Monday, June 22, 2015

loose change

A blind beggar sits, head lowered, hand begging for money.
 Etching by J. Zubau, 1865.
Why is it, when life reminds me that I’m a jerk, I’m so taken aback? Why am I continually surprised by my lack of generosity, my selfishness?

I tell myself daily that I’m a good Christian woman. I drive to work singing along to KLOVE and saying my morning prayer of praise/don’t let me hurt anyone today. Then I encounter someone who needs help, or is rude, or hurried, and I digress to what I truly am:  a self-centered ingrate.

The woman at the corner of the Davison and Livernois wasn’t very attractive. Her teeth were rotten and gappy; her pants were too tight and her shirt was dirty. I wondered why she put that big rock on her purse that she left at the base of the street sign. Did she think it would blow away? Did she suppose that the stone would deter a would-be thief? The purse was cheap; it couldn’t have contained anything of value. And if it did, why was she begging?

She held out her hand defiantly. How rude. Why does she think we owe her something? She held up five fingers and approached each car. Does she assume we are all wealthy commuters with at least five dollars to spare?

I could have kept my eyes focused forward. It would have been easy to ignore her. My window was up and my door was locked. As I waited in the left turn lane, I could have pretended not to notice her. But something compelled me to open my window a crack. “Honey, I’m sorry, I don’t have anything to spare.”

I told her the truth, more or less. I knew that I didn’t have any bills in my wallet. I rarely did. Like most folks of my status, I use debit and credit cards almost exclusively.  And I really am cash-poor, I reminded myself. It was rare that I had anything left in my account in the days before pay day.

She was ticked. She looked at me in disgust and shook her head. “Even a dime? You don’t have a dime?”

I was ticked now too. “No, I don’t have a penny, I’m serious!”

It was a lie but it didn’t feel like it, not at all.

I drove a block or two before I checked my change purse. It was fairly full; the coins added up to at least two and a half bucks.

My face felt hot. Should I go back? The other day, when I saw that sweet old man on Six Mile, I almost turned around. He had a cardboard sign with “God bless you” scrawled on it. He certainly needed my help in a way this woman did not, I was patently sure of it.

I looked in the rear view mirror and applied my favorite lipstick:  Clinique’s “extreme pink.” I only buy it twice a year when I can get a gift with purchase at Macy’s.

Maybe I’ll stop tomorrow.  I could hand her the lipstick along with my wallet, and it wouldn’t be enough to cover the imperfections, neither her obvious ones nor mine that I hide so effectively each day. I know that I won’t stop; my wants have become needs. I’ve been blinded.

So I sit at my desk and type, and drink hot coffee from a pretty mug. Will I see? Can I change? Who is the blind beggar most in need? 

I’m a good Christian woman. Don’t let me hurt anyone today.

Lord, have mercy.

Friday, June 12, 2015

lost and found

Several weeks ago, I lost the diamond from my engagement ring.

I was driving to work. I looked down at my left hand and where the stone should have been, only prongs remained.

I had been going through a few “rough months.” I was waiting for an answer to an important prayer, and it was taking much longer than I expected. (What else is new? I eventually got an answer, by the way. It was no.)  So as I looked down at my diamond-less ring, I reacted in the only way that made sense. After gasping with surprise, I laughed.

Really?” I said out loud. “Really???” Then I laughed some more.

When I got to work I took off the ring and put it in my wallet. I didn’t tell any of my coworkers, and I thought about whether or not I’d tell my husband about it when I got home.  I thought about the day he gave me that ring. We were 20 years old; I was pregnant and finishing my senior year of college. He had dropped out and was delivering pizzas. We stood in front of the Christmas tree at his house, which was decorated only with a cardinal ornament that reminded Aaron of his dad, who had died six years earlier. Aaron put the ring on my finger and I said yes, which at that point was really just a formality.

The diamond was tiny, but it was a marquis cut, which he knew I would like. He paid $500 for it, which was far more than he could afford. It had been on my finger for almost 30 years; since I only took it off a handful of times, my finger had “aged” around it. The spot where it stayed was much smaller than the rest of my finger.  It was as if the ring hid a part of me, a part that was allowed to remain young.

Because I’m not good at keeping secrets or sorrows to myself, I told Aaron later that day. I was surprised that he wasn’t very upset. He tends to be much more sentimental than I am, one who embraces a significance in material things that I choose to downplay.  This time, he was peaceful. “Don’t cry, honey. It’s all right.”

I took the ring off and put it away. I still have a tiny ring on my left hand – an “anniversary band” that we bought just a couple years after we married. The diamonds are so small they are almost invisible. It’s fine, I tell myself. I don’t need an engagement ring anymore, right? I’m an old married lady.

In a few months we will celebrate our 29th anniversary. In a time when families crumble more often than they stand, when the meaning of everything from gender to sexuality to marriage itself is being questioned and redefined, this seems miraculous.

How did two immature young people, unequipped for life, ignorant about everything, outlive the diamond?

I want to write with wisdom about the how. I want to say that I know now what it means to give yourself fully to another, to forgive unimaginable wrongs, to grow together instead of apart. I want to know why we have outlasted the diamond, so that I can tell my children and grandchildren. I want to be able to shout, “Do THIS! This is how you will survive! This is the secret!”

Instead I can only say that there is no formula to follow. There is only one thing you can do. Don’t quit.

When you have done something terrible, and you hate yourself and know your spouse should hate you too…don’t quit.

When you look across the table and wonder who is sitting there with you, and think you will never have another word to say…don’t quit.

When you are so tired, so, so tired of fighting or not fighting, tired of life, tired of struggling to pay bills or make money, tired of working, tired of the same four walls and the same sameness…don’t quit.

Perhaps there is one more thing you must do.  Make room for grace.

