Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 2010

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”
Zacharias said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years." Luke 1:11-18
 
  Advent is the season to say “Yes”. Mary said yes. She wasn’t the first one in the Advent story to encounter an angel though. Before Mary said “yes”, her cousin’s husband said, “are you kidding me?“. Zacharias was performing his priestly duties in the temple when the angel appeared to him. If an angel were going to turn up anywhere and speak to anyone, my first guess would be there. But Zacharias wasn’t buying it and his initial response was doubt. After twenty four years of motherhood, I know how that angel must of felt - “Hey, I’m here and I’ve spoken with your Father. I told you how things are going to be, and still you doubt. The only thing you kids understand is discipline!” The angel struck Zacharias mute until his son John was born, and in the gospel his story blends to the background while the story of the birth of the Messiah unfolds.

  There are many lessons to be learned in comparing the responses of Mary and Zacharias to the proclamations of their respective angelic messengers; most notably that the response of the uneducated young woman reflected true faith in God and the response of the well educated priest was tainted with doubt. No matter how earnestly I strive to be like Mary -- to respond to the evidence of God’s promises with unwavering faith -- I often find myself standing in Zacharias’ shoes. In fact, as the experiences of loss and grief accumulate and I become more intimately acquainted with good-byes, I find I often feel more like Zacharias than like Mary. I have full access to the temple; evidence of God’s promised Messiah is all around me, but do I live as though I believe it? Do I walk into God’s house each week with the expectation of angelic encounters? Or is that sort of hope too costly?

  Mary didn’t wake up each day expecting life changing encounters with angels, but when she had one, she was prepared. When I choose to open my eyes I realize I too am surrounded by angels, those who God chooses as vehicles to share His love with me. I am blest beyond measure to have known so many people whose kindness has literally been an answer to my prayers, As for those I have lost, having so many people and experiences to miss at times colors my life with grief, it also assures me I have more to look forward to.

  Each day I have the opportunity to kneel in God’s house and hear the voice of an angel reassure me, “Do not be afraid, Anne, your petition has been heard.”. Although our petitions are unique and God’s responses vary according to His infinitive mercy, we each have that assurance, our petitions have been heard. God is listening. He has sent His Son. God is here. The season of Advent heralds the arrival of the source of our hope - Emmanuel, God with Us.

  The season of Advent is beginning. Are we embracing the messages of the angels? I am grateful for each of you, the angels God sends to encourage me; the reassurance my prayers have been heard. May God bless each of you with blessed assurance of His love this Advent Season.
 
 


 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Truth in Advertising aka The Fruit of the Room

I admit it, I’m a sucker for an enticing advertisement. Yes, I have purchased a few items from info-mercials at 5:00 am - who wouldn’t want to look ten years younger AND receive a bonus miracle eye cream all for one low price (plus shipping and handling). I have yet to find the product that lives up to its marketing hype - until now. My faith in advertising has been renewed. While shopping recently in a local antique mall, I spied - (spied isn’t exactly accurate, I mean this was difficult to miss) - an extremely large ceramic pomegranate displayed prominently in my friend’s booth. Now that I have become the proud owner of this “obra maestra” I must admit there is no other way to display it - prominence is this ceramic pomegranate’s destiny.

At first glance, my thoughts ran to “extremely oversized, oddly colored tomato”, but the tag attached to it set me straight. Large, ceramic pomegranate - the focal point of any room.” No truer words have ever graced an ad. With a diameter larger than a basketball and life like detail (At least I am assuming the details are life like because I have never actually seen a pomegranate), this “objeto de arte” has no other choice but to assume its rightful place as “the focal point of any room”. Too large to rest on the mantel, it has found a home on the center of my coffee table. “Eye catching” and “Conversation piece” don’t begin to do this ceramic marvel justice.

I had been in search of a muse, well actually the characters in a short story I’m writing were, when I first saw the pomegranate. I didn’t buy it, because it was a bit too expensive and I‘d already dipped into the “ceramic fruit“ portion of my decorating budget to get a pedicure. Priorities must be maintained. I did talk about it though. My friends patiently listened as I explained how the pomegranate was now the be the focal point of my story, the perfect muse. Impossible to overlook and yet, subtle in it’s beauty. I even took my daughter back to see it, once again contemplating a purchase. The second time, it looked even bigger. I couldn’t actually imagine it in my home, so once again I passed it by, next month’s pedicure allowance safe for the moment.


School started and I dove into my Spanish Class and World Literature with berry colored toe nails and the memory of my newest muse safely stored away for future use. My story sat neglected while I poured my spare time into learning random greetings in espanol, (These Spanish references are for you La Profesora!) and devoured The Odyssey for my lit class. Then suddenly, there she was, the pomegranate, sprouting from the pages of ancient Greek drama - even Odysseus knew what a pomegranate looked like. It was a sign. Later confirmed when my good friends, and I mean really good friends, Jeanne and Gemma, presented me with the large, ceramic pomegranate as a birthday gift - in a restaurant no less - so we could display it on the table as we ate. Despite the elaborate themed décor of The Elephant Bar, the pomegranate instantly emerged as the focal point of the room.


So inspiration is abundant this fall at casa de Kinskey. It springs from the pages of Greek Drama and mounts it’s self-proclaimed throne on my family room coffee table. It bounces like a ping pong ball around me each morning in Spanish I - I have the greatest group of classmates an “estudiante de la vieja” could ask for. Inspiration finds me in the halls of my sons’ high school, and in my kitchen with a room full of hungry teenagers grabbing a bite to eat on their way back down to the “hombre de las cavern” to play X-Box Live. It waits patiently for me to slow down and inhale it in the pages of The Acts of the Apostles, and in the insights into God’s mercy I receive from the women I study with. Now if more time would only appear!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

About The Odyssey

September rings of back to school at my house: Allie has returned to college, high school is in full swing and I too find myself back on campus. A sophomore level course on World Masterpiece Literature and Spanish 1, my first attempt, EVER, to learn a foreign language are keeping me occupied. So occupied, that I don’t have much excess energy to put into the blog. So for now, what I write is what you get and this week it was a few thoughts for my lit class about The Odyssey. I am convinced now of two things: college is so much more fun the second time around and everyone should re-read The Odyssey a decade or so after finishing college the first time – preferably in classroom setting with a really interesting and entertaining professor.

