“Yes, I do. What I would really like to do for Christmas is dance, a special dance that I create and perform here for families who come to see my friends here. And of course, I’d like to dance for my family. But I’ve got this ‘bag-pole’ with my medicine, but with the right shoes, anything is possible, right?,” she said with a smile that filled the room with the love and dreams of a dying girl with undying hope.
The smile that says what words can hardly convey between the souls that truly have been placed on this earth for each other. Sometimes it is in marriage, sometimes great friends, and sometimes, in the most amazing of moments, between those who are called fathers and sons. Under the shadow of that smile, great things grow. And they grow into a gift that is not only hard to describe or put into words, but also impossible to share without breaking down in a pool of cathartic tears.
As a former teacher and now a principal of a relatively small but remarkably exciting campus, this man was an amazing example of resilience. Even when personal issues, heartache, or emotional disappointments beset him, he always seemed to have a smile, a quick, pithy remark, and a sincere compliment to offer from how wonderful the sun felt on his face to the “best cup of coffee” he had just enjoyed.
The older man, the father of the distraught young man, was quick to counter: “Please, I must ask you for a most important favor. My son is dying! Only you can save him.” “I don’t really understand what you are saying, but I see the tears in your eyes,” came the young mechanic’s response, “and if I can save another human soul, I am all about it. What can I do?” “May I please have your shirt?” asked the man anxiously.
Good evening, Victor. It has been a long time since we have had a chance to talk,” the old man said softly. “You seem to be overwhelmed by your life of comfort and thoughtlessness. I am sorry it has been such a meaningless existence for you. I suppose I am the one responsible for your misery. I fulfilled your mother’s wish on the day of your baptism, even though it was a foolish one. Suppose I now offer you a new wish?”
Quietly keeping to himself for most of the days leading up to the conference, the day finally arrived. Mother and son embarked on the twenty-minute drive to his school as if they were going to a funeral and as soon as they arrived and began to walk toward his classroom, he began to cry, softly but noticeably. As soon as they entered his classroom, he ran into the cloakroom apparently to hide or escape whatever encounter he had been fearing all these days.
He sped on foot as fast as possible and when he got down to the tracks of the station, his wildly swinging briefcase knocked over a strangely-positioned crate of apples which sent them flying in every direction. Even though he made it inside one of the cars, his conscience got the best of him and he decide to get off and help pick up the apples which were apparently being sold by a young boy by the tracks. He was glad he did. The boy was blind.
Something tells me that I am not the only one who is unhardened and maybe a tad more than elated to see 2020 go by the wayside and usher in a new year with promise, resolution, and perhaps even a little amnesia. I write this with a healthy amount of caution because, as some of you may already be thinking, 2021 could be worse, while others, siding with the more-or-less optimistic stoics among us, would be counter-offering a glib, “how could it be?!”
Carl was her very first patient on the floor and no one could have asked for a more cooperative, compliant, and friendly man who, with his lovely wife, were so good to her. Perhaps he was just scared of the unknown and so the kind nurse said what instinctively came into her heart: “The good news is, Carl, is that you passed everything. You passed! Did you hear me? All you have to do now is wait for graduation. Just think of it!”
It had not always been happy. Within the first ten years of the married life, they had lost a baby in childbirth, he was abruptly fired from a lucrative job, losing their dream home months later, and she her parents within weeks of each other to a heart attack and then subsequently a broken heart. However, time after time, as they held on to each other through the dark valleys of tears and disappointments, they always seemed to have found the sunshine of hopeful rays glowing all around them.
“Late one afternoon, as the sun began to drop behind the majestic snow-capped mountains, the shepherdess began to herd all the bears home after a long day when she spotted a cub playing near the brush covering the base of the mountain. Suddenly, without warning, the leopard seized upon his wicked moment, leapt out in front of his young prey with only one deadly intention.
Their first and last encounter was immediately brutal. As soon as the priest walked into the ICU stall, the angry patient hurled a bedpan at him. The priest, perhaps in his mid-thirties who also used to run marathons, was agile enough to dodge the incoming metal container and very calmly stand his ground. “I am not leaving until you talk to me. Besides, there’s nowhere else to go. Talk to me. What is wrong with you? Let me help you!” said Father Terry.
His orders could not have been any less clear: “Make sure the hearse is filled with gas.” For emphasis sake, this particular instruction had been repeated at least three times and at first it appeared that it had registered. However, the bevy of young ladies who were attending the evening wake services may have played a part in this probably expected scenario. Jenkins found himself the topic of their adulations and attention and as fate would have it, he forgot to fill the hearse with gas.