Because there is nothing that you can do completely on your own to make a marriage last. And please know that I am talking about good marriages here, marriages that are valid and meant to be, marriages that have not been nulled by abuse or neglect. This is not an indictment of the divorced, of those who had to leave marriages that never really existed.

This is just a word for people like me; people who wonder how in the world we are actually doing this.  Don’t quit. Make room for grace.

I have mentioned some challenges but grace opens my eyes and all I can see right now, in this moment, is blessings. When I look in my husband’s eyes, a fleeting memory is reflected:  a young man holds out a tiny diamond and gives it to me, trusting that I will accept it.

I can see the joy and exquisite beauty brought into the world by each of our children, the unique people that would not exist if we hadn’t taken this outrageous risk and been open to each other and new life.

I remember the death of our daughter and the way that she forged a bond between us that will never be broken.

I find that I am a better woman because of this man. I believe that he is a better man because of me.

I look around my tiny house, my little world, and it overflows with brokenness and sorrow and so much love and joy and so many PEOPLE (how are there so many people?! The children! The grandchildren! Look what we have done!) and I realize that there is not a large enough diamond in the world with value to rival this: THIS life that we have because we do not quit and we make room for grace.

Today I found this. I wasn’t sure when I began writing what I would find, but that’s how it is sometimes. We lose many things, no? That isn’t what matters, when it’s all said and done.

I pray that I may continue to find, through persistence and grace, that we have done just what we set out to do, perhaps without even knowing it. We will have found Love, which is God himself

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

what next?

Yesterday I wished one of my sons well as he set off for a trip to Europe. Venturing to Spain’s Camino de Santiago, he is one of a group of pilgrims who will walk the ancient trail together. His goal is discernment, or at least that’s what I’m told. He is, unlike his mother, extraordinarily private. While his career course seems set (he is well into his nursing studies) his vocation has not yet been decided. Will he marry someday? Remain single? Become a priest?  I don’t think he knows yet, and I’m certain I can’t predict his future. I am convinced, however, that he was on the right path long before he decided to walk the Camino. He is young man of faith, unusual in his maturity and commitment. He asks God and then does the (to me) unimaginable:  he is silent. He waits for an answer.

I do not do well with waiting, silent or otherwise. I pester God incessantly, making that persistent widow who demanded justice from the judge seem like a tiny flea on the back of his hand. I’m more like a bee buzzing around God’s head. Buzzzz buzzzzz buzzzz…..Why God? When God? I don’t understand! Will you answer, God? Why not, God? Why God??? What next?

God hasn’t squashed me yet. I imagine He wants to sometimes.  But instead of a swatter, I imagine Him sitting there holding a flower, waiting for me to light long enough to taste its nectar. What He has for me is far better than what I seek, I’m sure. But in the meantime I’m just that pesky bug who won’t stop moving long enough to find out that I never really needed to fly away anyway, and I definitely don’t need to sting so much.

Let’s pack that ridiculous analogy away. It sounded much better in my head. I am saying something quite simple that doesn’t need insects for explanation:  I’m frustrated. I pray, and I don’t hear back in a timely fashion. I’m faced with decisions that present no clear choice. I am surrounded by companions who seem to be in the same spiritual boat. So many are unemployed or at jobs where they are dying a slow death…others are faced with serious decisions about their children, marriages, and parents. We want to do God’s will, but what exactly does that mean? What next?

I’m a bit jealous of my son, and definitely not because he gets to walk 164 miles in the next 16 days. While I’m happy that he has this unique opportunity (I am his mother, after all) I envy his ability to step away from his daily life and focus on discernment. While my vocation was decided long ago, that doesn’t mean I know what to do other than be a wife, mother, grandmother and person who tries not to offend God or my neighbor. 

Because, is that be enough?

I attended, along with my eldest daughter, a Called and Gifted workshop last weekend. We were invited to take an inventory of experiences that allowed us to begin understanding the charisms we may have received from the Holy Spirit. As baptized, confirmed Catholics, we have those! They are not natural gifts or talents. Rather, they are gifts that allow us to give glory to God in ways that we could not achieve on our own. They are supernatural helps that let us participate in the expansion of the Kingdom, i.e. they are super cool.

As we were confirmed in what we suspected might be true about ourselves (writing may be one of my charisms, administration one of Rachel’s) there were some surprises, too. Might I have the gift of prophecy, wisdom, or faith? Hospitality?  Am I called to explore ways I can be a teacher or an artist?

I was simultaneously overwhelmed and awed. God is a generous giver, and He gives these super powers to all of his people for a unique purpose.  But He doesn’t throw them out randomly like t-shirts at a concert. He chooses just what He needs us to have, and He brings it forth when HE needs it - not when WE demand it.

It was no surprise that my extroverted daughter and I sought out the presenter and asked her questions. How can we better discern our gifts? Once we do that, how will we know what to do next? She told us that (shockingly) extroverts like us tended to overestimate their gifts, and to rush into situations where they might be used. She gave us some useful advice, which I will share here for your consideration:

“Wait for opportunities to come to you.”

OK then. So while I sit here waiting for those opportunities… what next?

I tend to believe that God, the most cheerful Giver, rejoices when he finds a cheerful recipient. But He doesn’t want us to spend so much time obsessing over the gift that we ignore the One who gave it.

There are so many questions, so many decisions, so many times I don’t know why or why not. Do I have the means to find answers, or peace? I imagine so. I know I have just the right gifts for me, as they are the ones chosen by Someone who knows me better than I know myself.

The young men who left for that pilgrimage wore shirts imprinted with a verse that will serve as their motto as they travel.

Thus says the Lord: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
(They left out the end part: But you said, 'We will not walk in it.' See, I’m not alone here.)

One young man on that pilgrimage also carries with him his mother’s heart; her prayers went with him and she knows he will safeguard them and make them his own. They will travel alongside his requests and questions, and they might make it straight to the ear of God.  It’s worth a try.

