We Are Only As Thankful As….

We Are Only As Thankful As….

Generally, we are only as thankful as our feelings about the last thing that’s happened to us.

I think that’s true, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It takes effort to make a gratitude list. Though we may talk about our blessings, few of us actually sit down on a daily basis and consider what they really are. It’s especially difficult to do so when times are sad or hard.

On a beautiful Thursday morning this past spring, a group of women met at my friend Laura’s farmhouse for food and fellowship. Among them was a fair lady named Lin who, though she had been suffering for about 5-6 years with Parkinson’s and cancer, was not giving up on life. She was serving at her church, attending Bible study, and reaching out to friends to encourage them in their struggles.

Two seasons and many months later, on another Thursday morning in October, Lin’s body reached the end of its usefulness to her, and the Lord took her home. The nurses on watch in her last hours reported that she went peacefully.

Thursdays are when I gather with my friends to study God’s Word; it seemed natural that we should be together – a group who had prayed for Lin for a long, long time – when we learned of her passing.

Our parish priest spoke to our grieving group and said, “The Lord always answers our prayers, though often not in the way we’d like,” and reminded us that God had answered our many prayers to restore Lin to fullness of health – in heaven.

Then, as we remembered together, Laura said,

“I thought she always had a little bit of an edge.”

I caught myself smiling, because I knew exactly what Laura meant.

“But in the last year,” she continued, “it was like she softened somehow. When we were all at my house, I asked her, ‘HOW are you doing this? Living with all this?’ She said she didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, because she felt it had made her less self-centered. More compassionate. More caring towards other people.”

Did you get that?

A woman who had suffered for years – years! – was grateful for the experience.

She had found grace in her suffering.

God had transformed her pain by moving her heart.

We shook our heads. It was incredible to think that Lin had considered herself self-centered. A woman beside Laura said, “She called me to see how I was doing!”

But God knows our innermost being, and if there’s work to be done (hint: there always is), He wants to do it.

Lin’s willingness to allow God into her suffering is what changed her understanding of her life’s circumstances from terrible to acceptable.

Can we ask for the grace to be blessed by the ‘awful’ in our lives?

Can we see beyond it with the eyes of faith, acknowledging a greater purpose?

When life seems to go off-track, and we are threatened by financial trouble, rocky relationships, or health crises, it’s easy to lose trust in God and question His faithfulness to us. We might even blame Him for the things that seem grossly unfair, because we wonder – if He really cared, why would He allow this?

But perhaps we have a small-minded, limited view of happiness.

In His loving embrace, God can use even this – whatever this is – to shape us to be more like Himself – perfectly loving, always desiring the eternal good.

In seeking Him, we find joy and peace to share with others. It’s a path we must take to appreciate.

Psalm 16:10-11 says:

You will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit.
You will show me the path to life, abounding in joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

God will not leave us forever in our pits of despair, nor will he let us lie in our misery today if we turn towards Him and say, “Help me, please.”

With Him there is hope for right now.

With Him there is hope for eternity.

May we learn to live like Lin, transformed by the love of God, expectant of the heavenly wonders to come.

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived
Me and some of our “Founders.” Having a bit of fun in Des Moines, Iowa,
at the 74th Convention of the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, September 2019.

Are you choosing what’s significant over what’s short-lived?

Alright. It’s a loaded question. And I bet you’re caught for a second – not sure if you want to read on.

Hear me out.

I spent a good portion of the last week in Des Moines with 6,000 of my sisters from the P.E.O. International Sisterhood celebrating the 150th anniversary of our founding. We hail from across the U.S. and Canada and every year give out millions in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to women pursuing higher education. We also have our own college – Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri – which we’ve owned outright and supported since 1927. Formed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869 by seven bright young ladies at a time when women’s education was hardly a foregone conclusion, we have never forgotten to be grateful to God for opportunity. We are drawn together by the core values and virtues to which we adhere: faith, love, purity, justice and truth. Check us out at www.peointernational.org.

Officers are chosen from among our sisterhood of 258,000, and Friday evening, I was standing with one of Iowa’s past state presidents who had been charged with the enormous responsibility of bringing so many women together for 4 days of meetings and parties. Though she had done a brilliant, brilliant job – she was, of course, exhausted – and still considering all the ways that each day could have gone better.

No matter how much goes right (and there was an overwhelming preponderance of excellency here), you will always catch wind of every little thing that doesn’t.

