“…but the greatest of these is love.”

Clinging, clinging, clinging. The world is all about loss today. It seems like things happen in 3’s, as they say, so I am holding on.

It amazes me how we ignore the needs of some portions of our community. And that is not a judgmental statement. Not at all. Unless you are exposed to the need, quite often we don’t know it even exists. I am not all that familiar with things outside of my experiential life. There are some things I know about that seem random, but it is because somewhere along the line I was exposed to it. And I learned. But we all go along in life, noting what we need to note to survive our days, and pretty much ignoring the rest of it. Because of time.

My major in college was Anthropology. We study what was, about a culture, and what is. We study the remains of older cultures through Archeology. And if we are blunt about it, archeologists are the world’s dumpster-divers. We dig through trash left behind by cultures that faded away, or moved on. Today, dumpster diving is sadly a way of life for many of our indigent and poor. But something else that is happening is that we are becoming a throw-away society. A transient population. Ever moved? Trust me when I say, I have. Too many times that I am almost embarrassed by it. But with moving, you learn to get rid of stuff. We had an enormous garage sale prior to relocating. I sold literally boxes of paperback books (it turned out the buyer owned a used book store! LOL!) and all sorts of outdated toys and tools, and a myriad of other supplies I no longer needed; oh, and furnishings; tons of “furnishings” (love that broad-base descriptor). It amazes me what people will and will not buy. We are moving again. This weekend we made our first dump run and a run to the Salvation Army. We are, once again, purging. We realize we need less of this stuff we have somehow accumulated. Heck, I have boxes I have not unpacked from our last move, four years ago! LOL! And furniture we have never used, and it looks like we won’t need it again, that has been in our shed for 4 years, too! And we have to get rid of our “stuff.”

But what about the other, more precious things, we have in our lives? We warehouse people. We find it too hard to care for them, so we warehouse them. They call them “nursing homes,” or “memory care facilities,” or “senior centers,” and “long term care facilities.” There is pretty much a name for whatever/whomever we are housing. But when you try to keep family members home with you, what help is there? It is hard to come by. Most medical professionals don’t even know what is out there. How sad. You have to work in some branch of social services to appreciate what is out there, that can assist you. We don’t have to experience loss several times when it comes to our elderly or infirm (the first loss is when you separate them from you by warehousing them; the second loss is when they pass away). But it amazes me how few people acknowledge the needs of our elderly population. We are now living longer. There is going to be a shortage of professionals to deal with our senior population, and we are going to see, increasingly, situations where multiple generations are once again living together. We need to stop and think about how we are educating our children, and what they are being taught. Compassion? Caring attitude? Serving attitude? Do they know how to put others first?

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. My husband took him as his patron when he was ordained, and this icon was magically placed on the cake I had made for him, by an amazing baker. It was created from rice paper and edible inks. I still marvel at it. What a talent. St. Joseph is such an incredible role model for us all. He epitomized the ideals of selfless service. He married the Theotokos, Mother of God, knowing She was carrying the Son of God. And he put his life into the service of Mary and Jesus. He was a background saint…not much detail is known of him. But he taught his Son, Jesus, the skill of a master carpenter. Jesus worked until he was 30 years old, as a carpenter. He took care of the needs of his community, quietly working with wood. In those days, the skill set to work in wood was special. Things were made to last, to be passed on from one generation to the next. It was not Ikea furniture. And Joseph excelled at it.

Today, I was recently informed, we have the generation of kids who register at Ikea and Target. They are mobile and they are not particularly drawn to the old, the antique. It has to be something pretty special for today’s young adults to appreciate it. We have become this “throw-away,” transient, people. Look at me! I have moved so many times in my life, it is ridiculous. This next house? I am fondly calling it my “casket” house – because that is how I want to move out of it – in my casket. I am done moving. I am tired of the transience in my life. I want to stick to a place and stay there.

My parents, my mother-in-law, are all aging. They require care. They require someone to take care of them in their home. And they require a lot of care. Coordinating that, organizing that, and implementing a plan is taxing on those left to care for our elderly. Today I spent hours on the phone and internet trying to coordinate, from clear across the country, care for my dad. Only because I have been involved in social services did I know what terms to use, and how to search, for help. They had no clue. Never thought they would have to ever look for it, either. It was completely outside of their experiential lives. I had previously cared for my elderly grandmother and had waded through these waters before, as well as working in the social services world. So terms were familiar and google did it’s thing, and I connected. But how many others have no clue where to even begin?

