On Making Plans

If all had gone according to plan, I would be arriving in Rome today with my husband and our friends Katy and Todd, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversaries. On Monday we would have boarded a cruise ship, which would have conveyed us across the waters to the single most important item on my bucket list: a guided tour of the Holy Land. All the while we were planning it, my heart raced to think of what it would be like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to visit the place where heaven truly touched earth.

This was my plan. As it turns out, God had a different plan. And so, this year Craig and I hosted Thanksgiving for a small group of family and friends, while Katy prepares to take the last round of chemo. They had tried to get us to go on the trip anyway … but I had made a pact with God. “Just make her well. The trip will wait until we can go together.”

Of course, it’s a bit foolish to bargain with God, who I am sure sees how it all turns out, and even knows whether we ever get to make that trip. All our plans, seen on that scale, really don’t matter. One of the most important lessons we need to learn in this life is that there is precious little that we can control ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to learn to trust.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

A Mother Teresa Miracle: Thankfulness

morning-air-bannerTomorrow morning at 7:45 on “Morning Air with John Harper,” I’ll be chatting with John (of course) about Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Although Mother Teresa and Advent go very well together — her life was all about walking toward the light, even while in darkness — I’m especially thankful to be talking about her the day before Thanksgiving. Because when I think of Mother Teresa, the first word that comes to mind is “thankful.” No matter what, she always found reasons to be thankful for the merciful hand of God, who provided for her every need.

In one of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters came to Mother wanting to know how they were to feed the hungry poor their breakfast that morning. The larders were bare, and they had nothing to cook.

“Just pray,” Mother reminded them. Moments later, large trucks pulled up to the children’s home. For some reason school had been canceled that day, and the bread for the children’s lunches was no longer needed . . . so the school send the food over.

It’s a lesson we can find woven into the life stories of many great saints like Mother Teresa and Solanus Casey: When you have need of something, start by thanking God for it. The answer might not come exactly the way you’d expected … but it can be a source of Thanksgiving all the same.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Am I Still Thankful?

mom

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

Last week I flew to Atlanta to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday with her. Although we’re all still glad to have her with us, the celebration was a subdued one. My youngest sister and her family, along with my mother and my father and me, went to Olive Garden. Mom was having a good day, with no unwanted visitors in her head. She ate her birthday cheesecake with gusto, diabetes be damned.

On my left, dad was quietly downing a glass of wine. On my right, mom opened her birthday gifts. I was glad to be able to sit between my parents; this terrible, awful, no good, very bad disease that has taken my mother’s mind has stolen their marriage as well. They love like porcupines: from a distance, gingerly.

And yet a small part of me cannot help but be thankful for what my relationship with my mother has become. I am, at long last, her golden child. She is unabashedly delighted to see me every time I visit. Her letters no longer contain the critical, dissatisfied undercurrents that once characterized her missives (like a bomb squad on the alert, I was never sure which one would detonate). For the first time in my life, I have the mother of my dreams . . . while my dad and my other sisters grapple with a much harsher reality. And even as I offer up prayers for them (especially my father, who is alone at home battling pneumonia instead of traveling to his sister’s house to spend Thanksgiving), I can’t help but give thanks, even now, for the gift of a few happy days with mom.

And for a husband who encourages me to leave him with the children, and to avail myself of the joy.

And for a new boss, who understands the needs of elderly parents.

And for friends with whom we can celebrate it all.

This year, it would be easy to look over my life and find cause for worry and regret. Even so, I am thankful.

Are you?

 

 

 

“Room for One More”: Tale of an Unlikely Thanksgiving

This year I was determined to have a table full for Thanksgiving. With Christopher away, the prospect of cooking a turkey dinner for three was . . . unthinkable.

Long story short, we had two special families join us, families that have extended themselves to us in friendship in a special way this year, journeying beside us for what has been the bumpiest mile of the journey of our lives. Thank God we are getting through it . . . together. Not just us, of course. In reality, we have been constantly surrounded by “family of our own choosing.”  Katy and Todd, Christopher’s godparents; Laura Sanders and Helen Ercolino, who provided therapeutic services; and dozens of others who let us know over and over that they were praying for us. So much to be thankful for.

There have been unpleasant surprises, too. Strained and broken relationships. Injustices inflicted, seemingly without recourse. While many prayers have been answered with small miracles . . . others received nothing more than a simple, “My grace is sufficient for thee…” And with each step, in each moment, we’ve discovered the truth of Teresa of Avila’s classic prayer: “Let nothing trouble thee . . . God alone suffices.”

Tonight Craig and I were watching a little-known (at least to us) movie starring Cary Grant, “Room for One More,” a true story circa 1952 about George and Anna Rose. This Lynnwood NJ couple with three children began taking foster children, including several with emotional special needs. Like many adoption or foster care movies (Martian Child, The Blind Side, Matilda) the conclusion is a bit idealized. On the other hand, the experiences of the past year allows me to see these movies with a new perspective: sometimes, when you’re mid-struggle, it helps to be reminded that the struggle can be worth it in the end. The pain is real . . . but then, so can be the joy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

T’is the Night Before Thanksgiving

T’is the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house,
The Bad Dwarfs are lurking — Grump, Grumble, and Grouse.
The kids are all hyper, the dog is in hiding,
Guilt-ridden and banished from pumpkin pie swiping.

