My Days as a Super Hero

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Everyone owns an interior cache of heroism, which rises to the surface in time of need. We can choose to act upon the gallant impulse, or talk ourselves out of it. That’s the dilemma with use-of-valor evaluation – the call to action does not ride alone. It comes accompanied by fear, suspicion, and the instinct of self-preservation. Not that those are bad traveling companions. In most cases, it really is quite prudent and essential to think twice before diving in, but sometimes, you just gotta trust your gut. Some of us are called to a continuous, high level of heroism. These are the kinds of people you will find most often in jobs of civil service, such as police officers and fire fighters. Take that one step further, and you’ll find members of our armed forces. They’re the folks who personify courage and self-sacrifice, living examples of bravery each and every day on the job. They also practice safety and prudence, but, because of their desire to serve others, they knowingly face unseen dangers at every turn. This is what is known as “laying one’s life down for a friend.” For the truly heroic, everyone in need of protection is a friend.

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However, that’s not to say that smaller deeds of valor have no significance – quite the opposite, actually. Tiny deeds, done with love, are magnified by God’s grace into life-changing acts of intervention. I have, in my lifetime, executed several acts of pint-sized prowess, and have often been repaid with unexpected blessing beyond measure. I believe that God sees into the heart, and is filled with joy by any act of courageous self-sacrifice, be it big or small, and just as any loving father, he rewards such actions with a big hug and “words” of encouragement. As a means of inspiring you in your day-to-day heroic efforts, I will share with you a few stories of my meager, super-hero exploits.

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I grew up in a rough neighborhood. At first glance, it might appear to be the quintessential, small town neighborhood – old houses with big yards and plentiful gardens, mixed in amongst farms with cows and/or horses in the pasture. I was raised on local produce, freshly harvested honey, and…..street fights. Yeah, you heard that right. And it wasn’t gang warfare, it was rugrat girls. We just could not get along. We’d pair up in groups of two, and wage battles against the other pairs. This way of interacting wasn’t limited to my local turf. This happened all around our little village. At the pool, down by the village Lawson’s store, at school, on a local playground, anywhere there was likely to be a group of young lassies, you could almost count on a girl-fight. Most of the time, it was a rather tempered tiff, with hair-pulling, scratching, kicking, pushing, throwing whatever was handy (and sometimes, even biting!) being the weapons of choice. At any rate, I often tried to step in and save the day, especially if things seemed to be getting a little out of hand, or if other people joined in and starting ganging up on someone. The intervention I remember most vividly actually did involve my small neighborhood group of girls. One winter, while going in search of my friend, I discovered her being attacked by the other girls. She was holed up in a small barn, which housed a pony that she was caring for. The enemy had taken up position outside the fence and would not allow my friend to walk out of the barn without being pelted by hard, icy snowballs. I swung into immediate action. I ran through the gate into the barn and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket. Using it as a shield, I ran out to the small watering pond and managed to break enough ice to fill the bucket half-way with water. Then, I worked my way over to the enemy camp, dodging ice-balls as I stumbled along under the weight of the bucket. I will never figure out why those girls just stood there while I walked right up to them, in plain view, with an arsenal of (literally!) freezing cold water in my possession, but that’s what they did. I strategized and aimed, and tossed the water so that it saturated both of them, and no one has heard anything about those girls since that day. Just kidding about that last part. They were around for many years after that, and I ended up being friends with both of them, after we outgrew that warring stage of adolescence, but, I did gain a reputation after that day of someone who should not be messed with, so our neighborhood really was a lot more peaceful after that brush with death!

Some other escapades (from later in my life) that I can recall are:

1) Chasing a young guy through the streets and alleys of downtown, after I witnessed him stealing an old lady’s purse. I followed him relentlessly and kept him in sight until he decided to drop the purse, which I was able to retrieve. I found some ID in the purse and returned it to its rightful owner.