So I encouraged her.

“Look around,” I said. “Just look at all these women enjoying one another and making meaningful connections. Real connections. That’s what matters. You did this. Well done.”

I wanted to elevate the reality of the situation for her, because too often we lose the significant as we chase the ephemeral.

If you are like me…

  • you’ve got a to-do list a mile long
  • you haven’t called your best friend this week
  • you haven’t connected with that new friend you promised you would
  • but your phone is almost never beyond arm’s reach
  • somehow, you have found time to look at Facebook or Instagram…and you think you know what’s going on in acquaintances’ lives….and that matters to you….

Consistently, we are choosing the short-lived over the significant.

Where are our priorities?

Four days of deep, eye-to-eye contact with women I love from all over the country – some I know very well, some I would give anything to know better – reminded me that THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.

Working on a long-term vision together.

Revisiting our ideals.

Or just sharing the day-to-day aches and pains.

Breathing new life into one another.

A quick text or a “your kids are so cute” comment on social media is no substitute for longer, substantive, and yes – face-to-face conversations.

We do not intimately know one another until we sit in the same space, hear the tremor in one another’s voices, watch and clasp each other’s hands, and see the crinkles at the corners of our eyes as we speak – or don’t speak – of love, woe, and everything in between.

We use the excuse that we are busy and can’t “get it together.”

We wear it like a badge of honor.

But c’mon. We know better.

We know small efforts yield big results.

So let’s just start.

Let’s get together. For coffee. For conversation. For the sake of love. And life. Women’s education and a sisterhood that endures. The future of the planet. Some other lofty goal that God has put on your heart.

For all that we know is good.

Choosing the significant over the short-lived.

For real.

Notre Dame de Paris and Legacies at Easter

Notre Dame de Paris and  Legacies at Easter

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.

The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.

During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.

Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.

I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.

Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.

The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.

We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?

What if it is supposed to change us forever?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.

We are to pass the baton of Love.

So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.

Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.

On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.

Easter is coming. Suffering will end.

May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.

The Day I Stopped Judging My Neighbor

The Day I Stopped Judging My Neighbor

I’m finally speaking to my neighbor. Many years ago, we had a sort of run-in that I chose not to overlook. And I recently passed her two times in the Whole Foods supermarket before I decided to say something.

No. That’s a lie. It didn’t exactly happen that way.

Here’s how it did.

I saw the white-haired woman twice – once in the produce section and once by meats – before I headed over to the bakery to get myself a loaf of Italian bread. I decided to try the new slicing machine and was just reaching in to retrieve my freshly cut loaf when I heard a voice say,

“Is that thing turned off? Are you sure you should stick your hand in there?”

I turned my head to see her standing next to me. My neighbor. The woman with whom I had only interacted once in all the years we’ve lived on the same block, her backyard kitty-corner to mine. She always seemed to have the same stern expression on face, as if she were assessing the world and finding it unsuitable to her taste.

It was years ago when we passed in the street while walking our dogs. She and her husband had their two Jack Russells and I had my Beagle and mutt. From the other curb she greeted me only with unsolicited advice, saying that the double harness I was using – which connected to one leash – was “a very bad idea.” “Those things are terrible,” she yelled without ever saying hello. “They never work. It’s better to walk them on two.”

We had just gotten the dogs and I would learn she was right. But I was taken aback by her comments because I was in a tender spot. Our last dog had passed very suddenly just weeks before, and I was determined to do absolutely everything in my power to be the best possible dog mom I could be to these two new rescues.

Soon enough, one of the dogs – our lemon Beagle – proved to be a real backyard nuisance, always barking at passersby, other dogs, and rogue squirrels seeking global domination. Or at the very least, to cross our yard.

And I began to feel a bit angry and ashamed. How could any neighbor not hate us for the ruckus our little girl canine makes?

I assumed the whole block was judging us.

Especially her.

Back at the bread slicer, I sighed to myself and quickly asked the One above for grace.

“You’re probably right,” I said to her, and pulled my hand out of the machine that might very well cut it off.

Instantly, a Whole Foods bakery worker appeared, assured me I was doing alright, and deftly slid the sliced loaf into a plastic bag. I thanked her and turned back to my neighbor, deciding in a split second to suck down what was left of my pride.

“I’m Gretchen. You don’t know me, but we’re neighbors.”

“I thought you looked familiar.”

