Day 40: Twenty(ish) Years Later

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If you have made it this far in the 20th anniversary edition of the “40 Day Challenge,” you discovered that I made it only a little over half-way before a previous edition kicked in.

There’s a reason for that. Though I didn’t originally intend to drop the ball, at a certain point I realized that I had to choose between getting the series done by Easter … or take one for the team and admit that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both this and everything else.

While perseverance is an important part of marital success, I’ve also found that finishing something just to say that you’ve finished it is not always a good thing. Whether it’s a trashy novel or a frost-bitten half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s, there are times when it’s really, truly okay NOT to persevere. (While that doesn’t apply to marriage in general, it does provide food for thought about the millions of little decisions we make within that holy huddle.)

In twenty years of marriage, I’ve discovered that our capacities — physical, mental, and financial — change, and often shrink. Now my husband’s energy stores quickly become depleted when he attempts to work several twenty-hour days in succession. I’ve found my sense of humor grows equally in short supply when attempting to be everywhere and do everything at once.

For both of us, when we try to be and do too much, one of the first things that suffers is our relationship. He becomes loquacious, I become irritable. We retreat to opposite ends of the house, instead of meeting in the middle (after the kids and my mother turn in) for a cuddle. And don’t even get me started on what this does to the sex life.

Middle age is a time of transition, a time to dig deep in the storehouse of wisdom that we’ve acquired over time and with experience. So, in closing, I’d like to offer this one last “Prayer of Abandonment: Twenty-Year Edition.”

My darling,

Let us continue to abandon ourselves, come what may,

not knowing what the future holds, but confident in the One who does.

Let us be ready for inevitable change, and lingering struggles.

Let us say “I do” to each other, over and over and over again.

I offer you all that I am, and all that I have,

to claim or ignore or appropriate, as needed.

Let the love that we have continue to grow,

and to reflect in some small way the Perfection

to which we try to surrender ourselves, body and soul,

until at last we see the Glory.

 St. Charles de Foucauld, pray for us.

As Lent Begins … Don’t let your past smack you in the face.

Pio I had been cleaning out a bookshelf and came across some old journals from my twenties in California, and started reading them. It was a real eye-opener, seeing my twenty-something self make choices that, had my daughter made similar ones, I would have moved heaven and earth to “fix.” Trying to decide what to do with these incriminating scribbles, I told Craig about what I had found. He sat very quietly for a minute (did not ask to read the journals, thankfully), and said … “But if you hadn’t gone through all that, we never would have met.”

Truth. Right between the eyes.

My first impulse was to apply this to the reality in parenting: that we can never fully protect our children from bearing the consequences of their choices. And while this is true, it is also true that, as adults, we do sometimes weigh ourselves down with the baggage of the past in ways we don’t always admit or even understand. For example, my husband has watched no more than 2-3 sports events a year in part because of one unfortunate chapter in my dating history, when I was involved with a gambling addict. And so, when Craig and I got engaged, we made a deal: he would limit his sports consumption to a few games a year, and I would make it worth his while (culinarily speaking) on the days he DID watch. Twenty years later, it honestly wouldn’t bother me if he watched more often — his love healed over that particular sore spot. But he doesn’t. I guess he must really like those crab stuffed mushrooms … and he really loves me.

Last year I created a “20 year edition” of my 40 Day Marriage Challenge. Yes, it’s that time of year again! If you are feeling the need for a marriage refresher, why not head on over to take the challenge (perhaps take your spouse with you this time). Let this be the beginning of a happily ever after for you both.

Remember the good news: God measures our stories not in days, but in decades. So go love your spouse … all the way to Easter!

Why Lent?

This quote from Romano Guardini seems like a good explanation… don’t you think?

As I write this, thousands of people across the Midwest are without power and water from one of the greatest storm fronts (if not the greatest) ever to hit their neck of the woods. Thousands more are in hospitals, fighting the COVID-19 virus up close and personal. All of us, in some way, have been walking the way of Lent for more than a year. So … why Lent? Why this year, after so many have been through so much already?

When I recently came across this quote by Romano Guardini (who lived in the 19th century, when Catholics really knew “how to Lent,” it stirred something in me: The idea that at times we can choose to relinquish not just sins and toxic habits, but even our little human indulgences, in order to make room for something better. And so, Lent.

A few weeks ago at Fr. Ubald’s funeral, I touched my rosary to his cold, still hands and asked God to let Fr. Ubald pray for my daughter, so that she might be healed. These past few weeks have been pretty tough on all of us, and I really don’t know how to help her. So this year during Lent we are going to do a nightly rosary for this intention. I would be grateful if you would be willing to join your prayers with ours.

Fr. Ubald, pray for us.

