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


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

Image result for october pink tata

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?


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!”


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.



And predictably, there’s now some push-back from some hunting and even some conservation groups to (mildly) support Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.  They wonder if the “outrage” of America’s now most hated man (big sigh this week from Bill Cosby) is really warranted.

The dentist who reportedly killed Cecil the lion is getting absolutely destroyed on Yelp

Well here’s the deal.  The outrage is that the current evidence shows pretty clearly that he was aware that the animal was baited off the protected reserve. In my book, this ranks right up there with feeding corn to deer during entire off season to pick them off the first day of the season. I’m not a hunter-hater; I’ve spent countless hours in a dear blind, a duck boat, and walking the cornfields for quail, pheasant, and dove. I’ve even mounted some pheasant and fish, not because of the testosterone involved, but rather, as an animal lover, as a reminder of the beauty of creation. Please know also, I’ve only taken fish or game that I could eat, or released them.

It’s been a decade since I’ve pulled the trigger, and after having been in the healing arts for three decades, I have no desire to do so again. I also realize that hunter’s organisations like Ducks Unlimited, and hunting licenses pumps millions each year into wildlife management, conservation efforts and pays salaries of those that enforce the laws. To some degree I would even hold my nose and support legal safari hunts for the same reason. These are not gentle giants, nor are they sweet and cuddly, regardless of the stuffed animals on our beds, and the Disney movies we watch with our children. But again, this clearly crosses many lines.

This photo shows Walter Palmer with a leopard he killed in Zimbabwe with a bow and arrow. Photo: Blogspot.

This dude has evidently crossed some lines in his hunting past. Justified or not, the forces of hell have been unleashed upon him, and he faces the wrath of a public that doesn’t support any form of hunting. He’s screwed. At some point when we make decisions to do things that are “legal,” we must look closely and see if they are ethical and conscionable. This was probably not.

The saddest commentary is that this kind of outrage wasn’t voiced against Kermit Gosnell.

Shouting at an Empty Chair, Father’s day 2015

Tyrone presented the family’s new puppy in for his first exam yesterday, and brought along his son, “To meet me.”  I was taken back by this comment, and quickly replied that I was so glad that he had, and then I said something about how I was sure he was glad school was out for the summer.  I asked if they had plans for the summer, and Andrew, reaching his hand out for me to shake it, said, “Yes sir, I’m working as a camp counselor at Wadeview Park.”

“Really?” I said, “That’s fantastic.  What a great summer job!  What kind of a counselor? Will you be teaching, like arts and crafts, or more like a coach, supervising athletics?”

Andrew, who looked to be about 15, respectfully looked me directly in the eye, and said he’d be willing to do whatever they needed, working with the underprivileged kids there. I looked over at his dad, and I said, “Good job, what a great person you’ve raised.”

Tyrone agreed, “He is a really good kid,” but shook his head, claiming none of the credit.  But I knew better.  If nothing else, he had been present for the boy, and done his best to be a really good man.

What makes some fathers step up and be “Dad,” and others walk away or stay around, but not really be “present,” is such an important question.  What, in fact, is a “good father?”


Do you have to be perfect, never letting your shield down to reveal your human-ness?  Should you lay down the law, and be the disciplinarian (because you used to be so wild and get into so much trouble).  Or should you strive to be their best friend, letting them drink beer and smoke weed, high five-ing over last night’s “conquest,” and providing the latest and greatest toys?

I’ve seen both extremes.  I’ve been both extremes.  OK, not really so much the last one, although at some level, I really wish I could have been “closer” as a friend to all five of my kids.  But we don’t get any do-overs.  A priest at Whitehouse retreat in St. Louis once told me:

We are (and more specifically, that I am) much too hard on ourselves.  “The world only has one Messiah, and you (thankfully and most assuredly) are not Him.  You are not perfect.  You are the way God made you – imperfect, but with the heartfelt longing to be as good as you can.  And that’s good. But you can’t go back and do things differently, with all your new-found wisdom.  Didn’t you always act out of love?  Didn’t you always do what you thought was the best at that time?”