“You haven’t changed your mind, have you Coach?!,” came that familiar voice. His deeply respected coach had only one thing to say: “No, Son. You’re in. Get on the bus.” But even on the way down to Texas, the coach kept having flashbacks of his semi-contentious nightmares of losing the toss, fumbling the ball and losing the championship, but then again, as a man of his word, he stayed the course and remained resolute.
The silence was deafening, and the reactions were somewhat predictable but not altogether simple. Matthew’s upper lip began to quiver which signaled to his dad that he should leave and allow his son to maintain a bit of dignity intact. But when he left, he barely sauntered into the hallway and, upon seeing his perplexed and worried wife, slid downward against the wall onto the floor weeping miserably. “I can’t believe I just did that! I’m a beast! I can’t believe I hit him!”
The rule was simple. Justin was to arrive back from his afternoon tour de chance, after finishing his homework previously. He had to be at the table, hands washed, appetite engaged, and ready for grace or, and here was the ominous not-so-veiled threat: He would sit at the table and go without supper while everyone else enjoyed Mom’s home-cooked delights. “Piece of cake, Dad!,” Justin retorted. It seemed easy enough.
The first person who ever uttered the phrase, “no good deed goes unpunished,” must have been quite an interesting character and someone you would have liked to have sat down with over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending on the time of day and how many nerves you have left at any given juncture. The meaning of this all-too-familiar phrase is fortunately or unfortunately played out in all our lives, one way or another.
Then, after the longest month she could remember, the anger began to set a hold on her heart and nothing was going to relieve this new darkness that previously escaped her personality and approach to life. Why wasn’t anyone else upset? Don’t they know how horrible this is? She just wanted to scream, and, on some occasions, she would, as long as she could into the dusty pillow that still retained faint aromas of his cologne.
It had been so wonderful growing up because it was like they were best friends. But at some tender, delicate point in the history of their family, the young son at sixteen suddenly discovered that he knew everything while his dad at midlife never seemed to receive enough thanks and gratitude for all the sacrifices he endured. These two men, who actually began to look a bit alike in these later years, drifted apart a bit which became painfully obvious when their wife and mother abruptly left them.
After a few hours of the most horrible and sickening nausea she could ever recall, with both an empty stomach and a soul that felt as if she was in free fall through a bottomless pit, she knew it was time. It was time to make the decision that was nestled deep within her tortured existence, and call out to God for whatever was left in their torn relationship.
Although it may not be apparent or obvious to some, there does seem to be a level of inequality, or at least disparity, about how the pandemic has shut some aspects of our lives, and compartmentalized them in an unusual fashion, which has caused even more to question what the motivation was or the rationale behind such moves. Here we are talking about the closure, even the prolonged cessation of places of worship, no matter what the alliance or persuasion.
Everyone was on edge. It was the height of pandemic panic and the tension had an unusually eerie feel as it spread throughout the large, mid-city grocery store, previously a hustling yet comfortable place where people greeted each other warmly and loudly with the excitement of a family reunion. But today was different. The first death in the area had just been reported and although unspoken, the question on some minds was definitely, “who would be next?”
“She” was in another terrible mood and no one was going to get out alive, or at least, without needing a strong sedative, a bottle of Motrin, a deep skin massage or all of the above. Someone must have contradicted her, called her out on the condescending tones and thinly veiled insults, or finally just yelled back. But that’s all it took to unleash the Kraken and a new level of their hostile work environment that made a pack of hungry, feeding hyenas look like a quilting bee.
With numbing regularity we have witnessed the complete and utter validation of the truth that adversity and problems do not create character. They reveal it. Like any personal crisis, the world-wide pandemic, now infamously known as COVID-19, is chock-full of life lessons dovetailed by the rich and cleansing Season of Lent that hopefully will never be forgotten, especially in our lifetime going forward. Let us take a look at a few.
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package. “What food might this contain?” He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!” The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me.
It is clear that without Christmas we couldn’t have Easter and without Easter, Christmas is just another excuse to shop, overeat and watch children make forever memories. So what are we to make of these fifty days or so of rumblings beneath our souls’ surface? How can we link these two stunning realities and make sense of it all? The fifty days shouldn’t be wasted on returning to the routine that we all say we dislike and end up restarting with gobs of regret and complaints.
Whereas life often separates meaning from emotion, the spiritual life brings them together to create remarkable epiphanies that harmonize all life to give us a heightened awareness of our place in this world. This is what I believe happened to the Magi after following the star in the East that took them to places they had never dreamed of going and were, by extension, never the same again.
