Lessons in Poverty

IMatterA red-haired girl, about 7, energetically dragged her prize — a rolling Disney princess bag — toward my table as her beleaguered grandparents followed, their arms laden with treasures of their own. Six panels of curtains, a leather jacket, an assortment of glasses. On top of this, a dizzying assortment of tiny, sparkly skirts and tees that were clearly intended for the little fashionista who stood in front of me, ready to check out. Her dirty face shone as she squealed again over each bit of clothing as my daughter loaded it in to shopping bags with a smile. I was so glad she’d decided to come; it had been a good day.

At 2:00 I dropped off Sarah (who promptly went upstairs for a nap) and picked up Christopher, and headed to meet the others at the Center for the Homeless, to unpack the trucks full of donations for the food pantry. I have never seen more boxed mac and cheese in my entire life, and made a mental note to start donating more toiletries — toothpaste, laundry soap, and aspirin had been much asked-for items at the Cove. I made a mental note to collect soda bottles and fill them with detergent for next time.

After spending a full day rubbing elbows with the neediest members of our community, first at the Shepherd’s Cove Clothing Pantry (Elkhart), and then at the
Center for the Homeless
(South Bend), I dragged my body home and collapsed on the couch. I was tired and sore all over from the lifting, bending, and stretching. But I had learned a few things as well.

Don’t forget to pray. I saw an elderly woman’s eyes tear up in front of me when I asked if I could pray with her. Her granddaughter was moving in with her, and she had just found out her kidney cancer was back. She grabbed both my hands as I asked God to heal her, and to keep her granddaughter safe.

Little things mean a lot. A little kid tripped and fell, and his mother and grandmother both had their hands full. So I went over and picked him up … and saw that this was precisely the wrong thing to do. So I set him down and did a little song and dance, and got a laugh, the boo-boo forgotten. At the end of the tally, little Richard waved at me. “See you next time!”

Fear can make you greedy. I’d often heard this in foster training, in relation to food hoarding, but it came back to me as I watched people bring 30 shirts and 20 pairs of pants to clothe a single child. I wondered why they needed so much … but quickly dismissed the idea. I had seen the mountains of unopened donation bags. There would always be more. If this is what they believed they needed to get by, who was I to say no?

It really does take a village. I was surprised to see how much “stuff” was available for the people who needed it. The problem was that there were so few volunteers to sort, organize, and help the clients that much of the stuff sat there for weeks, unopened and unused. Donating just five hours a month — a single Friday or Saturday — could make a real difference.

If you live in St. Joseph County (IN) and would like to volunteer your time, or if you live outside the area and want to make a donation to keep the lights and heat going, contact Sharlee Morain at shepherdscove@hotmail.com 



Becoming Mom: Life, Full Circle


Mom and me on a Girl’s Day Out. October 2015

It’s official: The Saxtons are about to add another place at the dining room table, and we’re going to become a multi-generational household. Heaven help us.

On November 17 I’m going to be flying with my mom from her memory care facility near Atlanta, to bring her on an “extended visit” with us here in Indiana. We’ve found an adult daycare and a fill-in caregiver for while I’m at work. And I try not to think too much about what she’ll say about my housekeeping skills. I’m hoping she’ll be so happy not to be where she was, that even our chaotic household will be an improvement.

If you have ever made the choice to bring a parent to live with you, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the things you did to make the transition easier? If your parent has dementia (like mine), what are some of the things you wish someone had told you ahead of time?




Zucchini Bread: A Memorable Summer Recipe

It’s that time of year again … zucchini season! This flavorful bread is a great way to use up oversized (and overly plentiful) squash hiding in your garden. Enjoy!

Life on the Road Less Traveled

Blueberry Zuccini BreadBusy, busy weekend. Blueberries picked. Check. Zucchini shredded. Check. Now it’s time to get down to business … Zucchini Bread and Blueberry Butter!

Aunt Suzy’s Zucchini Bread

Note: If you’re looking for something low-calorie or sugar free … this isn’t it. But it’s wonderful for breakfast! (Thanks to “My Name is Snickerdoodle” for the image … mine wasn’t nearly so photogenic because I left the house to go school shopping, and my DH took it out of the oven a bit too soon!)

3 eggs
2 cup sugar
1 cup oil
3 tsp vanilla

Mix these together in a bowl. Then add . . . 2 cups grated zucchini.

In separate bowl combine, then stir in gradually . . .

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp b soda
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon

Finally, stir in whatever combination of “add-ins” you like (if you add the…

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Jesus of the Bleeding Knees

San FernandoThe morning after #CWCSanAntonio, I ventured downtown to the San Fernando Cathedral just in time for the ten o’clock Mass. As I entered the nave, my eyes were immediately drawn to the image on the crucifix.

In churches all over the world, the Lord is represented hanging on the cross, the Lamb of God who laid down his life to atone for the sins of the world. The nail prints in his hands and feet, the crown of thorns, even the spear wound in his side … all these things I’ve seen hundreds of times. And each time these wounds call out to the faithful, drawing us to ponder and adore.

But this … this was the first time I can recall seeing the bleeding knees of Jesus.

It brought me up short. It reminded me that this Lamb was not quickly dispatched on the altar, and did not try to squirm away when he saw what fate was in store.

No, this Lamb persevered. He shouldered the full weight of that awful instrument of death. He knew full well what was in store. Three times he fell under his load, bloodying his knees and adding insult to injury. And three times he raised himself from the ground, until at last he was lifted to endure that final indignity, stripped bare and dying a slow and painful death. The death of a criminal. And he did it all for you … and for me.

Oh Jesus, I adore you. Help me to follow faithfully … and to persevere like you.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of Bliss

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

(American folk hymn, public domain)

WINE – Reflection on “Who Does He Say You Are?”


mitchell familyToday over at WINE (Women in the New Evangelization) I’m sharing a bit about my own impressions of this wonderful book, Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen Mitchell. (She and her family are pictured here.)