So I’ll wait here on the side of the road for now, asking “where the good way is”. In silence? Eh, some mildly irritating buzzing may or may not be heard.  I will keep asking for those answers, but this time I’ll try to be still once in a while. I might even hear something other than the sound of my own voice, and taste something much sweeter than what I’ve been feeding myself.

For good or bad? Only God knows. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

challenge the process; encourage the heart (AKA "tick people off nicely")

Recently I participated in a leadership seminar. Using the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), we took a survey, tallied results, enjoyed a very well-done presentation and discovered a few things about ourselves and others.

The presenter asserted that all are leaders, but that we have different leadership “styles.” I think it might be more accurate to say that some lead more than others, that some are quite content to sit in the back seat while someone else drives. No matter. Either way you look at it, it was an exploration of who we are and what makes us tick, and I dig that kind of thing.

I scored pretty much equally for two types of leading – two types that normally oppose one another. Well, that explains a lot! I’ve been pondering them lately and come to the conclusion that they are quite accurate and there is nothing wrong with exhibiting both sides of the leadership coin.
I scored big in “Encourage the Heart,” which means I am able to recognize and celebrate the contributions others make. I am someone who “makes people feel like heroes.” I hope this is true. I do try to look for the positive in others and to offer them true encouragement. However, my other style enables me to call people out if they are messed up. I scored equally high in “Challenge the Process.”

I’m willing to experiment and take risks. I’m willing to tell pretty much anyone if I disagree with him or her, and yes, I will die on that mountain. I don’t care too much if people like me. I want to do “what’s right” and I’m not afraid to speak up. (Well, sometimes I’m afraid, but I do it anyway, because I HAVE TO.) This part of my style explains why my father would say, “Cathy, you’d argue with the Good Lord!” and I’d answer, “Yes, but only if I was right!”

I found it interesting that the presenter portrayed the CTP personality negatively. (Also interesting that I was the only one in the group who had their highest score in that category.) He said that CTPers could come across as harsh and difficult. Come to think of it, ETHers didn’t sound so great to me either. It was as if all those types did was “have flowers on their desk” and “want to hug everyone.” Ugghhh.

He also said I was “fascinating” since I was a CTP and an ETH. (To which I answered, “I am!”)

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if gender stereotypes played a part in our understanding of leadership. As a CTPer I was reminded I needed to “watch my tone” when explaining why things weren’t working as best as I could. As a ETHer I needed to “stop being so emotional.” To me this sounds like typical reminders for women who try to play a “man’s” game (i.e. being a leader.)  
In one exercise “team” members were invited to comment on which type was their friend and/or foe. Guess which two types got the least love? Again, interesting.

So I’m here to do something typically CTP/ETC/Me:  I’m going to embrace who I am. I LOVE the idea of Challenging the Process when the process sucks. People like me  are the ones who incite much-needed change. We are willing to say what no one else has the nerve to say, to do what everyone else might want to do but is afraid to bring up. I’ll work on my “tone” but, oh what am I saying, the hell with my tone! My tone is fine. I’m an ETCer too, remember. I’m always starting with the positive and trying to make others feel good about themselves. I’m encouraging and I love to recognize others’ accomplishments.

Any way you look at it, the LPI is pretty interesting stuff. You can find some info about the five “practices of exemplary leadership” here. (Of course the best leaders combine qualities from all five “types,” which include Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable others to Act, and Encourage the Heart.) Which one(s) resonate most with you? 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

sea change

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to go to the sea.

I've been to the oceans, both Atlantic and Pacific, and enjoyed each for very different reasons. At nineteen I took my first plane ride, solo, to visit Southern California for two weeks. There I met up with my best friend, who visited her dad there each summer; soon after I arrived, my brother and his best friend joined us. Renee and I stayed at the apartment of a family friend named Dolores. We slept on her living room floor, and took in a kitten that we found on the patio. At night we met the boys at the ocean's edge, where we drank beer, looked out into the black sea and sky, and talked about the meaning of life. It was glorious. I was very young. The ocean made me feel small and strong at the same time.

My visits to the Atlantic came much later. My eldest daughter fell in love with an east coast boy. She had met him online and we traveled to the region first to meet his family, then a couple years later to celebrate our children's marriage. In Maine we walked out on rocky shores to see the urchins. Later we soaked in sun and shopped in tourist trap shops and ate lobster dinners. It too was glorious. We made friends who became family. It was a scene from a book:  young romance, good food, and the scents of sea spray and pine.

I'd seen the oceans and I'd spent much time in pools, lakes and rivers. Sometimes I was elated just to swim in the local park at Turtle Cove, more than happy to relax on the pontoon near my brother's trailer. Sleeping in a hammock, I was rocked to sleep as I traveled to islands in Brazil.

I loved  the waters, from Lower Crooked to the Amazon River. Both oceans filled me with awe. But I needed the sea. Turquoise and exotic. Faraway and warm. For so long, I've dreamed of taking a trip there. And now I've gone and come back, and I've so much to say that I'm not sure I can. For now I just have to feel it, but I don't want to forget.

For many, this might be laughable. A trip to Mexico for a week -- so what? A stay at a resort with a couple thousand other tourists? Big deal. But for Aaron and me, it was indeed a big deal. We had had no honeymoon, no trip for a whole week together for just the two of us. That alone would have made this magical - the fact that we finally gave ourselves this gift. But the gave to me what I have trouble finding elsewhere.

Ten years ago next month, Celeste was born, and four months later she died. When I wrote about her in my book, I thought, at first, that I was done telling her story. Soon I learned this was hardly the case. I found her inspiring me to change and to help others do the same. She provoked me to continue sharing with all the gift that we each have in this one life. She made me passionate about reminding people of this. She made me want to live a life of courage and grace, the kind of life that she had lived.