At first, I was angry because these last two months had been excellent. Lots of fun, excitement, creativity, conversations, a healthy share of drama, physical achievements such as individual accomplishments at swimming, weight loss, and intense cardio thresholds, not to mention two of the finest, choicest Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations that I could remember. For much of those hallmark memorable goals, I had some very close friends to thank.
There is something quite marvelous that has happened every Christmas Eve in Finland since the early 14th Century: it is simply known as the Declaration of Peace. It is accompanied by all kinds of musical instruments including drums, choral singing and even symphonic strings. What is it? It is basically a highly anticipated announcement made in the old capital that attests and demands everyone to act with peace and love during the Christmas Season.
I know, I know. So many Christmas decorations appeared looming in most stores even before the pumpkins and ghosts arrived– and yes, even before the poor turkey was running for its life. However, have no fear or trepidation, nor any real despair about these assaults on our budgets and nerves because, quite frankly, there is something marvelous happening here: it is all about the deep and endearing love God has for all of us as He reaches into our souls to stir the memories and joys of childhood.
What is it about the month of August that sets it apart from the other months of our lives? I guess you could say that every month has its own character and shades of emotion like individual children that came from the same family. But, August is now upon us and it may be calling us to something deeper and most challenging as we begin to see the end of 2019 not too far in sight.
In a most dramatic example of how baseball imitates life, there was an emotional and heart-stopping scene at Minute Maid Park during the Cubs-Astros game last Thursday (5/29) during the last inning. Albert Almora Jr. of the Cubs hit a hard line-drive foul into the stands that hit a young child. He was extremely and visibly affected and shaken by the accident and had to be consoled by security personnel right on the field.
Like any young couple in the 80s, Jimmy and Deborah struggled with great difficulty to start and raise a family and maintain their love for each other as expectantly as they could. This was compounded with increasing difficulty as they were considered a military family moving every two years from place to place. But soon, all that would change when a promising business opportunity opened up for the young couple and they decided to settle down in Albany, New York.
It must be more than twenty-five years ago now and I still remember that wonderful coffee cup given to me for Easter one year. I recall it vividly for two distinct reasons: the first is functional because the ceramic cup actually came with a lid to keep the fresh coffee hot for those of us who forget to take constant sips of the brew and are left with the insipid taste of semi-cold coffee. But the second reason was much more deep and meaningful.
In this amazing life we sometimes live unforgetfully, there can be found, close to the surface of our comings and goings, unique and altogether lovely gifts in the form of archetypal moments. These are recurrent symbols, motifs and patterns nestled carefully within soul-enriching experiences that actually mold us and fashion even as we struggle or celebrate through them. These are replete in literature, art, and mythology and a list of the most famous could easily start right here, right now.
After a very long and tedious day at work, a man slowly but surely made his way back home when he took the opportunity to rest by the side of the road. An elderly woman equally slowly passed by the place where he had stopped arduously pushing a cart full of flowers. The compelling aroma of her blossoms was remarkably perfuming the air with sweet tenderness that it truly seemed to take away the weariness in his bones and to lighten his spirits.
Out of the blue, as if to break in with a flashing news alert, I received a call from my nephew spiced with a tone of fear and restlessness of which I was not accustomed to hearing from him. “Please,” said he, “I’ve got to see you. I have news. I have sad news. I must tell you in person.” Without a doubt, this was truly the best way to get someone’s attention.
All this might sound like a lot of work producing an exponential amount of fun and family ties, but more importantly it’s absolutely necessary to understand death. By now you should be asking how does a cookbook help you understand death? Well, what stops when you die? Among many other things, you stop eating. But you don’t stop living. Because everyone who has lived and died is still alive, somewhere. And don’t we bring those people close to us again and again as we remember them?
This post could be called the “Tale of Two Friends, “How to Deal with Remarkable Disappointment,” or “The Nicodemus Factor,” all of which should be made perfectly clear after about five minutes or so. Whichever the case, I’m not sure how to begin other than to say that my hunch is that there are many more people who have experienced what we are about to describe than first suspected, especially after having spoken with a few close friends before sitting down and pounding this out.
addition to our shared pastime and life-giving, life-sustaining hobby, my friends represent a number of different cultures to which they have remained faithful and attached. One evening a couple of weeks ago, we decided on an Italian-Indian night and made a veritable feast of the evening. What a night, and what a weight-gaining evening! Obviously, there were many wonderful garlic and curry combinations that I couldn’t begin to pronounce much less list at this moment.