Woven into the tapestry of its complex themes, The Odyssey in the truest sense is a love story. Love is the thread that binds its hero, Odysseus, to his quest to return to his beloved home, Ithaca. Odysseus loved his family and his heritage. He loved the troops who served him, the Kings who fought along side him, and the causes they fought for. He loved the gods, at least most of them, and Athena loved him in return. He loved being on the side of righteousness, whatever “right” happened to be at the moment, as well as being the treasure laden victor in a successful raid. He even loved his dog.

In this epic drama powerful men fashioned in the image of gods are often seen weeping for their lost loves and comrades. Odysseus even shed a tear for that flea infested dog he hadn’t seen for twenty years. He spent seven long years, weeping daily on the shores of Calypso’s island, only holding back the sobs long enough to retire to her cave each night to have passionate sex. This is most certainly a love story whose implications ring true still today.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in the last three thousand years and even though required reading in most high school curriculums, the lessons on love we should’ve learned from The Odyssey remain for the most part ignored. Women still think they can capture a man with beauty and great sex - a few minutes reviewing the magazine titles in the grocery store check-out aisle will verify this. You might capture him, but you’ll never hold him for the long haul if that’s all you’ve got. Take a lesson from Circe and Calypso: they were goddesses of great beauty who never aged and they still couldn’t hold on to their men.

Girls should pay close attention to this story. Odysseus didn’t weep exclusively for love of his wife. Oh, he loved her, but she wasn’t what he longed to return to. He missed his homeland, his identity, his kingship – he missed his work. His family and his wife were a very important and integral part of what he missed, but Odysseus - if even if he’d learned Penelope was no longer there - would’ve left his chance at immortality and great goddess sex and gone home anyway. He had no problem bedding down with the goddesses when it was convenient, he just missed his life. He missed conquering cities and being worshipped. He missed his buddies, traveling around and being showered with gifts, as well as showering his guests with hospitality. Without that, he had no use for fine clothes, or Athena by his side strengthening him for his next conquest. He was okay without his wife as long as he had a job – nine years in Troy fighting someone else’s battle told us that.

So what was it about Penelope that finally brought a smile to her husband’s face after all those years? Yes, she was still beautiful, and desired by throngs of recently deceased suitors. And she was faithful, loyal past even Odysseus’ expectations. He’d given her permission when he left for Troy to re-marry if he hadn’t returned by the time their son came of age. She certainly knew how to play hard to get. Odysseus even had the house cleaned before he allowed her to be notified he of his return. I probably would’ve caved if he’d even just put his sandals away, much less had 100 mutilated corpses cleaned out from the living room.

Penelope demonstrated the one trait, that above all others was admired and prized in Odysseus himself – she was crafty. She used her wits. She did what her husband would have done. Her intelligence and cunning protected her from falling prey to the suitors for years with the ruse of weaving a shroud for Laertes, not unlike her husband lying in wait in the belly of the horse. Throughout the narrative whenever she is mentioned, Penelope is highly praised, for the way she demonstrates her steadfast devotion to Odysseus. She is viewed in contrast to the wife of Agamemnon, plotted his death on his return from Troy. Odysseus may not have made it home, but Agamemnon’s fate was viewed as far more tragic. Boys should be read this story as well; a beautiful wife might seem like a prize initially, but if she betrays you that is all you will be remembered for.
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Odysseus and Penelope were perfectly matched and he respected her. Before they could reunite as equal partners, she too had to pass a test. I think she knew all along he was back; she made it possible to deliver the bow into her husband’s hands. Penelope never would’ve relinquished that to anyone except her son – and only if she knew he could use it. She listened to the prophet declare Odysseus was already on the island, she saw the look on her son’s face and the change in his demeanor - she knew. This was a woman tenacious enough to sit up nights for three years unweaving her days work without letting on to anyone what she is doing – she and Odysseus were cut from the same cloth.

True love knows. Just like Argo the dog knew Odysseus despite his altered appearance. Respect, trust, loyalty, inner strength and intelligence were the qualities Penelope possessed that even the goddesses did not. Ultimately the matrimonial bed Odysseus carved from the trunk of the rooted olive tree symbolized the love that bonded them, firmly grounded and impossible to disguise.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Place at the Table


       Saturday is usually the night our family goes out to eat. Five o’clock Mass followed by dinner out at a restaurant, or picking up take out so we can head out to whatever activities we have on the calendar. Last Saturday, my son Andrew and I had supper with a wonderful group of people. New friends, who live in a part of town we never venture out in. Actually, we didn’t eat, we served dinner. For a change, we chose, in the words of Jesus, “the lowest seat at the table” (Luke 14). In the humid, late August heat, we joined the team of volunteers at the Uplift Organization, www.uplift.org, and helped serve dinner to the homeless. More than memorable, the experience was life changing. 

 
Uplift is a local organization committed to reaching out to the homeless population of Kansas City. Locally founded and operated, Uplift serves an average of 450 meals per week and provides basic supplies to people living on the streets. Uplift serves dinners three nights a week, on three different routes. The East Route is blest to have Jim and his wife as the primary volunteers. Most drivers volunteer once a month. Jim and his wife volunteer every Saturday. Jim knows everyone on the route. He knows where to look if they aren’t there, and he knows who is shut-in and in need of a special stop. It is a huge undertaking that wouldn’t be possible without committed volunteers like Jim and his wife. I feel honored to have spent an evening in his company.

       Long before the trucks hit the road, the work at the Uplift warehouse begins. Each truck has to be loaded with supplies. Teams of volunteers coordinate food for 150 people each night. The food is prepared by volunteers off site and delivered. The trucks can accommodate three or four volunteers and the driver. Tubs of socks, t-shirts, personal hygiene items, over the counter meds, books, candles, dog and cat food and canned goods are filled and loaded. Gallons of lemonade are mixed and recycled 2 liter bottles are filled with clean water. Requests for clothing, shoes and other items from the previous nights run, which have been filled and tagged in recycled plastic grocery bags, are gathered and put on the top shelf with anything else Jim can remember someone requested. Everything is donated and all the labor is volunteer.

      “Throw in two or three light jackets. Someone usually asks for one.” Jim mentions in passing as he loads pasta with beef into insulated tubs to keep it warm on the truck. Tonight someone brought in a box of homegrown tomatoes. We cut those up to serve with the meal. Jim also sneaks in some treats, Ding Dongs and chocolate covered peppermint sticks. We have to keep those iced down. It is so hot in the warehouse that we are sweat soaked long before we get into the delivery truck – a few large fans are no replacement for air-conditioning.  Many of the candles have become so soft they’ve formed a huge blob of wax in the candle tub. There will be no reprieve from the August heat in the truck, so we keep the side van door open while we drive for ventilation. I feel like a kid, sitting in the back next to the open van door as we drive to each stop.

