Ten minutes with Dad

I awoke with the feeling you get when someone is looking at you.  I quickly sat up and saw through the foggy blur of the dark room – nothing. I dropped back into my pillow, frustrated that I’d now struggle to get back to deep REM sleep, as I glanced at the 3:34 on the clock – ugh – the alarm would go off in less than 2 hours.

But I quickly drifted off, only to be startled again.  This time I heard my name, “Bill.”  Not as a shout, or even a statement, but more of a whispered question – as if, “Are you here?” or “Is that you?”

This caught my attention, of course, and I sat up again.  After a moment or two of silence, I dropped back down again, wishing I could remember my dreams.  This was surely part of one.

A while later, I heard my name again.  Three times I had been awoken by something, and was now a little freaked out.  I reached for my phone, and was startled by the time.  3:34.  It hadn’t even been a minute.  And then I heard my name again, this time around the corner, as if someone was in the room looking for me.  I whispered back, “Here I am,” and peered around the corner, with muffled illumination from my phone, which dropped to the floor when I saw his face.

Dad Me Wedding

“Daddy?” I gasped astonishingly.

Camel cigarettes had taken our dad about 20 years ago.  camel2

I was always jealous of others who shared stories with me of their loved ones coming back to check in, through dreams or other ethereal experiences.  But this had never happened for me.  At least none that I was perceptive enough to know about.  A few weeks after Cullen’s accident, we were all woken up at exactly the same time 1:24 by the smoke alarms all simultaneously sounding.  This happened at exactly the same time on at least six occasions, and we all certainly knew that meant something, but what?

My father reached for my hand, and as we touched, my hand, then my arm, then my entire body was warmed, almost uncomfortably so.  And I began to smile, and even laugh out loud.  This was really happening! It wasn’t a dream.  The hand I was holding was warm and soft and firm and very real.  I spun around to wake Sharon, but Dad shook his head, and with his other hand, placed his finger to his lips, whispering, “Shhhhh.”

He opened the door and led me out, closing it behind us.

Our cat Jose quickly jumped from the couch and rubbed against my leg, with a “feed me, feed me,” squeak.  Well that was certainly real.  Dad smiled from ear to ear with such a familiar grin and said, “Feed the durn cat.”

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After doing so, I turned and was so disappointed to find myself alone.  This was an emotional roller-coaster.  I walked towards the kid’s bathroom, to turn out the light, and as I passed the corner table with Cullen’s memorial, I saw him sitting there on the futon, with my old boxer Nieve’s head on his lap.

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This all sounds very strange now, but at the time, it seemed pretty logical.  I stood in front of him and told him how glad I was that he hadn’t left yet.  His lips turned up to smile again, “I never left you.”  He patted the futon next to him, asking me to sit.

“I know all that,” I said.  “You’re always in my heart.”  But he cut me off.  “That’s not at all what I mean.  I’m really here.  Durn it, I wish I could help you to see, we’re really here!”

“We?  Who?  Where’s everyone else?  Where’s Cullen?  I want to see Cullen!”  I was now almost shouting with excitement.  “I’ve been trying to talk to him for  four years!  Please bring him here, please!  Just an hour, just a minute.  Just a hug.”

“I know, I know,” he said, “but you’re not ready yet.”

“Yes I am…” but he wouldn’t let me go on.  “The time will come very quickly, and it will really only be in the blink of an eye.  You’ll be with us. All of us.”

“All of us? All of us? What does that mean?”

“You’ll know very soon.”  Before I could process that, and ask fearfully how soon, he continued. “Tell me how you are.  Tell me what’s been going on.”

“But if you’ve been here along, don’t you already know?”

He smiled and shook his head,  “You really don’t get it, do you?  Always giving everyone advice, and you don’t believe it yourself.”

I’m not sure why, but I let that go, and proceeded to share everything with my father.  “Nineteen years and a failed marriage…” He interrupted, “Aren’t you a better person now?  It’s not a failure.”

“My darkest day 3 years ago, the hurricanes, and all the near tragedies with the children… Did you know last year Emily’s sailboat was caught in the storm and was lost for three days?  When I posted it on my blog, I had over 200,000 people praying for them…

He touched my arm and I was instantly warmed again, “Billy! (a name he only called me on occasion – like me calling him ‘Daddy’), of course we heard the prayers!  The prayers rose up like incense in the Santiago church, and just as emotional to us as it was to you and Sharon.”

“Fortunately we didn’t need those prayers.  Emily’s boat was never really lost.  They had just run out of gas, and drifted onto the coast of Haiti,” I said.

The smile on my father’s face faded and he looked so sad – like when he told me his mother had died.

“Seriously?  You didn’t need the prayers?  Seriously?  What the Hell are you talking about?”  He wasn’t angry, he just sounded disappointed.

“Pull out a map and find where their boat landed.  It was very near Petite Paradise, where you took Cullen and Noah on the mission trip in Haiti.”

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“You know about that? Our mission trip to Haiti?”

Now I guess that was an insult, but he ignored it, and simply said, “They didn’t ‘just run out of gas’ and ‘drift onto that beach’ in Haiti.”

Then my father asked me if that’s all I wanted to tell him about.  “What about all the good things?”

“What about Sharon joining you, and how much joy she’s brought?”  I corrected him, “I’m the one that found Sharon.”  He laughed with the Klein belly laugh I hear from myself sometimes, and shook his head, “I don’t think so!”