“Yeah, but…”

Yeah but nothing.  By continuing to add that qualifier, Yeah, but…, you deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Redeemer, the one who makes all things new again.  We must strive to accept Him as our redeemer, and allow ourselves to be human.  You are how you are, and its so much better to accept that.  We are called to always strive to be better, even perfect, and we must try, day after day.  But we’ll never be perfect.  Not on this Earth.

You are made of blood and bones, breath and vapor.  You are the product of the genetics He orchestrated, and that imperfect nurturing from your parents, or lack of them.  Let Jesus carry the cross, you have plenty of other things to do.  As the song goes, “He is God, and you are not.”

A lifetime ago, I was doing everything I could possibly do to save my first marriage.  So in our first session with the marriage counselor, I proudly puffed out my chest and said I’d do anything to save the marriage, that divorce absolutely, positively was not an option.  Less than two months later, he was just as positive that it was the only option.  But we should continue on, to counsel with him, so we could be “better,” and so that we’d not keep “making the same mistakes” (presumably in our next attempts at a relationship).

And so, right out of his Gestalt theory textbook, the family therapist (sic) had me pacing around the psychologist’s office, shouting at my father, “seated” in the empty chair “What I really felt! What I needed so badly to tell him!”  When I couldn’t come up with enough garbage to dump on him, I was goaded and prodded, “Tell him about all those little league games, band concerts, award presentations, and wrestling matches! Tell him he should have been there!”  I continued to pace in silence.  “But shouldn’t I be shouting at his father?”

He looked at me like a deer in the headlights, “You’re enabling him, you’re giving him excuses, he wasn’t present!”

“Can’t I just forgive him?”

Fritz and Laura Perls' Gestalt Theory

Fritz and Laura Perls’ Gestalt Theory

“This will help you do that, you’ve got to put the blame on him!”

“But it’s not his fault.  I think he did the best he could do.”

I don’t think I went back to Dr. Tony after that session.

And so this father’s day I had much to reflect on.  And even more to let go of.  If I can let the old man off the hook, shouldn’t I do the same for myself?  It was a chair I’d sit in too soon myself.

Cullen's Empty Chair

Florida State University graduation, 2012

There are consequences to sins, and since we are social creatures, such consequences often impact others, including within the family and subsequent generations.  I think this is called Generational Sin.  The concept, I’d suppose originated with the “original Adam,” whose act of rebellion and disobedience resulted in our sinful nature, not coincidentally coined “original sin.”

Regardless of whether or not you buy into the whole Christian creation story, it’s a striking allegory.  Clearly, something happened along the lines of (I’d maintain, “designed”) human evolution and development where we as a species developed a sinful nature.  As a reasonably intelligent science based professional, I know of no other “creation” with the the willingness, or even the ability to choose to do evil.  And somewhere, somehow, we made the first act of defiance; Our greatest gift became our greatest curse.  Free will spawned original sin.

But God does not hold children, or present generations, morally responsible for the sins of their parents and ancestors. This is clearly laid out in Holy Scripture when the Israelites were blaming their troubles on the sins of their forefathers (see Jer 23:5-6, and Ez, 18:1-4).

Indeed, we need to look into our own hearts and repent so that we can find (and give) our own forgiveness and healing. God is surely not so unjust as to force children to “pay” in justice for the sins of others.

On the other hand, it is also true to say that the sins of our ancestors — right back to those “first parents,” do affect our lives today and leave us inheriting some pretty heavy baggage to carry around. With each passing day and event, I’m more convinced that we are connected by that “red thread,” or what ever you would call Providence, so that we can and do suffer both spiritually and bodily from the sins of others. We may think this unfair, but remember that the interdependence of the human race is also the source of most of our highest blessings, for example, the solidarity and intimacy of family life and the communion of love with all of us as brothers and sisters.

To make such supreme blessings possible to creatures with free will like us, our creator also had to permit us to misuse that freedom and interdependence, with all its tragic results.

This “interdependence” of the human race also means that the sins of ancestors and parents can affect us in other, more subtle ways. For example, some destructive conditions (such as alcoholism, depression, and hair-trigger tempers) can be passed down to us by genetic inheritance.

Moreover, the problems of our immediate parents and grandparents can be passed down to us in other ways, too.  If they set a bad moral examples for us as, sadly, people tend to do from generation to generation, or if they abused us or failed to give us the love we needed when we are growing up. In such instances, we can become “saddled” with emotional and developmental scars.