I began with this post saying how I was clinging…I am. To my sanity. Today is the end of homeschooling for me. Senior grades are due. A phase in my life is over. My youngest child will graduate later this month. That’s 25 years of the homeschooling lifestyle I will no longer have. And it is a mixed bag of emotions for me. And I dealt with my dad. And tomorrow, we have to euthanize our 15-year-old dog who is snoring right now at my feet. It seems like life and death are circling around me and it makes me agitated. I need a good laugh. I need a good night out with friends, who will make me smile. I need a good hug from a granddaughter or grandson. I need to smell a newborn and hold a wiggling baby, to ensure myself that life indeed goes on. I’d love to cuddle a puppy, you know?

Mr. Chet has been my buddy for the past 15 years. I remember the day we picked him out of his litter; and the day we brought him home, six weeks later. He’s never been a simple dog to own, but most terrier breeds are not simple. Miniature Schnauzers can be particularly stubborn and constantly take the lead of their own mindset, rarely listening to their owners. They are trainable, but you have to really work at it. And they are funny, too. Chet has provided many hours of laughter. He will cuddle when I ask him, but he is content off by himself, on a soft surface of some sort. That photo of him is when he was sitting on top of the back of our couch, in the sun, on a blanket. He always chose his spots, regardless of the dog beds available. He is also a runaway! He has kept us on our toes for 15 years. He is also not the smartest dog in the bunch. But it has become increasingly obvious that he no longer enjoys a quality of life. He sleeps constantly and enjoys very little. He is always lost, wandering around the house. He has little pep, exhibiting interest in mostly breakfast and little else. And so we are preparing to say goodbye to our little buddy…and my heart is breaking. Death is just so final with our animals. Thanks be to God we have eternity to look forward to.

With all the aging and dying in my life right now, my advice would be to get all the snuggles you can with whom/what you love. If your furry friend wants a snuggle, let them. If your son wants to give you a hug, take it. If a friend needs a long chat, chat. If your mom needs you to help her out, help her out. Time is marching on, whether we realize it or not and our days are numbered. And the quality of our days definitely wanes as we age. So be good to those you love. Hold on to them; enjoy the unexpected moments of their company, and bask in your shared love and relationship. God knows how things will work out, each day, for the good of us all. Cling to love like it is a cliff, connecting you to this world. It is all we really have. And we ought not to throw that away, like old books at garage sales.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.               1 Cor 13:13

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“…let it go, let it go…”

Frozen

Unless you are completely separated from children, or live in a country without Disney movies, those words above connotate a certain reaction. For most of us with, at least, grandchildren, we know those words are from a Disney movie called, “Frozen.” And many of us wish it would hurry up and just be gone! But when it comes to our children, not so much.

We are down to our last child living at home. And he does not consider himself a child, but rather, a young adult. My middle child reminded me that both he and his older brother are married men, with children of their own (which is precisely why I know about that Frozen movie) and that his brother will be 30 in October. I responded with, “Thanks.” Ha-Ha! This past week, Cinderella came out on DVD. Some movies are meant to be seen in a theater, whereas some can wait for the DVD release (cannot wait for the new Star Wars – definitely a theater movie!). I took my teenager, along with some friends, to see Cinderella in 3-D IMAX. There were just two boys in our adventure, and they were both more excited for the candy/popcorn and the 3-D glasses than the movie, but the other mom and I loved it. To me, it was so worth it to go to the theater. I loved that movie. And I bought it the day it came out. Why? It made me feel good. Her dress (the blue one) was so gorgeous. The backstory of her parents and family – and their love for one another! I loved the special effects with the mice and lizards. Her fairy godmother was hilarious. The scene when the king dies, but he and his son have that “needed” conversation about love. I loved that movie. There were some meaningful and poignant moments in it, which balanced the lovey-dovey parts boys would naturally hate. And this past Friday night, I made my two men watch it with me over dinner. My husband loved it. Yay! Mom win! It was not a war movie, or a sports movie, or a disaster/end-of-the-world, fantasy epic. That’s a win in a house of men. (My dog and cat are the only other females in my house). My teen sat next to me and as the movie ended, he said, “Please tell me you are not crying about Cinderella.” I, of course, was! Ha-Ha! Love a happy ending! (And that dress!!!).