“I’ve seen you out walking your Jacks with your husband.”

We exchanged pleasantries – about how long we’d lived in the area and how we ended up there. She’d also been a mother of three. Her husband also went to an all-boys Catholic high school and had done a long commute before he’d retired.

When we really listen to people, it’s always possible to find common ground.

A few minutes later, she said…

“We’ve had five Jacks total. Now just two. But John’s* been in a memory-care facility for two years.”

Her face softened all over and she looked away. She continued.

“They line them up 30 minutes before meals to go in to eat. Sometimes I don’t get there in time.”

Suddenly, I realized I’d read it all wrong. The face wasn’t stern; it was determined. Steadfast and purposeful in a difficult situation.

And she wasn’t the judgmental person. I was.

Then she asked, “Which ones are your dogs?”

I explained and she knew immediately, especially the Beagle.

“I’m so sorry about the barking,” I told her.

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me! I love that little dog! She runs along the fence line and talks to all the others. She wears an electric collar.”

“Yes,” I halfheartedly laughed. “She has to or she’d follow the scents right over our fence.”

“I understand! You can’t let a Jack run anywhere he’d like either. They don’t stay with you. An unleashed Jack is a dead Jack.”

We parted with ‘so glad to have met yous’ that I for one, certainly meant, because not only was she a pleasure, there was a real lesson for me in this encounter.

I am fatally flawed and need to consistently ask for the eyes to see as God does, for “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Had I been more forgiving, had I decided to not judge this woman based on a faulty first impression or the look on her face, had I not unconsciously believed I was semi-omniscient and could read my neighbors’ minds – who knows what blessings of friendship we might have uncovered in all these years?

Grace happens when we put down our preconceived notions – when we surrender our assumptions and theories – and allow love to enter into in.

If we hold too tightly to what we think we know, we can’t see what’s still there for us to learn. And the picture is so much richer than we can imagine or see on our own.

*Not his real name.

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Mom, how did you do that?” my daughter asked me a couple months ago as she studied this old photo.

“Practice,” I told her, “And abs. I had really strong abs.”

I ignored her skeptical glare.

The truth is, some days I can hardly believe this myself.

But I was – at that point – fit and, come game time, loud.

Today, I make it a point NOT to raise my voice. And my abs? Well, I exercise, but I’m 45 and have brought 3 kids into the world. They are worth every bit of physical sacrifice, but I don’t wear bikinis anymore.

Way back then, I was a cheerleader, which in theory means we were encouraging others to play to their best abilities.

And whether we were effective at helping the football team win (questionable – but it was SO MUCH FUN!), the fact remains that our role precipitated one we’d all need forever.

Throughout life every person requires cheerleaders in some form. We need individuals who are rooting for us when times are hard and we forget how to summon the strength within ourselves to meet the current challenges.

So who are your cheerleaders?

Last week, I rediscovered a couple of mine when I suffered from a strong bout of anxiety.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, and nervousness, sometimes for no apparent reason, but typically related to an imminent event with an uncertain outcome.

For me, the attack was triggered by the realization that at the writer’s conference I would attend on Saturday (my very first ever), I would show some of my work to editors, who could offer criticism. (The idea that they might also approve of it never factored into my thinking.) Selecting a piece and the idea of having to “sell” my writing to potential publishers filled me with such dread that I sailed right off the ledge of reality and into a pit of fear. I had myself convinced that I had never strung two words together that made a bit of sense, and that I must be a moron for ever having started a blog in the first place.

Thank goodness, I’ve learned that anxiety is not something you entertain, and I called in reinforcements, which arrived in spades in the form of four good friends.

One of them texted with me over two days until my head was in a better place. Here’s just a sample of her words to me:

This brief exchange illustrates how your best cheerleaders: 1) remind you that you can handle the struggle, 2) call forth your truest self, and 3) push you back into the game.

Your cheerleaders should be people who share your values. People who speak the truth about life in a tone that shows their love and concern for you and your welfare. They build up and never tear down. They should focus on what can be done instead of obstacles and limitations. They care about the state of your soul, mind, and body.

My cheerleaders also have these things in common with me: they trust God and have an interest in reading and learning about Scripture; they listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit; and they know that their identity is found not in their accomplishments or worldly assets, but is rooted in Jesus Christ and His unconditional love. If that last bit makes no sense to you, here’s a piece that might help.