      After sorting donations for so many years, it is gratifying to see who the recipients will be. The instructions to new volunteers are simple:

1. Listen to your driver, they know what they’re doing.
2. If you feel at all uncomfortable, get back in the truck immediately.
3. Be kind. The outreach of friendship is just as important as the food they receive.
4. Have fun.

      Our first stop is just down the street from the warehouse and several people are waiting for us. This isn’t our stop, it’s on the West Route, but we are the last truck out and Jim can see they forgot to stop, so we pull in. It’s a new stop on the route, called in by a young girl named Loni. Loni and her boyfriend Billy are white, young and seem very energetic. Loni is listening to contemporary Christian music on an old walkman C.D. player tucked in the waist of her jeans. She has a beautiful voice, but more remarkable than that, she sings with joy and enthusiasm. For a minute, I sing with her under my breath; I’m too self conscious - too aware that I’m covered in perspiration in a parking lot downtown, introducing myself to strangers. I don’t have her spirit.

       Loni is barefoot on the hot pavement and pops back and forth into the shade, but she keeps singing. I put in a request for a pair of tennis shoes for her, which I’m fairly sure won’t be in the warehouse when I get back. They don’t have room to keep women’s clothing, so those donations are all passed on to another charity. That order probably won't get filled until the next donation load gets sorted on the second Saturday in September. It is August 21st – that’s a long time to go barefoot.

 A man named Jason asks if we were able to fill his order for some 34 waist pants. I can’t find it. I’m guessing we don’t have any to fill the order with; donations are really low right now. We didn’t have any large or extra large t-shirts, which amazed me. It seems as though I’ve sorted and folded thousands of them over the years – boxes line the warehouse wall on shelves which tower over my head. But my son doubled checked before we left, all the boxes were empty.

A few truths begin to brew as we move from stop to stop and I visit with more people. The people come from diverse backgrounds. They are young and old, black, white, Hispanic – there are no racial quotas on the street. Just a handful of them are socially awkward and feel uncomfortable communicating. The majority of these people are friendly and extremely polite. Like me, they hope to be treated with dignity when interacting with the world. I’m humbled by the way they introduce themselves and help me get everyone’s name on the list. They know my son and I are new to the job and go out of their way not only to be helpful, but to explain to us the many ways Uplift has been a support system for them. The table is turned from the get go: these kind people are encouraging and supporting us.

There aren’t any washing machines under bridges or in abandoned houses. When the weather is unbearably hot, as it has been this summer, clothing is disposable for the homeless. One man confessed his t-shirt was beginning to mold. A woman named Flo was disappointed the only t-shirts left were two all white medium size – white shows everything when you are soaked to the bone with sweat or caught in a summer rain storm. Tight is a problem too.“I have to have at least some writing on the front to feel covered.” Flo says as she passes on the white t-shirt. She is really fun to talk with, and as we wave good-bye I feel like I’ve made a friend.

Waving good-bye to a friend - just like Loni at the previous stop, and Whiskey, a veteran train hopper, who is riding with us on the truck working off his community service commitment.  His stories, which are filled with years of adventures hopping trains and getting to know every state in the continental U.S., entertained us during the drive. We drop Whiskey off later at his home, under a bridge. In the winter he sleeps in a tent, but its so hot now he sleeps up under the girders. He walks with a cane and its painful to think of him trying to scale the cement embankment to reach the top. I look away as we drive off. The reality of his existence is jarring in comparison to the romantic adventures I imagined as he told tales of his life on the trains. 

           As I visit with more people and jot down requests for items that to me represent the bare minimum of existence; t-shirts, shoes, a duffel bag - the stark reality of the homeless rests uneasily on my conscience. Flo used to live in a house not far from my neighborhood. I wondered what circumstances directed the course of her life from there to here. Humbled by the gratitude and joyful spirits of this community within a community, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for all my material blessings. We that “have” live in blissful ignorance, while a few minutes away an entire network of homeless wait in hope for meals and basic supplies to arrive three nights a week. How petty and small some of the trials that cloud my prayer requests must sound to God, when at the same time He is standing with Loni and Flo in the depths of their great need. There is such an inequity of material blessings among God’s children. I struggle with that, how He can let that happen. Maybe God is wondering the same thing about me.

         There are more stories to tell; we met so many people in one night. It was a gift - the opportunity to know them. I’m excited to go back out on the East Route – I have my supply list ready. These are my neighbors now. On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights, a group of volunteers at Uplift makes room at the head of the table for them and the message of the Luke’s gospel comes to life. When the door of the Uplift van opens, for a few minutes, "the last are served first". Its an experience worth seeking out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seattle


The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle. It’s true.  I visited there for the first time last weekend, and the truth hit me over the head. It surrounded me. The weather, a perfect, sunny, humidity free, 90 degrees, was a welcome break from our current heat wave. We have pretty sky here, but it’s flat and big, with nothing but clouds to break it up. Seattle is eighty kinds of blue, with every other color mixed in, coming at you from unexpected angles, poking through trees, reflecting off buildings, trying to out do itself when sky meets sea.
 
Not far into the cab ride from the airport,we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Gorgeous! Aesthetically, the landscape begs to be taken in. Wyoming natives, we’ve seen a few landscapes in our travels. Seattle offered us something unique. There was a texture we hadn’t seen before; ocean, trees and mountains all woven together in the fabric of the city.
“Local Color” - such an understatement, especially at the Public Market.  And the people, everywhere. Despite my affinity for “people watching” crowds aren’t my favorite places. One sunny Saturday morning riding the monorail, seeing the view from the top of the Space Needle and trying to navigate the farmer’s market was enough. I would love to go back when it wasn’t so crowded. Also, I marked seeing the original Starbucks location off my bucket list. I can now die in peace.
We did enjoy a surprisingly delicious lunch at a Vietnamese Bistro.  Yes, that’s correct, a Vietnamese Bistro. It wouldn’t have been my first pick, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in ages. My entire family agreed. My daughter Allie unintentionally ordered the largest bowl of soup I’ve ever seen. Everything was wonderful.

I looked up the origin of the word ‘bistro’ just to find some logical connection with the Vietnamese. According to Yahoo!Answers: “The word stems from the Russian word быстро (bystro) which means 'Hurry'. Russian soldiers occupying France after the Napoleonic Wars would frequently demand that French civilians serve their food quickly, shouting the word that evolved into the neologism 'Bistro' at them.”  A perfect term for inpatient Americans. I, for one, will continue to seek out bistros of random ethnic origins in future.