Those who have read Celeste's story will recall (I hope!) the image of the sea at the end. I share an image of "The Sea of Souls" that I believe, in some way, will greet us when we get to Heaven. The water is a place of healing on this earth, and I have no doubt that an eternal sea will be a part of the glory of the Beatific Vision.

One of my goals on this trip was to photograph the sea. I have in mind a very special project for Celeste on her tenth birthday into Heaven. I knew I would feel her in the sun and the sand, and  see her in the sky and especially in the azure waters. Oh my friends, she was there!

One morning we got up before sunrise and headed to the beach.  I don't recall if I've ever seen a sunrise....and I know I've never seen one like this. The sky was cloudless, and as the moon crept over our shoulders, the smallest amount of warmth broke the horizon. As I took one photo after another, catching the movement of the sun that we scarcely notice once it reaches midday, tears streamed down my face. A man and his daughter walked along the sand. The little girl smiled at me and ran after her dad. I snapped a photo just as she raced by.  She was dressed all in pink.

I looked at Aaron and he smiled, his eyes wet with tears as well. He showed me the time. It was 7:23. Celeste was thinking of us; her birthday into Heaven was on July 23.

Another morning we took a long walk around the resort. There was a chapel at the furthest point from the lobby; it was where couples who wanted a church-like setting said their wedding vows. It had a crucifix, pews and a statue of Mary, but of course no tabernacle, so it was pretty but not truly sacred. On the way back we found an empty area of the beach that was quite lovely. Of course we stopped to take photos -- there was a perfect palm tree framing the scene of the ocean. I took a shot of Aaron and he took one of me. I glanced at the pictures and thought they looked great. As we started to head back, I was overcome with joy. The natural beauty was just so overwhelming, and I  felt such profound gratitude. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving, and my heart felt Celeste so strongly. I knew that she had played a part in getting us there. I imagined her grinning and hugging Jesus and thanking Him for giving her Mama and Daddy such a special gift.

I took a moment to close my eyes and raise my face to the sky. When I opened them I saw her. A tiny monarch butterfly stopped for a moment on the pampas grasses that waved in the breeze. I approached and she was gone, and I begged her to come back, but that's not how it works. When visitors come from heaven they are usually unexpected and their stay is brief. The beach was beautiful, but she was eager to return to true paradise, and I can't blame her for that.

Later that day, or maybe it was the next, I looked through the photos again. This is the part where I say that I could not believe my eyes, which is hokey, but it's true. That palm tree where we took photos of each other? Someone had painted a heart on it. I didn't notice it when I was taking the photos, I swear. And even if I had, it was still perfect. What are the odds of there being such a perfect piece of graffiti in such an unlikely place? The odds were great, of course, because there are no coincidences. There is grace. There is love. And there are so many blessings for those of us willing to open our eyes and see with our hearts.

So I return from the sea, to home in a land of snow instead of sand, but the warmth remains. I'm committing once again to honor Celeste with a life of joy.

She deserves that. And so do I.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Today, I turn 50.

Isn't it a funny expression, "turning" a certain age? It's as if I woke up this morning and noticed my eyes were a slightly different color, or that I had grown a tail. Turning is what leaves do....they are a brilliant green, then vibrant red or orange, then they brown and wither before they die. Is this the turning I'm to expect?

But I'm not turning. Not turning in, turning over, or turning Japanese. I'm fifty. That's cool. I'm about eight hours in and so far it feels fine.

Our culture tells us that it's one of those landmark birthdays that are supposed to be acknowledged with special events and gifts. That's cool, too. I like parties and gifts (and trips to Mexico) just as much as the next guy, and I'm happy to be experiencing or anticipating those good things. Our lives have seasons that deserve recognition. We are made for times of fasting and feasting, days of looking back and looking forward.

Since my birthday falls just before Christmas, near the end of the calendar year, it's always an emotional time of reflection for me. I'm a year older, and soon I'll be starting a New Year, with all the pressure to make resolutions and become The Person I Was Always Meant to Be. Now that I'm fifty I want to say, "I'm here! I've done it! I've figured out how to stop gossiping and begin praying every day. I know the secrets to fast, permanent weight loss and effective closet organization. I don't let the negativity of others get me down, and I have my dream job."

But I don't possess any of those things.

I know that I am older and wiser than I once was, but that I will continue to make daily mistakes. I will likely fight the same demons for the rest of my life. And well, if resignation is maturity, I'm finally growing up.

This is truth: we have very, very little control over the circumstances of our lives. Bad things will happen to us, and for us, and around us. And so will absolutely amazing beautiful things that we don't deserve.

We can't choose much, but most of the time, when our mental and spiritual unwellness don't prevent it, we can choose our attitudes. I'm going to choose a good attitude more often. I'm going to choose gratefulness and joy.

Last Sunday I attended Mass at a neighboring parish. I had dressed nicely, which I try to do when I go to church, but also because I'm vain, and I like clothes, and I was going to a party later. Objectively, I probably looked put-together. But I felt ugly. I felt fat and old and unattractive, and while I tried to pay attention to the service, I kept thinking about how I didn't like my haircut and that I still hadn't lost the weight I wanted to lose by my birthday, and that I wouldn't like the pictures that would be taken of me at holiday gatherings.

Despite my self-absorbed distracted state, I got up to go to Communion. When I did, I recognized a woman in the row behind me - she and I had attended the same high school. She touched my arm and commented on how much she and her daughter, who was with her, liked my scarf. I thanked her and told her it was a gift from my daughter. Then I noticed that her daughter was helping her stand. They walked together up to Communion, with her daughter supporting her the entire way. I could see the pain in her face, and it became clear she was suffering from some disability or illness.

