Monday, March 26, 2018

I needed this reminder...

"Is this seat taken?"  I looked up to see Rose, a longtime member of our parish. She was pointing to the chair next to me.

A smile spread across my face.

"No," I said. "It's yours! Sit here!"

Rose smiled, eyes twinkling in delight. She placed her fish dinner on the table and moved the folding chair, which screeched unmercifully across the floor.

Then she sat down, looked at me, and spoke.

"It's good to see you," she said. 

She wasn't kidding. Heck, it was good to see her. It's been a long haul, this cancer recovery. 

Like her, I was once incredibly active in the parish...daily Mass, bible studies, prayer groups, parish council, women's retreats... 

But cancer changed all that. For over 2 years, most of my praying has been at home...much of it from under the bedcovers.  Church has come to me, in the form of friends and neighbors, fellow parishioners and bible study members. I've been connected, just in a different way.

So it was good to be here, enjoying the Lenten fish fry at our parish. (I mean, what's Lent without a fish fry?)

"You're here," she repeated. "It's good to see you."

We stared at each other, beaming. 

"How are you?" she finally asked.  

I gave her a slow nod  "I'm okay," I said. 

For a moment, I wondered: Should I tell her the whole deal? That treatments will never end? That some days are tough and some, like this one, are better?

I decided to say none of that. Instead, I smiled. "Yes, I'm doing well."

She gave me a knowing look. "That's good," she said. It was obvious she could read between the lines. 

She thought a moment and when she spoke, her words felt prophetic.  

"The worst is behind you," she said.

My head snapped to attention. What? With cancer treatments perpetually looming, I'd never thought of it like that before. Who was looking behind? I was just trying to get through.

I'd been so entrenched in the business of fighting the return to good health, that I'd missed the fact that this progression, slow as it is, is still a progression.

I pondered her words, enjoying the sound.

Finally, I responded. 

"Yes," I said. "Yes. The worst is behind me."

I smiled. Broadly.

So did she.

I hope your day is happy as we enter into this holiest of weeks, reminding us that the best is yet to come. 

Thank you for being here and reading. Each of you has helped me in your own unique way, and I hope that somehow my words help you. 

Click here to listen to the Servant Song, which says it all.

Whose life is it, anyway?


Years ago, frustrated with life because it wasn’t happening the way I wanted it to, I found answers in an unexpected stop into a Good Friday ceremony at my parish.

Although it had been years since I’d attended Lenten services, I was tempted to go to church on Good Friday. Each time the idea surfaced, however, I dismissed it. After all, we planned to take the kids out for pizza and I wasn’t going to disrupt our agenda.

But that night, as we motored toward the pizzeria, I noticed the packed parking lot at our church, which was along our route, and it summoned me.

It was late. The kids were hungry. The service was well underway. But I insisted we stop.

We found space on the grass and parked the car. I slung the baby onto my hip while Joe grabbed Jenna and Lynn. Amid mild protests, we rushed across the darkened parking lot and slipped into the back door of the church.

A few empty seats remained, and we slid into them, blanketed by the reverence of the congregation. The church lights were dimmed, and radiance surrounded the life-sized crucifix on the altar, now draped in red cloth. I bowed my head in penitential prayer.

I remember nothing more than gliding into the worship of the assembly, but the song we sang moments later still resonates today: Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

Sitting in the back of that church, repeating that refrain, I was able to release my fears, doubts, anger, resentments and judgments. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that it wasn’t my life, but His life within me, that mattered.

I’ll never forget that day.

Maybe you were in that congregation that day. You showed me that we’re not alone in the journey. Perhaps you didn’t know what it meant to me, to be able to join you in worship. Maybe we can give this gift to others. Perhaps, this year, we’ll participate in a service that lifts another soul from the tarmac into the heavenly realms. Only God knows.

Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

I finally meant it.

Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

I’m trying to live it.

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it. Matthew 10:39

Thanks for being here. This song, Control, by 10th Avenue North, says it all. Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Is He Worthy?

Lent...soon drawing to a's a song...just a song...but it says a lot.

Is He Worthy by Andrew Peterson.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Balance Beam Wonders

"Sara, you never use your balance beam anymore," I said. "It's just been taking up space and I don't like clutter. It's time to give it away, okay?" 

Sara frowned.  It wasn't the first time we'd had this conversation. Before this, she just couldn't part with it. The beam was a present for her during her tenure as a young competitive gymnast, but she quit gymnastics and hadn't used it since she began high school. I felt it needed to go.

