My Days as a Super Hero

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender-5.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender-1.jpg

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!

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

Yeah, I know, it’s been way too long since my last post, but, hey….I was in New Jersey, visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years, and I couldn’t get the posting steps to work on my iPad, so I ditched you guys for a week. Get over it! And, just to PROVE that I was in the greater NYC area, here are some photos with captions so you can vacation vicariously through my adventure.

While in New Jersey/New York/Connecticut…

P1080812.jpg

P1080821.jpg

…I made myself dizzy looking up at tall buildings, including my short exposure to Times Square (which put me into a sensory overload),

P1080824.jpg

P1080828.jpg

and continued with my view of the “Freedom Tower” (One World Trade Center), built on the grounds of the original World Trade Center Towers that came down in the most horrific terrorist attack ever, on our country’s soil in 2001. That tower, along with the Memorial Pool, made my heart ache all over again. I walked along the edge of the large pool and ran my hands over the names etched into the marble stone, saying a prayer for them and their loved ones who still miss them, and carry the tragedy of that dark day with them always.

 

P1080856.jpg

P1080849.jpg

P1080864.jpg

…I swam in a sound for the first time in my life (at least, that I know of)! It was awesome. For a midwest girl, any hint of ocean water, or the mildest whiff of salt air, are like gifts straight from heaven. I walked out on the jetty, applauded an opera star wanna-be singing in the ocean (made his day, I’m quite certain, with my “Bravo, brravo!”), made several new friends, and sat on the lifeguard stand (possibly breaking a rule there…?). I gathered a few shells and rocks to bring home (because I’ve been a rock/shell collector since I was a wee little lassie, and I can’t stop now!). Plus, I re-learned about what a sound is (geographically speaking), and in particular, about the Long Island Sound and how it was formed. All that while enjoying a beautiful beach with ocean waves and wind rejuvenating my spirit. That was one, perfect day!

 

P1080913.jpg

P1080925.jpg

…I rode on a ferry and cruised around Manhattan, meeting a tall lady in green, and lots and lots of bridges.

 

P1080941.jpg

But, most important, I spent six lovely days with one of the dearest friends of my life. I cannot even put into words how much this trip meant to me. I am feeling extremely grateful for forever friends, restorative vacations, surviving my airport adventures (I don’t mind flying at all, but airports send me into a tizzy), and being able to leave NYC and come home to my nice, manageable little city in Ohio! And, once I’m recovered, I’ll get workin’ on that next blog post – one of my usual, entertaining stories for your reading pleasure…I promise!

You Didn’t Know It, But I’m a Poet!

In my last post, Utensils Vs U-Turns, I used a quote from one of my all-time favorite poets, and suggested that I could, perhaps, have a bit of poetry in me. The truth is, I have always enjoyed, for as long as I can remember, writing poems and making up new, original verses for popular children’s songs. My poetry is the “Old Mother Hubbard, Went to the cupboard” brand of verse – I am drawn to reliable meter and perfect (or at least near perfect) rhyme. In an effort to share my gift of poetry with you (and, also, to get a quick blog post in before I head out of town for a week in the “greater” Big Apple area, visiting a dear, old friend), I have composed an “on-the-edge-of-epic” poem about my car, Louie. Get a glass of wine, light a cigar, and sit back and relax. You are about to be courted by some cultivated verse.

IMG_2758.JPG

Louie the Shark    

I bought an older Hyundai,

A sweet, reliable guy.

He’s the greatest transport buddy.

If I lost him I would cry.

 

There is one crazy thing, though,

he thinks he is a shark.

I know because he told me,

one night when it was dark.

IMG_2765.JPG

At first I thought him loony.

He’s just a common ride

who’d never seen the ocean,

and not once rode the tide.

 

But as I looked much closer,

I was surprised to find

a cute gray fin upon his back,

a baby sharkish kind.

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

He had a battle scuffle

etched on his auto nose.

I’ve seen a real ocean shark

sporting one of those.

IMG_2760.JPG

And so, in part, for his sake,

I headed to the shore,

all the way to Virginia Beach.

six hundred miles and more.

 

My plan was for his welfare.

