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Picture for Karma Post

Today, I noticed a husky trotting around the outside of my house to the fence in the side yard. It took me a second to realize that it was a neighbor’s dog named Karma. Many years ago, whenever he got out of his yard, he would cheerfully bound over to our fence and gaze lovingly at my dog, Sheena. Her tail would wag and they would “play-bow” to each other on opposite sides of the fence. After a few minutes of this sweet interaction, Karma would trot off, heading happily toward home. Sheena would watch him wistfully, never taking her eyes off of him until he was well down the road out of sight.

My Sheena has been gone for four years now, and I have to admit, seeing Karma again brought a tear to my eye. That’s Sheena, in the backyard in the picture, above.

Still, it made me happy that someone else remembers my girldog and thinks of her as fondly as I do, even all these years later. I said to my son, this sounds like the opening line of a novel: that was the morning that Karma came back.

And of course, it made me think of how we remember the people and pets we love after they’re gone. I’ve often felt that I didn’t fully appreciate them while they were here. But in the moment, with all the obligations and family-raising and bills to pay, we did the best we could.

The visit from an old four-legged friend reminded me not to grieve anew every time I think of those I’ve lost, but to remember the warm, fuzzy things: Sheena’s playful spirit and unconditional love (for me and for muffins!)

The way my father used to stand outside the garage of their house when I was coming over for a visit, where I’d pull up my car. I used to think it was his way of chiding, “You’re late!” but it was really his way of saying, “You’re the highlight of our day! Couldn’t wait for you to get here.”

My mother, quoting a favorite funny line from an old sitcom I’d never seen (“Azusa, Anaheim and Cucamonga!”) She’d also ask me every single time I’d visit, “Hey Ruth, have you got gas?” She meant in the car but I’d always punch my stomach and say, “Just a bit of agita, Mom.” She’d pretend to be exasperated with me, but she was smiling.

My cousin, Elaine, who even at our age (well into our “cougar” years) had a crush on actor Jason Momoa, and would send me email updates about his latest projects as if I was his biggest fan. I still wasn’t sure who he was until he had a role on Game of Thrones.

It was a crystal clear spring day when Karma came back. Everything was still and cool. There was no particular seismic shift in the planet. Just a small, sweet poke from Providence to be thankful for the people and pets I’ve loved and lost. Even though I don’t have a photographic memory, today, I was blessed with a photogenic memory. Beautiful times were all I could remember.

Grace the no fault state

 

Sometimes I wonder if self-awareness is actually a gift. Sure, it separates us from the beasts of the field, but it also adds hours of stress that can take years off of your life.

Yesterday, some challenges arose, so I marinated, stewed, and pressure-cooked my psyche about what’s going on in my life. Well the reason my son has that issue – still! – is because I was toofill in the blank, lenient, strict, emotional, sick, pre-occupied – to be a good mother all the time.

I blamed myself in my head for things in general. Finally I realized God is the one who made my son who he is, and there’s no way in the world I would ever, EVER have the gall to blame God for our troubles.

So why do I continue to throw acid at myself in this way? I wouldn’t do it to God, who created me as well, so where do I get off criticizing this child of God? Who just happens to be me.

I read an article about divorce and the fact that certain states are considered “no-fault” when it comes to ending a marriage.

In truth, the only real, bona fide no-fault state is this one:

Grace.

God’s in charge of everything we see, and things we can’t see, like gravity, atoms, uh… Spanx. You know, all of it. Things we hide – and that hide our figure flaws. Our past, secret dreams we harbor but tell no one, “morning face.” These things are no secret to God.

If God decided that your son should have flat feet… poof! Or maybe, splat! It will be so.

If God decided that you should have “child-bearing hips”… poof! (Better give that a double whammy) Poof, poof! Perhaps even, bada-boom, bada-bing! You – like me – will be, shall we say, wide in the ride. (I just made that one up! Hope it becomes a thing. Looking at you, social media!)

If God made you and your children, there is no reason to question why things are so. Of course, you should try to improve the things you can improve. But blame doesn’t make things better.

Give yourself a break. You weren’t put on this planet to obsess over things you can’t change right now, if at all. You were meant to find the joy in the journey. Take a deep breath, step back, and release the Impossible, the Unsolvable, the Ugly-Cry-Dramas into God’s hands. It’s like an instant Disaster Relief Program, coming to your aid. Living in the state of grace is like finding your way back home again.

Concrete Jungle Picture

 

The other day, a friend said she was going to a therapist because she was feeling stressed and depressed. When she told her boyfriend about it, he said, “okay,” and started to talk about how his day had been.

She was annoyed, as she felt that he should have asked, “What’s going on, honey?  Can I do anything to make it better?”

But oftentimes, when men and women talk about a problem, we’re not even speaking the same language.

We’re talking about emotions. They’re thinking about solutions.

In a way, I told my friend, you should take it as a compliment. You told him there’s an issue, and he’s assuming you can handle it, so he’s respecting your ability to deal with it and tackle it head on. He knows that if you need him to do more, you’ll tell him.