As adults we don’t often publicly admit that we have moments of self-doubt, abject panic, and baseless fear, but it does happen. And we need people we can count on who won’t laugh at us or call us cowards.

We need people who will rush in to talk, laugh, cry, and pray with us. We need a loyal team.

So consider – who are your cheerleaders? And who do you cheer for?

Choose your core supporters wisely. And when you need them, don’t be afraid to call them in.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.” – C.S. Lewis

What If We Spoke The Way We Signed Yearbooks?

What If We Spoke The Way We Signed Yearbooks?

Two weeks ago I was reunited with a friend from high school I hadn’t seen in 27 years. We had reconnected through Facebook, but the second I saw her in person I knew I would have recognized her anywhere. She was the same engaging, intelligent, self-possessed, and kind woman I knew so long ago, and I felt privileged to hear about her life between then and now, and to meet two of her five children. Conversation was easy as we quickly found common ground. My only regret is that I can’t see more of her; I think we’d be good friends once again if given the chance. But she lives in Alabama and I’m in Maryland and that’s the way life goes.

Before our meeting, I pulled out my yearbook from senior year to see if she’d signed it. Tragically, she hadn’t. (Her daughters seemed especially disappointed when I mentioned this cosmic oversight.) As I searched for her non-existent words to me, I read through the others – scrawled across pages that hadn’t seen light in well over two decades. My spirit soared from the generosity bestowed by so many good, and young, souls. We were, after all, just 17 or 18 years old.

“Talking with you was always a high point of my days…”

“You are one of the nicest people I have ever met…”

“I have always been a distant admirer of yours…”

“I’m happy to have had you cheering for me…”

“I love this pen. It writes so smooth!”

“Cheering made you a leader and it shows…”

“Thanks so much for putting up with all my whining…”

“I’ve always been able to tell you just about anything and always felt safe in telling you…”

“You were a real inspiration to me…”

“I’ll always love you.”

Now – having read these excerpts from my friends’ notes to me, let’s consider…

Today, how often do we encourage one another in our everyday lives?

When did you last tell a colleague:

“You know, you really are brilliant at _____.”

“I’m impressed with your commitment.”

“Thanks for making my job easier and more pleasant, too.”

How about your children? When did they last hear you say:

“I like your observations. You are smart.”

“I love your enthusiasm. You will succeed.”

“You’re the best kid around. I am cheering for you.”

When was the last time you looked your spouse/significant other in the eye and said one of the following:

“Thank you for listening to me.”

“I respect you, appreciate you, and admire you. Thank you for being you.”

“I’m so happy with the life we’re making together.”

“I’ll always love you.”

If this seems silly or trite (and it is mushy, I’ll give you that) consider this simple idea we generally accept as truth … What we do becomes who we are. Therefore, think before you speak. Say nice words with good intentions, and become a nicer person with even better intentions.

Imagine if everything each of us said (and wrote) reflected the best parts of our spirits, rather than whatever’s gotten the best of us.

It’d be like graduation day – every day. Sunshine and rainbows, everywhere we looked.

Pleasing words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the taste and healthful to the body.
-Proverbs 16:24

Holy Moments – Day 27 – Clementines

Clementines

There’s one fruit I love this time of year, and I only like them when they come from Spain or Morocco. Clementines. (My apologies to my Floridian friends.) The ones from Europe are sweeter, juicier, and smell more “clementine-ish.” Perhaps it’s just the memories that make me so particular….

I discovered these delicious little oranges in 1992 when studying in France. I don’t remember them in the United States back then, and on my student budget, they were a healthy novelty that paired nicely with the cheese and bread that made up most of my diet. Christmas Eve that year still rings as a fine example of one of those fantastic meals.

I had traveled with two girlfriends to Strasbourg for the holiday because we’d heard it was the “Christmas Capital” of Europe. Right across the border from Germany, this picturesque town boasts unique architecture and a Christmas market in its town centre. We spent Christmas Eve strolling by the open stalls and drinking mulled wine, and after the sun went down, eating a chocolate buche de Noel, cheese, bread, and yes – clementines – in our simple hotel room, which was just a stone’s throw away from the Strasbourg Cathedral. We talked for hours about the people we loved and Christmas back home in the states.

Strasbourg4Strasbourg2Strasbourg1Strasbourg3

By about 10 o’clock, we were very tired, since we had begun our day on the pre-dawn train out of Toulouse. So, we set an alarm to rouse us for the Midnight Mass. Little did we know the alarm would not be needed.