“What about Camille’s marriage to Nick last month?  Emily coming home and being OK?  Your time on the Camino and in Morocco?  The diaconate?  Three wrecks with no one hurt.  And…  My grin began to fade as he continued to remind me of so many beautiful things that have happened with Sharon, Kayla, and Noah, and Cam and Em.  And places we went and things we all did.  I began to see.  And the room began to brighten as the sun began to peek through the french doors.  But I looked down because what I began to see was what I’ve been missing all along.

‘Oh, I can preach it brother, but had I really believed?  Did I really have the faith that I wasn’t alone on “my Camino?”

Nieve was now looking up at me from my own lap.  Although this startled me, as I looked up, I got the rush of my lifetime.

The man now seated next to me had a beard and a white robe and although he spoke with my father’s own voice, it was different now, much softer and more gentle:

“I never said horrible things wouldn’t happen.  Of course they do, and they will continue.  They happened to me.”  He showed me his wrist.  “And I never said you wouldn’t  hurt and feel abandoned.  I did too.  And I never said you would know what tomorrow would bring – or three day later.  That’s what faith is all about.”

I have no idea why I didn’t jump in his lap, or dance, like in the Mercy Me song, I can only Imagine, but only remember looking away in embarrassment, and focusing on the picture of Cullen on the wall.  Although he no longer held my arm, I was so warm that I was drenched in sweat.

“And this Camino you keep talking about – enjoy the journey, for my kingdom doesn’t start when you pass over – it is also right now.  Enjoy your journey.”

The room was now bright with the morning.

I turned to look in his eyes.  But he was gone.  And Nieve was still asleep in my lap, and the room was now quite dark.

Before stumbling back into bed, as I pulled back the covers, I looked at the clock.

3:44.  Ten minutes.  Wow.

Two hours later I awoke to Matt Maher singing “Borrowed Time,”and shook Sharon to tell her all about my dream.

I was jumping like a giddy schoolboy, but before I could say a word, she sat up and exclaimed, “What happened to you?”

“You’re shirt is drenched with sweat, and you’re covered with dog hair.”

I looked down in astonishment.

There really was dog hair all over my lap.  I looked at my own hands, expecting stigmata, I guess. None were visible.

I think things like this have really happened all my life, but only recently have I actually seen them.

Our lives seem to be full of lessons, and metaphors, and messages.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding a piece of puzzle with no idea how it fits.

 

Stitches for Christmas

I hadn’t planned on the Christmas traffic and so I was a bit late for work.  “I’m not even on the highway yet,” I phoned my receptionist, “So you might want to call my first appointment and advise them to come in 15 minutes late.”

“Just be glad you’re not early!” she exclaimed.  “We had an emergency run in, and the poor thing was torn wide open from getting caught under a fence, and bleeding all over the place.”

“Are they waiting?” I asked as I sped up well past my comfortable speed.  “No, I sent them to Dr. Elsewhere.  Besides they’d never been here before, and said the dog wasn’t even theirs!”

I’d seen the schedule and knew we were slammed; it was good that they went down the road.  I had 18 appointments scheduled for the abbreviated 3 hour day, and that would be plenty.  Besides, it was Christmas Eve and everyone would be anxious to get home after just a half day.  I was glad I wouldn’t have to feel guilty.

I’ve  come to really enjoy my hour and a half commute.  I listen to lots of audiobooks and, now that I’m enrolled in University postgraduate classes again, I listen to my professor’s lectures a few times as well.  But it does make for a long 13 hour day, and there’s not much of me left when I get home.  My coping mechanism involves an hour of silence, contemplation, prayer early every morning.  And I find myself struggling, pleading, praying for peace and joy from each hectic day.

Some days it’s hard to find much joy.  I’m sometimes immersed and submerged in grief of lost life and love.  And so I plead with my Creator for consolation.  I want to know that it’s not all in vain.  That we’re here for a reason.  That I’m here for a reason.  Give me your eyes to recognize opportunities to love and serve as you would have me.  And that I am living my life as He would want – that the world is better for my having been here.  I’ve been having a bit of a dry spell, and feel like I’m just checking the box some days.

I realize I’ll never cure cancer.  And I’ll never make enough money to create a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to end a disease like rubella.  Or embrace the “humans discarded like garbage” as Mother Theresa did.  And so it would be easy to see my ordinary, everyday life as just that. But I strive to find Jesus with every encounter – every time I smile, touch, or open my mouth.  I pray for patience, and compassion, and the vision to realize who it is that is actually standing in front of me, and overlook their human faults.  I ask for wisdom to recognise those opportunities that I’m given where I can draw closer, but be indifferent to those which push me away.

Sometimes people aren’t very kind, or appreciative, or forgiving of my own faults – my forgetfulness, my schedule, my often sarcastic personality, my tardiness.

And so, I zipped into the driveway, with almost 20 cars already in it, knowing that the day would be another challenge.  My first two appointments were waiting, along with two unplanned emergencies; 6 pets had been dropped off for me to examine “in my spare time,” and over 40 charts were on my desk for me to evaluate lab results and to call to discuss treatment options.

After years of this script, my employees know I have a routine, and to only jump on me if someone is bleeding.  Since they didn’t, I made a dash for the baño and returned the three mugs of coffee I’d inhaled almost two hours ago.  I grabbed my stethoscope, and slid into the first exam room.

Soon I had dispersed, delegated, prescribed, and advised everyone waiting to see me, and was shocked to see no charts in front of me.  I looked at the clock and was confused that I had a little down time in the middle of a busy, busy morning.

As I turned to tackle my stack of charts, one of my receptionists spun me around and said, “Dr. K., the person that came in so early this morning, the one I referred to Dr. Elsewhere is back, and begging for you to look at the dog.  I know what you’re going to say, so I’m not sure why I’m even asking, but she wants your opinion. Remember, it’s not even her dog, and she has now told me three times that she doesn’t have any money.”  The other doctor had told her just to hose the dog’s wound off every day and it would probably heal fine.