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But also this weekend, something epic happened. My youngest son had his first date – as in a car with a girl – to a movie – date. And this mom freaked out a little bit. It was just another step in the letting go process of parenting. And those steps can hurt sometimes, especially when you know it is the last time you have to experience a “first date.” As a homeschooling mom, it was nothing at all like the last time I taught Geometry! For that, I did the happy dance! I taught Geometry to three kids, and I had to suffer through it myself. Ms. Fogler. I swear she hated me, and hated teaching, and hated Geometry. It did nothing for my math career. So for me, the last time through Geometry was not a sad thing. This year, I am going through my last year of Algebra II and I must say I am preparing my happy dance. Way ahead of time, I know, but nonetheless, I am preparing. I am not a math person (Cathy, I love you and am so proud of you for having a PhD in Math… someone has to do that, but it is just not me!). There are things we go through as parents that we are not sad about not having to do again (give birth, change diapers, clean up barf, potty train… it is quite a list and this is just part of it). But there are some things that are monstrously difficult to wade through, over and over again. And the last time is especially momentous. The First Date fits the bill on that one.

In this day and age of rampant sex everywhere, wading through courting/dating is a heavy responsibility. And it is nothing to be taken lightly, nor in my opinion, is it a subject to be discussed in school. This is a family decision. And even though I have raised several, each son is different in how they feel about it and how they choose to experience it. Both of my older sons dated sporadically. They had more friends who were girls than girlfriends. Which is fine by me. And they both knew the moment they met their wives and they were done dating anyone else. And I tried so hard to instill in my boys a love of women in the sense of respecting and loving me, and the model for all women, the Theotokos; the Mother of God.

I always have insisted the boys treat each girl in their company as someone’s future wife and mother. Would they have wanted me to be treated the way they are treating that girl? Would they have wanted their wives to be treated that way? The mother of their children? Friends of theirs who were female – did they appreciate how their friends were being treated by other boys? How did it make them feel? How was the Mother of God treated? From Scripture, we know that some in her home village kept their distance because she was pregnant out of wedlock; they actually shunned her. Joseph took her as his wife to protect her, and to honor her, and because an ANGEL, a real ANGEL, appeared to him and instructed him to do so. He knew that GOD wanted him to be with Mary, and he never doubted it, for a moment. And the ANGELS continued to care for the Holy Family, once again instructing Joseph to flee when the Christ Child was in danger. He trusted God with his decision to marry Mary. I want my sons to trust God in their decision making processes, as well.

360 Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1879 Oil Painting by Luc-Olivier Merson

I love this painting and have used it in posts before. It shows Mary and Christ resting on the Sphinx, with Joseph on the ground, as a guard. “The Flight Into Egypt.”  I love so much about this painting. The stillness and peace within that vast desert is conveyed through color and lack of light, except from Christ, Himself. I love that both Mary and Joseph slumber in peace, even with the Divine Light still glowing brightly.  That is what I have hoped for all my children, that they can rest in the Divine Light of Christ.

Letting go a little at a time begins to happen just after birth when we, as mothers, have to let someone else hold our child, who we have kept safe within our womb for the past nine months (or so). And we continue to let go, in steps, often quite literally, as our children grow and walk away. I remember letting my eldest walk into a parochial school kindergarten. I knew the nuns were there and his teacher was amazing. I had complete trust he would be safe, but I still cried – my son ran into class, never looking back. Yeah, that’s typical of my almost-30-year old! Running towards his future! I distinctly remember my chat with our middle son as he prepared to attend school for the first time. (Ironically it was a class with Cathy, who I mentioned above. She was his math teacher and eventually became a dear friend). And after I dropped him off, I cried. He was off to a high school, and not with me. My life has been a series of moments of letting go. Death in our family, friends who have died, and friends along the way we have lost contact with, and my children beginning to have a life separate from mine. They are making memories of which I share no part. It has been hard in many ways, and yet seems right in so many others. As our children merge their childhoods into adulthood, letting go becomes more severe in the sense that the steps are larger. This past summer, our youngest flew across the country to a summer camp – alone. He had to change planes in 4 major airports, and then catch a bus for the camp itself. Last year he attended the same camp, but with a friend. This year he was alone. I was a wreck. Once the camp confirmed he was there, I was finally able to breathe. It was a long journey, for us both. When our eldest went off to war, he took part of me with him. I never slept very well until he was on American soil, once and for all. He doesn’t realize it, but I shed the same sort of tears when he left for basic training as I did when he walked into kindergarten. Dropping my middle son off at college, thousands of miles from home was devastating and exciting, all mixed together. And as each child takes their momentous steps away from home, we all die a little. We mourn their babyhood, and we rejoice at their maturity. Seeing my sons parent their own children is an indescribable joy and part of this whole parenting and letting go process. Parenting is not for wimps or fraidy-cats. This is serious stuff. And it doesn’t stop, even when they are married with children of their own.  I recall my grandfather telling my dad, on his 60th birthday, “Well, son, I guess I can stop worrying about you now.” We all sort of laughed, but as I get closer to 60 myself, I totally understand my grandpa’s statement. My grandfather was 86 at the time, and I think I can see myself worried over my children another 20 years or so!

