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. Wow...it'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

thank-full

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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

choose hope

It has been a long, cold winter.

For me, the chill came early, in the autumn, when my husband lost his job. The loss, which was the second of this type in as many years, chilled me. The cold descended then, and endured, even when he quickly found employment elsewhere. Things were different; I was tired, and scared. And cold.

Just before Thanksgiving, as the November days grew short, and we were robbed of daylight, days got darker and colder still. Dad fell and ended up in a nursing home. Mom was scared too, and none of us knew quite what to do about it all. Some of us coped by hibernating and avoiding; others showed signs of stress in our bodies, our skin and bones crying out for healing.

January brought ice beyond my imagining. It was the coldest, snowiest winter of my life. Of course I was not alone in this, but sometimes the company gained in misery isn't enough to inoculate us from the sadness that we want to indulge in solo.

Daily work was simply too much. Isn't it all too much? Even the things that I should have been able to cope with and understand were just too much to bear. I was trying so hard, too hard, to warm myself. In the process I grew even colder. Why do we hide ourselves and try to stoke the fire single-handedly, while others stand by ready to toss a match our way? We have to take off our gloves long enough to accept the gift. Even if it makes us colder for a moment while we take the risk.

This morning, it was still cold. But birds, inexplicably, sang. They know, because they don't think; they feel and intuit and trust. Spring will come. Warmth will return.

Today, I choose hope. I take off the gloves and ask for help. Each day, I say three Hail Marys, and give three things, at least, over to My Mama and her Son. I trust them, even when - no, especially when - I am afraid. All of my needs will be provided for, and I am loved. I will say this as many times as necessary each day to remind myself what is true.

And in the tiniest way, I will grow warm. The spark seems insignificant, but that is hardly the case. A roaring fire comes from a tiny ember.

Warm days will return, and soon I will shake off the things I cling to that do not warm me, but only keep me bound.

Because today, I choose hope.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

happy birthday, Dad


Every year on his birthday, my dad would say, "Did I ever tell you about the day I was born? The snow was so deep, my father had to dig out a path for the midwife."

It always made me smile, because he told the story as if he remembered it happening, not as if he was the baby they were waiting for.
Tomorrow Dad will be 93, and I don't think he'll tell the story this year (although I could be wrong. Dementia is funny like that; it gives and takes as it pleases.)

Dad has been at the Heartland Health Care center since late November. Maybe it's not politically correct, but I call it a nursing home. When he fell just before Thanksgiving, he ended up with a hospital visit, and when he was discharged it was not to his home but to this place.

Now he is in the hospital. Last week he had a feeding tube placed, as he was having trouble swallowing and had dropped nearly 30 pounds in a brief amount of time. He tolerated the procedure well, but he had some fluid in his lungs. He is recovering from that, really bouncing back now that he is receiving good nutrition, and if all goes well, he will be back to the nursing home - and then maybe "real" home - within the next few weeks.

The nurses post a care plan in his room that includes his personal goal for the day. Dad's says he wants to stay warm and be with his family. I think we are all on the same page here in Southeast Michigan these days.


Watching a parent age is a bit like watching a child grow up, but in reverse. They both change and become farther away from you; children needing you less, parents more. I've been asked if it's hard to see my dad, once strong and able, become feeble, needy, and childlike. There are moments of sadness and even grief, but in fact, it feels more like progression than decay. I see him being more and more himself, which is often challenging and sometimes a joy. I see him becoming smaller, a physical shadow of himself as a young man, but showing strength and the spoils of a spiritual life. He may not know if it is day or night, or recall who came to visit yesterday. But when he is suffering he prays, out loud, the same prayers I watched him kneel and pray at his bedside each night. He is old and frail, but he is no less my father, and his life has no less value.

There is no way, or course, to know if Dad will celebrate any more birthdays. When I reminded him last week that his birthday was coming soon, I asked him if he knew how old he was going to be. "One hundred!" he quickly replied. When I told him he was old, but not quite that old, he looked me in the eye. "I'll be 93." I was surprised. He doesn't always know. But then again, I have trouble remembering my own age sometimes.

