before she went to her next life. I still cry thinking about the gift of her life and yes, the gift of her good death. My vet and I carried her body to his van. Carrying her then lifeless body was very, very difficult but I am glad I did it. We laid her carefully down.

Flower was gone.

I truly can say, and I am not prone to hyperbole, that Flower helped saved my life during that difficult year and got us through the death of Shawn’s brother and the even worse aftermath of it. And I still miss the girl. Deeply. She was an angel.

Goodbye Flower. I miss you every day.

 

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But the story didn’t end there. In fact, it started another chapter that surprised even me.

A couple of days after her death, I, still in shock and grief, went to the pet store to get a special cleaner to clean my mattress from the urine odor. Oddly, the odor offered me some comfort for a day or so but I knew it was time to clean it up.

I walked into the store, hot from the summer heat and purchased the cleaner. I was not in a good mood and things still seemed surreal. On the way out I noticed some kennels against the wall with some dogs up for adoption for rescue shelters around the area.

I made my purchase and was not paying attention to much when I made eye contact with a little white dog in his kennel. He looked very sad. He looked at me, looked down and then looked at me again. It caught my attention.

I had no intention to getting another dog. I knew also about the “don’t get a pet to replace a lost one right away” rule, which I though was a good one. But something made me turn around and ask the people at the front about the dog. His name on the kennel was “Henry”. He looked so small and fragile, but had these huge “bat” ears. He reminded me of me that day. Well, besides the ears.

One clerk told me that Henry had been rescued from a house where there was a murder and a suicide. Given that Shawn’s family had gone through a suicide (and quite frankly some metaphorical murders) I thought it odd to hear that. And it sent a chill down my spine. My heart immediately went out to the little fella. That pissed me off.The clerk then told me the manager of the store, Theresa, would have information on him. She walked up to me after doing some things with the rescue cats. I asked her about him. She seemed a bit skeptical and cool at first “oh, he is not close to being ready to be adopted. He is still somewhat feral and needs a lot of work”….I know something about feeling feral and needing a lot of work, so I said “what would I need to do?”. She said, still somewhat skeptical “you can come back and visit him and see how you two do”. I think she thought I wouldn’t come back.

Later that day, I was back. She gingerly picked the terribly frightened dog and told me I could pet him. He eyed me very cautiously. And as I petted  him his eyes stayed wide open, as if waiting for a blow…Then I noticed the strangest thing. His back was shaved in a little rectangle area. “What happened there?” I asked. “Oh, he had a tumor on his back. But it was benign. It was a fatty tumor”. It was shaved just like poor Flowers back.

That scorching July afternoon brought on a pretty serious thunderstorm that for a bit made Austin look almost dusk like. It was surprisingly cool for a bit.

After waiting for it to pass, I got on my scooter, a little taken aback, and got a real sense that I was supposed to adopt Henry. And I would show Theresa how serious I was about that, whatever it took.

On the way home, I looked at the gray but clearing sky and saw a full rainbow facing east, in the direction of Flower’s place of birth near Bryan. It was beautiful and vivid. It was if Flower was saying, “You get it? adopt him”. Flower knew I needed Henry as much as he might need me. That shook me but also gave me a real sense of calm. Flower was still up to her tricks.

I called Shawn and told her the story. She laughed a bit. “Sounds pretty clear” she said.

It was.

So, every day, twice a day, I would go and visit Henry. At first I think he was wondering what the hell I was doing there. Theresa would take him out. He would be frightened, but he would cower in the corner and let me pet him. I just sat on the floor uncomfortable and sweaty. Occasionally, he would glance at me and look away. When she put him back in his cage, he would literally dash in there and look terrified.

 

 

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Henry early on

 

 

I came the next day. And the next day. And the next….twice a day when I could.

Theresa finally started warming up to me and offered tips as to how to handle him. After a little over a week, she had me walk with Henry as she took him out to pee. Then I took him out (I was terrified I would freak him out) with her behind me. He would look back at her, very skeptically. She told me he would hold pee and bowel movements for days. He would only eat if no one was looking.