I wish I’d known this bit of trivia when standing in line at the Southwest Airlines counter for forty five minutes on the way home. There was a charming couple in front of us; they were on their way home from a cruise celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Visiting with them made the long wait in line pass by quickly. My daughter was not so lucky. The elderly gentleman behind us was in a frenzy. He was late for his flight. He was so busy complaining and barking orders at everyone in front of him to “Hurry Up” and “Keep the line moving” that he failed to hear the employee who came asking anyone who was due for a flight in the next hour to move to the front of the line. His wife, also apparently orbiting the rest of us in her own universe, kept throwing her bags in front of her, right into my daughter’s legs. I don’t know where they were going or where they’d been, but the blue of Seattle, the joy filled weave of the local fabric, was lost on them.

The two couples, who both appeared to be retirement age, stood in stark contrast to one another. One chose to vent their anxiety on everyone within earshot, the other chose to share their joyful memories. Sandwiched between them, my children and I were given a front row view of the effect each individual has on the dynamics of the communities they participate in. I wish I’d known the origins of the word ‘bistro’ at the time - an eating establishment founded on the principal of being rude and rushing the help seems tailor made for the couple behind us. But I felt blest to be visiting with the couple in front of us, and grateful my children were there to witness the gift of friendliness on communal level. Their brief companionship was a fitting end to a wonderful trip, and I wish I could give them just a moment of Seattle color to keep, to say “thank you” for reminding me to embrace it, so I could take it home. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Maybe --


“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Mark Twain

Blog post ideas just aren’t popping up as easily these days. Maybe it’s the heat. These past few days have been hot enough to give Purgatory a climate upgrade. Maybe it’s just August. There are a few things besides the heat I will remember about the summer of 2010. My boys were gone for a significant portion of it. This was both good and bad. After twenty three summers of full time motherhood, it was a change. They were gone so much that I missed them.  We don’t have much time to transition before Peter begins high school next week and since he is my youngest, I’m feeling a bit lost.

Doves nested on my front porch – twice so far. My working knowledge of mourning dove trivia is significantly greater than it was last spring. I guess it was the bird’s eye view of their reproductive cycle that tweaked my interest.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one)

Several new and interesting characters were introduced into my life story, some becoming friends and others sparking my imagination (unfortunately not enough for a decent blog post).

Three weeks at a writer’s workshop was not only educational, but eye opening and inspirational. I now ponder the difference between a dash and a double hyphen and wonder if it is at all kosher to use lines edited by others and left discarded and unused. One writer’s trash is definitely another’s newly discovered metaphor. Most of my valued friendships from the conference were initiated and fostered while waiting in the line for the women’s restroom. Coffee, once again, was the instigator of forward progression in my life.

A man named Larry Schnakenberg disappeared from a local park in June and after hundreds of people searched and distributed flyers and emails, he was discovered 20 days later wandering around the same park. A 58 year old husband and father, Larry provided no reason for his disappearance, but it was apparent he chose to leave and remain in hiding. A local detective commented to the Kansas City Star, “It isn’t a crime to want to be alone.” No, it isn’t. And I hope his family isn’t punished with fines; they have suffered enough. But Larry’s behavior leaves an entire community scratching their heads wondering what in the world happened. People who are entirely self-focused, for whatever reason, have a tremendous amount of power over those of us who are not. Worth remembering.

Despite the heat, my gardens look good. My water bill will not.

During a visit to Independence, KS with my Aunt Martha we enjoyed a lunch at a café she lovingly dubbed, “The Jesus Restaurant”. It’s actual name, “The King of Kings Café” is a bit showy, but it fits. The inside walls of the dining area are lined with a mural depicting Jesus playing with children in a field. I was envious of the owner’s determination to make his livelihood a testimony of his faith. That’s what I’d intended to do, with the blog, and with my writing. I hope my life’s work will eventually be a testimony of my faith. But its slow going right now. Sluggish. I can’t seem to feel even a flicker of that evangelical spark that used to motivate me.

Maybe I’m not so unlike Larry after all, just putting down my keys and walking away from God on my own lonely path. It’s not that I don’t believe or don’t want Him anymore, I just want to be alone for awhile. Possibly I’m just tired of the grind; the heat is dragging me down. Maybe God is just waiting for me to go buy the paint, so He can help me finish my own Jesus mural -- to surround myself with it, to share it with others along the way, to remind me to share my blessings with others. Maybe --

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My First "Second" Mother

The year I turned five, my dad left for a long time. I don’t remember how long, but he was back to celebrate my sixth birthday in September. I’m not sure about the fifth, or Christmas, or the spring. My mother told me I didn’t cry, or ask for him, but once when I was trying to learn to tie my tennis shoes, I knelt on the cold basement floor and tears flowed from my eyes. She thought I was grieving my father, but I never said a word.

When my father returned, he pulled in the driveway in a new car. He loaded my brothers and me in and drove us to his new house. It was much nicer than ours. He introduced us to our new stepmother, Fa, and our new baby sister, Samantha. I’d never heard the name Fa before. It was short for Mary Francis, a name she hated and looking back, it really didn’t fit her. It was 1967 and not only had I never heard the name Fa, I‘d never met or heard of anyone who actually had a stepmother. I’d heard of stepmothers in fairy tales and Walt Disney movies, but acquiring one for myself wasn’t even at the bottom of my life agenda.

Fa had a robust laugh and stood with her arms folded and legs braced shoulder width apart, to support her already swaying back. She was young; younger than my mother, but she was definitely a mother, so she was fine with me. My mother was a very pretty woman who always looked younger than her age. However, my mother had a more serious demeanor; she was a single parent in 1967 with three children to raise. She had her work cut out for her. Fa, on the other hand, laughed quite a bit. She was fun to be with. She liked to throw parties and do silly things like tie packages of Double Mint Gum to a tree so the girls could skip around it and pretend to be the Double Mint Twins. I looked forward to my week in the summer and after Christmas visits.

Fa was the first of my three stepmothers. I loved her because she gave me the one thing I wanted most in the world, two baby sisters. I loved her because I was five when we met, and my father handed her to me like a gift, so I accepted. My father was good at that, handing us wonderful gifts after a long absences, and I adored him. No matter how long it was between visits, or how wealthy he became while we remained staunchly middle class, I adored him. Fa and the girls were my first big gift, and I adored them too. The two weeks a year we spent together, we were a family. We sat down at the dinner table together every night, in the dining room, as a family. In addition, I got to be the big sister to two precious little girls, which somehow made up for the fifty weeks a year my mother and brothers and I sat down to dinner, alone. I didn’t miss what I couldn’t remember.