2) I saw an older man struggling to get the door open to his downtown living quarters. I held his meager bag of groceries (which he was probably afraid to put down, in fear of them being grabbed by someone) while he got the door open. I looked in the door and saw a long flight of stairs heading up…no lobby, no elevator, just a poorly lit, steep stairwell for this elderly fellow. So, I offered to carry his groceries. Up we went, two flights, until we came to his tiny apartment, which was packed to the gills with all of his earthly possessions. He felt so blessed by my kind assistance that he gave me 25¢, and I graciously accepted it, along with the memory of helping out this sweet, old guy. I was filled with the hope that I somehow made a difference in his lonely, impoverished life.

3) Planning and executing many service/mission trips over the years, for teenagers and young adults in our homeschool community. We have had amazing, life-changing adventures, and made a difference in Appalachia & Tijuana, Mexico, and also right here in our own city, and God has allowed me to help fill many young hearts with a love for service and humble self-sacrifice.

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As you can see, being a hero doesn’t require a cape and/or local news coverage of the event. It only calls for you to step out of your comfort zone, practice compassion (and, maybe a little war-like strategy on occasion), and affect positive change on someone’s life. Be courageous this week. You might even earn a quarter!

I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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Flying on a Wounded Wing and Perfunctory Prayer

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Sometimes you come to places in your journey where the path suddenly, without warning, becomes dark and dreary, and the damp air slows your progress to a snail’s pace. You feel like you’re barely getting by, like everything you do takes way too much effort and tires you out considerably, like all you want to do is find a dark cave and hibernate until the gloomy mist passes you by. I find myself in such a place right now. This clouded perspective made last week’s visit from my daughter and her family very challenging (see previous post, Donning the Mimi Millinery). I was so excited when I found out they were coming to visit. I wanted to be happy and carefree, and busy myself with feeding and caring for my family, in addition to cheerfully and energetically entertaining my grandchildren. I did manage to get myself through with a semblance of normality, but I was often tired and stressed and suffering from dizziness so severe that walking became a game of chance. For the entire week, the song, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” played continuously in my mind, as I stumbled and lost my balance. From what I understand, if I could have located a long boat to lounge around in for a while, I might have experienced some recovery, but, alas, such specialized long boat craftsmen are few and far between these days.

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It does sound lovely, though, drifting on the sea, with plenty of food stores, emergency radio contact, but no work, or bills, or anyone else to take care of (except myself). I think it would help me considerably. As always, though, duty calls, and monthly bills scream for attention. And so I find myself stuck in a troublesome trough. I want to be the best, most conscientious caregiver/personal care assistant ever. I want to provide tasty, healthy meals for my family every day. I want to keep my garden well-weeded and gather the fruitful harvest in a timely fashion. I want to hang out with my friends for fun and camaraderie. I want to be available to my grown children, when help is needed with babies, or shopping, or a shoulder to cry on. And, I want my faith to shine forth for others, as a beacon of hope and witness and encouragement. Instead, I am struggling through my work day, running out of steam midway through. Meals are haphazard and not my usual well-planned, delectable fare. The zucchini are getting out-of-hand, the holly hocks are badly in need of dead-heading, and the weeds are taking over the gardens. I have to force myself to make the hour drive to visit my sweet foster grandson (and visiting the MN crew is prohibitively complicated). If I make plans with a friend, I often regret it almost immediately, and then worry about how I am going to manage spending a day kayaking on the river and then drag my tired butt to work the next day. My faith has become a going-through-the-motions kind of unproductive routine. However, I will admit that I am praying a lot, but it is a selfish, woe-is-me kind of lament, and my outward appearance is sack cloth and ashes.

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This is what is commonly referred to as “a rut.” I am in a substantial rut, and it has a lot to do with my health, our chronic financial struggle, and the neighbors from hell who haunt me daily. What I need most, I think, is a lot of rest and TLC, but that is just not realistic. I keep asking myself, “What am I going to do to get past this?” And I’m not really coming up with much of an answer. I have tried “guilting” myself into feeling better. Because, honestly, my life is no doubt a lot easier and better than probably half of the world’s population. That plan of attack has never worked well for me, as a means of finding my way back to the light, even if it is the painful truth. I could win the lottery, except that I hardly ever buy tickets, and we all know, that’s a rather hopeless waste of precious funds. Maybe I’ll just do what I’ve always done when I’ve found myself in this position. I’ll start a new “blessing list,” and every day I will make note of at least one thing for which I am grateful. There’s always cats. I would be lost without my sweet, snuggling cats. And my boss/client. She is so wonderfully supportive and understanding. I would be lost without her right now, too (and, BONUS – she also has cats!). And the encouragement and prayers of my friends (many of whom are carrying their own unwieldy crosses right now). And we can’t forget my wacky sense of humor, which bubbles to the surface in the most surprising way, just when I need it the most.