I shook my head and smiled, “Tell them to bring the dog in, and I’ll have a look.”

“No,” she said, “They’re too embarrassed to come in with no money.  Can you go out to their car and just have a look to see if you agree with the other doctor.”

“Sure.”

The gash was deep, and blood was everywhere.  There was little chance this would heal on it’s own.  Not without antibiotics, and she really needed stitches.  I looked around and “for some reason” there were still no cars in the parking lot.  The little dog looked up at me and wagged her tail.  I looked at the wrinkled, worried forehead of the couple who had cared enough to bring in a dog that didn’t even belong to them.

Fence Gash

“Field stitches” are something that I learned from my boyhood mentor as I “helped” around the neighborhood vet clinic, a lifetime ago, working on cattle and horses, and most certainly aren’t taught in medical school.  They are fast, and require no general anesthesia.  I looked at the huge gash in the little dog, and realized that it most certainly wouldn’t be the best medical care, but one hell of a lot better than hosing it off every day.  Besides, I could shave and disinfect the wound, inject some lidocaine, place a drain, and “field stitch” the dog in about 20 minutes.  (To do it properly, with acceptable sterile technique would require anesthesia and over two hours of surgical time).

OK, so it actually took 30 minutes, and by then about 4 or 5 people were waiting. But, as I placed the final stitch in her neighbor’s dog who hadn’t even flinched, and gave her a shot of antibiotics, I knew it had been the right thing to do.

Her husband had looked at the floor most of the time we were in the exam room together, and finally, looking up, spoke with a cracking voice.

“I’m not sure why ya done this fer us, and I told you I didn’ haf any thing ta pay ya with. Would it be OK if we came back and paid you a little bit each week, when I get m’ check?”  He seemed to fear my response and was clearly embarrassed.

I was a bit moved by his offer.  I had known they couldn’t pay when I invited them in.

“No,” I said, “I only ask one thing.  Don’t go around and tell everyone that we work for free.  ‘Cause if I did this very often, (pointing to my nurse) she’d have to work for free, and then her family wouldn’t get to buy food.”

“What?” they were both clearly a mess now.  “You done all this fer nuthin?”

“Nope. We did it because we were supposed to.  Thanks for coming in today, and … Merry Christmas.”

I gave them each a hug, and high fived my nurse as I left the room.

She smiled bigger than I did.  She knew we hadn’t done it for them.  It was for me.  I’m selfish that way.

Clearly, a businessman can’t give things away on a regular basis, or he wouldn’t be able to pay his staff, and give raises, and pay for health care, or the mortgage.  But sometimes you can.  And it feels really good.

None of this is about “telling people about our good works so that others will know how good we are.”  It’s simply opening our eyes so we can see.

It’s not about doing good, or “giving back,” because others have been good to us.  No, that’s simply the “exchange” of Christmas gifts.  Tit for tat.  And as such, although trades are extrinsically good, they don’t really add good to the world.  The balance shifts when we do good where there is no possible way for the other to repay.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what Christmas is really about anyway?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …

JN 3:16

The original gift of Christmas was one given with full knowledge that it could never be repaid, and clearly there has never been that expectation.  We don’t do good because we owe God anything.  Or because we’re afraid of Hell.  We do good because God is good, and in our design we are programed to enjoy doing so.  There are no mistakes in our design.  He did this for a reason.  We are here for a reason.

Centuries ago, Blaise Pascal (consider also Pascal’s Wager) formulated a concept later described as a “God shaped hole” in our hearts.  We seek and try repeatedly to fill this longing with things of this world, trying to satisfy the craving, and fill the void ourselves. Sixteen centuries years ago Pascal observed power-lust and self-centeredness, with the resultant narcissism and addictions.

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)

Only by recognising what “fits” in this hole do we “satisfy that longing.” Only through love and service for others are we truly happy.  What we did on Christmas eve was really no big deal.  Everyone can, and must reach out those around them.  Maybe you can’t stitch up a stray dog.  But you can help someone fix a flat tire, or unload their groceries, or shovel their snow, or give a blanket to someone who is wandering and cold.  Or just stop and, with a conversation or a smile, show a stranger that they matter.

ed. note:  I considered for a week before I wrote this. Last year a similar post about Betty and her dog Baby (Rude) resulted in a considerable number of folks being put off by what they saw as “attention seeking, and patting myself on the back for doing something we should all do anyway.” But that was the entire point of She Wasn’t being Rude, if the reader had actually read it and made it down to the end of the post.  Of course we should do good, and what I (and every other veterinarian I know) am able to do sometimes, is a blessing – to me.

After tragedy enters someone’s life, they see the world through a much different lens.  Everything takes on a new color, with depth and detail that was never before noticed.  When the bleeding stops, everything has purpose;  life becomes deeper and meaningful, and appreciated.

My vision is with other eyes now.  Mainly those of my father and my son.

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“God isn’t fixing this.” (NY Daily News)

I’d be hard pressed to think of a more cynical and exploitative headline at a time of national mourning than the New York Daily News, in exemplary journalism, who took “progressive” rhetoric one step further and decided to use its cover to mock God for failing to “fix” the problem of sinful mankind doing sinful things:

God wont fix this

A quick peek at the Twitter “trending” box found many like this at the top. The very same people quoting “our” Jesus to us just a week ago urging an embrace of more Syrian Refugees yesterday seemed to race again to social media.  They didn’t offer any compassion to the victims of the shooting, any information to the authorities, or any insights on how to prevent future terrorist attacks–but to mock people for having the audacity to pray for the victims and their families.  Another Wikipedia definition seems imminent, “Prayer-shaming.”

we dont need your thoughts & prayers – we need action. Now.

and lots demanding more gun control:

We dont need you to send prayers. We need you to vote for modern gun laws.