Dad used to say that he wanted to have brunch at the Dearborn Inn on his 100th birthday. Even if he lives that long, he won't be eating brunch, and I admit that makes me sad. I will take this lesson to heart: don't wait for 100 years to do the things you love. And say your prayers every day, when you are young - they may someday comfort you and those you love like nothing else.

We celebrated well last year. Here is a photo from that day. My brother and I clearly got some or our good looks from Dad! ;)

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you!



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

sign me up

Recently I decided to be more open to what God might have in store for me. I wasn't foolish enough to ask for "signs," but I definitely put it out there that I needed more than vague insinuations. Sometimes I feel like God is little too much like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. "I'd go that way if I were you!" He says, then points in another direction when we're not looking.
Anyway, I'm feeling, more intensely than usual, a desire to make more of this life. But what is this "more" made of? What does it look like? What do I look like when I'm doing it?

This morning I received my monthly edition of The Catholic Journalist. I receive it because currently that is what I am, and it comes free with my membership in the Catholic Press Association. I flipped through casually, forgetting my recent plea to the Lord that He use everything I see to push me in the general direction of His will for my life.

The center spread was eye-catching. It featured a prominent box with the words "Column Logos"; beneath it I spotted a profound, telling, significant icon. A TYPO! A typo in my professional journal! It made me giddy; a sign of imperfection, proof that other actual human beings produced it and lived to tell.

I got up to share it with a coworker, laughing about the fact that though we worked hard to be professional (a.k.a. perfect) there were always errors. I strive to avoid errors, but I'm also of the stripe that recognizes them to be forgivable signs of a common humanity.

As I pointed out the mistake, my eye was drawn to the center of the page. There, in full color, was a picture of me.

This is not a symbolic statement, guys. I mean, it was my real, actual face!

The spread featured ways Catholic media outlets identify their opinion columns, and the header from my page in the magazine I edit was included. OMG is this a sign from GOD?????
Um, well, I dunno. I thought it was pretty cool, because I'm vain, and I like to think they included it because they liked it. Is it, however, a sign that I'm the best editor ever or that I'm destined for glory?

Probably not.

I took a minute to look at it as if I had never seen it before, and what impressed me most was the scripture. Of the 21 designs presented, including columns from priests, bishops, scholars, moms, pundits, and other editors, mine was the only one that included a verse.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Romans 12:2.

There it was, in black and white. With nary a typo.

I had chosen the scripture when we did a redesign some time ago. It's a favorite verse, one that has driven me time and again to the truth of the power of my thinking to change my reality, or at least my perception of it.

Today, it was a simple reminder, if not a sign. "Cathy," it said unambiguously, "Be transformed." How? "By the renewal of your mind."

So I must change, and if I don't know quite into what just yet, at least there's this: I know how to begin.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

unimaginable

A guest post by my son Luke, age 11.

It's silent; it's cold; it's dark. I gaze off over the garage, through the snowy branches of the damp trees, to see the man in the moon looking down and telling me, "You are unimaginable."

I walk outside and with every step my feet get colder, wetter, and numb. I imagine everything as tundra, and my house is a shack. There is a small frozen lake with a hole in the center to fish. I see the last birds travel south for the winter; just a few; cold, tired, just waiting to land in Florida, where they sit on a pole looking out at the ocean. So warm there, but below zero here. I wish I could be there; I wish I could sip a cold glass of lemonade on a lawn chair; I wish I could just jump up and fly away, and be secluded, isolated from everyone else, and fly, just fly, until I cross the ocean, then cross Africa, even Asia, and fly over the world.

It's silent. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jacob's Lighthouse

She wasn't entirely certain, at first, if this was Jacob's lighthouse, but she was willing to wager it might be.

It seemed to her, that from a distance, all lighthouses looked pretty much alike. They were like golden retrievers. From a few yards, they all looked silken and gilded and similar. Up close, they had unique noses, and some even smiled. Lighthouses didn't ever smile, of course, but they all stood straight and tall and were white, and only sometimes red.

Jacob's lighthouse was on the end of a fairly short pier that struck out at a regular angle into Lake Michigan, or more specifically, into the bay at St. Joseph's. Benton Harbor was the town on the other side.

