Mimi On-the-Mend, From Her Minnesota Meanderings

Where did the month of November go?! I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in a few weeks – consider this blog my excusal letter! I flew out of Cincinnati on November 1st, for a two-week stay with my daughter in … Continue reading

Rise Above with Humble Love

When I look at what you suffer, I don’t notice color of skin. I don’t ask who you voted for, What church you worship in.   I feel no wary suspicion For an accent not like mine. Your clothing might … Continue reading

Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.

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As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.

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All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.

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While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.

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Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.

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And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!

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Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)

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Weathering the Storms of Life

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As a country, we’ve been going through the valley lately, experiencing some pretty serious hardship. In our lifetime (despite all of mankind’s advances in science and technology), most of us will face some sort of calamity or painful loss, possibly even catastrophic destruction, sometimes individually, sometimes as a community at large, sometimes as a nation. The United States of America has just endured the one-two knockout punch of back-to-back destructive hurricanes. Add to that the tragic, widespread fires out west, the anniversary of the indescribable terror of 9/11, and the crippling division being displayed amongst our citizenry, and…yeah, we could definitely quote Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite novels, which I highly recommend, if you’ve never read it!), “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We have “it all,” and yet we are finding (more and more often, it seems) that it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. The question is, will we confront these challenges facing inward, focusing only on ourselves and our own problems, or facing outward, together, with a disposition of serving others? In other words, will we allow it to make us stronger, more compassionate, and united, or reduce us to an outraged, bitter, broken people? From what I have seen, so far, from the stories of people reaching out to help, sending money, praying unceasingly – most of us have opted for the healthy and fruitful orientation.

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The absolute best perspective on all of this tragedy comes from an (almost) unbelievably sweet and adorable couple, who I know you have all heard about since Twitter (whose existence I usually refuse to acknowledge) is apparently abuzz with the news of these people. I am referring, of course, to Irma and Harvey Schluter, the elderly couple from Spokane, WA (ages 92 and 104, respectively), whose story has been shared on every reliable (and, otherwise) news source since last Friday when the story first broke.

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These are two remarkable people, who survived the challenges of World War II, had three children, and then fostered over one hundred more children. If the story stopped here, that would be enough, but Irma and Harvey also offered some sage advice. This amazing couple (who are still in love and still relatively healthy, with minds as sharp as tacks) shared these pearls of wisdom from their years of commitment and sacrifice:

“Each one’s gotta have love,” says Harvey.

“That, and faith,” adds Irma, “Two things that were here before and will be here after (the other Harvey and Irma pass from history).”

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THAT’S IT, PEOPLE!! Yes, it’s as simple as that! That’s all we need to get through this – faith and love. (And, yes, they are referring to faith in God, because that is their history and their personal motivation – they even taught Sunday school classes together! – and it is what facilitates a growth in self-sacrificing love.) As a former foster-parent of two children, I know, without a doubt, that welcoming one hundred & twenty foster children into your home (and doing the job with the proper spirit) requires a supernatural “inpouring” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and authentic love (spelled out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13). If we open our hearts and our lives to embrace these truths, we will weather the storms of life, no matter how widespread and devastating they might be, and we will do it together. And together (i.e., hand-in-hand, united, with one voice, committed to one another, in concert, linked together, etc, etc.) is where we need to be right now. More “storms” are on the horizon, some we can see, some not even on our radar, but they are there, and they will come. Will we face them together, or separated; in a spirit of “love thy neighbor,” or a spirit of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will hate and mistreat you because your beliefs don’t jive with mine”? The choice is ours, and our choice will decide our ultimate fate. As for me and my family, we’re gonna follow the example of our country’s “very own, real-life, time-tested” duo, Irma and Harvey, from Spokane. I speak from personal experience when I say: Love, rooted in faith, will build an effective fortress, a sturdy stronghold, in which we can withstand the onslaught of any and all storms that head our way. Let’s keep building….together!

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Fried Zucchini Summer

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The summer I graduated from high school, and my horse and pony had been sold in anticipation of me going off to photography school, my dad used part of our former pasture area for his first vegetable garden. He tilled and planted a whopper of a plot, considering our family size. By mid-August, we were drowning in egg plant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dad lugged piles of produce off to work each morning, to share with his co-workers at Goodyear, and there was still plenty left over for us. My absolute favorite was the zucchini…breaded and fried zucchini, to be exact. My dad and I could polish off two large zucs between the two of us, because they were so incredibly yummy. It was a special thing we shared between us, that hankerin’ for fried zucchini. Now that I’m much older, and my dad is long gone, I can transport myself back to that bittersweet, transitional summer, with overgrown zucchini from my own garden. I slice them up, just like I did for my dad and I, then I dip them in egg and flour (actually, gluten-free flour, or sometimes almond meal), fry those babies up, close my eyes and take a big bite…and suddenly, I’m back in our old kitchen, with my father, living that zucchini summer all over again.