(I had to dig deep to find why so many included hash-tags for PP, and then I stumbled upon one who shared the news that the PP “clinic” was a only a 20 minute walk away.  You can’t  make this stuff up.  Clearly a connection with the “Bible thumpin’, AK47 totin’, Shoot ’em up Pro lifers!)

 

Prayers aren’t working.

Another mass shooting prompted another round of silence Wednesday from GOP presidential candidates on the issue of gun control.

Instead, while the Democratic presidential wannabes were calling for stricter gun laws in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, the Republicans were preaching about prayer.

It’s all they ever have to offer, isn’t it? And it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference.

…discussing out how much money all of those “thoughts and prayers” politicians have received from the NRA.

Since I’ve been on AOL since Al Gore invented the internet, for some reason I get spoon-fed Huffington Post as my reliable news feed. Here’s the best they could come up with:

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Really?  “Their ‘useless’ thoughts and prayers?”  Really?

“Politicians are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills?” Really?

No one I know trusts politicians to solve our ills.  That’s why (at least most of) the people I know want smaller government, because (again, perhaps it’s my own myopic vision) the bigger and more responsibility ladened a government becomes, the more poorly she performs. A big government is top-heavy, inefficient, and corruption prone.

I honestly understand that half of our population has no idea why private citizens have any business owning guns.  They don’t hunt, and have no desire to learn to use a firearm to defend themself or their family.  The thought of even touching a gun scares them.  So, to them, the second amendment is nonsense, out-dated, and should be abolished.  The founding fathers could not have foreseen the sins of today’s society when they crafted this law.  But I’d purport that they did.  And perhaps if a few of the luncheon participants had disregarded the “gun-free zone” signs and had a 357 tucked in their belts, we’d have different headlines.  Or maybe not. Maybe the entire thing would have not even have been newsworthy if they’d both been slain before they even pulled their first trigger.

Gunfree Zone

But I digress.  Gun control is not the topic of this post.

Anyway, I was honestly confused as to what possessed all of these media types to choose “people who pray” as the target of their anger.

Then I stumbled onto the clincher. The grand pooh bah of enlightenment. A well-regarded, progressive Washington Post journalist wrote this:

This mentality was really weird to me, and revealing. Almost more of a temper tantrum than anything else, particularly since progressives immediately turn to “prayer of a different kind” in the aftermath of tragedy.  They pray to the god of bigger and better government.  Something must be done!  Legislate!  Last week we needed more programs to serve the huge increase of refuges that we “must” accept.  And now we need gun-control laws.

Maybe we should compassionately accept more refugees, and maybe we do need better gun control laws.  These are fodder for later use.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to athiests and maybe agnostics, let’s just say “humanists.” Initially, I assumed it was because the “thoughts” portion seem somewhat meaningless. Combining it with prayer makes it seem like prayer is nothing more than “thoughts,” kind of like “good energy,” when New Ager’s send out “white light.” Prayer isn’t just “thoughts” and perhaps people could really drop the “thoughts” portion of the phrase. Kudos to Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan for their more theologically precise public statements in that regard.

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus spoke about it extensively, explaining to those of us who follow him how to pray to our father in heaven. Perhaps you have heard of the “Our Father,” which provides the model of prayer for the Christian.

Prayer is described throughout the entirety of Scriptures, from Moses’ telling of discussions with God all the way through St. John’s glorious vision of the consummation of prayers in the restored heavens and earth, described in Revelation. And the Gospel of Luke describes how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion — “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Jesus tells us to call God our Father. He tells us that God wants us to ask him for things like a father wants his children to ask of him, so he can answer and give them what they ask for to show his love. For the Christian, we pray because God commands it, and that means it’s extremely important to us. We know God wants to hear our prayers and will use our prayers to help us in some ways that we can’t even understand.  And many that we can.

You see, to a faithful (Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, as well as Christian) people, praying is not “doing nothing.”

We do believe that God can intervene, to comfort the hurting and even to energize ourselves and others for right action. At the very least it is an expression of, “We love one another, and we hurt for one another.”

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Those without such faith might look from afar and just “not get it.”  There’s lots of things I “don’t get,” but I do my best to have respect and civility for those things I don’t understand.

As a (Western) medical person, I don’t get holistic, naturopathic, reikki, and other non-traditional type approaches to healing.  But I don’t stand and laugh, disparagingly, at them.  Some might, in fact, work as well as my own approach.  The fact that I don’t understand how is a side note.

Answers to prayers aren’t like some divine vending machine where you put the money in and out pops a Snickers Bar.  I am honestly a witness to many inexplicable things, both in my personal, as well as medical life.  To these I do attribute Divine Intervention.  Whether or not you agree is also a side note.

But prayers aren’t always (infrequently even?) answered with direct changes in courses of action.  I’d purport that God acts and directs us and our life journeys in lots of altered ways because of our prayers.  In prayer we are changed.  Our hearts and the lenses through which we view our brothers become like clay and conform to His will.  It’s not magic, or meditative self change, nor the power of positive thinking.  It’s opening ourselves up to our God.  Understanding that He is the master and creator of the universe, and that He is God, and that I am not.  Supplication and humility open us up to His love and the changes He wants to see in us. Don’t understand?  Try.  Don’t have a desire to change? Don’t want to yield to a higher power? Don’t have any idea why others feel this “call” to believe?  It’s a thing called grace which enables and empowers us to “open the door” and let Him in.