When I was transitioning from child to teen, Fa was my second mother, and she very wisely guided my father toward developing a relationship with me. He enjoyed hunting and other male bonding rituals with my older brothers, but was at a bit of a loss with a preteen daughter. Fa instructed him to spend a day with me, shopping and going out to lunch each time we came for a visit. It became our tradition, and luckily for me, my father had exquisite taste in clothing and jewelry. He was also the funniest man I’ve ever met, and those afternoons were always full of laughter.

Fa passed away last week. I will always remember crawling into her bed and watching Johnny Carson when I had trouble falling asleep, and eating lamb with mint jelly at her dining room table. Watching television late at night and eating roast lamb were things I never did at home. The odd thing about having a step family was; my first family, my mother, was perfectly adequate. In fact, there was never any competition for my affection between the two women. For whatever reason fate had thrown a second family into the mix for me, and I was lucky to have been given another mother who cared about me and looked after me while I was with her. I will always be grateful to Fa for the years she cared for me, and for the gift of my sisters.

By the time I turned fourteen, Fa was no longer my stepmother. Once again, Dad surfaced after a long absence with a newer, more expensive house and a new wife. He kept the Mercedes convertible though. Over time I didn’t really keep in contact with Fa, but knew of her through my half sisters. The few times I ran into her over the years were always pleasant and full of laughter. Even at my Dad’s funeral almost fourteen years ago, she made me laugh. That is what I will remember most about her, her ability to make me laugh, no matter how sad I felt, or how bleak the situation. Fa radiated an energetic, joyful love for her daughters. She was my first “second” mother, and I thank her for the legacy she left of devotion to motherhood and finding a reason to laugh each day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Acknowledgement of Squalor


Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because
fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
Mark Twain


Day 3 in Writer’s Workshop we compared three short stories by J.D. Salinger. I’d realized, while pouring through the assigned reading in Salinger’s collection of short stories, that I love his work. It wasn’t love at first sight. I didn’t love “Catcher in the Rye” in high school. Like many men, Salinger has aged well, or possibly my perspective has matured. Suddenly, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” caught my attention, and by the time I finished “For Esme, with Love and Squalor” I was hooked.

In this story, an American soldier in England meets a thirteen year old war orphan named Esme in a civilian tearoom on the eve of his deployment to the front. Learning he was an author before the war, she asks him to write a story for her, stating, “I prefer stories about squalor”. She reiterates the request as they part, “Make it extremely squalid and moving,” Esme suggests. “Are you at all acquainted with squalor?” She agrees to write to him and the narrative swiftly takes the sergeant to his post V-E Day living quarters in Bavaria, where he receives Esme’s first letter.

It is the longing to find someone, anyone, who will allow us to display the squalor in which we find ourselves that lures me. Esme shares the protagonist’s need for acknowledgement. With bold trust in illuminating the truth, she opens the door for him.  Esme not only requests a look, she demands a front row view of his war experiences. World War II has immersed both characters unwillingly into horrors they can not relate to in the social circles they exist in. Orphans and soldiers from well bred families weren’t to discuss such things. Yet, with through corresponding with one another, and through the possibility offered by fiction, it was safe and ultimately healing.

It is the rare friend who is willing to see us in our squalor. To sit with us and wallow along side us, to just acknowledge that it happened, that I think is the essence of why I write. In the bible, we learned Job’s friends certainly weren’t up to the task. They wanted to fix it, to clean up the mess, ensuring nothing would tarnish them in the process. That’s the problem, why squalor and friends don’t generally mix. Potentially, squalor could be caught, like the flu, a nasty spring cold, or even spinal meningitis. It could travel in microscopic spores on the wind – we might be inhaling it as we speak. Squalor is too risky. If it could happen to our friends, people who are like us, it could happen to us too.

Squalor, when intermixed with the joy and beauty we experience in life, creates the thread of human existence that literary fiction strives to share. Uniquely individual threads which are woven into the tapestry of a great story; a story that will continue to repeat itself, in slightly altered hues and patterns throughout history. The truth of the experience interspersed with the possibility of fiction. This is where the story of Job intersects our lives, in the truth of the existence of squalor. God allows it. He allows squalor to descend upon the lives of faithful people who love Him and obey His commandments. He allows it without explanation. We are to rest in the knowledge that He, the creator of the universe, is in control of the greater good. “That all things work together for good to those who love Him” Romans 8:28 

We also see a God in the story of Job, who patiently listens as Job demands acknowledgement. He wallows with Job; God is the friend we long for. Demonstrating the possibility of that truth, is the fiction I hope one day to be able to write. In that respect I am grateful to have experienced generous shares of both squalor and joy along the way.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Almost Right Word


“The difference between the right word and the almost right word 
is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Mark Twain



“An opening sentence should indicate conflict and structural incongruity. It should introduce a reversal of expectations.” This also sounds like the makings of a good romance. Conflict, the reversal of expectations, these are the elements of a relationship that keep us coming back for more. They are also the elements that shatter us if not kept in check. I enjoy Professor Stewart’s lectures. He relishes his words and uses them well. As a class, we review several opening sentences from various works of fiction and essays. This group analysis helps keep me engaged, and as a group we are beginning to open up a bit.

“An opening statement should be direct; there should be no attempt by the writer to infer a statement. No analysis – let the reader get it.” This is tougher then it sounds. The line between ambiguity and innuendo is often difficult to tread. I am usually surprised at critique groups to learn what readers failed to understand in my story, or read into the plot that I didn’t intend. This is where the concept of “show, don’t tell” gets tricky. I begin to wonder where in the story I am working on I  have intended the reader to see lightning, but only accomplished the flicker of a  lightning bug. It’s a pity Mark Twain isn’t available as an editor. Professor Stewart has offered his services to the workshop participants, but I’m beginning to get the feeling I may not be up to the criticism.