I hoped that he might find

a day spent near the ocean

would soothe his shark-like mind.

IMG_2757.JPG

He couldn’t hang out on the beach,

The lifeguards wouldn’t let him.

An access road with ocean views

Was the closest I could get him.

 

But, Oh, he was so happy,

his horn beeped Ode to Joy.

He didn’t want to pull away,

he shouted out, “Ahoy!”

 

I witnessed this with merry mirth,

my gray car’s alter ego.

And now I could believe him,

my auto shark amigo.

FullSizeRender-3.jpg

I’m considering a vanity plate

(if they didn’t cost so much),

‘cause what I’d put upon it

would be the sovereign touch.

(“LUI SHRK”)

 

So someday you might see us,

driving in your town,

me and my harmless, land-locked shark,

sporting our sharky crown.

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

I hope that you will greet us

and give my shark a wave,

’cause waves are what he longs for

my car shark, true and brave!

IMG_2763.JPG

Utensils vs U-turns

FullSizeRender-3.jpg

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.

IMG_2741.JPG

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).

FullSizeRender-4.jpg

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!

IMG_2745.JPG

Illusionary Lists

IMG_2665.PNG

I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

IMG_2669.JPG

Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

IMG_2667.JPG

I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

IMG_2666.JPG

Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

These Busy, Blazey, Way-too-crazy Days of Summer

IMG_2617.JPG

Whatever happened to the quintessential “summer break?’ If you’re over fifty, you’ve most likely heard (at least the first line of) the 1963 tune performed by the smooth, jazzy voice of Nat King Cole, ”Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” That line is all you really needed to hear, especially if you were a kid. It’s the ultimate theme for those hot summer months. Summer is hazy (in most of the U.S.A.), and you should spend a good portion of it being lazy, with any leftover time invested in doing something just a little wild and crazy.

These days, the summer months for youngsters can prove to be just as overly-scheduled, and as excessively controlled and monitored, as the school year. Parents fill out applications and send checks to numerous organizations, then drive to and fro (or…pay someone to drive to and fro), transporting their children to a myriad of planned activities, while kids spend their summers learning, studying, engaging in sports at expensive indoor and outdoor facilities, swimming like a populous school of fish with their summer camp leader & fellow “campers,” and/or playing games or “socializing” on their electronic devices in the comfort of some air-conditioned facility. There are, of course, a few holders-on to the old ways, with stay-at-home parents, or babysitters, sending their young charges out to play with the neighborhood kids (if there are any to be found, with an open time-slot in their schedule). I find myself really noticing these children in my locale, because it is so unusual to see little squirts running around or riding bikes outside (without several adults hovering nearby), and/or an I-phone in their hands. I have made it a point to mention to these members of the younger generation that their neighborhood game of tag, baseball, running through the sprinkler, lounging in a small backyard pool, or whatever it may be, warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. The kids usually seem to appreciate my comments. They grin and say thanks, then scamper off quickly, to avoid being captured by whoever is “it.” These encounters never fail to draw my thoughts back to memories of my own childhood summers.

IMG_2621.JPG

Do you remember, as a young child, standing on the edge of summer?! I can easily call to mind the last day of school, the last bell, and suddenly, my classmates and I were free, launching ourselves, with an emotion not unlike hysteria, into the land of summer, with no restraints! Well….maybe there was about a week of lying around, being bored, trying to figure out what to do with all that spare time on our hands, but once we got into the swing of things, there was no stopping us!

During my childhood summers, we sweated and swam our way through a full season of outdoor, spontaneous adventures. After a long day of outdoor activities of one sort or another, I often had a difficult time falling asleep in my un-air-conditioned room. I never once heard the terms “Global Warming ” or “Climate Change.” Maybe they were being discussed behind closed doors, in scientific circles, but it had absolutely no impact on my summer plans. June, July, & August (and often September) in Ohio have always been hot and muggy, so we just suffered through it, like everyone else, and were completely acclimated to the swelter by the Fourth of July.