And so, when we “pray” we do this very thing.  We open the door and let Him in.  He sits to eat with us, and we with him.  And when we open ourselves up to His will, we gain perspective.  We see others through eyes not our own, and we grow in His love.  This, of course, is empathy and that love we all know we should have. We pray also because of our needs; the community’s needs which, in love, we should take on; and the burdens of all of our neighbors and even our entire country and world.

Don’t tell me not to pray for my hurting brothers and sisters. And for you. And for a change of heart for those who hate us. Perhaps enough of these prayers will in fact change their hearts.  But maybe that change will occur because our own hearts begin to love enough that others actually see Jesus in us. Perhaps this is the action you want to see, instead of what you think are empty prayers. Maybe prayers seem empty because you haven’t really opened the door yourself. And so, perhaps prayer is exactly what is needed – for you, and for me.

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Lots of acknowledgment to Mollie Hemmingway at “The Federalist,” Russell Moore at “The Washington Post,” Jim Martin, at “America.” 

Thankful 2015

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

I’m out of town with family today getting the turkey ready, but I can get lab-results, and sometimes this forces me to make very painful phone calls.

The 30ish woman and her beautiful 12 year old daughter had come into my veterinary hospital yesterday with a kitten that was very sick.  She was so neurologically affected that she couldn’t stand, and had to be swaddled up like a newborn, or she’d arch backward and thrash around, completely out of control.

Kids seem to have a special bond with pets that only parents can understand.  Although I spoke in my best disguised code to her mommy, Madeline courageously held back hysterical tears, clearly having been prepared for the news that I might deliver.

When a pediatric patient presents with such profound symptoms, the diagnosis is often a congenital or genetic condition.  Neither can actually be “cured,” but sometimes successfully managed.  In veterinary medicine, quality of life is of paramount importance, and so, often these situations sometimes do not end well.

I stepped away from the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprout prep party to make the phone call neither if us wanted to make or receive.  The bile acids test had come back normal, so there was not a hepatic shunt, the often treatable liver anomaly we had both hoped and prayed for.

Next on the list of differential diagnoses were a couple of congenital problems, neither of which had a very good prognosis. My medically correct advice was a neurologist referral, but I knew the likelihood of a good outcome was miniscule.  Big words with no treatment like cerebellar hypoplasia and spongiform encephalopathy now ascend to the top of the list. And so when she asked what I would do if it was my own kitten, my hand was forced with the grim reality.  We are treating for one other parasitic possibility, but the odds are even more slim.

She explained, matter of factly, how this was the first cat that they’d ever had that seemed to love them back.  She exuded love and appreciated  their affection.  This stray kitten just seemed to wander into their house one day, and immediately bonded with her daughter Madeline.  Every other cat they’d ever had received their love, but only “Mo” really gave it back.

The crosses we bear are so heavy.

My heart hurts for her, and especially her daughter.  I told her how sorry I am.  “But,” I explained:

As a father, and as a Christian, I’d like to say a couple of things to you, and I apologize if you wouldn’t expect this from your doctor.

Our blessings come in many forms.  We look at such a short life with anguish and disappointment.  What a waste.  This all seems so cruel.

But, I reminded her.  This was a stray kitten that had never known human love and compassion until she found you.  In you, she found three months of love that she would otherwise never have known.  You gave “Mo” so much.  That is a not a waste.

You told me that Madeline had never felt such a returned love from a pet.  “Mo” gave her so much.  The obvious is the physical, the temporal return of affection.  Mo gave Madeline the opportunity to welcome the unloved and unwanted.  But think also of the ‘not so pretty’ pieces of this puzzle.  Perhaps the bigger lesson includes comforting the suffering, the dying, someone who could not really give back.  And so she learned empathy, sympathy, and compassion; how to love the suffering, the unappreciative, the unloveable.

So, although you have had Mo for such a short time, she gave so more than she received.  These are blessings.

Sometimes, it surprises me when I am emotionally moved by a client or an experience.  This one shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I hung up the phone, sat on the couch and put my face in my hands.

I know pain.  I know the cross.  I know the questions of the cross.

I am thankful today for so many things.  Most of all, I am thankful for  a God who is all good, and understands my frustrations and prayers.

Most people that have continued to read this post, understand me, or at least what I’m talking about.  Our God is good.  All the time.

And for this, I am thankful, on this “Thanksgiving.”  I am thankful that, although we carry different loads, and that our God is merciful.  I am better for my own load, and although I would not wish it on anyone, it is mine to bear.

As is everyone else’s load and cross.  The blessing is not in our destination, the blessing is in the journey itself.  Only through times of emptiness and desolation do we grow.

Today I am thankful for  my life and my cross.  We all carry our own buckets with our own loads.  This makes us human.  Knowing that we do not walk alone is such consolation.  We must be able to lay them at the cross.

 

I’m also thankful for unconditional love, and a career where I hope I make a difference.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2015

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Let’s Turn October Pink! (or maybe not?)

Before we buy everything with a Komen pink ribbon on it, and turn everything pink this month, from our football helmets to our socks, let’s remember to do a little homework about our causes. Charity Navigator has identified hundreds of scams that would appear to be legit charities.  Many of our highly touted charities – our “go to” charities when disasters strike our world and we want to help, are in fact, thieves.