I returned to my seat, ashamed. Here I was, about to turn 50, and by all accounts in excellent health. Yes, I have arthritic knees and my blood pressure and sugar are a little high now and then. But I can walk unassisted. I am not in constant pain. My face is not lined with suffering, and I look younger and healthier than many.

My good health is a tremendous blessing that I take for granted. So is the gift of my marriage, my children, and my large extended family. I don't thank God enough for my job, my friends, my home, or the many natural gifts I've been given. I'm blessed. I'm lucky.

As I left the church an elderly man came up to me. He walked with a limp, and he was missing more than a couple teeth. He mumbled a question, "What's your name?" I told him, and then he asked me how old I was. I thought it was an odd question, but I answered. "I'll be fifty on Tuesday! Wish me a happy birthday!"

"Happy Birthday, Cathy!" He looked me in the eye and took a hold of my hand. "Happy Birthday!"

Happy Birthday, Cathy. Yes, it is a happy birthday. I'm going to make it a happy year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"quicktakes" and TAKE AWAYS!

I was invited by another blogger to get back into the swing of things by sharing in 7 Quick Takes Friday.'s been awhile! I see the festivities have a new host (hello Kelly!) over at This Ain't the Lyceum. When I get done here I'm going to look up "lyceum." I'll get back to you guys when I learn more. :)

Seven quick takes from the last week? Not hard to come with seven things to write about. It's the quick (read: brief) part that challenges me. I'll do my best to say more with less and all that.

ONE: I got my nails done, and they look just like Dorothy's ruby slippers. Isn't that amazing? I can't decide if they are a little bit tacky or oh so glamorous, but I love them. Looking at them makes me smile and feel festive, and reminds me of the great time I had while my friend Debbie did them for me. Debbie is positive and sweet and when I see her, I feel encouraged (and a little bit prettier.) Isn't that what time with other women should do for us? Doesn't it often have the opposite effect? Take away: Do fun things for myself with fun people, and encourage others and make them feel beautiful - not torn down - after spending time with me.

TWO: Last fall, I bought a conservative grey interview suit. (I spelled grey with an "e" to make it sound more edgy, because it was not that at all.) After discovering, sadly, that I had no urgent need for said suit, I returned it. But no worries, my credit card balance was nary affected (let's keep the economy humming, right?). I went back for a jacket that caught my eye months ago...I couldn't justify it then, but I'm turning 50 in less than a fortnight, and it was deeply discounted and IT HAS A FUR (fake of course) COLLAR. I love it so much and it has such deep metaphysical meaning to me that I am going to write an entire post about it soon. Take away: Be yourself. Don't put on the gray suit or even the grey one if you are more comfortable in the moto jacket with the fur color and did I mention it's navy leather???

THREE: I got my hair cut this week. It is very short and the blonde highlights have returned. I feel like myself again. Take away: see points one and two above.
This picture here to the left is not me, not my hair, but I wish it was!

FOUR: I am really, really vain, materialistic, and self-centered. At least this week. But take a chance on me. I swear there is more to me than glittery nails, a leather jacket and blonde hair. Really. Take away: Don't focus too much on the externals. Have fun, be yourself, and then realize it is all fading, girlfriend. Prettying up the inside is WAY more important.

FIVE: I have been fighting the concept of "prayer time" for pretty much my entire adult life. The thought of entering my "prayer closet" is about as attractive to me as swearing off makeup, dying my hair and shopping. The phrase has always sounded overly pious to me. I'm one of those people who claim to "pray always," which means, as my son pointed out to me, that I don't make personal time with God a priority. Now, even though I'm often busy being vain, I go to Mass at least weekly, Adoration sporadically, and begin each day with my version of an offering. (Dear God help me survive this or something of that nature.) But a number of things have happened in my life recently that are leading me to the same conclusion. I need to make a specific daily prayer time a priority. But I'm going to call it something different. Maybe Inner Beautification Session or something like that. Take away: you can run from God but you can't hide. He is the initiator of all Good, and He Himself put this desire for prayer in your heart. Who are you to ignore Him?

SIX: It's never too late to develop a new affectation. I noticed this week that I now make "air quotes" ALL THE TIME. And I've begun to PUT THINGS IN CAPS FOR EMPHASIS. They are both such charming new habits. I can't wait to see what new weird thing I start doing next. Take away: Getting older is humbling, but it's also entertaining, if we take the time to realize how goofy we are.

SEVEN: I'm not too old to make new friends! I have met some really incredible people lately, and I'm excited to get to know them. I've been praying for direction in so many areas of my life, and one concerns whom I should spend regular time with. What is so fascinating to me is that my new aquaintances are incredibly diverse but all so attractive to me. The common denominator? They radiate positivity. Take away: Be positive, seek positive, share positive and LIVE "positive."

Head on over to the not Lyceum to read more quick takes!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Someone said that if the only prayer ever uttered were “thank you,” that would be enough.

I agree.

Like most Americans, I have much to be thankful for. I have more than some and less than others, but by any definition, I have much. I have a job, good health, dear friends, and a close, loving family. My kids live nearby, and they too are all employed and in good health. My grandchildren, like my children, are gorgeous, intelligent and charming. (Of course!) My kids don’t always eat their vegetables or do their homework, but they do most of the time. My (gorgeous, intelligent and charming) husband works hard, washes dishes, does laundry, and loves me just as I am. And all this is very, very good, and I am grateful.

But so often I allow myself to dwell on what I lack. There will never be “enough” money or time to do all the things I’d like. Instead of focusing on the blessings that have been heaped on me, I think about what is broken, old, worn out or missing. I think of what isn’t rather than what is, and I am selfish rather that other-centered.

This Thanksgiving, and throughout this season, I pledge to remember that I must embrace this grateful spirit. I want to really become thank-full.