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With that daily focus of thanksgiving, offered up as appreciative prayer, I will be able to see the path ahead in “One-Day-At-A-Time” baby steps, and the grace of God will bless me and carry me through, just as it has so many times before. With that bestowing of grace, I will be able to focus on a plan of action that will move me in the right direction….in the direction God would like to lead me. In six months, or a year from now, I will look back on this time as a gift of growth and development. And I will smile sheepishly, and ask everyone around me how they ever managed to put up with me.

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Searching for Rainbows

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The air is laden with gloom, and I’m finding it hard to breath. I know that a storm is approaching, because I feel the weight of it deep in my soul. The misty tentacles of listlessness advance from the west, spreading over me like the menacing shadow of an evil sorcerer. I grow weary, and wander recklessly off the well-marked trail. Then suddenly, before I’ve had a chance to take cover or call for help, I am enveloped in the blinding rain, deafened by the attending wind, lost to civilization….lost to myself.

The storms of life come and go for all of us. Sometimes, they’re little more than a few strong wind gusts, or a quick, soaking shower. We cope with them competently, recover quickly, and move on. Other times, we might find ourselves stuck in the tempest for months, or possibly even years, as the rest of the world continues on their merry way, passing us by with a wink and a nod, as though our storm does not exist, as though the routine of life continues quite smoothly for the world around us. Left to ourselves, we might not live to see the sun come out again, but fortunately, we do not have to navigate these raging seas alone. Help is at the ready, like an umbrella waiting to be opened and employed, or perhaps more akin to a life preserver thrown to us as we struggle to stay afloat in a cold and choppy sea. But here’s the hard part….we must reach out and take the umbrella (or the life preserver) into our hands, to begin the journey back to dry land.

I have had my fair share of worrisome weather. Most of these could be referred to as “a serious case of the blues.” Those I navigated with, first and foremost, a strong faith in God, along with the encouragement of a supportive family and faithful friends. Standing always by my side, and providing obvious and tangible help in time of sorrow, our merciful and loving God can bring great good out of all things, if I only allow him to take charge, and lead me where I need to be. (I learned these things the hard way, from recurring & painful personal experience, and also through extensive Bible study and spiritual reading!) These blustery blues were short-lived episodes, which led me deeper into my faith, and taught me to accept the fact that life is hard….always has been, always will be. Once I began to wrap my brain around that concept, the tiny squalls of life started to pass by more quickly, some still taking the opportunity to give me a quick drenching, while others blow through with a challenging wind and a dusting of rain. My attitude has become a bit of a party-pooper for the impending precipitation.

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However, on the other end of the rain gauge scale, there have been times in my life when I could not drag myself out of bed in the morning, could not bear the thought of facing another hopeless day. Twice in my life I have been brought this low. Twice in my life the storms have raged so fiercely that I found myself physically and emotionally paralyzed. The first time was shortly after I lost my best friend to suicide. And, when I say “best friend,” I mean that this woman was my most beloved kindred spirit. We would talk often about the crazy, obnoxious things we would do together after our kids were grown and we were wrinkled old ladies. I so looked forward to growing old with my best friend. Then the day came when we got the phone call (seemingly out of the blue, since I had gone out with her the night before, and we had had so much fun together) that she had been found dead in her garage, lying on the floor near the exhaust pipe of her van, just to make sure that she didn’t “mess up” her suicide attempt. In a split second, my world came crashing down around me. The pain and sorrow and guilt and constant questioning that accompany such a loss were relentless, and I succumbed to a deep and prolonged depression, that could only be overcome by medication. As I slowly emerged from the dark pit, I looked back and realized that I would never have made it out with a “put on a happy face” therapy. I had needed medical intervention, an intervention that probably would have saved my friend’s life, but she did not believe in taking these kinds of drugs, and so…her life was lost to a deep, clinical depression.