For instance, Susan G. Komen only ranks TWO STARS (out of five), yet we lemmings always grab for the product on the shelf with the pink ribbon, which MIGHT appear to imply a portion of that sale goes to breast cancer causes (whatever that means).  I know full what it means (and doesn’t), but each of you should also do your homework!  By the way, remember also that Susan G. Komen continues to fund Planned Parenthood ($465,000 last year), claiming it goes for “breast cancer screening,” although Cecile Richards (CEO of PP) testified to congress last week that PP doesn’t even own any mammography equipment, and never actually does such screenings. There are much better cancer charities, some of which don’t pay their CEO $209,000, and their founder $481,000 salaries each year, like Komen does.

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.  That hasn’t really happened, but I suppose 14 years of a $481,000 salary (for doing what?) probably lightens her grief.  Might explain why they only rate a 70% financial score, shelling out $21 million for administrative expenses and $25 million for fundraising.  Perhaps balancing the books requires lots of work and justifies these kinds of salaries; or perhaps not, since they reported a $5 million loss last quarter!  

So before you reach for the Cheerios, don the socks for the big race, or heaven forbid, write a check, know exactly where your hard earned cash is headed.  You may, in fact, feel Planned Parenthood does some really good things (sic), and if so, feel happy as you watch the videos.  But, by all means, be educated.

I think it bugs me a little that for many people, years of “raising awareness” has resulted in little more than cartoon characters, “booby” bumper-stickers and wet T-shirts.

Arrest Breast Cancer

Save the Tatas

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The fact is that it will (not might) affect your family in some significant capacity.  But so will autism, PTSD, suicide, alcoholism, prostate cancer, natural disasters, drunk and texting drivers, and so many other calamities.  Awareness is good, but not because of funny logos or even lost body parts.  But rather, awareness empowers us with life knowledge to seek self help, encourage others to do likewise, and have the empathy to genuinely be present for each other during loss.

Life is calling, are you here?

So please do wear pink this year, and in doing so, remember your aunt and sister-in-law lost to that monster.  And most certainly write that charity check every month.  But send it to who you actually want to get it.

Highest Rated Charities for Breast Cancer

Fr. Joe Nolan, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Dear Friend

Father Joseph A. Nolan 1936 – 2015 Beloved Pastor Immaculate Conception Parish Melbourne Beach, Florida

“Hallo Beel! How ya keepin’?”

I can hear those words echoing in my particularly empty head this morning.  The lovely Irish brogue that welcomed each of us, week after week, is a beautiful thing but, unfortunately, now a warm memory.

The Reverend Joseph Aidan Nolan left us a few days ago, October 5th, 2015, from complications related to his diabetes.  He was 79 years old.

Most people called him Fr. Nolan, but to me he was Fr. Joe.  I’ve often grown close to our priests, over the years, cities, and parishes on my journey.  To me, “Fr. Nolan” was just too formal for him.  He was an ordinary Joe.  Not that there’s anything less than sacred in ordinary people, in fact we had discussed this very thing not long ago in his office.  We meet Jesus in ordinary people, in our everyday encounters.  We are the only Jesus many people will ever meet.  And as such we must remember that we are always in the presence of God, and treat each other with respect and love.

Anyway, because I tend to see priests also as ordinary people, I think I’m probably pretty forgiving of faults and quirks in those who have devoted their lives to serving us.  Or at least I try to be. When in the Sacramental context, they most certainly are acting “in persona Christi,” but outside of this, he was clearly a human being.  He loved golf, and despite his near blindness could drive a ball further and straighter than anyone I’ve ever met. Fr. Joe was old school Irish, and most definitely enjoyed things going his way, and, like the rest of us, had certain propensities. Which brings us to the human nature.  By being human and making mistakes, those leading us show what it’s like to be human, and vulnerable.  And forgiving, and forgivable.  And endearing.

I’m going to miss those homilies underpinned with peaks and valleys of Fr. Joe’s blood glucose. The “tip-off,” to those of us constantly looking for such stuff was him parting his vestments to look down at his glucometer on his belt.  He must have known something didn’t feel “just right.” But so did we, as on “those days” when his level was too low, his gait would change, and the volume and emphasis of the points he was making would reach fever pitch.

I’m not the only one I noticed positioning themselves on the edge of their seat, positioned for a quick dart to catch him, should he pass out and fall on the altar.

Once, I remember him on a particularly embarrassing morning, acknowledging by pointing out his nephew in the congregation, “Wearing the red shirt, OR WHATEVER COLOR THAT IS!” (Fin’s shirt was not red). And he went on and on for some five minutes, ranting and raving about how much he loved this man, much to Finian’s embarrassment. Please know I’m not making fun of Joe Nolan. These were endearing things that we learned to know, accept, and love. Truly love. Because although there were a few of these moments, Fr. Joe was as sharp as a tack, until his very last day.

Old school Irish indeed, Fr. Joe would end every Sunday Mass with a joke.  Something else I’ll always miss terribly.