Because if I am truly filled with thanks, there will scarcely be room for anything else.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

make me brave

The other day my daughter said that my blog wasn’t famous or popular, and there was no chance of anything I wrote going viral. That stung a little, but only because it’s true. (And I’m a prideful writer, after all.) She said that it was more of a personal journal where I worked things out and wrote about them. I don’t know about the personal part (um, it’s on the internet) but it is true that I write to figure out what I think. (Not an original idea, but that of another writer. That’s pretty much what writers do; we like to rehash other people’s ideas. What a concept.)

Anyway, after writing about Brittany Maynard the other day, and lying awake stewing over my inadequacies and failure to be understood (another common trait of writers) I decided to write again, even though I’m sure to continue to be inadequate, offensive and misunderstood. (That’s not because I’m a writer. That’s because I’m human.)

After I (or what I wrote – same thing) was called disgusting, lacking in compassion, bizarre and judgmental (of course) I decided to come back for more abuse, because I still have unanswered questions that are plaguing me. I still need to make it clear: Brittany was not brave. Why? Because we want to emulate the brave. They are our heroes. And perhaps, I’m terrified of what it means if suicide – physician assisted or otherwise – is what it means to be brave.

I’m thinking of the thousands out there suffering with depression. I know, Brittany had a brain tumor, not a mental illness. But she ended her life to end her suffering, and that of her family. She wanted to “die with dignity.” For those of us with mental illnesses, shouldn’t we emulate this hero of bravery? Wouldn’t we be doing a great service to others by ending our lives?

Our message to those who suffer, whether from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual sufferings, cannot be that it would be better to end their lives.

I was thinking again this morning of Robin Williams, who ended his sufferings by suicide. I wonder for how many years he struggled. How many mornings did he wake up and decide to be brave for yet another day? He likely did this for years – even decades. And when he couldn’t be brave any more, he gave in to the pain, and took his own life.

He was very brave for very long. I will hold on to that image. I will try to be brave too, by living, and writing, and being who I am, each day, for as long as I can.

Let’s help one another be truly brave. Let’s help one another live in the midst of our sufferings. Let’s explore new ways to overcome illnesses and heal them. Let’s be open about pain relief and care for the mentally and physically ill. Let’s remember that we have dignity not because we have control of our bodily functions, our pain, or our emotions, but because we are members of the human family.

If you’re the praying type, pray for me, and all who suffer for any reason. Help us to be brave.

Monday, November 3, 2014

don't call her brave

Today the world woke to the news: Brittany was dead.

As she promised she would, she had taken the pill that ended her life. “Her suffering was over.” She was dead. As the headlines proclaimed the news, the television hosts shook their heads and softly smiled, teary eyed. Brittany is dead. And she was “so brave.”

Brittany was many things, I’m sure. But please don’t call her brave.

Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life might have been a private decision, but she made it public, wishing to become a voice for “death with dignity.” So before you shame me for speaking out with my opinion on one woman’s choice, I think it’s fair to say that Brittany opened the topic for discussion when she chose to become a public spokesperson for her cause.

My Facebook newsfeed has been jammed with comments about her choice in the last few weeks. I have many “friends,” and many of them have different viewpoints than I. I like it that way. I understand that the world is made up of persons with varying, opposing ways of looking at life. I like to think that we can share our thoughts and opinions and “agree to disagree.” I have friends with whom I disagree profoundly on very serious matters, but I still care for them. Sometimes I share my views, and sometimes I stay silent, because I know that the internet in general and Facebook in particular is not the best place to change hearts and minds. That happens best over time, with one on one face-to-face human contact. But we live in a virtual world, and sometimes we have to reach out here. At least I do, on days like this when I feel like my heart will burst if I don’t write about this. I’m writing this before I even take a look at my newsfeed, because when I see the many comments about her bravery, it will take a good deal of strength for me to make it through the day without much virtual (and perhaps real life) fist-shaking, screaming to the heavens, aching sorrow. I also feel a responsibility to share this view, realizing that for some of my friends, my words might be the only ones they see offering an opposing view. To those I say, please, just listen to my ideas, and think about it.

By now, the whole world knows Brittany’s story. She was young and beautiful, with “her whole life ahead of her.” A ghastly tumor grew in her brain, and it was robbing her of “everything.” She decided to end her suffering, and that of her family, by taking a pill that would solve all that. Her suffering and theirs would be over, and she would be oh so brave. And thousands of others would be inspired by her, and would be able to be brave as well. They too, if faced with suffering that seemed unbearable, could be “brave” and end their lives.

Before you call me out with the modern clarion cry of “How judgmental!” let me make it clear: I don’t judge Brittany, or anyone else, ever. I can’t. God alone judges hearts and souls. I can’t begin to predict the condition of Brittany’s soul or anyone else’s. This isn’t about judging Brittany and choosing for her heaven or hell; it’s about discerning the ramifications of her actions, and, for me personally, deciding what it means to be brave.

I don’t think suicide is brave. I think it’s tragic. When Robin Williams ended his life, the whole world cried, and we asked “WHY?” We didn’t say he was brave for ending his suffering. We (rightfully) bemoaned the misunderstood nature of depression and raged against the stigma of mental illness. Now, when one young woman with a brain tumor commits suicide, we say she was brave. I don’t understand.

Now, I’m sure some will argue that brain tumors and other fatal illnesses are nothing like depression. For these illnesses, there is no cure; only a certain sentence of horrific suffering. People like Brittany have no hope, only the inevitability of hardship, pain, and unimaginable indignities for them and their families. But if months from now, a cure for Brittany’s condition is discovered, will we still celebrate her choice? Of course it’s unlikely, but it is possible. Life is like that. Whether or not you believe in miracles or God or any kind of hocus pocus, I think we can all agree that we can’t predict the future.

But back to that horrible suffering she likely would have endured. Don’t we compassionately kill dogs, for heaven’s sake? Why should we insist that our fellow humans suffer so much when we give animals “dignified” deaths?