For instance, if we weren’t given the love we needed as children, we may spend our lives struggling to learn how to love others and ourselves. This does not make them fully “responsible” for our sins and all our problems today, of course, and we have the responsibility to take action to find healing for these generational wounds ourselves.

Furthermore, in a concept known as transference, we tend to see God the father much as we have had that model of fatherhood displayed by our own father.  If our’s was not forgiving, compassionate, and capable of unconditional love, it is extremely difficult to understand that our heavenly Father could behave in ways like this.  And how could we believe selflessness and unconditional love even exist, if we reject that Jesus came to show us that very thing?  St. Paul says Jesus brought this undeserved grace to the world as the “second Adam.” (Romans 5:12-21).

We did nothing prior to our conception to warrant or deserve original sin.  Likewise, Christians believe we do nothing to “deserve” this Grace that Jesus brings.  But we must accept it, we must open the door He’s been pounding on.  We must forgive, and accept His forgiveness, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jesus the Christ came and suffered to show us how to love, what unconditional, undeserved love is.  When people fail to fully receive that gift from Him, through repentance and faith — i.e., if their contrition for sin and love for God was “half-hearted” in this life — then they remain in partial debt to God (still owing for, in theological jargon, “the temporal aspect of sin”).

Jersus at door 3

In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus used the image of a family to teach us God’s love.  The “younger son” could not wait – and in demanding his inheritance, he effectively wished for a dead father, or at a minimum, felt that he was “dead to him.”  The only way for the father to allow his son to really learn to love was to allow him that free choice.  We all know how it ends, with the father’s unconditional love allowing the prodigal to return, but we often miss two points.

Is the father angry only grudgingly allowing this man to return?  No! In fact, from what Jesus describes, this father daily peers into the horizon, hoping to get a glimpse of his returning son! After all, he still loves his son!  In tears, he runs to welcome him home!

Although we play both of these character roles during our respective lives, it’s a harder concept for us to accept that more often than not we’re the other son, the good child.  Too many times, I shout up at Him, “You’re not being fair! I do what you ask of me.  I go to church.  I believe in you. I play by the rules!  And yet you allow this to happen to me? Yet I look around at other “prodigals” (from outward appearances) who have so much success and happiness.  Ouch.  The mirror is seldom a pain-free zone.

I was blessed to have a wonderful father. He was not perfect. He had his many faults. He didn’t lose his temper often, but when he did, I was sad and sometimes afraid and, now looking back, very disappointed, because I wanted our home to be “perfect.” Of course, it couldn’t be. But I knew absolutely, without a doubt, that my father loved me, and that he loved my children, and we were all blessed that he could show my oldest three just how much he loved them.

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

Jean M. Klein and my three oldest children

What is your story? Many of you have the vocation of fatherhood. Do unresolved issues with your own father or mother hinder your acceptance of God’s unconditional love? Do they cause you to have a negative relationship with your children? Do not let these keep you from experiencing the Father’s ever-faithful love.

Perhaps some among us desire to reconcile with our earthly father. We will need God’s grace either to ask our father to forgive us or to tell him that he is forgiven. If our fathers are already deceased, we can still do this, with or without the empty chair.

The prodigal son believes that his father will take him back, even if just as a lowly hired hand. Jesus paints a brighter picture: The father loves so much that he puts a ring on the son’s finger and kills the fatted calf.

We must believe that Our Father in heaven will do the same for us if only we go back to Our Loving Father. Pope Francis keeps reminding us: “God never tires of forgiving; we are the ones who tire of seeking His mercy” (cf. “Joy of the Gospel,” No.3).

The elder brother stands in the shadows with resentment and judgment, perpetuating his own cycle. But Michelangelo paints it so very clearly: We see how the cycle is broken: The prodigal son is on his knees, asking for forgiveness. We break the cycle on our knees.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michaelangelo

Return of the Prodigal Son by Michelangelo

After all, we cannot help our sons become the men they need to be until we allow ourselves to return to the Father. We cannot help our daughters become the women they need to be until we enter into the kind of relationship which Jesus invites us to experience. Husbands here today cannot be the husbands they need to be if they are not coming before the Father like the prodigal son.