If you have not already read the book, please pick up a copy!  You can order it directly through WINE, and support this wonderful apostolate. The book is also available though Franciscan Media or Amazon.com.

Thank you!


Why Go?

IMG_2105As an Evangelical Protestant (the first 30 years of my life), I went on several short-term mission trips, one for nearly a year (as a teacher’s aide at Dakar Academy in Senegal, West Africa) and others for periods of just a few weeks or months (Poland, Mexico). I will always be grateful for these experiences, which deeply affected my worldview and shaped my values. And this week, my children will get just a taste of these experiences, as we spend time with St. Bryce Missions here in Costa Rica.

To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about how they will do in a world without television, without pizza, without electronics, where they will eat beans and rice several times each day (and be thankful) and have to remember not to flush the toilet paper or walk around without shoes. Where they have to work to make themselves understood. I am hoping that it will give them a taste of how the rest of the world lives, and a desire to share more of themselves with those who have less.

These lessons are not easy ones, of course. It’s been almost thirty years since I was last on a mission trip, and it’s been harder than I thought it would be. My body doesn’t take kindly to such a rustic environment, and I was grateful when my friend Colleen opened her home to me so I could get a real shower and sleep under  a fan for a few nights. We even got to watch an English language movie … I never laughed so hard at Princess Bride. “You keep saying that, but I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Ironically, the hardest part of the trip also occurred at Colleen’s house, when we came home to find that the dog had torn apart, limb from limb, four of their month-old kittens. “We were not going to be able to keep them, but I didn’t want it to end like this,” Colleen sighed as we cleaned up the mess, unable to salvage her favorite blanket. It was horrible, a stark reminder of how harsh life can be. Back at the Center, another kitten battled for survival — the two dogs cornering her on a semi-regular basis, battling for food. I thought of my two dogs at home. These dogs would have made a snack out of Gretta.

Yesterday at lunch, one of the volunteers — a med student with fluent Spanish skills — admitted she wasn’t sure her summer internship was going to be what she thought it would be. This was her second time in Costa Rica, and she had decided to volunteer this summer to see if she might be interested in becoming a missionary doctor. But she wasn’t sure whether this was going to be a good test, since she felt she hadn’t done very much, apart from cleaning and holding babies.

I assured her that God would use this experience for whatever he had in mind for her. It wasn’t until years after I returned from Africa that I fully appreciated what God was trying to teach me there: Important lessons about detachment, about gratitude, about simplicity, about trust. I had my eyes opened about what life is like for other people, and a chance to take on that experience in solidarity. While I had grand visions of saving souls, the reality was very different: I could not greatly change their circumstances, no matter how many baby blankets and onesies I brought with me. They will still struggle. They will still have enormous needs that are not easily met.

But for just a few weeks, we can love. I hold six-month old Axel, whose mother struggles to care for her child with cerebral palsy and other special needs. Each time he cries, I cuddle him close, grateful that he has not given up hope that someone will comfort him. They say Axel is “slow” because his mother neglected him. But I see a mother doing the best she can, despite impossible odds, to care for her two boys and her sister, whose mother died and who had no one to care for her. I understand the isolation and stress of parenting special-needs children, and I encouraged her as best the language barrier would allow. “You are a good mama. This is difficult,” I tell her. Later that day, I see her playing on the floor with her children, laughing and clapping as Kenneth walks several steps on his own. She catches my eye, and I laugh with her.

Love really is the most powerful force in the universe.

Not Day 5…

Did you think I’d been swallowed by an anaconda? Nope … not sure where the time went! Well, actually, I DO know:

IMG_2147[1]Thanks to the generous support of the Queen of Peace “Jubilee” ladies, St. Bryce Center now has a new “laboring room.” Their donation allowed us to buy MANY bins to store clothing and other baby supply donations, paint the room a cheerful buttery yellow, and purchase some additional equipment needed to give the moms-to-be a comfortable environment for the first stage of labor.

Baby Room Costa Rica 001

New Labor Room

I have now been at St. Bryce for a little over two weeks. In addition to spending time with two permanent families at the center, I’ve also seen how St. Bryce makes a difference for other families. A fifteen-year-old girl returned with her baby from the reservation; the infant was dehydrated and had an infected umbilical cord. For the next two weeks, the new mom will rest and spend time learning how to bond with her baby — from another young mom who had her first child at the same age. Two older boys (about 10 years old) also came to the center with their moms, so they could be close to the hospital to receive treatment. One has leukemia; the other had leg braces.

Saida's family

Kenneth (the three-year-old permanent resident) is now able to take 5-6 steps unaided, which is a real milestone for him. It’s a reflection of having people around at all times who will work with him on his therapy and take him to the pool. His 10-year-old aunt, Lola, is working with volunteers to learn to read.

We have fun, too — after church last week we took the kids to POPS for ice cream. Fun!

Evening at POPSSpent several days at Colleen Mitchell’s house while Greg was in the States with the older boys. Had the pleasure of going to see Kolbe and Evan belt test at karate class — a sensei from Japan comes to test all the students in the country every six months. We made the trip with a Costa Rican family who is friends with Colleen, and she made the most delicious chicken and rice dish with saffron and other spices!

Today I am taking a break, sitting in the cabin where my family will be staying while they are here. Fast WIFI, hot showers, fresh bread, fruit trees, and SILENCE. Ahh…. two weeks of rustic living really makes me appreciate these gifts for what they are!

Here are a few pictures from the highlights of the past two weeks.  Enjoy!

labor room before

Labor Room (Before Transformation)

Paula's family

Paula and her kids with Susana (operation manager)