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It’s an inexpensive and safe method of time-travel, these sensory memory triggers. I travel the taste bud route quite often, with certain foods that take me back to times shared with my dad (because when little tag-along me joined the family, my mom went to work full-time, my Grandma Casey moved in with us, and my dad pitched in by taking over most of the meal preparation for our family). There were other food favorites that we had in common, like soup beans and ham with cornbread, and pot roast with potatoes and carrots. One bite of any of those, and the gustation process can carry me back in a second, if I close my eyes, sit quietly, and savor the flavor, along with the memories.

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The olfactory passage to the past is closely related to the taste route, so it often takes me to the same places, but is has the power to transport me to a myriad of other memories. All I have to do is walk into a horse barn, catch one wonderful whiff, and I am at the county fair, hanging out with my 4-H buddies, cleaning the stall, showing Paco (my quarter horse) in the ring, rubbing my hand down his soft, sweaty neck, or sometimes lunching on corndogs and lemon shake-ups, or inhaling the helium from a balloon to talk like Donald Duck. I am young and carefree, my parents are there with me at our campsite, and we are sitting around the fire with friends. Or, how about the passage power of holding a baby, and smelling his/her sweet head (what is it with the smell of baby’s heads?!). These days, when a baby is in my arms, I fly back to the early days of parenting, holding my own little ones, nursing them, rocking them in my arms while singing lullabies – it’s all there, in full color and complete, sensual detail. The quality of transport and the clear view of those days-gone-by is really quite amazing.

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Other times, I travel back by way of an old song that slides from my ears right down to my heart, and I find myself with an old friend, hanging out in their basement, or at one of our favorite haunts. Or I might end up at a high school prom, dancing in the arms of a high school heart throb. Sometimes it’s the sound of laughter that reminds me of my mom, and takes me back “home” again. She was the kind who would occasionally get unexplainably tickled by some silly episode, then laugh for 15 minutes, until she was crying and could hardly breathe, while the rest of us were all laughing at her (even though we were often clueless regarding the original trigger for her laughter, and she would be laughing way to hard to fill us in!). There are other times when a sound can transport me to completely unexpected places: I hear a train whistle, and suddenly, I am sitting at the tracks, in the car with my mom, counting the railway cars to make the time pass more pleasantly, and trying to be the first one to spot the caboose. A rumble of thunder, of the boom of fireworks can also occasionally work their magic on me. The hearing path to yesterday is probably the most surprising and mysterious for me, because I just never know when or where it will strike, and where I might end up.

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Of course, we can’t leave out the sight triggers for time travel – there are so many opportunities. We live in the age of photography, so all we have to do is pull out an old photo album, and BAM…we’re there again, with ease. Or how about digging through those storage boxes of sentimental items? Those have serious transference power, too. But there are also more subtle ways that sneak up on us, like coming upon a field of sunflowers, or finding a beautiful shell on the beach, or witnessing a breath-taking sunset. Our mind can latch onto anything our eyes take in, and, in a millisecond, carry us back to some almost forgotten place.

And then there’s that last sense….touch. In my opinion, touch kind of tags along with the other senses, and enhances the time-travel journey. When I’m eating fried zucchini, just the feel of it in my mouth adds to the full effect. And those 4-H fair memories….if I get a chance to run my hands down a horse’s neck or side, or touch his soft nose…that just makes all the above-mentioned images come more clearly into focus. Same concept with the touch of my lips on a baby’s head, or feeling the warmth of a wee one against my body, or their soft breath upon my neck as I rock them – the memories they trigger are like a 3D movie, with all senses fully functioning.

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If you have days of old that you would like to revisit, step away from the rush of life this week, and enjoy a cruise down memory lane. Your very own time travel voyage is just a taste (or a smell, or a vision, or a sound, or a touch) away, but you have to be open to the excursion and willing to put some effort into quiet reflection. I hope you have pleasant travel, and don’t forget to send me a postcard!

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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!