“Cross out all sentences until you get to the first sentence that actually has power and start your story there.” This is great advice. Not new, but the reinforcement of an already known technique is reassuring. Opening sentences really haven’t been a stumbling block for me, it’s the conclusion that’s a challenge. Professor Stewart ends the lecture with this statement, “Premature evaluation of the creative gift cuts off the flow. We have no choice but to accept what comes to us.” Then apparently we are required to chop it to bits, to ensure we strike directly. I think I’m still wandering a bit, straggling after lightning bugs. We leave the seminar today faced with the challenge of preparing a story for critique in workshop, some of us energized by the challenge and others shrinking with the fear of exposure. By tomorrow, our self induced seating chart will be cemented.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What I Learned from Mark Twain: Day 2


“All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”
Mark Twain


     Professor Stewart, who facilitates the poetry and creative non-fiction workshop, gives the first lecture of the day. Professor Pritchett welcomes him with another praise filled introduction, followed by our enthusiastic applause. Although unfamiliar with this practice of applauding before and after every lecture, I am quickly becoming aware that this is “how it is done”. I assume at real literary workshops, the ones real authors attend, applause is standard, possibly required for admission. Professor Stewart is the editor of New Letters Literary Magazine; the obstacle blocking our path to literary success. If we can get past him, we’re published. We’re in. I’m hovering on his every word.

     “Writer’s need to respond to the minute experiences with joy.” Professor Stewart quoted extensively in his lecture from Rollo May. I am assuming Rollo May was a joyful individual; Professor Stewart seems to be a man who understands the concept of joy on an intellectual level, but doesn’t embrace it much. “We must have the courage to create.” This is a truth I can latch on to. Finding the courage to create is my goal in attending the workshop, now we’re talking. “When an individual is afraid of the irrational they surround themselves with business.” I’m never sure if it is “business” or “busyness”, neither one looks right on the page, I become distracted with this internal debate and fail to pay close attention to the remainder of the lecture.

     “We are to strive not to avoid the anxiety of solitude.” Distracted, I’m not entirely sure who Stewart is quoting here, but it’s good quote, so I write it down. Looking around the room, it appears many of the students are hoping for some sort of solitude in this newly formed, fledgling community of writers. They line the perimeters of the classroom, despite both professors extensive use of the overhead projector built into the center of the ceiling. In coming weeks most of the perimeter dwellers will decline the opportunity to participate in workshop discussions and will not submit material for critique. I will end the class never saying more than hello to most of them. Here again, mission accomplished.

Vocabulary word for the day: Esemplastic
- adjective: having the ability to shape diverse elements or concepts into a unified whole: the esemplastic power of a great mind to simplify the difficult.

     I didn’t write down the context in which it was used in the lecture, but this word does not register in Microsoft Word Spell Check so only really intelligent people use it. People more intelligent than Microsoft Word slip this into ordinary conversation: I’m all over it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I Learned from Mark Twain: Day 1


Last Friday, I completed a three week intensive Creative Writing Seminar at UMKC entitled “The Mark Twain Writer’s Workshop”. The course could be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit, or as a non-credit workshop, which created a very diverse student body. I learned a great deal, but nothing what so ever about Mark Twain. In an effort to compensate for the deficit in advertised curriculum, I’ve been mulling over rather lengthy lists of Mr. Twain’s quotes. Until I tire of the exercise, my blog will be dedicated to reinserting “Twainisms” back into my class notes and observations.


Day 1:

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”
Mark Twain

            Two women, dressed in coordinating, expensive exercise gear sit front and center. They choose these seats because they have taken the seminar several times before and enjoy their familiar banter with the professors. They choose these seats because they are grandmothers and have earned their position; life experience has propelled them to the head of the class. They choose these seats because they’re extremely well read and have time to devour literary journals and the works of obscure authors the rest of us have never heard of. They choose these seats because unlike me, they are no longer interested or curious about their peers: they can see no one but each other and the professor from where they sit, and that’s the way they like it. They choose these seats because for as many years as they can remember they’ve walked into the Mark Twain Writer’s Workshop on the Monday of the first full week of June and sat right there, in the center of the front row. These are their seats. They choose these seats because in the back row, they can’t hear a blessed thing.


“People who are not open don’t learn – I should think about how little I know.”
Prof. Stewart

We spend a good deal of time listening to the faculty introduce one another and clapping for their many literary accomplishments. It is inspirational. Obliviously, we are in the presence of great literary minds. The applause is genuine and heartfelt. We are glad we’ve scraped together the tuition and coerced our relatives to babysit or our bosses to allow us to work half day shifts for the next three weeks. We are convinced we too will leave here better writers, secretly sure that these local literary giants will take one look at our manuscripts and instantly recognize the pure genius and almost magical ability our mother’s have seen in our stories all along. Day One is a good day at the workshop.

“Spend time developing what my dominant feeling is towards the piece I’m writing. Why am I writing this? The plot should be filtered through that dominant feeling.”
Prof. Pritchett

I spend the remainder of the class trying to ascertain how I feel about my latest short story and why I’m writing about that topic. I don’t come up with any gut wrenching revelation, but I am really motivated to “being open” – I love to learn. Day One the weather in the workshop is commensurate with the climate. The two women in the front row leave knowing exactly the same number of people they did when they entered, and all was right in the world.


Friday, June 25, 2010

What I Learned from Mark Twain: Day 15






"When we are too young to understand tragedy, we revel in the gore."

Marian Wade

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Impractical Place for a Nest

For all practical purposes, most of my major nesting endeavors are behind me. Multiple times a year I do however assist, or even prod my children into temporary nest relocation; moving in and out of dorm rooms and packing for camps and summer trips. Returning debris is an inherent element in the eventual dissolution of these temporary nests – nothing says summer like a garage full of my daughter’s dorm room contents and muddy hiking boots from the boys last camp out.

Nests seem to be a recurring theme in my life this summer. A small flower pot on my front porch was invaded last month by a pair of Mourning Doves. I was initially unimpressed with their choice of nest location. It is a really small pot, six inches in diameter, hung at eye level. Watching those birds attempt to maneuver in that small space while they built the nest was comical. It took about four days, and the birds tolerated my constant interruptions to take pictures. Posing was the least they could do, considering I was sacrificing a perfectly good pot of violets for their new home.

Once the nest was finished, they were stuck with me. We discovered another nest directly outside the family room window, and watching the birds became a family past time. My daughter Allie did a bit a research. Mourning Doves like to nest in pine trees, and we had to have a large one in our front yard removed last fall, which explains the abundance of nests near my house. Mourning Doves mate for life. The mother and father take turns sitting on the nest, so Momma bird didn’t really get testy in the afternoon – it was Dad’s watch and he did not appreciate our company.