IMG_2619.JPG

When I was old enough to venture off on my own for my daily allowance of activity and fun, I would spend entire days at the local pool and/or lake. Sometimes my cohorts and I would splash and play in the water for hours, doing somersaults and handstands in the cool, deep water, swimming out to the docks, going down the slides, coming out reluctantly only when the whistle blew for the scheduled lifeguard breaks. Other days, especially at the pool, we would dive and jump off the diving boards until we could barely walk anymore, in and out, in and out, mixing our attempts at graceful diving with silly, creative leaps, choreographed with precision comedy to bring giggles to our friends’ faces. Someone’s parents would show up to pick us up shortly before it was time for the park or pool to close.

IMG_2620.JPG

When we weren’t at the pool, we were busy trying to figure out how to build our own playhouse or fort (usually in someone else’s woods), or picking and eating fresh produce in a freind’s back yard orchard or garden, or gathering in the neighbor’s field for a game of tag, or kick-the-can, or Indian baseball. Our game was an interesting variation of the original version, and was endlessly entertaining, usually topped off by raiding someone’s freezer for a round of popsicle treats. There were campfires, cookouts, and campouts in backyards, family reunion picnics (with those distant relatives we only saw once a year), occasional trips to local amusement parks (no such thing as gold passes back then, but there were smaller, family friendly parks scattered all over the place), not to mention the carnival that set up every year in our small town’s shopping plaza parking lot. All of these adventures gave us the opportunity to live our “lazy, hazy, crazy” summers to the fullest, and the funny thing is, most of it cost us pennies on the dollar, compared to today’s standard summer fare. I grew older, of course, and transitioned into the summer-job phase of life, but I had learned to treasure the gift of summer break (done properly!), and I administered it in large doses to my children when they were young. I can witness this family “tradition” continuing now, with my oldest daughter and her children. I see the simple, inexpensive, spontaneous outdoor activities she offers my grandchildren, and I know…our growing family is doing summer right, and I hope we’re able to continue in this same vein, for generations to come. And, I challenge you to be on the lookout for opportunities to enjoy something luxuriously lazy and kind-of crazy in the hazy weeks ahead. Be careful, though…you might just find yourself craving a popsicle!

Searching for Rainbows

IMG_2602.JPG

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.

IMG_2601.JPG

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.

IMG_2603.JPG

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!

The Humble Mediator of Miracles (Part 2 of the “Detroit Chronicles”)

IMG_2505.JPG

After hours of tossing and turning in a hotel bed (with possibly 2 or 3 hours of good sleep mixed in), my husband and I were ready for day two of our Michigan meanderings – our pilgrimage to the Fr. Solanus Casey Center. This was the main reason we had headed up north for a less-than-24-hours trip to The Motor City. (If you haven’t yet read Part 1 of the saga, check the archives for Discovering Detroitians, and get caught up before continuing.) I was so excited about my “meeting” with the prayerful porter, that even the bothersome symptoms of sleep deprivation were held at bay for the time being. My soul longed to attend morning Mass in the same chapel where Fr. Casey had celebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist for so many years. After that, I planned to browse through the museum of artifacts which were his daily “companions” of the priestly life, feast my eyes on the photos and stories of his large (15 siblings) Irish-American family, and (most of all) to kneel and pray at his tomb.

The self-guided tour at the Center begins with entry through a set of large wooden doors, inside of which, many years go, you would have encountered Fr. Solanus in his position as doorkeeper. His was a lowly, humble title, no doubt based on his history of struggling with the seminary academics and the resulting limits placed on his priestly functions (and, quiet possibly, a credit to his years as head porter at Sacred Heart Parish and monastery in Yonkers, NY). However, we all know that God often chooses the lowly, preferring the humble route as a means to share his love and spread the good news of his eternal Kingdom. This position was not a deterrent to Fr. Casey, whose popularity at the entryway began almost immediately upon his return to the Detroit monastery in 1924. The number of visitors to the monastery doors began to swell almost immediately. Fr. Solanus was such a kind and holy man, who took the time to listen, and help in any way he could. Word spread like wildfire, and the lines grew longer. Soon, the faithful were requesting that the front office be enlarged, and a waiting room with seating be provided. The Capuchins granted these requests, and the one-on-one sessions continued, with each caller receiving Fr. Casey’s full attention for as long as needed, while the others waited patiently for their turns. Fr. Casey often stayed at his post from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm each day. During these daily encounters, broken hearts were mended, medical concerns often healed miraculously, and lost souls found their way to the place of wholeness and joy, which is, always and without fail, found at the center of God’s will for one’s life. Fr. Solanus was a porter, a mentor, a guide, a prophet, a healer, and, perhaps most importantly, a loving and generous friend. The simple diary that he kept of his daily encounters reveals the miracles that were reported due to his intercession and healing touch.