So, today as I chatted with my son about his date, we laughed and we were both happy. I think he felt good about himself. I know he was proud he paid for it all out of his hoarding abilities. (That kid always has more money on him than I do!). He introduced us to his date and we all chatted a little last night. It was good. They first attended youth group at Church together, which I think is a great place/way to meet someone and get to know them. My husband and I share a strong faith and I know it has been the glue for many years, in our family. I am learning to let go – just like the song admonishes me. My older kids tease me that it’s okay and he will be fine, etc. I know that. But that last one out of the nest is rough. I am looking forward to our empty nest time, though, as we have never known marriage without children (yes, honeymoon baby!) and we have lots of places we want to go and see. So life is getting more exciting, even as we hit our golden years. I hope my kids know I never intentionally held them back, but rather, held their hands until they let mine go.

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“..the child grew and became strong.”

290px-Saint_Joseph_with_the_Infant_Jesus_by_Guido_Reni,_c_1635I am preparing for the birthdays of two of my sons tomorrow.  One will be 24 and is married with a baby daughter; the other is turning 15.  I am fresh out of babies!!  It seems only yesterday that my 15-year-old was born.  It was a surprise because we had no idea we were having a baby!  We had gone Christmas tree shopping the weekend before.  As my two older boys (13 and 9 at the time) were decorating the tree, the younger one (the story is still in dispute between these two!! Ha-Ha) stepped on a broken glass ornament behind the tree.  As the older one lifted him over a small dividing wall, blood was dripping down.  We realized right then that it was going to be a doctor’s visit and stitches pretty quickly.  So our day and evening was a chaotic one! Our younger son came home on crutches and would be missing out on the local soccer tournament the following day. His dad was coaching his team and both my husband and older son were signed to referee the tournament.  We got home around dinner time and dealt with a 9-year-old who had stitches in his foot and a 13-year-old denying any complicity!  Later that evening, we had a phone call from the cousin of a good friend.  She recalled a conversation we had at a family bar-be-que FIVE years prior, and she asked us if we still wanted a baby to adopt.  I never hesitated.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  And then I said, “Hang on; let me be sure my husband is okay with this!!”  He was very okay with it and the next morning, our son was born.  I took my 9-year-old on crutches with me to WalMart (my older son and husband went on to the soccer tournament).  I grabbed a baby blanket and a car seat and headed to the hospital.  When the nurses greeted us, they were awesome.  They had me back up my car to the entrance and loaded us up with all sorts of baby things – bottles, diapers, blankets, t-shirts, socks.  It was so unexpected but wonderful.  We loaded him up and off we went, to introduce him to his father and older brother at a soccer tournament!  What a tournament that turned out to be! He was the hit of the day!  Newly born, wrapped in blankets against a chilly December day, and sleeping sweetly in his car seat.  From the moment I first held my son at just a couple of hours old, I loved him.  It is amazing to me how much God allows us to love.  We are the ones with the hang-ups; God wants us to love all people.  And I could not love this young man any  more, had he been brought forth from my own loins.  He is my son. Period.

It is interesting to me that people feel free to comment and criticize adoptive parents, families, and the process, especially if there are differences in race in the adoption process.  It is like complete strangers stroking the belly of pregnant mothers.  People seem to think it’s okay to comment on the make-up of our diverse family. My response to people initially was, “Where were you; where was your community, when no one wanted this child?”  My husband and I never hesitated in welcoming this child into our home, hearts, and family.  My other sons love him like they love each other; there is no difference.  There are differences due to age, but the two older ones have that, too!  He has blessed us more than he will ever realize.  I know God needed me to love this young man and to have him hold a part of my heart forever.