The spring storms descended and I watched my little doves sit calm and dry on their nest. I guess it wasn’t such a bad location after all. After each storm we’ve had many causalities dislodged from nests around the house, but my little front porch family remained in tact. After several weeks, our little Patrick was hatched. Yes, I named him. We also had two doves born the same day that we could watch from the back window, but Patrick is my favorite. He is a few weeks old now and still sits on the porch and in the trees in the garden. He usually lets me get close – I like to think he remembers my voice. It’s a long shot, but it makes me happy to believe it.

Obliviously Patrick’s parents knew something the other doves didn’t. I like to think they had a little divine intervention; my front porch was their own designated promised land. I’ve never seen a bird put a nest that low and exposed before. Ironically their offspring were safer than the birds high in the trees, because the storms have been so violent.

What does that mean for me? How do I know I’ve chosen the optimal, safest location for a nest? Am I like the Israelites – too afraid to enter into the Promised Land because it really looks unsafe from my vantage point? My children are almost grown. The nest I’ve loved manning for the past two decades is going the way of the pine tree in my front yard, yet I’m not really sure where God is directing me. Maybe, like the doves, God is asking me to seek shelter and put down roots in a new vocation, to focus my nesting instincts in a new direction. Nothing looks very safe from where I’m standing, but one thing is for sure – that pine tree is going whether I move or not.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Plate Runneth Over

When we moved our family here from Casper, Wyoming in 1990, Aunt Harriet and Uncle Marv were our only relatives in town and for all practical purposes, the only people we knew. They put up swings from the big tree in their back yard for the girls and we often enjoyed family dinners at their house. Aunt Harriet made incredible birthday cakes in any likeness, even one that looked like our cat. She made the kids hamburgers shaped like dogs and let them eat with toothpicks instead of forks. Need I say more?

Family dinners around Aunt Harriet’s and Uncle Marv’s table started for me when I was a little girl. My parents were divorced, so my Uncle Marv was always there to be a father figure when I needed one. One Easter dinner, in particular, stands out in my memory. I was about ten, and unfortunately, someone let Uncle Marv know I was not capable of swallowing a pill. We were sitting around the table just about to enjoy dinner when out of the blue someone in my family spilled the beans.

“Now Annie, you mean to tell me that you are ten years old and can’t swallow a pill? Uncle Marv never pulled any punches. I decided to respond in kind. I shook my head and muttered an affirmative response into my plate.
“Well, it’s just like swallowing one of those peas. Now, you can swallow one of those peas can’t you?” I was and always will be his favorite niece, (give up on it Martha, no contest), so I carefully surveyed the mound of peas on my plate and then gazed up at my favorite Uncle with the most pitiful look I could muster.
“Nope” Thinking this would be the end of it, I started in on my ham.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Put one on your tongue and let’s get after it.”

Even taking into consideration all of the millions of children who’ve spent countless hours shoving their peas around their plates, mounding them under mashed potatoes, and wading them up in napkins, I still think I may hold some sort of record for slowest ingestion of peas during a single meal. It took almost the entire serving and several glasses of water before I finally swallowed one. From there, I moved on the Children’s Aspirin and the rest is history. I’ve become the vitamin and herbal supplement fanatic you see today.

Uncle Marv was right, I could do it. He just had his 85th birthday and we still tell that story at dinner whenever we have peas. My prayer life has had similar progression. It seems to grow in fits and starts. Often it takes the encouragement of a friend to getting it moving forward. Unlike swallowing peas, I’m generally eager to try new things, like meditations, structured prayer times, and joining prayer groups. It’s praying for God’s will to be done in my life that I often choke on. I’m easily discouraged when the obstacle before me appears overwhelming, like that huge mound of peas.

Prayers, in order to go down smoothly, must be wrought by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are ineffective, not because we aren’t praying the ‘right’ way. They are ineffective because we aren’t praying in accordance with God’s will, so we only measure the “success” of the prayer by our desired outcome. When things don’t turn out as we had hoped, it’s like that pea that just won’t go down. If we don’t open ourselves to the possibilities God has chosen for us, we can pray our hearts out, but we’ll just keep sputtering, no matter how many cups of watery words we try to flush them down with.

Sometimes the potential for change implied in asking for God’s will to be done is so intimidating, we gag on the thought of it. We may want a better relationship, but not if it means we are being asked to accept a person just the way they are or to forgive an injustice. We may be truly miserable in a situation, but too afraid to leave. God may even be leading us to change the very things we want so dearly, to let go of things we hold on to. It’s a small phrase, but a huge sentiment: “God, please show me your will”. I have often been guilty of shoving it around my prayer plate for long stretches of time before attempting to swallow it.

Prayer takes discipline. It helps to have an Uncle Marv nudging you along. It takes courage and a willingness to change or leave our comfort zones to truly embrace the new creations in Christ God wants us to become. Prayer implies trust. St. James tells us in his epistle that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”. Fruitful prayer lives don’t so much hinge on the methods we employ, but on the intent with which we pursue them. I’m grateful to my friends and family who continually inspire me to desire God’s will in my life, even when my plate appears overwhelmingly full of peas.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Last Jolly Rancher


          Retrieving random items out of pants pockets, turning off lights, flushing toilets; mothers do these things in endless repetition. We never give them much thought; they’re just part of our daily routine.  We wonder if we will ever walk upstairs after everyone has left for school to find all the lights turned off, or into the family room without finding dirty socks and shoes on the floor.Occasionally, we get overwhelmed and annoyed; we foolishly try to wish them away - the socks and the broken pencils in their pockets, the routine. Along the way, wise women who’ve traveled before us have warned us not to wish such wishes, but we recognize their wisdom too late. Before we can say, “Wait! I didn’t mean it!” our wishes are granted.

            A few days ago I stood in my laundry room staring into my hand. Two pieces of candy lay in my open palm; Jolly Ranchers, the ones Mrs. Smiley hands out. Mrs. Smiley is one of our favorite teachers and Jolly Ranchers are her calling card. She always has a full jar on her desk. She throws them at her Jr. High students whenever they get an answer correct in class. She hands them out generously and with a huge welcoming grin to younger siblings who stop in her classroom for a visit or students who help her with projects after school. Mrs. Smiley taught each of my children in turn. By the time Peter was in her class, he’d been dipping into the Jolly Rancher jar for over a decade.