My history with Fr. Casey goes back about eleven or twelve years ago, when I initiated a youth group at our church for my older daughters and their friends. One of my co-leaders did a teaching on Venerable Solanus Casey, and my Irish roots, combined with family ties to the Casey name, made me an instant fan of this beloved man. Since that time, so many years ago, I have spoken daily with the humble porter, and he has responded by taking me under his wing, with obvious care and intervention. When our latest wedding anniversary was approaching, I asked my husband if we could make the trek to Detroit, to visit the central hub for the promotion of Fr. Casey’s eventual canonization. It was just a few days later that I received the news that a miracle had been researched and found to be authentic, and Fr. Casey’s beatification (2nd step to official sainthood) would take place this fall. Following shortly on the heels of that announcement, we experienced our own miracle, with the healing of my client (read previous post, Embracing a Miracle).

IMG_2555.JPG

All of these wonderful events led up to that beautiful day at the Fr. Solanus Casey Center, where I kneeled at the tomb and, with tears in my eyes, thanked Fr. Casey for all of his prayers, and placed in his loving hands even more prayers, for so many of my friends and loved ones. We spoke with Brother Richard about the healing of my client, and he received the news with great enthusiasm, asking that I send copies of x-rays with a detailed account of what had happened. We listened with rapt attention to the center’s hostess, as she told us the story of Fr. Albert’s healing, while attending to an aging Fr Solanus in the last year of his life on earth. Then, lo and behold, Fr. Albert walked by, and we were able to meet him and hear his inspiring story first-hand. And then, for the grand finale of the day, managing to be in the right place at just the right time, we were blessed by a relic that Fr. Casey had carried with him every day, a circular reliquary case which holds tiny relics of the true cross, surrounded by relics of the twelve apostles. As we stood in a small circle, touching the reliquary with one finger as Br. Richard prayed with us, and then blessed us, I imagined Fr. Casey standing there with us, and felt the Holy Spirit flowing within me. I knew that I was being powerfully strengthened for my continued journey on the path to holiness. This heavenly “cloud of witnesses” that God allows us to be part of is such a great and incomprehensible gift. Those who have fought the good fight and remained faithful until the end, they are there for us, longing to be called upon for prayers and assistance. They will carry our needs and concerns and desires to the throne of God, and, when that happens….well, as Fr. Solanus always counseled, to those asking for healings and favors, “Let us thank God in advance,” because His gifts, though not always exactly what we ask for, are indeed, always good and always fruitful. All you Angels and Saints in Heaven, please pray (without ceasing) for us!

IMG_2588.JPG

Discovering Detroitians

IMG_2558.JPG

Until earlier this week, I had never been to Detroit, Michigan. For a lot of folks, that statement would make a perfect set-up for a one-liner about this convalescing metropolis, but I will refrain. The truth is, I quite enjoyed myself (east-side urban blight and I-75 south closed for miles notwithstanding). My husband and I traveled to this struggling city to visit the Fr. Solanus Casey Center (that’s where I am, in the photo above), which is on Mt. Elliott Ave. When we arrived late Sunday afternoon, the Fr. Solanus Center (aka, St. Bonaventure Monastery, of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin) was closed for the day. We had little to do but try to locate a place to stay for the night, and grab some supper. Finding ourselves practically at ground zero of the Detroit blight, but also of a frugal mindset, we looked up a few cheap hotels/motels that seemed to be located in a slightly recovered part of town. We said a prayer, charted a course, and headed to Gratiot Ave. Driving up Mt. Elliott on the way to Gratiot, we saw some of the sad remains of the Heidelberg Project. I had never heard of this monumental artistic/educational endeavor before, but my husband knew about it and had researched it. Sadly, I have a feeling that we missed the heyday by several years. As we continued up Elliott, onto Gratiot, then turned left on Van Dyke St., we witnessed the signs of death and decay of neighborhood after neighborhood. Our sight-seeing drive led us through a ghost town of houses in disrepair, many gutted and covered with graffiti, some the charred remains of arson; open lots with piles of rubble from houses that had fallen down; neglected weeds and bushes taking over sidewalks and buildings; and boarded-up windows of shuttered businesses. It was heart-breaking and hard to believe. I had heard of the Detroit blight, and seen a few pictures now and again, but I had no idea of the widespread destruction of neighborhoods. Seeing it in person made me sad.