Missing Our Parents, Helping the Hurting

Fifty years prior, his WWII daily K-Rations had included just enough unfiltered Camel cigarettes to start a life-ending habit that would eventually rob us of our newly sober father.

None of his children were with my father when he died.  Earlier that same day, Mom had assured me that, although he was in an oxygen tent and probably wouldn’t come home from the hospital, death wasn’t imminent.  .  I should start looking at plane tickets and adjust my schedule accordingly for probably the next week.

I was in surgery just a few hours later when the call came; my back slid along the wall and I wilted to the floor as the news was relayed to me.

I vowed to drop what I was doing if I ever received such foreboding news about Mom.  And I was with her, but only because I took seriously the news that she had stomach pains and was in the hospital for observation.

I tried not to let her see my gasp of horror when I entered the room and saw her in that hospital bed.  Who was this old person, with her hair flattened and unkempt, looking so feeble and weak?  This face glowed and smiled as she looked up to see who was clenching her hand and leaning down to kiss her.

Only then did it really hit me, and I was absolutely terrified.  My beautiful mother was, for the first time, very mortal.  Until that moment, when I thought of her, she was 48.  I have no idea why that age, but I remember her being that age, and regardless of how many decades passed; that was the image I conjured up in my mind when I thought of her, spoke with her on the phone, or saw her handwriting.

Maureen Blanton Klein

At about age 48, this is the way Mom will forever live in my memory. Maureen Blanton Klein

That day is mainly a blur.  A surreal experience where nothing made sense.  A Chagall or Dali painting where something, or everything, was out of place.  I had spoken to my mother the day before.  She was 83, but the picture of health: vivacious, bubbly, energetic, the quintessential do-gooder volunteer.

She was supposed to live for another 20 years; in fact had I built an extra ground-floor bedroom with a walk-in shower for her to finally retire to, when she decided to join us in Florida!

Mom had hosted a dinner party that night in her home, cooking and serving to 10 of her close friends.  When everyone was leaving, she remarked that she had a bit of a stomach ache and so didn’t want anyone to stay to help clean up, she’d just do it in the morning, because she felt like she wanted to go to bed.  She had not been sick a day before this.

Who was this person in this hospital bed, writhing in abdominal pain?  As the sole medical professional in the family, I would take upon myself responsibility for her proper treatment, “Where is her medical record? What have you found, and what tests have you performed?”  The staff smiled at me sympathetically, and condescendingly assured me that everything possible was being done.  I would certainly be allowed to look at the medical chart, if the doctor approved it.

The problem was that there was no doctor.  Her primary care physician sent her here in the middle of the night.  The admitting doctor then turned over her care to the “hospitalist,” what-ever the hell kind of doctor that is.  I certainly wasn’t impressed with him, or the system at St Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, where Mom had been taken.  I’d now been there for over 6 hours and no doctor had even walked in the room to examine her.  I was “assured” that he had been by once and “saw” her, and was well aware of what was going on, because he had been on the phone with the nursing staff several times over the course of the day.  Finally, after my constant harassment, the nurse winked and told me he had consented to my looking at the chart, and that she’d be glad to “explain things to me.”

As we walked to the head nurse’s station she asked me a question that will forever haunt me, “You must take comfort that your mother is at least resting comfortably now, has this been an extended illness?”  When I told her, “NO! She hosted a dinner party just 9 hours ago, and hasn’t been sick at all,” she turned quickly towards me, and almost shouted, “REALLY?”

The medical record was astonishing.  The complete and total lack of any semblance of a medical workup was puzzling.  I remarked outloud, “She presented for stomach cramps and nausea, where are the blood profile results?  Why have a CT, or even a simple radiograph (X-Ray) not been taken?  The incredulous look from the nurse also haunts me. “Because, Mr. Klein,” the nurse now speaking matter-of-factly, she has a DNR request on her chart and on her wrist band.”

“Nurse, actually, I’m Doctor Klein, and I demand that you call the physician immediately.  DNR means (or so I naively thought) ‘Do Not Resuscitate,’ NOTDO NOT TRY!