I’m sitting here, trying to type to the beat
of the metronome by Dad on the piano seat.
“And ONE-two-three, FOUR-five-six” I urge him to play,
While he manfully tunes out each word that I say.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
the clock that chimes eight … the sight brings a tear.
It’s bedtime for wee ones and lessons for him,
the realization makes me not a bit grim.

The pies are a’chilling, the bird is at rest,
Cranberries are jelling, the table well-dressed.
My family will head out to morningtime Mass,
and come back to dig in to the festive repast.

So how did those Bad Dwarfs get in to the place?
How dare they show up, take Gratitude’s space?
Now, Grumpy; now Snarky; now Lonely and Sad;
Hey, Ugly; say, Tired, Disgusted and Mad …

In this season of thankfulness, why are you here?
What gives you the right to mess with my good cheer?
“You called us,” they told me. “You made us a place
at your Thanksgiving table, in your thoughts and your face.”

Oh, dear. I need a new guest list, and fast
Get Peace, Love, and Joy to this festive repast!
Make us grateful, dear Lord, even for the great pains,
for those difficult dwarfs, for the sorrows unnamed.

Ours is no Norman Rockwell-type tableau.
The cracks and dustbunnies are sure bound to show.
Still we offer to You our thanksgiving, sincere,
Secure in Your unfailing kindness each year.

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All are safely gathered in,
e’re the winter storms begin.

God our maker doth provide
All our wants to be supplied.
Come, ye thankful people, come.
Raise the song of harvest home.

From Tearful to Cheerful: Thoughts of Thanksgiving

To be honest, I started out this Thanksgiving weekend feeling surpremely sorry for myself.  It would just be us for dinner – my family is far away, his family is unavailable, and for one reason or another no opportunities presented themselves to invite anyone over. (I know that sounds lame, but true nonetheless.) So I got a little turkey, made the pistachio fruit salad, and decided to make the best of it. But inside, I was grumbling all the way.

Poor me. All alone with my family, with all of us healthy and plenty of food in the cupboard. No, we couldn’t travel this year (like we do most years) but all in all, it could be MUCH worse.

Then I was reminded how much worse. Yesterday I discovered a dear friend had been hospitalized with leukemia. Her oldest son (whom she and her husband foster-adopted 11 years ago) has the rest of the family sleeping with one eye open as much for self-preservation as filial concern. I went to go visit her in the hospital this morning, and my friend told me about her list of all that she was thankful for, as a result of this sickness.

Of all the people who had reached out to let her know how much she means to them.

Of the answers to prayer that she had already experienced by offering her suffering back to God.

Of all the ways her doctors had been fighting on her behalf, even before she knew she was ill.

Yes, she had much to be thankful for.  And so do I.

So tonight, as I put the last vestiges of turkey carcass into the trash (after “souping” them all evening), pour the last glass from the wine bottle, and sit down to compose this last little reflection for my “Weekend Ponderings” message to you, I just have to say . . . Truly, we have much to be thankful for.

Lord, I’d like to thank you for my friend Roxy, and ask you to illuminate her path.
Give her light enough for the rough places, and courage enough for the dark ones.
Give her only enough suffering to make her holy, and only enough worry to cling to you all the more.
And finally, Lord, as I hold her up to you in prayer, help me never to tire of interceding
not according to my will, Lord, but yours.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, please pray for us.

Mighty Mom Monday: Lessons in Gratitude

Thanks to “Mighty Mom” for reprising this heartfelt post here at EMN. In this season of Advent, may we always be mindful of those for whom the “holidays” are a painful reminder of what they need … first and foremost, the preservation of dignity.

OK, when I was a child we lived in what I now know was poverty. However, because my then step-father was going to SMU to seminary (he never finished) we lived for a year and a half in the richest part of Dallas. It was very hard to be “the poor kid.”

Well, during the second of those Decembers we got an envelope in the mail that said “To the parents of Sarah …..” return address was Santa Claus. Inside were $100 in gift certificates to the local grocery store. Our Christmas was not big, but we did have one. Because of the former step-father’s poor spending habits, we would have had Christmas regardless…but then wouldn’t have had money for food. Those gift certificates were perfect. A month’s worth of food (give or take) that can’t be spent on anything else. (This was long before you could get groceries and “stuff” like clothes and toys at the same store.)

I have a younger brother with a different last name. Why was it addressed to my parents? Who sent it? How did they know that just sending money wouldn’t be as helpful as the gift certificates? Did they know? How can you accept a gift when you don’t know who to tell thank you?

These questions have no answers.

But I do know this. I was 12 years old and very depressed. Ready to lose hope in everything. My Mom was in the process of kicking out the former step-father with poor spending habits. The world as I knew it was falling apart. Out of nowhere Santa sent me a gift. Not just a gift of money for food for the family, but a gift to me of hope, an example that people aren’t all hateful and snide, and the assurance that I could and would make it and be able to move on to a better life. Also, the knowledge that there’d be help along the way through the Grace of God.

Christmas is about the Birth of Christ. However, Santa Claus is about spreading hope and joy to those most in need. And every December I celebrate BOTH. Yes, I DO believe in Santa Claus and I DO believe that he still lives.

He lives in our hearts every December when we make a point of spreading hope and joy to someone else.

“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”