Broccoli Buds on my Bicuspids

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Making the choice, and the concentrated effort, to eat healthier has many obvious good effects. However, some of you may be wondering, “What are the negative consequences of eating healthier?” I am here today to enlighten you on this taboo subject, to boldly go where organic farmers fear to tread (which is a pretty short list!), in order to bring into the light these hidden dangers of being a foodie.

First of all, eating healthy is just a lot of hard work. In simple terms, you can no longer eat out of a box or bag. No more easy-fix hamburger helper or mac & cheese, and don’t even think about soup from a can! And going through a fast-food drive-thru…..pphhttt….that’s gonna require DAYS of advance, online investigation! This way of life will necessitate premeditated food selection and labor-intensive food preparation. Just deciding to eat healthier is a big step, which you will have to present to those in your life who might be affected by it. After clearing that huge hurdle, this new lifestyle requires never-ending research, and driving around town to farmer’s markets and alternative vendors’ drop-off sites to find what you need. This burden has been lessened to some extent by the local grocer’s dive into the “natural foods” market (i.e., they saw a chance to cash-in on the latest eating trends). You have to be very careful, though, with the grocery store offerings, because food producers like to put all kinds of information on their labels that make their products sound healthy. Since finding out that I have a pretty serious gluten sensitivity, I have discovered all sorts of “gluten-free” items at the grocery store. I can safely drink a six-pack of Mountain Dew, or eat an entire box of Popsicles, and I will not have any allergic reaction, because they are gluten-free foods. Well, whoopdedoo and laudeedah…thank you, food mega-companies, for being so helpfully informative in your labeling practices.

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I must admit that I never make it to Farmer’s Markets anymore, but not because I don’t want to. I used to belong to a CSA, even worked the market for a couple of summers with my organic farmers, but then I got a job which has me working on Sunday mornings, and that’s the time of the market, so there went that plan. I miss it sorely, and have finally been forced to take up gardening again, to plug up, somewhat, the gaping hole left in my local, fresh, organic produce options. I find it amazing that what is now taking me so much work to grow, or extra money to purchase, is what God had all planned out in the first place, as being the PERFECT food sources for mankind…go figure. God’s design always wins out in the end, no matter what we’re talkin’ about!

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Some of the other “negative” side effects of healthy eating include, but are not limited to:

*constantly coming up against the naysayers and devil’s advocates of this world, who choose to believe everything the government “feeds” them, and like to question the need for healthier choices in eating, and complain about the harder work and higher cost of acquiring healthy food (most often climbing on their soapbox while they are stuffing grossly-processed piles of crap into their body, with an ingredient list which is illegible to all but the most highly schooled scientists among us!).

*coming up with additional storage spaces/appliances for piles of fresh produce and fresh eggs and sides of beef and whole chickens from your garden (or fruit trees or chickens) and/or from a local, organic farmer.

*finding tasty recipes for ways to use above mentioned produce (some of which you have never heard of before in your entire life, and also some of which you might not like) and whole chickens and unusual beef cuts and chicken bones and beef bones……in other words, learning to be good and adventurous stewards of “the harvest!”

*taking up the age-old practice of canning, when above mentioned produce gets out of hand.

*starting a compost pile because above-mentioned produce creates a lot of useful compost material.

*burning off most of your daily caloric intake by chopping up tons of the above-mentioned produce for your supper!

*realizing that you are beginning to get cravings for (GASP!) salad greens, and dealing with your friends’ teasing when they find this out.

*getting into a habit of always, before venturing out in public, checking your teeth for bits and pieces of fresh greens that may have become stuck on your teeth, and/or flossing to remove tiny broccoli florets.

*running out of storage room for all your new recipes (either on the bookshelves or on your Ipad).

*expanding your organic/natural preferences to other categories, like personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, health care, hair dye, etc.

*gloating about feeling healthier and more energetic, improving your metabolism, and maintaining a healthy weight

*struggling to remain humble, all the while knowing that you are doing good things for your body (and your family), and for the earth.

I, personally, can vouch for the authenticity of each of these healthy eating “side effects,” because I have experienced every one of them. I’m still on the journey to restoring my body to the level of health I was at prior to chemotherapy treatment nine years ago, but I am definitely heading in the right direction, and I will not give up, and neither should you, because this healthy way of eating will not “lettuce” down…even if it does get stuck in our teeth! IMG_2626.JPG

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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Discovering Detroitians

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Sense of it All

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

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

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

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

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

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