Procrastination is a true human trait and proof of the existence of God with the promise of His most wonderful heaven. It clearly exhibits the hope and confidence in a better tomorrow and thereby, by extension, the rationale to put off today what can be done later. But in the meantime, before we reach heaven, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. What do I mean by that? Consider the following.
There once was a brilliant architect who envisioned a world beyond shape and dimensions, efficient and inspiring places of business and homes that all could afford and live and reach their destiny and ultimate calling. With the soul of a poet and the mind of a genius, he continued to set forth design after design, project after project that continued to amaze and stir the imagination of young and old alike. But what was more profound about this man was his humility.
True to form, Michael surprised the lights out of him. “Show me your wallet” he asked. The man at the pulpit that evening had all the attendees enthralled about where he was going with all this. Michael took the man’s wallet, opened it up, and from one of the folds there, pulled out three items, a credit card, a holy card with the image of St. Michael the Archangel, and a picture of his family, in that specific order. “Here’s your problem, Buddy!
One Sunday morning in a small town, a preacher named George Thomas, came to the Church carrying an old bird cage and set it on the pulpit. Eyebrows were raised and, as if in response, the preacher began to speak. I was walking home through town yesterday when I saw a young boy swinging this old bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were little wild birds, shivering with cold and fright. I stopped the lad and asked, “What you got there, son?”
A close friend of mine returned from a funeral and although most are sad, there was something deeply and doubly tragic about this one. I still remember how the story unraveled before me. Twenty-five years earlier, a daughter was born to a young, hard-working couple. There was much excitement as could be expected over a first-born and on that first day of the new arrival, there was concern. The child was born with Down Syndrome and in every way, a child of God.
There once was a young woman who went to her mother and started telling her about how hard her life is and how hard things were for her. She was tired of fighting and not knowing how she was going to make it. She was ready to give up. It seemed as though the problems never stopped. As soon as one problem was solved, another one arose. How could she continue? She needed advice. The young woman’s mother took her to the kitchen and filled three pots with water.
A man built a prosperous business through much hard work and honesty. As he got older, he became concerned about the future of his business mainly because he had no children of his own, no close relatives, except for three distant cousins who were already in charge of various aspects of the business. After much prayer and consideration, he called a meeting with all of them, and told them he needed a solution to a problem. They nervously gathered in his spacious office, a little intimidated, but mostly curious.
The plumber replied: “Oh yeah, that’s my ‘Problem Tree.’ My job can be pretty stressful like it was today and I know I can’t do much about that but I also know that I shouldn’t bring any of those problems back home with me. So, at the end of every day, I pass by my ‘Problem Tree’ and wipe my heart clean and hang all my problems out for the night and pick ’em up again in the morning!” “Well, Sir,” asked the young man, “does it work?”
This past week, I was alone without a tree and nothing to open Christmas morning. Now, don’t get me wrong here: this is not your very own personal invitation to my “New Year’s Pity Party.” Hardly. I am the most blessed man I know, and I mean that sincerely. People who know me often comment that I am the strongest, most patient and courageous person they know, and believe me, that’s nice.
A short Christmas story by O’Henry entitled “The Gift of the Magi” is about a young, very poor, couple who lived in New York City during the turn of the century. They were clearly very much in love and both wanted so deeply to give the most wonderful gift to one another, but, as it was, they had no money. Each of them had only one material possession that had any real monetary value; the young man had a valuable pocket watch and his young bride had beautiful long hair.
Christmas is coming and the geese aren’t the only ones getting fat. Even as Thanksgiving is still a few days away, my family and I have already begun exchanging food preparation ideas, old and new recipes, special prayers to invoke before we dive in, and of course, the names of those who are going to clean up everything once we have done our significant damage.
We don’t often receive desperate pleas in our office for help except when it comes to frantic questions about the number of English or Spanish Bibles that someone quite nervously is wondering why they haven’t arrived and who might have stolen them and why they are not there as we promised, etc. However, all that changed last week. Have you ever heard the premise that God places us right where He wants us, at the right time, for the right reason?
“The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” ~Cecil B. DeMille Before the written word in human history, there was storytelling; narratives that were used to pass on events, provide a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values. In his book “Teacher Man,” Pulitzer Prize-winner, Frank McCourt reflects on his 30 years as a teacher in New York City high schools.
elderly woman sitting on suitcase waiting Kent Nerburn is a noted writer, speaker and all around gifted man who has allowed his rich life to shape everything he does and says. I hope one day I can go and listen to him, maybe even share a cup of coffee. He says that the most formative experience of his childhood was accompanying his father while working for the Red Cross as ‘first-responder’ to many natural and unnatural disasters in Minnesota. Clearly, many life lessons were learned from those nutritive moments.