But we don’t usually do that. As women, we think, you should know how I feel. You should provide the emotional support that anyone with a heart would know is needed right now. As men, they think, I’m not a mind reader and I won’t do you the disservice of assuming you can’t address your own issues. If you need something else from me, I’ll count on you to put it into words and tell me.

Maybe men really are from Mars, and women from Venus! Sometimes it seems we can’t hear each other at all.

I’m grateful that this language barrier doesn’t apply to our prayers. God not only understands all languages, he can interpret your silence as well. He knows what’s on the heart even if you say nothing at all. He also knows that if you say so much that you’re out of breath, you might be missing the point of grace.

Last night, I prayed in such great detail about what I hoped for my son’s life that I realized something. I can’t ask God to give Cole a customized life according to MY specifications. I have to let that idea go. Sure, I’d like to live in a small town by a lake, but my son would be just as happy in the concrete jungle sitting by the Hudson River. I’d like him to go to college near home, but he’d probably like to branch out on his own out of state and have some independence.

I decided to pray for a life that made him smile every day and sleep like a baby every night. It’s not perfect, but Providence is. So I’ll let my son – and our Silent Partner – fill in the blanks together.

Path

My teen-age son has really struggled with exhaustion and health issues that have led him to be late for school quite a bit, even missing some days altogether. As you can imagine, mornings in our house can become rather, well… heated.

I ask him to wake up and he tries, but falls back to sleep. I come in again and again, each time with the same result. The bus goes by and I silently seethe. Late again. Yesterday, I blew my top and started yelling. The cat high-tailed it down the hall, ready to flee the danger zone.

Still tight, I went to another room to pray, hoping it would calm me down. I asked for Cole’s Yes Life to begin. Each morning, when I’d go in to wake him, it felt like I was part of the No Life.

Getting stressed, waking him up and being tense at him.

I prayed directly to God. “Lord, I can’t take these mornings anymore,” and I felt in my mind, No More! But on my heart, I saw the words Know More.

And it came to me, clearly.

Know that you can’t “No” your way to “Yes.” You can’t come in and rant to wake up your son and hope he has a good day. This is where the good day has to begin.

I prayed for him to have his Yes Life now: his music and friends and blessings. A life of his choosing. His own path. Every good thing.

And I wondered how long it would be my responsibility to make life work for him. I prayed, “When does a child’s life transition to him? When do they get to decide things for themselves and blaze their own trail using a map of their own making?”

I assume it is when they have the life-skills and work-ethic they need to get a job, pay the bills. Just generally take care of it all. But there’s also something else. Something that lights you up from the inside. Makes life meaningful. Connects you to your community (of musicians, or Christians, or people who like Lego) and lifts your spirits.

For me, it’s my faith and perpetual prayer. For you, it’s the zhoozh that sparks your soul. It’s something everyone must find for themselves.

So for now, I pray for answers and trust the God who posed the question. When there isn’t a clear-cut solution to an ongoing problem, bring as much “yes” as you can to the “no” in your life. Keep pushing on, and you’ll get through it.

holidays 2011 017

Have you ever started to talk to a friend, gone off on a tangent, and forgotten the point you were trying to make?

I have a phrase for that.

“I went for a walk in my mind.”

Or I’ll invoke the lyrics from an old James Taylor song and say, “In my mind, I went to Carolina.”

Maybe the mind does this because it really just needs a break from all of the action in life.

I’ve found that some part of my brain checks out during the holiday season. Oh, don’t get me wrong; the music and the decorations, catching up with family and friends, and of course, the spirit and story of Christmas…all of this is joyous to me.

But what I need to divest from is the hustle and bustle. The people at stores staring at the cashier, tapping their feet as if they would really like to move it along, here. Cars in traffic jams, filled with people who left a half hour late, so they have to speed down the highway to get home in time for the turkey. The last-minute chaos and the crass commercialism.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could infuse the true spirit of Christmas into our lives all year long? Goodwill toward man, peace on Earth. Then we wouldn’t need to take that soul-stroll to get away from it all. And lest we forget the most important part: for unto us a child is born. May we all honor this beautiful blessing in our lives, and with our words, all year round.

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” the police officer said, hiking up his pants and pacing slowly. “I just want to make sure I understand the situation.” It seemed as if he was talking to a jury, not a family that had just lost a loved one, minutes ago.

He was training a new officer, and it became clear that he was trying to impress the rookie with his “command” of the scene.

As he spoke, I realized that I knew this man.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” I said, and told him my name. “We went to high school together.”

He shrugged slightly, smirked and widened his eyes dramatically. “Geez. You got so big!” he said to me. He laughed as if to say, I’m so bad to say that, but it’s true!

Silently seething, I almost reflexively responded that I’d just had a child, but I realized you should never justify yourself. Bad behavior is just that. It’s unacceptable.

Outwardly calm, I did the math in my head. He could make this process even more painful if I got up in his grill, as we say in Jersey. Which I so wanted to do.