A Time for Goodbye

Laura Seitz, Deseret News, 01/18/2021

I pulled into the parking lot of the cathedral last Friday evening with barely five minutes to spare. It was my first time in the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. Dedicated in 1901, the cathedral’s breathtaking, richly colored mosaics adorn the walls and ceilings, replete with gilded angels and saints. I had worried I wouldn’t be able to get in because of the limited seating due to COVID, but the midweek service was being broadcast all over the world, and so there was room for all of us who made the trip. So many had come — from Chicago and New Orleans, from North Carolina and Florida. Many, many from the Rwandan community, including the two who worked in the hospital where Father spent the last weeks of his life, and had ministered to him when no one else was allowed inside his hospital room.

At the end of the service, Father’s coffin was opened so we could each spend a few moments saying goodbye. I touched my rosary to my friend’s hands, and reminded him to pray with me for a special family intention. The last time I’d asked him to pray, God wound up healing my knees instead of my actual prayer request … so I decided to try again, and see if maybe he could send the miracle our way now that he had God’s ear up close and personal. Time will tell.

The next day we gathered at the cathedral again for the funeral — the Deseret News did a spectacular job of covering it. The Rwandan choir sported t-shirts with his smiling image, as a youth choir chanted beautiful Latin and English tributes. Already people were hinting broadly that God had worked so many miracles through him during his lifetime, that his cause for canonization should be opened quickly … but for now, those of us who loved him, needed a little time just to get used to the idea that his earthly work was done.

A few of us gathered for lunch at a nearby bbq place, and it was great to catch up with old friends. “Now we have to take up the message and bring it to those who didn’t know him.” it was an idea that came up more than once in the two days I was there. And of course, this is only right. I used to teach my kids that God sends every baby into the world with a gift to share, a burden to carry, and a job to do — and that when that job is done, he takes us home to be with him forever. Fr. Ubald had finished his task so faithfully. So … what work still remains for me?

Fr. Ubald’s death has shaken me, both personally and professionally. Working on his book was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring a message that the world needs to hear into book form. Now that he is gone, I can’t help but feel that I need to be doing more of this. Jesus, I trust you to show me how.

Fr. Ubald, pray for us.

A Wild and Precious Life

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Mary Oliver (d.2019)

Mary Oliver (d. 1/16/2019), American poet and author of “A Thousand Mornings”

For those in the trenches of caregiving, the unrelenting rhythms of washing, dressing, feeding, waiting, listening, and redirecting can be overwhelming at times. Love keeps us moving forward, even when we would much rather skip town and, say, run to Vegas. But we are like the anchors in a luxury marina: Above the surface of the water, all is bustling activity and bubbly champagne. Or so it seems from our perspective, sunk deep in the mud, tied to a rope that keeps everything securely in place.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves: What am I doing with my one, “wild and precious life”? At the end of it, will I be content with the sum total of what I’ve done? Will my family remember me as someone who gave them joy — or a beleaguered hag who never laughed, never dreamed, and only grudgingly carved out time for the people who were supposed to matter most?

And if I’m not happy with the answer, what am I going to do to change it?

The Daze of Christmas

silent night (Christmas 2020)

Christmas Mass without carols. Christmas dinner without company (or even the whole family). Christmas Day without presents, spent in a cabin in the middle of a fifty acre wood.

okay, that last part was fun. But still, weird.

As we watched the priest fill the incense burner (having snagged what was supposed to be the last three seats at the 7:00 Christmas Eve Mass), it was so quiet …. the clank of the swinging thurible sounded just like cowbells. Kind of like the first Christmas, maybe.

Maybe that’s why the angels started singing.

But instead of complaining, I’d like to write about what went well this year. Craig is repairing the futon in the cabin after the seat cracked yesterday from a sudden, heavy load being dropped on the seat. The aroma of turkey noodle soup is still wafting around the living room. The fire is crackling. The dogs are snoring. So much to be thankful for.

Thank you, Lord, for my husband and all the good things he provides for our family.

My son is downstairs in his room, having sat up with us watching “The Commitments.” He dreams of the day when he has his own band.

Thank you, Lord, for his dreams. Use them to guide his way and help him find his purpose.

The snow has covered over the tracks of our vehicles. The dogs are reveling in their freedom. At home they are in a fenced in yard or on a leash. Here they run with joyful abandon.

Thank you, Lord, for all the freedoms we enjoy every day. Thank you for all the ways you have blessed us. Forgive me for all the ways I take these things for granted. Help me to do better next year.

Yesterday I got to visit with my extended family on Zoom, and sing carols badly but joyfully.

Thank you, Lord, for moments of spontaneous silliness. My Christmas wish: to have more of that in the year to come.