St JosephAt this time of year, I am drawn to the story of St. Joseph.  An angel appears to Mary and she accepts that God’s will be done and that she will bear the Son of God.  Now, imagine:  Mary is already betrothed to Joseph and she finds out she is pregnant, but not by Joseph, as she is still a virgin.  First of all, I don’t think we in the West truly have a grasp on what betrothal means.  In the East, the betrothal is declared after the couple have met with their priest, their parents (if it is appropriate) have agreed with the impending marriage, and the couple agrees to the wedding (usually about a year away).  The couple has a formal ceremony, wherein they make their vows and exchange rings.  They continue to meet regularly with their priest and plan their wedding with their families.  At the end of the betrothal period, the couple finalizes their agreement and is married by the priest. In the East, the priest marries the couple.  It is not like the West where the priest is just a witness.  The sacrament is conferred by the priest.  And the wedding closes a year or more of preparation.  It is a process and the church community, the priest, and the families are all a part of it.

So let’s place St. Joseph in this.  He hears rumors; Mary has up and left to visit her cousin. He has no idea what’s happening.  The little community is abuzz with gossip.  The Romans are talking “census” and the political climate is stressful, to say the least.  Mary makes her way back to town from visiting Elizabeth, where she felt her Child communicate with His cousin, John the Baptist.  Their relationship would grow over their lifetimes into something amazing.  As Mary is traveling back to Joseph, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him everything is okay; Mary is to bear the Son of God, and he needs to take her as his wife.  Mary comes home, Joseph accepts her and they marry.  I can only imagine all the gossiping about that!  (People gossiped badly back then; just as badly as they do today.  And what is sort of sad is that it probably wouldn’t cause too much chatter in our current moral climate!)  Right when they are wed, the Romans tell everyone about the census requirements and Joseph has to take his very pregnant wife with him, so he can be counted at the town of his birth (can you imagine the world having to be part of a census like that now?  Where would you have to show up??). And Joseph never hesitates. He does what is right in regards to the law – the law of the land and the Laws of God.  He takes Mary, fully confident she is bearing the Son of God, and off they go on the back of a donkey.

752px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_001Joseph took Mary on faith, fully believing Her Son would save us all.  He loved Christ as his son, knowing all along that He was the Son of God.  Joseph should be the patron of adoption!  He accepted Mary on faith, loved her with all his heart, and took Jesus as his son. He interceded for Jesus when His life was in danger, rescuing both Mary and Christ when an angel again appeared to him and warned him in a dream to get away.  What was coming was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  It is the feast we celebrate on December 29th, which is our wedding anniversary.  It is another feast day that points me to adoption, and it is an ancient story about the sanctity of human life, as Herod had all male children from birth through two years of age killed, just in case one of them grew up to challenge his throne!

flight into egypt xx~001I love this painting.  The sole source of Light is the Christ Child, asleep in His Mother’s arms, atop the Sphinx.  St. Joseph is pictured asleep, next to their tethered beast, with a small fire next to him.  Quiet, peaceful, and safe.  Joseph raised Jesus as a carpenter, teaching him his trade.  He was already an old man when Christ was born, but he raised Him as best he could, giving of himself for his family.

I love that my husband and I could open our home to another son.  I thank God for this gift of life that has blessed us so immensely.  God knows how easy it is for us to love; to love each and every one of our fellow men.  He gave a wonderful example in St. Joseph and his love for Christ and the Theotokos, Mother of God.  And each year I am reminded of the blessing of life in our home.  The years are passing so much more quickly than they ever have.  I mourn the days of little feet running all over the house and fingerprints on windows and tripping over toys.  But God has gifted me with grandchildren and so the cycle of life continues!!  I give thanks for my sons, their wives, and my grandchildren.  And this last son still at home lifts my heart with his humor and his silliness.  His not-so-tidy bedroom is something I will miss in many ways, when it is his time to journey on in life.  And tomorrow it’s birthday cake, friends, and pizza! And I am sure lots of laughing and joking and high school teenagers being just that.  Time is racing past and I am trying to enjoy these fleeting moments.  St. Joseph reminds me to be faithful, unquestioning, and to just love.

250px-La_TourLuke 2:39-40
“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.