“You’re not one to talk, bud,” I said, pointing to the burgeoning buttons on his uniform, which might have fit a few years ago. But at this point, he looked like a sausage in a casing.

We semi-smiled and chuckled mirthlessly, knowing we’d both just insulted the heck out of each other, but tacitly agreeing to call it a draw.

Society had decided this guy was in charge right now. There in my parents’ home, with my dad lying cold in the other room. There in the house where I grew up. How can someone “pull rank” on you in your own home?

He went back to interrogating my mother about how my father – all of 90 pounds after being ravaged by cancer – had died. I guess the hospital bed, commode, wheelchair and medications would have been puzzling to anyone but Columbo, perhaps. This truly seemed to be a great mystery.

The thing that struck me the most about this ordeal was the fact that he was not a stunod (more colorful Jerseyisms) in high school. He wasn’t a friend of mine; we had a few classes in common, but from what I could surmise, he was an okay sort.

What happened?

Does the badge always change you? Does power corrupt people?

This may be oversimplifying the recent spate of police-civilian incidents, but I don’t see it as black vs. white. It’s not even the authority establishment against everyone else. It’s light and darkness. Compassion vs. callousness. Both are inside each of us, and it’s what we choose to tap into at any given time. I’m praying that somehow, some way…we could all turn the light on at the same time. And keep it on. Now that would be a shining sight to see.

When my son was in grade school, a teacher wrote two words on the board: “Boisterous” and “Timid.” She told the class that these are the two personality types, and went around the class, saying “Boisterous” or “Timid,” as she pointed at the students. This really frosted my cupcake, and I was about to call that teacher and give her a piece of my ever-loving mind.

But I had to cool my jets as I realized that my son and the other students weren’t bothered by this teacher. “That’s just how she is, Ma.” And I realized that maybe he had learned something. Adults don’t always have their facts straight, and you can’t let someone else’s opinion diminish you.

It was clear that he also knew that the teacher was a “personality type” as well. She was a bit flaky, went off on tangents and was sometimes in her own world. Wow. People like that! Ha ha! Oh wait. I’m like that, too.

It was also a teachable moment for me. I was about to step in, as I’ve always done, to protect my son’s precious psyche. Well, he didn’t need me to charge in like the cavalry then, and he surely doesn’t need it today, at sixteen years old. He’s a young man now.

I’ve been so used to being my son’s advocate that I forgot something. He’s already out there in the world. He sees how it is. By trying to “protect” him, I’m impeding his ability to navigate the world in his own way.

The best thing I can do is keep him covered in plentiful prayer, and trust that I raised him well enough to make the right choices in life. Stepping back is never easy for a parent, but it’s the only way our kids will be able to step up and walk the path on their own terms. My son’s not a boy anymore. It’s about time for me to get out the way and let the man through.

Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

As I was making my son some Ramen, we sat in the kitchen and chatted. I told him the story of the first time I ever cooked anything for his father, some twenty-five years ago.

Oh yes. It was Ramen Noodles.

So I told my son that back in the days of yore, I made his Dad the Ramen, poured in the little seasoning packet, and put it into a bowl.  At that time, Ramen wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, and I had never had it before. I looked at the package. It showed a bowl filled with noodles, but I didn’t see any broth in the picture.

Is this noodles? I asked myself.  I thought it was soup, but based on the picture, maybe it’s just a noodle side dish.

I drained out the liquid.

Serving it to my then-husband, he looked puzzled.  “Something is missing here….” he said, explaining that it usually has broth in it.

My son laughed as I told the story.  Now, back in our time, I finished making his Ramen and poured it into the bowl. I handed him a spoon.

“Something is missing, Ma,” he said, smiling.

I had forgotten to pour in the seasoning packet!  Dagnabbit.

So I admit it.  I often order out or bring home meals from food places in our town. My son will actually get a better meal this way, with all of the ingredients included.

I used to feel guilty about this. But now I see that I’m doing the best that I can with the hand I’ve been dealt. My MS affects my memory and my cognitive abilities. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to get my side dishes to be done at the same time as my entrée.  I remember once during a dinner party years ago, forgetting the two-cups-of-water to one-cup-of-rice ratio and reversing it. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t seem to master this skill that is so important in the life of a family.

Cooking, gathering over the meal, savoring tasty dishes.  It just isn’t something I’ve ever been able to do well. Some people who don’t do well with plants have a black thumb.  I guess I’ve got a black oven mitt! I’m sure Martha Stewart would look at my caved-in casserole, shake her head and say, “I’d rather go back to jail than have to eat this! It’s a bad thing.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody has something to deal with. Don’t give yourself a hard time for what you can’t do; focus more fully on your gifts, and give that your all. Do your best to work around shortcomings – black oven mitt and all – and trust that God will take care of the rest. And put the pizza place on speed dial.

You know I hold my Faith close,
and personal,
and quiet.
Sometimes probably too quiet.

Help me to share my beliefs with others,
especially the children
I am responsible for shaping.

But help me to do it in a way
that lets them bask in Your Presence
and glory in Your Love.

Let me lead them
as You
have always led me.

Amen.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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