"Okay," she said. "I know how you feel. We can give it away, but we need to give it to another gymnast, okay? Let's find a girl who loves gymnastics like I once did."

I ran an ad for the free beam. Immediately, several callers left messages on our answering machine.

I returned the first call, eager to give it away.

They asked a few questions and wondered if it was still available. 

"Yes," I said. "Yes, you can have it."  Job done. I was happy. 

But as the conversation continued, I learned it was a business owner who wanted it for their karate school. Not what I expected. My heart sank a little.

When I hung up and told Sara, she frowned and slumped back in her chair.   

“Mom," she said. "It needs to go a gymnast.” 

"I know," I said. "I agree, but I already promised it to the school. We can't change that now.." Oh well, I thought, I really just wanted it out of the house anyway.

The beam sat in our garage for weeks waiting for the karate school owner to arrange to pick it up. Meanwhile, calls kept coming in. Everybody wanted it. One message in particular caught my attention.

“This is Stacy.  My son had a stroke as an infant and now he needs to work on his balance.  Your balance beam could change his life, so if you haven’t given it away yet, we would love to have it.”

Even though the beam was already promised to the karate school, I kept Stacy’s name and number.  I wished I could give the beam to them.

I told Sara. I had her listen to the message. 

"I know, Mom," Sara said. "But I still really think it needs to go to a girl who loves gymnastics, just like I did...I really think it needs to go a girl...a gymnast...."  

The next day I ran an errand while Sara stayed home. When I returned, Sara, her eyes sparkling with delight, greeted me at the door.  

“Mommy, a girl named Lacy called about the beam," she said. "I spoke with her and she’s eleven years old and loves gymnastics! This is really important to her. Her dad can pick it up and I have their phone number. I want to give it to her!” She tilted her head, looked at me and clasped her hands.

We talked. I called the karate school and found out they decided they didn’t want the beam after all. Then I tried to convince Sara to help the woman with the toddler experiencing balance problems. 

Although she felt compassion for him, Sara understood the thrill of back walkovers, handsprings and jumps on the beam.  She recognized those needs in a way I never will. 

Tears filled Sara's eyes as I left the final decision to her.  

That night, doubts plagued me. Was I being a weak parent? Should I simply override my daughter's wishes? Should I teach her compassion by insisting we give her beam to the little boy? What was with her? Why was she so insistent it go to this girl?

The next day, after much deliberation, Sara announced, “Let’s call the girl’s dad back.”

I did, and the dad and I made arrangements for them to pick up the beam that day. 

During our conversation, the dad mentioned that they too had a balance beam. It was too low to the ground and too short to accomplish complex gymnastics moves. They now planned to give it away.

I told them about Stacy, the mom of the boy who had the stroke, and put them in touch with each other.

About an hour later, Stacy called.  

“Thank you so much for remembering us,” she said. “You didn’t even know us, and I can’t believe you hung onto our name and number.  This lower beam will be better than yours would have been for my son. It's exactly what we need! Look at how God provides. Thank you!”

Her words humbled me. Indeed! Look at how God provides. I feared I wasn’t teaching my daughter compassion when I allowed her to choose who to give the beam to. Rather, I learned how God could guide her to accomplish his purposes. 

I learned it's good to let your children make decisions. I learned you may be allowing God to work through them. I learned you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

What a beautiful prayer for the day...

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with Your holy gifts.
Let my weakness be penetrated with your strength this very day that I may fulfill all the duties of my state conscientiously, that I may do what is right and just.
Let my charity be such as to offend no one, and hurt no one's feelings; so generous as to pardon sincerely any wrong done to me.

Assist me, O Holy Spirit, in all my trials of life, enlighten me in my ignorance, advise me in my doubts, strengthen me in my weakness, help me in all my needs, protect me in temptations and console me in afflictions.

Graciously hear me, O Holy Spirit, and pour Your light into my heart, my soul and my mind.
Assist me to live a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace. Amen.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit, taken from An Hour With Jesus. pg. 50, Queenship Publishing.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I want to live like's an update from my new oncologist...

"I'm doing better than before, but I still don't feel right," I said. This was my first appointment with Dr. D, my new oncologist.  "It's been over two years since chemo began...and I'm still not well..." Then...the magic question..."Will I ever get better?"

