The Chill Pill the World Has Awaited

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Does anyone else out there feel like the world is spinning out of control?! We are all stressed, that’s for sure…some of us way more than others; we all have needs and concerns and desires that are not being met in the way we think they should be. We are feeling lost and scared and angry and abandoned, and unsure of what the future holds. Just look around you, or read the daily news (if you can stomach it and/or put up with the news media’s modern goal of driving an inflamed, suspicious wedge between our country’s citizens). Folks these days get angry at the drop of a hat, or the honk of a horn. I‘ve always liked to give a polite little “beep” if the car in front of me takes longer than 3 or 4 seconds to respond to a green light. I’m not feeling at all angry, I’m just saying, “Hey, if you took this opportunity to read a text or dig in your purse for a tissue, I’m okay with that, but this is just a friendly, light touch of the horn button, to bring you back to the present! Peace be with you!” I mean, I appreciate it when the guy behind me provides that service to me! However, these days, with all the stories of people being shot in their cars from a road rage incident, or dragged out of their car and beaten to a pulp, I’m starting to feel a bit leery of employing the amiable green-light toot. Back in the old days, the worst response I might have received is someone yelling at me to “take a chill pill,” but in this chronically overwrought population we live with, my life could be ended by a misunderstood horn blast. And, of course, there are much worse examples of crazy overreactions to any perceived insult or threat. People are getting run over in the streets, in random acts of violence, by angry, broken (and, possibly brainwashed) people. At the international level, nuclear war threats are making headlines, while the inhabitants of some countries are, realistically speaking, being held captive by power-hungry and (seemingly) insane leaders. What can we do? Is there any hope of a cure for what ails and threatens us? The answer is……yes, THERE IS!

There is a potent prescription for all of us, just waiting to be pulled from the medicine cabinet, dusted off, and put to use daily. It is a balm designed to help us take a step back, and remember by whom, and for what, we were given life. We are made to love and serve and to strive for holiness. We are gifted to be co-creators of life and beautiful works of art, and our minds are made to solve problems and build bridges and give broken objects new life. Unfortunately, as witnessed in the increasingly selfish, ill-tempered, and morose crowd around us, our hearts will continue to grow more and more unsettled, until we are able to grasp the truth and find the courage and fortitude to embrace it. The prescribing physician is well known, even though many people choose to steer clear of his “office,” preferring to deal with sickness on their own, until they reach a point where they can barely function anymore. For so many, I guess that the unrelenting pain and emptiness is all worth it, as long as you can still have “control” over your own life….(sigh). If you, for one, are tired of the daily, meaningless grind, the Mighty Physician’s treatment plan really is quite easy to follow, and you can ramp up on it slowly, if you like.

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Here’s the detox phase, to get you started – begin with a short prayer each morning. Offer your day to God, and ask him to help you be, just for this day, the person that God wants you to be. When you go to bed at night, thank God for the gift of that day. Follow this simple formula for twelve weeks. If your heart begins the healing process (which I believe it will!), you will start to desire more from God. From there on out, “listen to” the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ask for the gifts that will lead you further and further down the road to wholeness. Sometimes you’ll forget, or be too tired to pray, or sometimes you’ll feel lost and unable to pray. It’s okay. When Peter tried to walk on the water, and he got scared and sank like a rock (which, by the way, Peter was, and is – Petra means rock in ancient Greek, and Peter/Petra was the rock on which Christ built his Church. So, being a rock is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, depending upon the situation, but that didn’t stop God from using our feckless, fickle Peter in an astoundingly huge way. St. Peter gives me more hope than just about any other saint, when it comes to realizing that my shortcomings don’t keep God from working in me and through me! In my weakness, God is made strong.) Our Lord did admonish Peter gently, by pointing out the smallness of his faith, but then Jesus reached out and saved Peter in his distress. God will do that for us, too. Constantly calling us deeper and deeper, but always traveling right beside us, ready to reach out and grab our hand when we cry out.

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Suddenly, there’s an old song playing in my head, recorded by Bette Midler in 1990. The lyrics tell of a God who is “watching us from a distance.” It is true that God is watching us, but he is not far away, gazing down on us from some lofty height. He is right behind us, just waiting for us to turn around, just waiting to be our healing physician, just waiting to calm our fears and lighten our hearts and lead us to the fulfillment of all that we are created for. And once we take that step, we can lead others, and they can lead more, and we can initiate change in our little piece of the world, one heart at a time, through the omnipotent love and power and mercy of our Creator God. Will it sweep away the bothersome struggles of this world, will it take away all the pain? No, because many will continue to refuse treatment, and that’s their choice, but it will change our outlook and our understanding of life, and give us hearts filled with love, flowing with God’s mercy and compassion. Better than any chill pill, is God’s will pill…(and that’s a motto I’m going to copyright!)

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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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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…

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

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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.

 

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…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!

 

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

 

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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!

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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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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Cat Kidnapping Caper

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Over the past few months, a stray, black cat has been making fugitive appearances around my client’s house. We cleaned out the freezer a few weeks ago and found some pre-cooked bacon to put out for the wildlife. (My client and her dad live on a wooded lot, and they love feeding the wild critters, especially the raccoons, possums, and birds.) Minutes later, as I watched, the petite, black kitty snuck stealthily up onto the deck, snagged a piece of bacon from one of the bowls, and hightailed it off into the underbrush. Sometimes, a member of the local cat society will stop by for a check of the daily lunch special, and I guess the menu had finally appealed to this feline “critter.” However a few weeks passed without another sighting of the black mouser (or, should I say, “baconer”).

