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


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