(To date, there's no remission for the type of cancer I have, Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia. I went through intensive rounds of chemotherapy in 2015, and have been receiving ongoing treatments every 6 months ever since.)

"What's happening," Dr. D asked. He pulled up a chair, averted his gaze, and listened intently.

"I'm constantly debilitated," I said. "I feel like I have the flu. I'm like a cellphone that's stuck in the red zone and drops to black. And, depending on the day. I feel quite sick." I recited a litany of agonies...fatigue, intestinal uproars, dizziness, bone pain, headaches...

Suddenly, he spoke. "That's good," he said. "We want that!"

I paused mid-sentence. What?

He looked at me. "It's working," he declared.

I cocked my head.

"The treatments are supposed to trigger your immune system to attack the cancer cells...It's working," he said. "We're killing cancer cells!"

Really? I thought. That makes sense.  I smiled.

"Unfortunately, it produces the same effect as when your system works to fight off a virus or the flu," he added. "That's why you feel so bad."

For some people, the drug doesn't work.

But I'm one of the lucky ones. It is working for me. My numbers are good.

"Forever?" I asked. "Will I need to have these treatments forever?"

The oncologist stared at the notes in his hand, nodded his head and murmured a response, "Yes."

Then he looked at me.

"It's working," he said. "So the next time you feel awful like that...just's good news...We're killing cancer cells!"

Now that's a positive spin! I'll take it!

(Of course, I went home and did my own research, which confirmed that this drug, a targeted drug, adheres to the cancer cells which my system is continually producing...and it adheres to the excessive protein produced by my healthy cells. All of that results in viral-like symptoms. No wonder I can't control how I feel...I can only react to it.,,Some days are good...some days are not...It controls me...I don't control it. Makes sense now though. And I also learned the drug lasts in your system from 6 months to 3 years. No wonder I need to have treatments every 6 months!)

Somewhere deep inside, a light lit. I realize...once's time to move on with my life...get on with it...quit waiting to feel 'normal'...move the life I've been given.  

So will you listen to this awesome song with me?  Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets. I fall so short, but all my hopes and dreams are in this song..

Have a great day, and thanks for being here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

What will be your first thoughts in the morning?

Years ago, I worked to deepen my relationship with God, but no matter how many prayers I recited, services I attended, volunteer works I performed, He seemed distant and untouchable.  The same routines that had formerly delivered a glimpse of His holy presence failed to create a stir.  In fact, the busier I got searching for Him, the more remote He seemed. 

Then I needed to put my life on hold to undergo minor surgery. Days later, I expected to return to normal routines, but medical complications dictated extended bed rest.  Instead, I spent the day feeling isolated, devalued and frustrated.

Finally, I picked up my copy of a book called “Divine Embrace” by Ken Gire.  I flipped to a page where the author addresses a spiritually dry period in his life, a time when he, too, was searching for a deeper relationship with God and found only stillness.  

In hindsight, he reflects, “God had indeed been silent.  But silent in the way an artist at work is silent.  He had been quietly at work in me, forming Christ in me.” 

With that thought, I relaxed. Maybe silence was okay.

That same night I dreamed I was walking on the beach at sunset with a revered priest from our parish.  Hot pink streaks scored the darkening sky.  We reached the far end of the building where he planned to head inside for the evening, and he turned to me and asked, “What will be your first thoughts when you awake in the morning?” 

At first, I drew a blank.  Then I blurted, “I will thank God for the gift of another day.”  

Even in my dream, my response startled me.  I had been anything but thankful for the day I just had been given.

The priest smiled and disappeared, but an overpowering joy filled me.  God seemed to whisper, “You understand...That’s all I want.”

The next morning, the sound of the alarm awakened me.  I slipped from the bedcovers and opened the blinds.  Hot pink streaks scored the early morning haze, causing me to suddenly remember my dream. As I thanked God for the gift of yet another day, I traded my frustration, anxiety and isolation for appreciation and acceptance of God’s matter what the day held or released.

And the joy never left my heart.

I love this song by Don Moen, Give Thanks, and it just seems to pair well with this story. Here's hoping you have a thankful day today, filled with unceasing joy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What are you wishing for today? Anything like this?

(I wrote and published this story years ago, March, 2008, during the Great Recession, but it's message is timeless and still gives me reason to pause...)

It’s Lent, and gosh, I can tell.  I want a new car.

Not just any car. I want something shiny brand new, sleek and stylish. Why can’t I drive a fancy vehicle like my co-workers? Why not a stately SUV, or a graceful sedan with a youthful odometer?