He was quick to fault himself, and felt very human at times.  He used to preach an entire homily from the center of the altar, without any notes, and had the entire thing memorized, with breathtaking accuracy and recollection. Recently, he’d begun reading from behind the ambo, where he could refer to his notes, but still had most of it memorized. He shared with me that once he had “lost his place” in what he had memorized, and was mortified. He took his preaching so seriously, that he never again gave a Sunday sermon without notes, because he was so concerned that he might give a wrong message. “There are souls at risk!”  A few weeks later, on a Wednesday, I visited him in his office for a while, and he asked me how to phrase a point he wanted to make in his homily for the next weekend.  I worded it in a way that I felt was particularly poignant, but he thought for a few minutes, then said, “No, no, Beel, that’s not really where I’ll be goin’,” and read what he decided on instead.  I was taken back. I like to think I can turn a phrase and make a point, but his was much better. He was 79 and the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And he was so excited about our new Pope.  He went on and on about how beautiful it was that he was making people squirm and reach outside their comfort zone.  He has the humility of the common man, and teaches us what love and being Christ-like really means.  When I suggested that he was much like our new Bishop Noonan, Fr. Joe said, “You have no idea how right that is. Bishop John Noonan is like you and me, and it’s so humbling how he leads with such love and compassion.”  He went on to share a funny story with me (again) of what a really good friend the Bishop was to him, involving his not recognizing him in public, because of his bad eyesight.  Good friend indeed.  When Bishop Noonan heard the tragic news that our dear Father Joe had fallen, he cancelled his schedule for the day, and drove over from Orlando to administer last rites; and sit with him.  I’m told he sat with him for most of the day, holding his dear friend’s hand and praying.

Fr. Joe came to us at Immaculate conception in 1989, after nearly two decades as pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Kissimmee, FL.  He came to that then tiny parish in 1972, and over the course of 17 years had rebuilt the Church, and grown it from 200 families to over 2000.

Joe Nolan was born in Mullingar, exactly in the center of Ireland, in 1937.  After ordination and 8 years of service in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, he served at Mary Magdalen in Maitland for 2 years, and then at a year at Ascension in Eau Galle for one year, prior to being named Pastor at Holy Redeemer, before coming here.

Father Nolan then went to Rome to study for a month at the Vatican, and then on to the Holy Land, where he had, what he described as the highlight of his life.  He met Pope Saint John Paul II, got to shake his hand, chat for a few minutes, and receive his blessing.

Fr. Joseph Aiden Nolan with Pope John Paul II

Fr. Joseph Nolan with Pope John Paul II

When he returned to the United States, he learned that he’d been transferred, and had been appointed to Immaculate Conception as pastor; it would be his final assignment, and he would serve us for 26 years.  He’d always get a bit teary describing how good everyone had been to him over the years, and from the pulpit often told the congregation that he’d been so very blessed, that we were the best parish, anywhere.

When we moved to Melbourne Beach in 1993, I remember him already talking about “his legacy,” what he’d like to leave us with.  But those priorities would change over the years. Funny how life works this way.  First he wanted so desperately to enlarge the church with a major renovation.  (side note: Even with subsequent “touch-ups,” he maintained the maroon colored carpet, seat covers, every adornment throughout “his” church. Just last Friday, in our weekly meeting after Mass, I commented on this obviously favorite color of his, since his new eye-glasses were maroon, wondering if he was a FSU fan.  He laughed so loud the others turned to look at us, as he exclaimed that burgundy was the team color of the Meath Gaelic Football Team!)

After the Church enlargement, he pushed hard for funding for beautiful new stain glass windows (which I discovered he had been so proud at Holy Redeemer also), and was so excited about how beautiful they’d be.

After the windows, he pleaded for a new “world-class organ,” quite a different direction from the “guitar masses” so many churches were having “these days.”

Buts shortly after the organ, and then a consistent theme for the next ten years would be his emphasis on the youth of his beloved parish. He’d regularly pop into Sunday and Wednesday CCD classes, and open his back yard up for the annual picnic for them, complete with music, a bounce house, and fishing from his dock.  One year he arranged for jet-skis!

I don’t remember a Mass where Fr. Joe didn’t recognize the youth of the parish, thanking the altar boy or girl, and making then feel so important, that they had just done the best job assisting him ever in his entire life.  When my daughter Kayla sang just a few weeks ago, he went on and on about how wonderful it was that we had such a fantastic group of youth, here in the parish.  Later, when I asked if he had known that Kayla was my daughter (since we had different last names), he pulled back, astonished, and nearly shouted, “Beel, do ya think I’m daft?”

Father Nolan had received special dispensation from the Bishop that ours would be the only parish in the diocese to have high schoolers trained as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, and distributing communion.  He realized that our young people were our future, and he felt driven to reach out to them.

Every year Fr. Nolan’s annual concert event served to fund scholarships for the youth of his parish to attend Catholic School  if they desired. He’d bring in cabaret style entertainment from Ireland, which was quite popular with many of the retired in our community and “1964,”a Beatles tribute band a couple of times, which drew people for a hundred miles.  Some of my fondest memories include my then pre-teen daughter Camille as a guest performer, Irish dancing with the Tony Kenny Variety Show professional dancers.  And, more recently, I’ll never forget the entire family dancing for almost two hours to the Beatles music, in Fr. Joe’s back yard.

Many of us have so many fond memories of Fr. Joe, but this is my blog, so I’ll share some of mine.  First communion, confirmations, weddings and compassionate consolation and reconciliation to all of us in the confessional.  Keeping me from bashing my head against the wall in anguish and regrets over so many things involving my first marriage. He’d humbly agreed to go to a different church, one where so many of his parishioners had traveled seeking more contemporary services, to con-celebrate with Fr. Tony, the funeral Mass for my wonderful son Cullen.  And he would be my biggest advocate for the diaconate, and told me he’d be “lookin’ down on me an’ smilin’ at your ordination.”  I had no idea what he was talking about – I truly thought Father Nolan would live to see that day.

So many times over the past three years, when Fr. Nolan would say a Mass in honor of Cullen, when announcing the intention of the Mass from the altar, he’d pause for the memory.  He’d shake his head in bewilderment of God’s plan, lamenting the loss of a boy he truly remembered so well, as altar boy, lector, and simply the mischievous little fellow, and share with the entire congregation exactly who we were remembering and praying for.