Amen

Love is a Funny Thing

Author’s Note: The other day I came across a dozen “drafted” posts that I’d written on the fly over the past few years (this one from late April, 2018), and I decided to finish them up and send them out into cyberspace for your enjoyment. So if they seem a bit … I think the word I’m looking for is “anachronistic,” you’re right! But sometimes the Life Less Traveled takes a detour, and that, too, has made all the difference.

To say that my life has changed drastically in the past six months since my mother has joined our household would be putting it mildly. Adding an elderly dementia patient to a house like ours, with two work-from-home parents and two special-needs teens and a couple of VERY spoiled dogs (one of whom cannot sleep at night unless her butt is planted firmly in my armpit) has been a real eye opener.

Sarah, circa 2007

But it’s also had some real bright spots. And that is the truth. Not just the “You’ll be so glad that you had this time with her when she dies” variety. Though there is that. But there are other perks as well.

I’ve discovered love is a funny thing. The same fashion-forward teen who can’t look in my direction without a snarky comment about my appearance will ooh and aah over her “Mammie’s” new hairdo. It lets me see a kindler, gentler side of her I’ve been missing.

Another member of the household (who shall remain nameless) who emerges from his room (oops) only for Doritos refills will make his way to her little apartment in the basement, just to make sure she is up from her nap in time for dinner.

What I’ve loved most, though, is that having mom with us has given me a fresh appreciation for my mother’s gift for friendship. Her church friends in Georgia haven’t written her off since she’s crossed the Mason-Dixon line to go live in the frozen winterland of northern Indiana. Even though she doesn’t write, doesn’t call, doesn’t send cookies anymore … they continue to love on her in every way possible: on the special Facebook group I’ve set up for her, where we’ve heard from people from my childhood who had passed out of my world years ago. In cards and notes and care packages. And yes, through the occasional phone call on my cell that makes my mother’s face light up when she hears a familiar voice on the other end.

It makes me wonder who will still be calling me thirty or forty years from now … How about you?

Beautiful Endings

A busy week. My father’s heart surgery had complications, we are moving mom into a group home, and I’ve had back-to-back meetings at work, “launching” next fall’s new titles. Including a new prayerbook I’m compiling for them. Oh, and Craig is heading to Michigan this week. So … yeah. It’s been busy.

Then a friend sent out a notice that Annie had died. Annie was an influential figure for me in the early 80s when I was going to Bible school and living in a Christian community in Bloomington, MN. Annie was in charge of the cleaning crew, one of the work assignments frequently handed out to freshman. Every day before doling out assignments she would gather us girls around (it was always girls who did the cleaning) and talk to us about how to clean for Christ. She never used the words #femininegenius; many years would pass before I heard them on the lips of John Paul II. But she lived them. Lord, how she lived them.

One day I was in the library and spotted some old yearbooks from the earliest days of the community. As I looked through the pictures of the early community, going back to the fifties, I was amazed at how the homely young women in the pictures had transformed. Like the proverbial Ugly Ducklings, they had grown into beautiful swans. The reason was clear: each of them had lived with heaven in view. They had worked and sacrificed to accomplish a singular mission … and love had transformed them from the inside out.

Living in community presents real challenges, and they were not immune to the vagaries of human weakness. But seeing Annie’s face again, emblazoned on that memorial card, I was reminded of something she would often say to us before releasing the Bucket Brigade:

Only one life, will soon be past.

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Rest In Peace, Annie Flack.

A Sandwich Dream

Today it felt like I won the caregiver lottery…

All I did was make a turkey sandwich. Actually, three of them: one for my husband, one for my son, and one for his friend. But it was like a dream.

Mom was back at her daycare for the first time in four months. My daughter was outside pulling weeds, having been given a temporary reprieve from her online school and work. She was singing and taking tons of selfies. But she wasn’t shouting or swearing, wasn’t irritating the dogs or mocking her parents. Apparently fresh air is a good bipolar antidote.

And me … I was downstairs in my office, working. Until I realized I was (get this) hungry! At 1:15, having started work at 8:01 after the caregiver got here.

So I went upstairs. And I made sandwiches. And it was like I was on holiday.

Yesterday I won the caregiver lottery: a family friend offered to take mom for a month, so I could spend time attending to my family. It was a gift straight from heaven. Since returning from our trip to Acadia, I’d been noticing the old anxiety and stress creeping back to unhealthy levels. We had even talked about the possibility of long-term care for mom (who is not enjoying the manifestations of Sarah’s condition any more than we are). But this … this was unmitigated grace. Mom wouldn’t have to go to a nursing facility. She could live with her friend. At least for a few weeks. A few weeks more to breathe. To spend time with Sarah. To do the mom things I should have been doing — I WANT to be doing — all along.

Like making a turkey sandwich for the boys.