“How can you possibly make a decision regarding whether or not to treat something, if you don’t even make a minimal attempt to diagnose?” I pleaded on the phone with “the hospitalist” (again, whatever the hell that is).  His condescending words also continue to haunt me, “Well what would you like me to do, doctor?”

I’ll leave this alone for now.  DNR is a blog posting all by itself.

Although Mom didn’t hang on for all of her children to kiss her goodbye, she did get to hear their voices on the phone.  She was fading in and out of our presence, and so we called two others, who were rushing to be with her.  Tears dripped from our eyes and off of our cheeks as this seemingly unconscious vessel opened her eyes and smiled when she heard their voices.  Her limp hand clenched mine firmly as my siblings told her how much they love her, and – goodbye.

I never got the time to grieve into closure.  I had lots of “moments,” holding my wife and children, as we wept together.  But mainly there was rage at this poor excuse for a hospital, and my own guilt.  Lots of guilt (probably more of that Catholic thing that seems to be a theme in my life), because I was the only one there with the medical knowledge to understand what was happening, and what was not happening.  And yet I did not stomp my feet, make a scene, and scream at the top of my lungs until a real doctor showed up.  (Clearly I realize a hospitalist is a licensed physician, my point being the system in this hospital, perhaps the entire state, is dysfunctional and absurd).

And then the unthinkable happened.  Much like a woman who later gets cancer in a second breast, a man who survives chemo only to die in an accident, or an amputee to later discover metastases.

The Christian band Casting Crowns seemed to feel our pain in Praise You in this Storm,

I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

and Natalie Grant also knows a continued hurt with Our Hope Endures

You would think only so much can go wrong
Calamity only strikes once
And you assume this one has suffered her share
Life will be kinder from here
Oh, but sometimes the sun stays hidden for years
Sometimes the sky rains night after night
When will it clear?

Just a few months later, in the middle of the night, we received the second call. Our beautiful, wonderful Cullen had been in an accident.

Clearly, there are some things we just aren’t supposed to understand.  I don’t understand.

As unfair as it seems at the time, life does go on, and others are allowed to continue on “as if nothing happened.”  We live our own lives, we walk our own Camino, even when we travel with others.

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Cullen Klein

Mom and Cullen

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Cullen Klein

Mom with Cullen

William Cullen Klein and Sharon Tidd Klein

Cullen and Sharon

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Lewis Klein

Our beautiful mother in 2007, on my wedding day

I wrote this post last year, but could never bring myself to hit the “publish” button.  It just didn’t feel right yet.  Things were too raw.  Those of you who have lost parents, siblings, or the unthinkable loss of a child know all too well these emotions.

Recently, I participated in training seminars focusing on end of life, grief and bereavement, and some concepts regarding how best to support those “left behind.”  The only thing that seems to consistently help is our “being present” when others are suffering from loss.  There are no correct words that always apply; in fact most of the cliche’s that are said are absurd and (however well-meaning) actually deepen the hurt.  But at least these people tried.  So many people pull back from those they care about, because they don’t have something profound or healing to say.  And so they say nothing.  They disappear.  They do nothing.  And that is the most hurtful of all.

Some of who I considered my closest friends haven’t spoken to me since my son’s accident.  And yet two acquaintances, whom I hadn’t spoken to in decades, reached out to me after Cullen’s accident, because they too had lost a child.  Their kindness will never be forgotten.

Being present means you know they are hurting.  Since they are loved and special to us, we hurt with them.  Just sitting together, hugging, and crying.  You are let in not because of who you are, but because who you are is formed by your history with the hurting, and your personal knowledge of loss.  Empathy.  It’s not something you read about, or something you do.  It’s who you are.

Its the age old question.  Its that which shakes our faith to its very core.  Why must we hurt?  Why does tragedy happen to good people?  Hurt is the price we pay for our love.  We truly wouldn’t know light without darkness for comparison.  Warmth without the chill of loneliness.  Compassion without our own hurt.

Rather, embrace your pain.  For this pain exists precisely because you feel.  You have not loved and lost, you have gained so much because you have loved, and have been loved.  To feel is a chance to live, and a chance to love.

Reach out to those whom you love, especially when they are hurting. And not just when they’re hurting, and not just to those you love.

“You don’t choose a life, you live one.”