            Peter graduated from the 8th grade this week, so I’ve washed my last Holy Spirit Catholic School uniform. I’ve enjoyed the transition to high school with my three older children; I know the experience will be a good one for Peter too. It’s letting go of the little moments that tug at my heart. The final “I love you” every morning in the car pool line and thousand “Hi Mom”s in the parking lot after school. Holding hands as we walked in together into kindergarten. School plays and room parties and field trips, the way their faces lit up when they saw I was there. Hopes and wishes and disappointments, shared over hot chocolate afterschool, these are the moments I wish I still had to look forward to.  

           
        It is those small voices I miss, the ones whose bad day could be made wonderful by something as insignificant as a Jolly Rancher in their pocket. It's that presence, the connection and shared experience I wish I could hold on to. I miss every moment of every stage, every toothless grin, stained uniform shirt and homework battle. I miss all the things I used to worry about and nag them about and the even friends I didn’t want them to associate with. Those older women, the ones who warned me, were wise indeed. Now I’ve joined their ranks.

As I indulge in a few tears and an overly sentimental blog post, I realize I am the luckiest of women, because I have so much to miss and so much to look forward to. I would like to express my gratitude to God for blessing me with my children, Emily, Allison, Andrew and Peter. I thank each of them for letting me share in their lives. I thank them for allowing me come to lunch and recess and for the chance volunteer in their classes. I thank them for not complaining {much} when I took an endless stream of photographs of any event that could’ve remotely been considered memorable. They didn’t disown me when I wore costumes to their Halloween parties and talked with my friends 'forever' in the parking lot after school, and truly I am grateful. Eighteen years as a “Holy Spirit Mom” and the charitable nature of my children, has provided means for more wish fulfillment than I could ever have imagined.

                More memories than I can count are now the Jolly Ranchers in my pocket; they are what I cling to when I miss the “children” my kids used to be. They fill me with gratitude, hope and expectation. Kids, I love you all – I wish we could do it all again. Peter, I’m keeping the red Jolly Rancher, it’s cherry. You can have the green one. Love, Mom

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Ties that Bind: Mother's Day 2010


           When I was four, my grandmother gave me a patchwork afghan. The blocks are comprised of fabric cut from garments worn by family members. As I grew, she would add more rows. Each block is filled with one leg of panty hose and secured in the middle with a knot of embroidery thread. When she would visit, my grandmother and I would finish the blocks and she would let me tie off the knots, as she told me stories about the fabric's origins. I knew which had been my mother's blouse or my grandmother’s favorite dress. I loved snuggling up under that afghan, each block sparking my imagination; each block a story. 

             I don’t sew, but I do take photographs. Photos are my historical afghan, they inspire and encourage me. They remind me of what has been passed on to me through my heritage and the hope the future holds. As I reflected on Mother’s Day this year, certain photos came to mind. They represent the threads that bond my family and its continuity. 

The first is of my grandmother and her first born, my uncle Kenny, taken in 1921. My grandmother looks so young and happy. She was a college graduate and didn’t marry until she was 26 years old, practically a spinster in those days. Widowed with five young children when my mother was four years old, my grandmother was able to provide for her children and raise them independently: she never remarried.

 I was blest to have had time in college to visit with her one on one. I was new to the Christian faith, and she shared with me her deep belief in the truth of the scriptures. She lived her life by that truth. I don’t know that she and I would share exactly the same theology today, but I am very proud of her integrity and intelligence. I’m confident she is continually surrounding me and my family with prayer now that she has the inside track. 

This is my favorite picture of my mother and I, and here again I think it’s because she looks so happy. I’m the third child and the only girl. My brother’s were five and three years old when this was taken and Mom is probably just relieved she has one she doesn’t have to chase. My brothers or “The Boys” as they were most commonly referred to were rambunctious to say the least. By the time I came along the only role in the family left available was “Good Child”; at least until the teen years emerged.
I have so many favorite pictures of my children, but I‘ve always grouped this one with the other two; it seems to best represent the family legacy. Emily is my first born. She inherited my mother’s and grandmother’s blue eyes. This picture was taken in 1987 on her first birthday. I like this picture because Em looks precious and I look calm. I haven’t looked calm in a family photo for decades, but I like to look at this picture and remember that at least initially, I did.

Mother’s Day is all about paying tribute and I have so many women who have mothered me along the way that it would be impossible to mention and adequately show my gratitude to each one. A blog a day would be fitting, but for heaven’s sakes, I’m a mother, where would I find the time?  This week I encountered a mother in need of our prayers. I’d like to share the small edge of Nadine's story that I was allowed to participate in and hope it will kindle a spirit of prayer in all of us.

I’m not sure what exactly Nadine was doing last Sunday morning, but I’m guessing like most of us, she prepared breakfast for her kids or got them ready for church or other activities. I’m sure of one thing though, she never imagined in her wildest dreams or worst nightmares that by Sunday evening she would be sitting in her living room praying with our parish priest because her nine year old son Paul was dead. I thought about that Tuesday night after I left Paul’s funeral to try to catch the rest of my son’s baseball game.  I wondered if prior to Sunday, Nadine’s calendar for Tuesday was penciled in with a baseball game, a cub scout meeting or a karate class. According to the eulogy, Paul was an active, involved third grader. I’d not met him, but even lying in the casket with his baseball uniform on, you could see he was a boy who’d lived life fully. 

Tragedy strikes when we least expect it. Mothers, more than anyone, are aware of this. We persevere in our attempts to protect our children from all the potential dangers that lurk about them in the world: we pray, we hope, we plan and we organize. I didn’t know Nadine and her son Paul, but they are members of my church family. It is impossible for me not to remember her as I count my many blessings this Mother’s Day. Her story, along with so many others has become part of the patchwork afghan God is constructing in my life.  These are the blocks we could not bear to complete without God’s grace, without the story of His mercy lived out on the cross.

My afghan is held together by the thread of the life of Christ, and his Mother Mary. She was both the Ark of the New Covenant and the altar on which His sacrifice was honored. She was chosen to bring His physical presence into the world, and knelt at the foot of the cross, cradling His lifeless body. This photo, of The Pieta, which I had the privilege of seeing in Rome, is also an integral block in the patchwork of my motherhood story.  I draw strength in times of deep sorrow from the knowledge that Mary also grieved for the loss of her son. I draw strength from knowing that even though they have been allowed a grief that seems beyond comprehension, mothers like Nadine and Mary are precious in God’s eyes. “"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matt 5:4

I’m grateful to God this Mother’s Day, that He chose to create us in families, and that we mothers have a special and holy place in His plan for salvation. Thank you to all you “Mothers” who’ve become the fabric in the patchwork of my life. You are my comfort and warmth when I’m weary, and the bright patches of color in times of joy. Amen