None of us can really say that we are totally innocent and do not belong here, to the point that we are so self-righteous and judgmental of others around us, fellow travelers all. Life is too short to lose precious moments or opportunities to express the truth about ourselves even in the most unexpected of moments. No one is suggesting to ignore bad and harmful behavior, especially when it is lashed out against one of us.
Today, I have outlived my father by one day. What happens tomorrow is all in God’s hands, to whom I have given thanks and praise, and to whom I have lifted my Dad’s soul to Jesus, all throughout this time leading up to this occasion especially with the awesome celebration of the Mass. This whole experience has been a kind of epiphany for me even as the eventual appearance of the numbers “60” on the birthday cake loom in the not-so-distant future.
Having spent seventy-seven wonderful years on this planet, my amazing aunt died peacefully in her sleep earlier this month. Although she carried a number of painful medical conditions and her memory was beginning to fade, it was still a brutal reminder of how fragile and delicate life truly is. This experience was also compounded with the death of her sister, my mother, less than two months earlier. My aunt’s life was filled with a series of fundamentally linked episodes which I only recognized after she died.
Peter calls all to be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. The scripture says tells us to be holy because our Heavenly Father is holy. All human beings are like grass, and all their glory is like wild flowers. The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord remains forever.
Minutes before the funeral was to begin, his 30-year old son just in from the airport, walked into the sacristy as if he belonged there, which in many ways he did. Standing tall like the man he was, this son whom he helped mold into a man, turned to his father with a message. Although his words were inquisitive and casual, asking about the funeral director, where should the pallbearers be, what happens next, etc., his eyes communicated something much more.
A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. ‘Your son is here,’ she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement.
After years of wandering aimlessly throughout his life, Clint Dennis realized that something deeply important was missing. He decided to attend church, and as he entered the church for the first time he noticed people putting on long robes. They were also tying ropes around their waist and wrapping headdresses around their heads. “Come be a part of the mob,” a stranger told him. It was Palm Sunday and the church was reenacting the crucifixion. He would be part of the crowd that shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“My dear friends, we are now God’s children, but it is not yet clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is. Everyone who has this hope in Christ keeps himself pure, just as Christ is pure. Let no one deceive you, my children! Whoever does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.” (GNT 1 John 3:2,3,7)
There is a true story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The Doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance of recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was ideal donor. “Would you give your blood to Mary?” the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”
The boy tried to explain through his tears what had happened and how sorry he was. “Why didn’t you use all your strength?,” came the next question. “I did, I did, Daddy, I did use all my strength!” “No you didn’t, Son. You didn’t ask me!” And with that, with one large grab with his own massive hand, he pulled that stone out of the box and hurled it into a nearby pile of other rocks.
For some reason, he started to tear up, both of his companions became unusually quiet. He called out to God, “Lord, it’s not fair. These two labs have everything including a home, lots of friends and a great life. Who knows what will happen to that man and his dog. It’s just not fair…” And then, something wonderful happened. Steven believed he could hear the Lord speaking to him.
One day, a young father wanted his son to understand the true impact of making right choices, of obeying and doing what’s right. His idea was unique: every time his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he gave him a hammer and one gray nail to go out to their backyard and pound it into the wooden fence. At first, it seemed like a game for the youngster, as he was excited in a playful way to have to go out and nail these objects into the fence.
William Arthur Ward (1921-1994) was an American writer and one of this country’s most quoted inspirational writers with more than 100 articles, poems and meditations written and published in such magazines as the Reader’s Digest. He once wrote a piece based on a Chinese proverb that said, “If you keep a green limb in your heart, the singing bird will come.”
The incredibly imaginative EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida opened some 16 years after its principle architect and dreamer, Walt Disney died. It had been a concept still in development by the masterful Disney who envisioned it to be a “real city that would never cease to be a blueprint of the future.” Even though there were many who said that they didn’t understand what he was talking about, and that there was no way they could put all that together in one place, Walt never lost sight of his vision.
This story took place in a small, rural town somewhere in the Midwest, where there was a horrible house fire and all the members of the family barely escaped with their lives. The ten-year old son was alive, but suffered severe burn injuries over seventy-five percent of his body. The pain was unbearable, especially for a youngster who literally saw most of life go up in smoke.