The second time I needed to rely on anti-depressants was while going through chemotherapy for my breast cancer. And, although I am grateful that the cancer was conquered, and has not dared to rear its ugly head nine years hence, I still hate chemotherapy with a vengeance. It is an evil toxin that does so many terrible things to a person’s body. My hormone levels were sent into a dizzying spiral, and the result was not pretty. As the doctors carried on endless discussions about how to stop the continuous blood-flow, I melted away to practically nothing, and began to think the end was near. Luckily, they figured out a way (without removing portions of my insides!) to fix me up and set me back on my feet again. However, I still had to tell my doctor, that I “just wanted Charlene back,” before I got help with the depression part of the equation. Knowing that I still needed help, and being brave enough to say it, saved my life.

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I hope that the lessons I’ve learned from my storms can aid someone else in navigating similar struggles, and seeing the promise of the rainbow that appears as the sun comes back out. Remember these three things: 1- You are never alone. Somewhere amongst your collected friends and family, someone is willing to listen and care, and God is always there, just waiting for you to cry out to him. 2- Know yourself and ask for help to get back to the “real you,” and don’t quit asking until you get what you need. 3- Don’t be afraid to use prescription medications. Sometimes, they’re the only way out. You and/or your faith are not weak if you need medical intervention! My use of anti-depressants was only temporary, as is often the case, and I am grateful for the boost they gave me to get back to normal (which is, by the way, quite strange and silly and outspoken and abnormal, but hey, it’s who I am!). I wish you mostly sunny skies, with maybe one or two short-lived and life-giving cloudbursts for the week ahead!

Embracing a Miracle

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“Miracles are a retelling, in small letters, of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” (C.S. Lewis, 1898 –1963)

A truly miraculous event has become part of my life’s story, and I am positively giddy with joy and gratitude. I will attempt to set the scene of this glorious event for you… Imagine that your daily life is in precarious balance – a homeostasis of health, basic functioning, conscientious eating, caring for your elderly father – all of these things hang on a single thread, and one slight tip of the scales, one way or the other, brings your life to a relative standstill, filled with pain and fear and difficulty and despair. All of your usual problem-solving techniques are thrown out the window, and new ways of functioning must be discovered (through arduous trial and error). Some of the more time-consuming, painful, or inconvenient activities, like…for example, let’s say….eating and showering, are simply tossed over the side of your floundering ship of day-to-day survival. Can you imagine such a scenario? Don’t feel too bad if you can’t quite grasp the thought. I wouldn’t have been able to either, until I went to work for a client with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), and began to see how difficult “ordinary” tasks can be if your muscles aren’t working all that well, and if your bones are so frail (from years spent in a wheelchair) that a tiny bump can cause a life-changing fracture, and how all of this makes your life extremely vulnerable to chaos. That is exactly what happened to my client.

She is a very positive person, one of the most “sunny-sided” people I’ve ever met, and problem-solving is her forte. Most of the equipment she uses for her daily survival (lift system, wheelchair, bathroom chair, etc) owes at least part of its design to her. Anything else she uses, if she didn’t design it, she at least found out about it (and made adaptations to it) through her relentless research to make her life’s vocation more doable. However, difficulties do sometimes rear their ugly heads, and, for these past few months, we seem to have entered into a plague of misfortune. It climaxed (or, so we thought, at the time) with a serious case of the flu, which landed my client (and her 87 year old father) in the hospital. Just when things were beginning to settle back to normal, there was another minor issue that brought her to the emergency room, and (eight hours later), sent her home with a broken arm. This was a blow we could not have anticipated, and one for which we were totally unprepared. Everything that her caregivers/assistants had been doing for her for years, the practiced and perfected routine, was suddenly useless, and had to be reinvented. I know that I struggled tremendously with the broken routine. All of the steps of helping her up and out of bed each day were suddenly a murky mess in my brain, as my client & I tried to figure out ways to move her without causing excruciating pain. We all muddled through as best as we could, using new ideas and extra “tools” to help with moving, transferring, propping, etc. The plan was to help her navigate (as smoothly as possible) through the two weeks until she could see the orthopedic surgeon, and go from there.