Because we are more than animals, that’s why.

People are more than dogs and cats. We have immortal souls. And if you don’t believe that, fine. Let’s take faith and God and the hope of an afterlife completely out of the picture. Even if there is nothing but blackness when we die, I will argue that there is meaning and purpose to life, and that it is not brave to kill ourselves because we suffer. Because I don’t know about you, but I suffer every single day. And if ending suffering is the reason for choosing the time of our deaths, how dare you tell me my sufferings are not enough to die for? And who will decide when the sufferings are enough? And why, oh why, do we not all end it today? Please give me a reason to live. If I believe this way, there is no reason at all for any of us to live. There is meaning and purpose for no one, and the only right thing to do is blow up the planet, and put the whole nasty mess of us out of our misery.

Ponder this as well: thirty or forty years from now, when you are dying in a hospital bed, how brave will you be? Do you want to decide what that means? What if your particular brand of brave, like mine, means walking through suffering and allowing others to care for you until your natural death? If Brittany’s legacy follows its logical conclusion, you won’t be allowed to decide. Someone will hand you a pill, or give you an injection, and the whole crazy concept of “personal choice” will be nothing but the dead motto of a dying culture.

Brave. I’ve said Brittany was not brave and I mean it. Let me tell you what brave is.

Brave is soldiers who go into battle for those weaker than they, knowing that they may not come out alive. Brave is medical professionals who fight Ebola. Brave is mothers who take their children to the hospital for their tenth or twentieth surgery for hydrocephalus. Brave is the man who can’t walk or speak because of his muscular dystrophy, but welcomes visitors who come to him for encouragement, which he freely offers with joy.

Brave is the man who changes his wife’s diapers and cleans her feeding tube. Brave is the woman who gets out of bed and goes to work at a job where she is unappreciated and demeaned, because she has children to feed.

Brave is the man with no limbs who speaks around the world to people about the beauty and meaning of each human life. Brave is the veteran who overcomes alcoholism and drug dependence. Brave is the widow who comes home to an empty house every day. Brave is the families of those with dementia who listen to stories again and again from loved ones who no longer recognize them.

Brave is what I learned from the little girl who died in my arms. You will say she was too young to know she was brave, and that I am a fool for believing the fairy tale that her soul was full grown and she was aware of the value of her suffering. That may be true, and I myself have entertained the thought that my beliefs of a loving God and redemptive suffering are only coping mechanisms that I use to deal with unfathomable pain.

But no one can argue that she taught me to be brave. Brave was walking into the NICU more than 100 times to see my baby subjected to pain, to watch her bleed, to see her cry without making a sound. Brave was standing before the board of ethics explaining that lives of brain damaged children have meaning and purpose. Brave was taking another breath while my arms ached with emptiness.

Brave was her father carrying her casket to the foot of the altar.

The brand of brave I learned from her enabled me to write this this morning.

So call Brittany bold, or self-assured, or independent. Say that she was assertive, or that she lived and died on her own terms.

But please, I beg you. Don’t call her brave.

Friday, July 11, 2014

a reminder

I'm an all or nothing kind of girl.

Despite my mother's efforts to convince me that "all things in moderation" is a suitable life motto, I'm extreme. I've been known to go whole decades without eating carbohydrates. I abstain or drink a whole bottle of wine. I sit on my ass or work out for nine hours a week. I gave birth to SEVEN children. It's who I am.

I used to post daily updates on Facebook. I tried to stick with uplifting quotes, my own or culled from the internet, that would inspire others to live their best life now and all that jazz. Mostly I was trying to keep myself steady, to prevent the inevitable drifting to darkness common to girls like me (i.e. extreme writers who drink, eat and starve too much.) Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Apparently, based on feedback I've received while waiting in line in the grocery store, others out there find me inspiring. "I love your posts! Your family is so great!" Yay! I suppose that's something.

Meanwhile I'm left here to be extreme all by myself. When I don't feel up to writing something that would look great on a cat poster (nod to The Lego Movie here) I say nothing. But today I'm feeling edgy and I'm just going to spill it. Doesn't life just suck sometimes? I mean, really, really suck?

I am absolutely fully aware that I am blessed, people. I have a great husband and unbelievably amazing children and grandchildren. I have a cute little dog and an orange cat. I have a job that sounds really good on paper, and several friends who would pretty much do anything for me. But life is still so hard sometimes, and God is silent.

I wonder if God is like me: extreme. Is He an "all or nothing" Guy? Does he show up with plagues and floods and resurrections, but stay quiet on any given Tuesday, when we're wondering how the hell we will make it to the next payday with a quarter tank of gas and a negative bank account balance?

Seriously, God. I mean, I know you love me, and I am really grateful for the gifts you've given me. But if you want these kids to go to Catholic school, and eat every single day, I need cash. I need my husband to sell some freaking windows. I need a break, for crying out loud.

Sometimes my older kids talk about "when we were rich," which Aaron and I laugh about and refer to as "when we had lots of credit." It's true that to them, we seemed rich. We went out to dinner and took a couple vacations. We paid for (portions of) three weddings. We had nice cars and they never knew about what it all cost. Then the job losses came, then the under-employment, the car repos, the bankruptcy, the mom working and starting a business and saying EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT. I'm saying it over and over now, like a mantra, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT and it is and it isn't. We have enough to eat and a roof over our heads and the children are healthy. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT.

Then I sit down and do something extreme, and write a crazy blog post like this one that I just might share on the internet, and I feel ridiculous. It is difficult to be extreme, even though it is genuine and what I arrive at naturally. It is hard to be very quiet and very loud; to be oh so positive or so painfully negative. I do wish I could find that moderation that some embrace.