There’s going to be so many things we’ll all miss.  I’m so sad.  I’ll never again hear (for the tenth time) the story of a mother’s love, Fr. Joe fondly remembering from the pulpit when he was a child on a bicycle, off to the market for eggs.  He was so proud that his mother had entrusted him with such an important task – to take the few dollars she had been able to save of the weeks to go get eggs for Easter.  And so, when he arrived home, she opened the basket and every single egg was broken, except one.  Little Joe Nolan was horrified, and very scared, for these were the only eggs the Nolan children would be able to afford for Easter, and his careless riding had broken them all, except one. As an example of our Lord’s loving forgiveness, mercy, and sense of humor, his loving mum reached in for the only unbroken egg, and with an ear to ear smile, and a loving laugh he claimed he could still hear, smashed the remaining egg on the top of his head.  Every time he told that story, he laughed like it had just happened.

Enjoy this time now with your mum.

We’ll miss you so very much, Father Joe Nolan.

Much Love.

Nolan Obituary

Fr. Joseph A. Nolan

 

If All Else Fails …

As I sped past the billboard, the words lingered in my mind, and even began to bother me.  “If all else fails, try Jesus.”  The well intended slogan had it all wrong, much like the “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker.

Seriously?  What kind of friend would you consider me if I only called you when “All else fails?”  Wouldn’t that make me the “vending machine god” where we only go when we want something, or worse yet, when we want something, and all else has failed?

It also dips into the “prosperity gospel,” where the believer, one with “enough faith,” gets good fortune, and answered prayers., but when we don’t see that answer, it’s because of our weak faith.  Or –  “Hey God, I’ a pretty good person, I do good stuff, I don’t cheat on my wife, I don’t tell (big) lies, I gave to the homeless dude this morning.  I even go to church sometimes.  I’ve done my part!  What the hell do you want?  Tit for tat.  Quid pro quo.  I’ve done my part, now give me mine.”

Our parents saw it during the Cuban missile crisis.  Churches were packed, and lines to the confessional wrapped around the block.  We see it during times of crisis.  After 9-11, many returned to religion, or at least begging God, or whatever to come to our aid.  How many of us have gotten on our knees (at least metaphorically) and prayed over the past week for the safe return of two 14 year old boys that are complete strangers?

boys

Me too.  And I prayed for so many reasons.  I’m a father and I know the pain of losing a young son, and another child lost at sea for a week.  I know the agony of a family pulled apart, and a heart broken, and hemorrhaging still.  And I’ve seen so many lose their faith.  I’ve shared stories and tears with other parents, some of whom completely lost their faith after their own darkest day:  “How could a loving God allow …”

I’ve seen the faith of a child lost as the cancer took her aunt despite her pleas to her friend, Jesus.

Millions have reached up and asked for a favor.  Bring these two kids home to their families.

I informed God that this was the time for a contemporary miracle.  Show us a little sign.  How  ’bout a little trick? Jump through my hoop.  “Think of the increase in faith!  Think of those who will come home to you!  It will be all for your greater glory, Jesus!”

miracle

And, because I’m human, and it would all seem pretty logical, I still think all that is true.  But then reality crashes down.  You see, miracles DO happen every day.  But most go unnoticed, or written off as co-incidence, or nature, or lucky enough to have … “a good doctor, or whatever.”  Seldom does anything work for “God’s greater glory,” or increase anyone’s faith.

No, in fact, “faith” is an odd thing.  It has nothing to do with prosperity, or intellect, or merit, or even desire.  Lots of people smarter than me are atheists.  And lots of people smarter than me have strong faith.  (Although I have noticed the majority of physicians and other health professionals have unshakable faiths, probably they see the complexity of life, down at the cellular level, and realize the notion of a random construction of life is absurd.)

Prayer does unite us.  We realize that, although we’re walking this Camino by ourselves, we get much strength and consolation from our brothers and sisters.

Humbling ourselves in genuine prayer also reminds us how powerless we are to control our destiny, and that of our children.

Christians know that Jesus never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer, only that he’d be with us, and from my own experience, even carry us while we do.

Popular singer Matt Maher frames it beautifully, when he writes,

“Lost, everything is lost, and everything I’ve loved before is gone… Where were you when all that I hoped for,  Where were you when all that I’ve dreamed, came crashing down in shambles around me?  …  You were on the cross…”

Not as an excuse as to why He couldn’t help us, but as an image we can contemplate on:

He was in fact, fully human, and knows the fear and agony we feel.

And so we continue to pray for miracles.  And for comfort and consolation of a loving relationship, where we can enjoy life together, sharing our deepest joys and fears, and, sometimes, sit together in grief and loss.

Much of our journey here is a mystery.  Most of it.  But just because we’re not able to understand something fully is no reason to deny the only explanation for the journey in the first place.

We do continue to pray for the impossible.  Every father I know would cry in thanksgiving upon the return of these two boys lost at sea.  And we continue to pray for the consolation of such a faith that allows their families to continue to breathe and get out of bed each morning.  Because that’s going to be difficult for them  Trust me on this.

looking forward

This is the very essence of our Judeo-Christian mindset.  Compassion and encouragement.  As “Church,” we love and support complete strangers.  Because they’re not strangers.  Even on the other side of the world, we are connected, so we send our support and offer our prayers.  No, they’re not strangers at all, and we are our brother’s keeper.  We are often the only Jesus someone will ever meet.

We can’t explain these things to someone who doesn’t get it, but our lack of an explanation doesn’t make that connection any less real.

Much love.

kneeling_head_down