Unfortunately, the tangled web was woven even more intricately than we knew. The visit to the orthopedic doc delivered the knock-out punch of devastating news – the only way the bone could be “healed” was through surgery, and the use of plates, screws, and heaven only knows what else. My client (who had been trusting that our diligent efforts to keep her arm stabilized would aid in its own natural healing efforts) was crushed by this news. The x-rays were telling, showing the two ends of the broken bone overlapping, with no chance of a healing formation taking place. Things got dark and dreary after that day. The pain became relentless, and my client’s desire to avoid the overuse of pain medication made it impossible to do anything without the grimace of pain coming to her face as we touched her. It was agonizing for her, and draining and stressful for all of her caregivers. We could not see an end to the story, and, if we tried too hard to look ahead, our thoughts led us in an unhappy direction.

It was then that the genuinely fervent prayer began. I sent out prayer requests and updates through our local Catholic homeschooling community, and kept all of my close friends informed of her condition. People assured me of their ongoing prayers, and I asked that they especially call on the intercession of Fr. Solanus Casey, who is one of my favorite, heavenly intercessors! I carried on faithfully with my client’s care, while the cloud of adversity hung heavily over us. She began the arduous task of appointments with various doctors (anesthesiologist, neurologist, etc) to determine if she was even a candidate for surgery.

Then came, for me, the pleasant surprise of hearing, while on my way to work one morning, that Fr. Casey was slated for beatification in the fall (this means that a legitimate, miraculous healing, through his intercession, had been approved, and he is now further along the path to being canonized). I was so happy with that news, since I have loved Fr. Casey for a long time, and have been praying for him to become a “Blessed” (and then, a confirmed “Saint!”). My mother was a Casey, so I figure that Fr. Casey and I MUST be related somehow! I continued my drive to work with tears in my eyes and cries of joy and congratulations on my lips, and then I said, ”Fr. Casey, how about a miracle cure for my client? If anyone could use a miracle, it’s her, so let’s show her what love and prayer support can accomplish! If it is God’s will to be powerfully manifested in her life, beg God for a miracle, Fr. Casey. I know you can make it happen!” And, can you even guess what happened?! The very next day, at her follow-up appointment with the orthopedist, the x-rays showed the two pieces of the bone in perfect alignment, with a healing callus forming around it. How do you explain that? The doc had said there was no chance of it healing on it’s own….but it DID. It is, quite simply, a beautiful and glorious and life-giving (in oh, so many ways) miracle! My client and I (and her family and the other caregivers) are not the only ones giddy with joy and happiness and astonishment. There are a lot of people being brought to tears by the news of this miraculous intervention, and I can see God’s mighty hand moving in a powerful way. I am hoping that the child-like joy never fades, and the knowledge of God’s all-consuming love stays with us forever, because I have a feeling that’s the most miraculous part of all of this. God steps in, sometimes doing what we long for, oftentimes not, but always, in every situation, in every response, he manifests his love for us, and that is, truly, the greatest miracle of all, and the only one we’ll ever need. May we all be like C. S. Lewis, and learn to read the “small letters” written in our lives every day. And, pray for all of us, Venerable (soon-to-be Blessed!) Solanus Casey!

Making Sense of it All

My job brings me into the lives of people who are carrying a cross of daily suffering. No one needs a caregiver when everything is moving along just fine. I come along when the “simple” tasks of daily living get complicated. Sometimes, the trials are minimal, sometimes almost unbearable. I serve them, and love them, as they bear their afflictions, deal with daily hardships, and, often, feel themselves languishing in loneliness and uselessness. Walking has become difficult, or dangerous, or impossible. Eating is problematic, complicated by worn out taste buds and digestive systems that aren’t functioning well. Eyesight is waning, and energy levels are low, and sometimes, the memory is unreliable, at best. Day in and day out, the tedium drags on, and the question arises – where do these souls fit into the plan of life? Should we, as a society, be willing to write them off? Let’s face it, they do seem rather useless, in the eyes of our contemporary worldview. What is their purpose; why does God allow them to continue in this earthly journey, when they, and their families, might actually wish for a peaceful end? Can there, somehow, be genuine purpose and dignity, design and beauty, in such a seemingly “useless” existence? The answers, I suddenly realized, are found in the season through which we have just passed.