Meanwhile back in crazy Cathyland, I'm extremely hopeful, desperate, grateful and needy. As a person of faith I know that my feelings are not where it's at. I can feel scared and alone and more than a bit concerned about lots of things, and that doesn't mean I give up. It means, once again, that I drag myself up from this dark place and look directly into the sun. It means that I go outside and clean the garage, and do a load of laundry, and enjoy this beautiful day, thankful that I am on vacation this week from a job that gives me a paid vacation. It means I stop wondering how it's all going to turn out, and just breathe.

Yesterday I went to the zoo. We went to the butterfly house, and of course I thought of Celeste right away. Gigi and I were looking up at all the butterflies, and she put out her chubby little finger and said "here, butterfly!" A small group gathered around us, excitedly pointing out that one was on my shoulder. It looked ordinary on the outside - brown, camouflaged with spots that looked like eyes. The exterior was dull, but then it opened its wings. The interior was extreme: a glorious celestial blue.

I don't know why that seems important, but it is. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

in memoriam

In scripture we read that when the Lord returns, He will come like a thief in the night.

I suppose that is the way death comes too. Even though we know its arrival is inevitable, for each and every one of us, we are surprised when it shows up.

In my dad's case, death didn't arrive in the night. It arrived on the first Sunday of spring, in the early afternoon. Most likely they had just completed the opening hymn at our parish church, where Dad had worshiped for over 50 years.

When Dad died I was not at his side, as I imagined I would be. Rather, I was shopping at my favorite department store, trying on items that would be suitable for his funeral. I cried bitter tears after receiving my brother's call. I was overcome with guilt. What kind of person was shopping for a blazer, black with small white polka dots, while her father died?

I got over it rather quickly. Not his death, but the fact that I wasn't there. I got my vanity from Dad, who would approve the blazer and the fact that I wanted to look pretty for his wake. We were like that, the pair of us. We strove to look good - to be attractive - when it didn't really matter to anyone but us. It doesn't really make sense, and I imagine is not the "godly" way to look at life. But it comforted him to dress in a suit and tie every Sunday, and to be slim and tan. I like those things too, and for today I am embracing that fact. I won't be ashamed of the inheritance he left me.

I used to hate him. When I was a teenager, I could not understand what made him so stubborn and angry. He drank too much. We fought. I argued, which was not seen as a positive trait, although I actually entertained the idea of studying to become a trial lawyer, as my skills seemed to be perfected in those days. He said I would argue with the Good Lord. I said that of course I would. But only if He was wrong.

Many saw Dad in only his later years. They imagined that he was faithful, devout, and loving. That he had a great sense of humor, loved people, and would always flirt with the prettiest girl in the room.

They were right.

My brother and I, and my mom, we know there is more to Dad than that. He was human. He had faults and failings. But as each day passed in recent years, that became a blessing to me, not a curse. I was reminded that each of us, parent or child, is imperfect. We expect much of one another and are disappointed. I forgave my father for his imperfections, and the way he may have hurt me. Because truly, even in our worst moments, I never doubted his love.

He did not say "I love you" to me until I was 40 years old. He spoke those words to me over the phone, the morning after my 7th child was born. When she died four months later, I knew this was one of the gifts she had given me. Dad continued to say those words, inspired I think by an episode of Oprah or The View. It made me smile every time.

For the past year or so he was very different. The dementia took something from him and did not give it back. We didn't know it at the time, but a tumor was also growing above his heart. I imagine that the tumor was actually a special gift the Lord had given him. As it took his breath and stopped his heart, without our even realizing it, it was likely part of his path to redemption. I'm convinced the Lord allowed him to suffer it in secret. But I'm sure his sufferings were united with Christ's, and that fills me with joy.

On the day of Dad's funeral, we took a long drive to the cemetary. My brother reflected that he would have enjoyed it. He traveled there in a Cadillac - the brand he had spent 30 years assembling. We took a meandering path through Dearborn, where he had first lived when he came to Michigan. Some of the roads were rustic and natural, and even hilly, like his birthplace in Pennsylvania.

At the cemetary, beautiful and spacious and well-kept, as we neared the mausoleum, where soldiers awaited him with Taps and flag, two deer crossed the road. They were does, perhaps carrying fawns who would soon arrive to herald the season of renewal. Dad used to hunt deer, but he told us he never shot a fawn or a doe. The first sprinted across the road, and I imagined my father in heaven, running, breathing sweet air deep into his clear, strong lungs. The second deer crossed too. As the hearse crossed the road, the graceful animal turned to look back. She froze and gazed at the vehicle, not moving until Dad had passed. It was a like a benediction; a sacred, sweet moment.

Now we are left to remember, grieve, and celebrate. It's the odd mix that we Christians face. I'm inexplicably exhausted, and strange things attract me, inspire me, and drain me. I'm surprised at how odd I feel. Surprised at how my father's death made me think about life, and how each of us approaches it.
Flannery O'Connor said “I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.” I understand that. We writers "operate at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. (Our) problem is to find that location."

That is why I'm here today, in my Field of Blue Children, where I feel safe. I need to begin to process what I am experiencing, and to know what I think.

I think I have a few regrets. I should have made more time to be with him. I should have forgiven him sooner. I should learn to forgive myself.

I think that I am strong and good and faithful, and I will not apologize for that. I trust fully in God. That is a great grace, not a character flaw, even if some view it that way. Trust in God does not make one naive. It makes one wise.

I rejoice, fully, that I was given an imperfect father who modeled generosity and loyalty. I rejoice that he struggled with many faults and was able to remain faithful in the ways that matter most.

A month or so ago, my brother (whose heart is great and faith is even stronger) told me that he was at peace, because one day, in a lucid moment, Dad had told him he was afraid he wouldn't go to heaven.

That tells me two things.

My Father was humble, and he believed in heaven.

If I learned nothing else from him, I will treasure those lessons forever.

I love you, Daddy. I will always be your buddy.