Eventually I was able to take him out daily. He started peeing, being very careful to stay directly behind me, out of my vision.

Then one day on the way back to his kennel he pooped on the sidewalk. Victory!

The day come when Henry came for a home visit the first time. I felt like CPS was coming over, I was so nervous. But Henry, once he found his trusty bed (that bed is his safe place. his world exists from there) felt quite at home. Shawn was with me that day. It was a lovely hot summer Saturdayafternoon. The visit was a success.

The next Monday I came to visit and Theresa very nonchalantly said Henry could go home with me on that Wednesday and she handed me his adoption papers to sign. She said“I didn’t think Henry was going to find a home. No one was interested after hearing how hard he was.” I passed!

Henry was gonna be a part of my family. The dogless, childless divorced guy who only could handle cats was going to be a dog owner.

Flower made sure of that. This part is too weird to be true, but as I was nervously taking Henry home for the first time, another rain storm came down on a steaming hot August day and produced, yes, another beautiful rainbow in the sky.

After seeing the second rainbow, I reflected again on how I needed all of my beloved pets as much as they needed me. They were family.  I miss Flower, Peanut and Simone like family. They were a part of my everyday life. They showed me unconditional love. I could only hope that I showed me close to the same.

In this new year, 2018, I have had Henry for about five months. Each day he is becoming more like a normal dog and not like the scared, lost dog with the haunted eyes I met that July afternoon. He barks when he hears my scooter coming to the house. He growls affectionally as I walk in to greet him. When I ask if he wants to go for a walk, he gets so excited he starts shaking. But he still keeps a lot of stuff inside. It is the path of healing for abused animals as much as for abused humans.

As gets out of his bed, he circles around a few times, (still not quite sure what to do) and I put on the leash and he is ready to go. His ears are perked up now when we go outside, he stops everywhere to sniff around and even lifts his leg to pee now and again. His healing in a continual process. It is slow but steady.

His eyes, once so haunted, are softer now. And he stares at me intently with his eyes half shut. He still likes to stay in his bed, but he will put his chin on the edge and look around, taking much more interest in the world around him. I know that he sneaks out and steals dog toys and whatever else he wants to gather for his bed. Despite his rough road, his spirit and rambunctiousness are still there. It is amazing.

One day I looked at a calendar at the scooter repair shop I frequent. They still hadn’t changed the page from the month before. But the picture on the calender page was of a white dog with massive, bat like eyes and the unmistakable paws that Henry has. It was a French bulldog. Aha! I learned that Henri was part French Bulldog.

So, now, his name is Henri. Whereas he once bit me (and Shawn, too, we share that honor) when he is frightened, he now will stop at the urge when he is frightened.

It is so rewarding to see this growth. And it is rewarding to see my growth in caring for him. He has taught me to be more patient, more gentle, more accepting, more…..calm. And his reticence, even in the face of excitement has shed some light on my own history. A story in itself.

Pets are people. They share our lives. They show us love. They show us ourselves. The model for us how to be present and happy in everday moments. They are a part of us. And yes, how we treat our pets says a lot about how we treat each other.

I am thankful for my past pets, and miss them every day. I am thankful for Henri. And for the gift Flower gave me in choosing him.

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The moon in my heart

 

 

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Thinking and dreaming and having tea with Mary

In the briefly blooming rose of evening.

We sit together silently, night’s growing darkness cloaking us,

Warm about our shoulders.

Through the window we can see the sun’s glow cascade ecstatically over the top of Howell’s Grocery,

Pour itself over the edge of the earth into space;

A passing caress over the other side of the world

As she turns on her axis.

We sit.

Mary’s hand touches mine,

The warmth of her tea cup still on her finger tips.

I sense her encouraging nod in the darkness.

She is with me.

“Remember,”

Says the brush her of fingers,

Remember day when you forget.