Lent called on our hearts to focus on the suffering of Christ, and, in so doing, on the general suffering of this life. Suffering is a part of life, and we will all suffer, in one way or another. Some of us might shoulder a lifetime of pain & struggle, while others might seem to pass through the valley unscathed, until sudden, unbearable misery swoops down upon them. But, no matter how it comes to us, the courageous bearing of adversity and affliction is cloaked in a beautiful and tremendous mystery. Every year, without fail, Lent leads to the beauty and life-giving promise of Easter, and it is here that we can begin to grasp the meaning of our pain, grief, heartbreak, despair, tribulation, and unhappiness.

Easter tells us that we are not made for this world, but for something so much better…”beyond-our-comprehension” better! In this life, we are separated from our true selves. If we walk carefully, with a heart willing to understand and be molded and perfected by our Creator, we will come into our own – we will begin to find our authentic self. Unfortunately, this world tends to distract us (now, more than ever!) from the purpose of our passage. We are too busy and overly distracted and focused on the life and riches and “perfection” which the various outlets of modern media tell us we are all entitled to, and convince us we should aim for. Not that aiming for good things is bad, but aspiring to worldly perfection blocks our view of what perfection truly is. Worldly perfection is impossible, and the frustration of this unattainable goal wears us down. When the suffering comes, for us or a loved one, we begin to wonder why things aren’t going quite the way we had expected. For anyone who finds themselves dealing with disabilities, chronic illness, or other hurdles to a “worldview perfection,” life can seem like a hopeless effort. Realizing that we will never attain this unreachable goal can be a brutal discovery, and lives not firmly anchored will be set adrift. Anger, despair, blaming, and utter wretchedness can be the result. Why are we so lost, and how do we find our way back?!

I recently read a thought-provoking quote by Fulton J. Sheen that I would like to share with you. Perhaps it will shed some light in the darkness:

“If a pencil is made for writing, we do not wish to see it used for digging; if a bird is made for flying, we do not wish to see it change places with the mole; if a soul is made for the fullness of life, then we do not want to see it clip its wings and wallow in hatred, half-truths, and marred loveliness. We want to see it united with its perfection which is the Life and Truth and Love and Beauty of God.”

For many years, I did not understand the meaning of life, and, in particular, of my own life. My childhood had seen its share of pain and suffering, and I was ready to move on. I wanted what the world offered – laughter and pleasure and fame and power and possessions. I repeatedly (and, unknowingly) clipped my wings. I grasped frantically at all the half-truths tossed in my direction, hoping that one of them might ring true, and my real beauty was truly marred. Until God called me into the Catholic Church, where Grace and Mercy and Love (in abundance!) were able to enter in and begin the healing process. To be sure, the prescriptive protocol included large doses of emotional suffering, as I reluctantly let go of who I thought I was. There were many occasions for swallowing lots of dry and not-so-tasty humble pie. You find me now, many years later, at an age rapidly approaching 60, with wrinkles and extra pounds and graying hair, but I feel more “beautiful” than I have ever been. I have learned that life and dignity and beauty and value are not defined by what people see when they look at me, but by what I offer when I look at them. If I extend love and mercy and kindness, beauty is shining through me and reflected in them. Especially if they are disabled, or disfigured, or elderly, or bedridden, or unloved, or unable to respond. And, even if I encounter, with love, people who hate me, or scream at me, or try to hurt me, it is still the same principal. Because love begets love, and treating with respect begets dignity, and acts of mercy bring a flood of mercy raining down. And in this type of interaction, we come to understand the beauty and purpose and usefulness of all lives. Which brings us back to the season of Lent and the question of suffering. This seemingly troublesome liturgical time is given to us to bring us closer to understanding the meaning of life, of our own lives, and to call us to dive deeper into the Love of God which holds us all in existence. We reflect on the life of Christ, which ended in great suffering and pain and disgrace, and we see the great love and purpose in these afflictions. Now we understand how our daily struggles bring us closer to perfection and more able to offer unconditional love. And our Easter vision reveals to us that those who quietly bear with suffering, of any kind, are truly the most Christ-like people we will ever meet. During this Easter season (which continues for several weeks!), I challenge you to find someone like that to learn from. Visit a retirement home, volunteer for a program that serves the mentally handicapped, make a new friend with someone “discounted” in our modern society…and take a step closer to Truth and Peace…, and Perfection.