Seemingly out of the blue, she showed up again earlier this week, and, bold as you please, tried to waltz right into the house when we opened the door onto the deck. I finally got a chance to hold her and get a good look at her. She was sweet as could be, but the poor little thing was missing her left eye. It was an old injury, the wound healed and shrunken, but still, it broke my heart. She did not appear to be underfed, but there was no collar (which to me, always implies homelessness for a cat!), plus, she seemed more than ready to move in with my client. I concluded that she was probably an unwanted pet who had been dropped off in the woods. My cat-loving instincts, along with my cat-whispering skills, came bubbling to the surface. I called my personal, cat-rescue mentor, Regina, and asked her what I should do, in my efforts to save this cat. First thing to do, she advised, would be to get the cat to a local animal clinic, get her scanned, and see if she had a microchip. By the time I had received that message, the cat was gone. I went walking through the woods, calling and calling, to no avail. I put my cat-saving super hero cloak away for the day.

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Two days later, I was at work again, no sign of the cat. At 3:00 in the afternoon, my client decided she wanted to go to Ikea. Considering the time of day, the potential traffic, and my shift ending in three hours, I was a bit skeptical about this Ikea idea, but I rallied, as any good employee (and loving friend!) would, and we were on our way to the van, when, “MEOW, MEEOOWW, MEEEEOOOWWW!” broke into our thoughts. Where was that noise coming from?! I scrutinizingly scanned the landscape, as I grew closer and closer to the source of the caterwaul, until I seemed to be standing right under it. I looked up, and sure enough, there was that black cat, stuck in a tree, the nearest branch at least 15 feet up. (Photo below, actual tree, she was in that little crook, where limbs start branching out! Okay…..maybe it was only 12 feet, but it felt like 15, or more!) I did what any self-respecting lion tamer would do…I tried to sweet talk her into coming down. No dice. She continued to complain…loudly. Time to call out the heavy rescue team.

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I went back inside to rustle up the rest of the emergency brigade, my client’s 88 year old dad. Together, we managed to drag a huge, heavy, extendable ladder out of the garage, up the driveway, and painstakingly (not to mention rather three-stoogishly, with only two stooges) get the ladder leaning, somewhat securely, against the tree. I started climbing. After a few rungs, I came back down to see if we could get the top of the ladder settled a bit more snuggly against the tree. I started back up, still noticing that the ladder was slipping off the tree a bit on the right side, but knowing that the two of us were not going to do any better with a third attempt. Each rung of the ladder became a prayer. Slowly, nervously, I inched my way to the top. Once there, I grabbed the cat like a mama cat would, by the back of the neck. She was not happy about that, at all! She howled at the top of her lungs and grabbed onto the tree for dear life. I am wrestling with this cat at the top of this ladder, thinking to myself, “If I fall, and I don’t die, my husband will kill me for taking this risk for a cat!” Somehow (no doubt through my prayers, my client’s prayers, and the watchful eye and intercessory prayers of St. Francis), I got the little lynx into my arms (or, one arm, to be exact), curled her up close to me and said, over and over, “You gotta trust me babe, you gotta trust me!” Then, painstakingly, white-knuckling the ladder with one hand, I deliberately worked my way down, one careful step at a time, until we were back on solid ground. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking as I placed the sweet (and now, calm) little girl into a carrier, which we had waiting and ready.

Fast forward through, 1: getting her to the vet;  2: getting a reading from the chip (YAY!);  3: calls made to the pet recovery service;  4: attempted calls to the registered owner which went unanswered;  5: realizing that we were obliged to house this cat until the owner responded, and stuck with finding alternative housing if the owner had vanished;  6: providing my cell number in the hope that they would hear from the owner and he or she wanted to contact me about getting pussycat back.

After returning to my client’s home, we set up plush, temporary housing in a basement room, which would protect little missy from my client’s two cats, and vice-versa. I headed home, after hearing from Regina that our only option for kitty (if we failed to hear from the owner) was to take her to the local SPCA, where she had originally been adopted from. They promised she would not be euthanized, and a new home would be found for her.

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Finally at 9:30 pm, my phone rang. IT WAS THE CAT OWNER, very surprised to have received a message that his cat, Olivia, had “been found,” because he had no idea she was even lost! Turns out, he lives practically in my client’s back yard (albeit an acre’s worth of woods away)! He was thinking that she had stayed out a little later than usual, but wasn’t really worried. I related the entire adventure, from bacon to basement and (luckily) he laughed and laughed, and so did I! We ended our conversation in hopeful agreement that Olivia’s tree-climbing days were over. But I was left with a slightly guilty conscience, realizing that I had been gloating about my successful foray into cat rescuing, while all along, I had actually been carrying out a clandestine cat kidnapping! After sheepishly swallowing my disagreeable dose of humility, I texted Regina to tell her the news, and apologize for wasting her time. She promptly forgave me by signing me up as an official volunteer for her cat rescue non-profit. Wow….I am an official cat rescuer now! Regina….., can I have a cape?!

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!

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

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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).

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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!

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