IMG_2564.JPG

As signs of life began to reappear, we started looking for a Red Roof Inn we had researched. A quick drive through the parking lot alerted us to the shakiness of that option. We headed to a nearby Victory Inn. At the front desk, we met a very nice young man. I will not mention his name, but he was extremely polite and helpful and he bent over backwards to make us feel comfortable and find the perfect room. We chatted with him for quite some time, and come to find out, he is 19 years old, and has only been in the U.S. since his early teens. His entire family, after several attempts to flee a very dangerous situation in a Middle East country, had finally ended up as refugees in Detroit. I (figuratively) wrapped my arms around this young man (who is now, btw, a U. S. citizen), and am praying for him daily. I hope that he finds success and joy (and, a supportive faith community) in his “new” life in America. I left him with my email address, so that, just in case he ever makes it to Cincinnati, he can get in touch with us, even stay with us, if he likes. I sincerely hope to see him again someday!

After getting settled, we walked to a nearby Bob Evans, that (based on the size of the supper crowd) seems on the brink of shutting down. Our server there was a young man named Tuesday. Yes…that was really his name. I said to him, “You should be working at Ruby Tuesdays!” A big smile spread across his face, and he replied, “No one has ever thought of that before….that is a great idea!” From there, things just got better. I pointed out the picture on the wall, of the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio, and told him we had been there a few times, and that I had actually won the hog-calling contest once, at the farm festivals they used to host. He was very impressed. He kept returning to our table to chat and I fell in love with him, too. That kind, hospitable, hard-working young man/husband/father is going places, if he can chart a steady course, and meet someone who can offer him a good opportunity. He’s also been added to my daily prayer list. My husband and I walked back to our hotel, feeling blessed and encouraged by our “chance” (i.e., Holy Spirit orchestrated) encounters with these young men. Little did we know, our day’s journey was not yet complete.

Back in our room, we perused the Detroit tourism magazines, which are standard fare in guest rooms. I have a fondness for microbreweries, and my husband noticed an ad for a place not too far from us, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. It closed at 10:00pm on Sundays, and it was now 9:00. If we hurried, we might make it in time for a brewsky. Using our handy-dandy, vintage road map once again, we made it to the pub by 9:30. We ordered a flight of five brews (my favorite being a Scottish ale called, “A Few Shillings Too Many”), and began to chat with the one other patron and the server. We informed them that we were in town to visit the Fr. Solanus Center, which required (as usual) a retelling of my Fr. Casey “story” (if you haven’t yet, read last week’s post!). In our continuing bar patron palaver, we mentioned our 35th anniversary the following day, and the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor, 9 years out now. The reaction to that news brought to our attention another (previously undetected) patron at the opposite end of the bar, who then applauded me, and asked me how it had changed my life. I gave him the abridged version of growing in faith, learning to appreciate the little things, and eating healthier. By this point, the servers were locking up, so we asked for our bill. We noticed an interaction between our server and the man at the end of the bar, and after a few minutes, our waitress came back with our bill, announcing that we had received a 50% out-of-towners discount. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled. Another little gift, dropped in our laps, simply because people were noticing our joy and kindness, and were reacting in kind. Uplifted and grateful, we returned, once again, to our night’s lodgings. We set our alarms for early the next morning and dove into bed with the anticipation of tomorrow’s visit to the tomb of Fr. Solanus Casey….which is a “whole-nother” story in itself, and makes this tale a “to be continued” enterprise. Make a note on your calendar to visit with me again next week, to enjoy the rest of this entertaining travel saga!

Embracing a Miracle

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

“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!