Love ENTers

It’s really too bad that Lent didn’t start back in January, because I could have used the dark and dreary difficulties of that month as penitential deductions. As it was, they all just went to waste in “ordinary time.” None of us likes to think that we are suffering in vain – it must (and does!) have a purpose, and therefore, suffering during Lent seems so much more purposeful and acceptable. Nevertheless, there I was, stuck in a rut of unseasonable doldrums. It seemed to me, even during that time of muddled thinking, that it was a rather selfish rut, but when life’s day-to-day struggles suddenly morph into more than you can handle, and sinuses ache and swell and threaten daily to turn into infection, and the sun refuses (day after day after day) to show it’s warming light, it wears a person down. Oh, sure, I put on a good face while I was out and about, but my family was living with a grizzly bear who wanted nothing other than a long hibernation. They tried to stay out of my way, but they kept demanding to be fed and wanting me to carry on with other, usual activities. I growled and swatted, and did the best I could, and slowly trudged through the foggy moor of January, only to come to the terrifyingly Baskerville-ish hound of February. And when I got to a point where I felt I could not go on, I fell to my knees, and, just like a good psalm-writer, whined incessantly to God about my unbearable trials.

“Why, oh why, God,” I said. “Why does it have to be so cold and gray (without even one respectable snowfall!), and why are my sinuses so daggone sensitive, and why do I feel so tired and beat up, and why can’t I win the lottery so I don’t have to go to work, and….WAH!” God, being the wonderful, patient, loving Father that he is, answered my lament by sending this thought into my brain, “Charlene, my dear, you are RIGHT WHERE I WANT YOU TO BE!” And, suddenly, there went the wind…right out of my wailing sails, just as the rain descended upon my pity parade. I was left stranded, with only myself for company, and it wasn’t pleasant.

After a good dose of sacramental confession, I dived with gusto into the dustiness of Ash Wednesday. After all, I’ve had two months of practice in the Lenten landscape, and I’m ready to get moving. In keeping with the penitential spirit of the season, I thought about what I could “give up.” Chocolates and other sweets? Facebook? Movies on Netflix? These are standard fares of Lenten surrender, but they didn’t seem so useful anymore. What should I really give up, I wondered, and then it hit me. I need to give up myself, the things I yearn for, the way I think things should be, because those are the things that clutter my heart and my soul. They fill up the spaces where love could enter in. I need to clean and dust and empty out, to make room for that love. And not just any love, but love that is pure and good and selfless, and willing to be poured out for the “bigger picture” which I cannot see – the tapestry of all of our lives woven together in a story of unfathomably deep and unending love and compassion. And only then, after I have let go, and made a bit of room, can love enter. Then, in my mind’s eye, I saw the word “lent” in “love enters,” and I realized that I was on to something…something much bigger than me, and, quite honestly, something way beyond me. But it doesn’t matter, because I only have to take baby steps, and let God do the rest.

This is where you find me now – I have plugged the coordinates into my GPS, and have started down the path. It will be a long, slow pilgrimage that will lead me to Easter Sunday, and beyond. I know that I will wander off the trail (time and time again), I will stub my toes on roots and rocks, I will slip and slide when the rains come, and too often I will travel in a “one step forward, two steps back” fashion. And sometimes, my path will bring me, once again, to my knees, where forward progress, at least in a life of faith, makes its most fruitful gains. And I know that I do not travel alone. I will see some of you there, and you will offer me a restorative drink of encouragement, when thirst nearly overcomes me, and I promise to do my best for you, should you grow weary. As we walk with one another on this faithful journey, Love will be our guide and our sustenance. I hope to meet up with you on the trail, my friend. Vaya con Dios, and have a holy Lent!