I am always with you,

I will bring for you the moon,

Reminding you of the sun

The deepest glow of God

Present in your heart.

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  • Sky photos by Renee Bork

 

In Honor of World Cerebral Palsy Day

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In honor of World Cerebral Palsy Day, I want to talk about a great part of my life, Mac, who has C.P., and about what it’s like to spend my days with “his Eminent Lovableness. ”

Mac and I don’t actually “do” much. I mean, not really. We mostly just hang out together. We mostly just “are.”

Fortunately, we are really good at that.

I do change, dress, move, and feed Mac, as needed. I brush his teeth, give him his medicine. I do his laundry, dishes, and other light house work. I accompany him to doctor’s appointments. I push his wheel chair for walks. I guess at what is bothering him when he is annoyed or unhappy in some way. I try to make sure he is always safe, clean, and comfortable.

That’s the stuff I’m supposed to “do.”

Mac does his best to cooperate most of the time. He does his best to communicate his needs and preferences.

I make a little bit of money for this, and my job is very rewarding. Also people often say I am sweet to be doing it. Encouragement is always nice.

The part that is harder to see unless one is with us, is that Mac and I are friends.

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If you ask Mac about me, he will often say one of the few words he is able to make come out right, “Yuck.” He thinks this is funny, and I do too.

However,  “yuck,” doesn’t actually describe our friendship that well.

In normal life a young man in his twenties and a woman in her forties, who were not related, would not hang out all the time. They would probably not find much reason to be in the same place for long.

But here we are, hanging out during one of our favorite times of the day; the late afternoon, when lunch is cleared away, and the sunshine through the window is turning a honeyed gold. Miles Davis is on the radio, the laundry is folded, and my feet are on the foot rest of his wheel chair next to his own. I am writing. He is gazing in the general direction of the window.

This is it.

We both love it.

I look up at him, and he smiles. I don’t know how he knows I looked up, since he can’t see much except possibly shadow and light.

I like to think he knows I am looking at him because we are connected by heart.

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“Cells” by Bob Chapman

Mac doesn’t “do” anything, in the way the world defines doing.

What Mac does is be present, love those around him, and deeply enjoy life.

His face lights up when someone he loves is near, when his family comes home, when he hears his brother’s voice over the phone, when he knows he is about to go somewhere with his parents. (OK, also he is very happy when he thinks he is getting away with something, like when  I have forgotten his pills, for instance.)

He can’t hug us since his arms don’t work well enough mechanically to do so. But he leans his head against us and nuzzles us. That is a Mac hug.

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“Isn’t she ridiculous?”

He shows love by forgiving us when we make a mistake, like accidentally spilling something on him, or inadvertently pinching him or something.He might be mad for a minute, but he forgives.

He trusts us that we will be there when he comes off the edge of the bed toward his chair in our arms. He knows we will make sure he is safe.

Sometimes he is so happy to be with the ones he loves, he screams with joy.

He listens closely to anything I want to read him, and to music that I play him. He lets me know if he doesn’t like the song. He lets me know how he is feeling.

Sometimes he squeezes my hand when I am sad.

He swings his head up like a crazy periscope when I come in in the morning, especially if I have been gone for a while.

He hangs out with his good friend, Shawn, enjoys the afternoon, and smiles at her.

All these he does because he loves. Love is not always a “doing” kind of thing. It is also a being kind of thing.

Mac takes deep joy in the quotidian routines of living. He loves all the different parts of the day; each ritual of the days’ passing, each interlude of inactivity or quiet.

He shouts with enjoyment when he hears music he loves. He appreciates the people around him. His wild laughter at everyday situations, like being accidentally outside when it starts to rain, are about the joy of living. His various “happy Mac” expressions are enthusiasm about the moment. He expresses his contentment by saying, “Good-good!” These are all expressions of gratitude. Gratitude is about being, too.

In that way, Mac is really busy.

And so am I.

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For more about Mac 🙂

 

 

 

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