Instead, I lumber into the parking lot in my bedraggled mini-van whose headlights look like bad cataracts. The paint is faded and there’s a small dent from when I backed into a mailbox years ago. Telltale containers of motor oil line pockets inside the door, as it needs oil about as often as gas.

When we first purchased the van, I was a stay-at-home mom and mini-vans were the rage. Our youngest daughter was so excited about the new vehicle that she'd play in it for hours while parked in the garage. Through the years, we used it to drive the kids' cheerleading teams, transport lacrosse equipment, and chauffeur classmates on field trips.

Later, the van was used to move our kids in and out of college dorms and transfer their furniture into new apartments. Whenever we considered trading it in, another need arose,  and we clung to the aging vehicle.

But enough is enough.

When this tough economy pushed me into the business world, my faded mini-van looked like an oddity in the office parking lot, sandwiched between shiny SUV’s and sporty passenger vehicles. But the option of trading it is gone, at least for now. This challenging economy and increasing expenses can’t handle it.

That’s where Lent comes in.

Normally, it doesn’t bother me that I’m driving a dinosaur of a vehicle. I choose part-time work so I can continue to write, and I’d rather continue writing than drive a shiny new vehicle. In fact, I’m convinced that’s what God wants me to do, at least for today.
I can’t imagine life if I couldn’t reach people through the written word.

So when thoughts of ‘poor me’ arise, I fight them off. I pray to keep my sights on God’s vision for my life; I read my Bible often and am convinced that the ‘enemy’ resides in my own thoughts—if I allow negative notions in.

I focus on the eternal good, not my temporal existence. I believe that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I am struggling to learn all that I’m meant to learn from this experience. And I choose to remain thankful. After all, it could be worse. I could have nothing to drive.

But it’s Lent. The devil is dangling the carrot, just like he did to Jesus in the desert.

“Give up your writing, and find more profitable work, and you can have a pretty new car. You’ll earn the respect of your peers. You’ll feel more important.”

It’s a battle that goes on inside my head, but there’s no doubt where my heart lies. So while I might want to complain for a moment, really, I’m over it. 

Thank you, Lord, for faded mini-vans.

Next Satan took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him the nations of the world and all their glory. “I’ll give it all to you,” he said, “if you will only kneel and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “The Scriptures say, ‘Worship only the Lord God. Obey only him.’”                      Matthew 4:10

Monday, March 5, 2018

Fasting is getting a bad rap. Try it! I did!

"What are you going to do for Lent?" My neighbor's question stopped me dead in my tracks. 

Not  that I didn't have an answer. I mean, I'm going to do the usual...give up sweets, give up coffee, go to confession, listen to Dynamic Catholic's daily podcast Best Lent Ever, donate to the food pantry, give to neighbors in need. I just hadn't thought about it. 

She went on. "I think we should be doing something instead of fasting."  

I bristled. Instead of fasting? She's not the first to make that comment, and it always makes me cringe.

Did she know how difficult fasting is?  Did she know that fasting isn't the 'end-all' of Lent?
Did she know Catholics are, indeed, called to 'do something' for Lent? Something in addition to fasting?  

Lent includes prayer, fasting and almsgiving (doing something for others). 

In our selfie-centered society, it seems, fasting is getting a bad rap. Maybe because fasting hits us at a very basic, very human level. Self-denial isn't hip.

And, it's hard to do. It's easier for me to donate, volunteer, or visit the sick...but give up chocolate? Forego my morning coffee? Go hungry for a day? 

Now that's tough...really tough. Why would I do that?

Here's why:  Man does not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4). Fasting is supposed to remind us of our dependence on the Lord.

Faith is a practice. I like the way we sharpen the pencil during Lent. If you need some ideas, watch Fr. Robert Barron's (Word on Fire) video

We do these things throughout the year, but we underscore them during Lent. So...have the conversation. Challenge the practices of faith. Just remember the 3 tenets of the season. 

And do something that draws you closer to God himself.

I think I'll keep my sweets...listen to Dynamic Catholic's Best Lent Ever...and be intentional in what I can do to give of myself. I' daily opportunities to serve others, including, and especially, those in my own home. And I'll pray...Lord, have mercy...I'll pray...

So...what are you going to do for Lent?

Click here for the song Lord Have Mercy on Me. What a beautiful Lenten prayer.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...