She had visited once or twice before, on summer days. She remembered spending half a day or so there, when all of the children still lived at home. There were only six then. It might have been the summer she was expecting number seven. Maybe that was why the walk out on the pier seemed exceedingly dangerous. It was windy, and the cement was slick, having been washed clean by waves that morning. Authorities had opened the pier and assured visitors it was safe to venture out. But she had held Luke, the littlest, extra tight, and scolded the bigger boys when they went too close to the edge. Aaron had gone ahead, as he always did, reaching the lighthouse long before she felt safe. It was a role he had always taken in their marriage, and she tensed in the remembering, then relaxed, recalling that they had remained, through grace, safe.

She remembered that later, they had taken photographs on the nearby beach. It was a cloudy day, and the children's tan faces were golden against the gray. She wanted to capture the moment, in its imperfection and beauty, and keep it forever. It felt fragile and temporary. So unlike the lighthouse that Jacob, her great, great-grandfather, had maintained decades before.

Now she saw the lighthouse again. Not just in a new light, but in a new season. It was winter. It wasn't just, however, any winter. It was the coldest, bitterest winter that had touched the Midwest in years. This day a record was set. Forecasters predicted that the temperature in some areas might only rise to zero. The lighthouse wasn't merely snow-covered. It was encapsulated in ice. Crystals reached out, building one upon the next, forming icy tendrils that connected to the pier below. It was terrifying. And breathtakingly beautiful.

She had never seen it quite this way, and it moved her deeply.

Now, in this season, on the bitterest of days, a part of her past reached out to her and touched her unexpectedly. She had never met Jacob, and could only wonder at what his life had been like. She had gone to the lighthouse on that summer day because that is what people do: they seek landmarks and legacies, and they try to leave them.

She was creating her own that summer day. Even though the child she carried beneath her heart wouldn’t live for more than a few months, she too would leave a unique mark; a sign; a signal; a light as bold as any ever emitted from any beacon in any port, in any season.

She smiled and touched the computer screen. The image of Jacob's lighthouse had been captured by a photographer she'd likely never meet. It was posted online by a friend that chance had brought to her, a friend she had never embraced in person but a friend, a light, nonetheless.

Jacob's lighthouse stood frozen, elegant and beautiful, cold and far away, yet close. She would return there someday, and walk out on the pier, unafraid.

Today, she took the first step.

See the photos of Jacob's lighthouse here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

note to self

Dear One,

So, the holidays are over, and you are left with some extra gifts in the form of pounds.

It's OK.

You ate a few too many of those really good cookies that Joey baked. You went back - twice - to get that yummy special-purchase salami with Chianti wine - and you ate the whole thing in one sitting.

Everyone knows you like wine, so it was so thoughtful of them to buy you several bottles for your birthday and Christmas. You didn't drink it all alone. You shared it with friends and family, and you toasted love. It was good. So are you - really.

So you put on a few pounds. That doesn't make you a criminal. Isn't it nice to feel this way, maybe for the first time ever? That is was OK to indulge and eat some special treats, because most of the time you feed yourself healthful foods in a responsible manner? I mean, really. Stop and think about it. You can TRUST yourself to take care of yourself. You've been taking care of everyone else for decades. You know how to do this. You ARE doing it, and you are going to be just fine.

So drink a few glasses of water. Have some fruit and a few extra veggies. If you want to, have a protein shake and some of that vitamin enriched green stuff. But don't get out the emotional weapons of self-destruction and start whipping yourself. Be kind to yourself. Take a walk. Have a cup of tea. Read that book you've been wanting to read. Listen to some beautiful music. Wear pants with an elastic waist for a few days. It's no big deal.


No one loves you less because you're wearing stretchy pants today. In fact, they might like you better, because if you are too perfect, you make life seem too hard. I know that if you trust yourself, and those who love you, you will find goodness this year. You will become the healthier, happier person you know you can be, regardless of what size jeans you are rocking.


You are loved, and you love. That is what others see when they look at you - not what pants you are wearing or how you've filled them out.


It's a new, wonderful year. Look outside. The snow is falling softly, covering everything in a clean, pure blanket. It's a cool, blank slate. Start fresh. Breathe the chilled air and thank God you have another year to live well.

"Fear is useless; what is needed is TRUST." Luke 8:50, Mark 5:36