I have never been summoned to church like I was that night!strasbourg-1046384_1280

BELLS!! BELLS!! BELLS!!

They shook our tiny room with a fervor akin to an earthquake.

And we woke up laughing with surprise and glee. We threw on our coats and literally ran out the door and around the corner, into the cathedral.

The place was packed. European churches are often empty these days, but on that night, I stood with hundreds of other latecomers in the back, feeling privileged to have a square foot of ancient stone under my feet. And Mass – conducted in both French and German, with each part being said first in the former and repeated in the latter – felt magical.

At that point in my life, I was not a regular church-goer. I wasn’t even Catholic. But I was captivated by the beauty of the French language, and the art and majesty of cathedrals. The Lord was whispering to me, calling me in ways He knew I’d find appealing. And I was filled with joy standing there in the presence of God’s people, celebrating the birth of His son.

What is the pull of Christmas? The food, friendships, family, the gifts, the beauty of it all? It is an invitation to come and see…Come and see.

He said to them, ‘”Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw… (John 1:39)”

 

Holy Moments – Day 15 – Secret Dream

IMG_7550

Hearing encouragement from the right person can make all the difference.

I have a friend who spoke the secret of my heart out loud.

She had no idea that’s what she’d done at the time she said it. But with her words, she gave a dream wings.

“You should be a writer.”

In the very early days of writing my blog, it was her voice that gave me the confidence to click the ‘Publish’ button.

And to write again.

I quickly realized I needed to thank her.

So I did.

And then, well, grace came back to find her, too.

Because in big and small ways, that’s what He does.

Our emails mark the trail….

From: Gretchen  
Sent: Sun 10/05/14      4:20 PM
To: Laura 

Laura,

So, I’m sharing this with you because I keep feeling prompted to do so…probably because on more than one occasion now you’ve told me I should be a writer. Whether you were serious or not, I don’t know, but you couldn’t have known you were speaking truth to a private dream.

So – after years of thinking about it, I’m finally taking the leap and trying a little bit….[I] created a blog…It isn’t perfect…I’ve posted for 3 days and hope to be faithful to it….I hope you’ll pray for me. 🙂

Here’s the link….

Blessings,

Gretchen

 

From: Laura
Sent: Mon 10/06/14      10:07 AM
To: Gretchen

Wow Wow Wow…

I had just arrived home from taking the kids to school. I was still sitting in the garage waiting for Joel Osteen to come to a break in his talk so that I could run the XM radio inside to finish listening there. I was debating whether this particular episode was even worthy of my time as I had to get on with my “daily duties” and it wasn’t particularly striking a chord with me. I decided to ease my guilt by multi-tasking – I began to check the emails on my phone.

He kept stressing the point about how even a passing statement to someone that seems like nothing, could mean the world to them. We have no idea about how we can affect the course of someone’s life. We should never underestimate ourselves and the power of our words. I thought, “Ok. Makes sense. Still, no big aha moment.” …and then I opened your email…I may not have given any propulsion to your dream, but I feel like God was telling me, “Yes, even YOU, Laura.” My fists were clenched and waving as I audibly got the willies- in a joyful way. God is fun sometimes!

I went to your blog and read every last bit. You are amazing! 3 People?!

I hope you shout it from the rooftops so that everyone can experience your talent and inspiration! (add to favorites-click!)

In the meantime, I WILL pray for you and I will remember today’s message for a long time.

L

 

From: Gretchen
Sent: Tue 10/07/14       7:53 PM
To: Laura

Laura,

What an awesome experience to have all of those “promptings” for me to tell you then come together so that Monday morning you would get your God moment. He really is amazing. :).

Thank you again for the encouragement. I think the three followers are all friends…. My confidence goes up and down.

I’m certainly not ready to post it to FB or anything.… Facing that fear is hard.

But anyway – every bit of support is awesome, and helps me feel like maybe I’m on the right track.

Blessings,
Gretchen

 

I did eventually post to FaceBook and over time, in infinitesimally small ways, living a secret dream started to feel less scary. More like taking flight.

Lead a Life of Love

A week ago, when I was at Sunday Mass and I heard his name read among the recently deceased, something inside me gave way and I started to cry. And then I couldn’t stop.

It was just before the Eucharist, and we were praying for lots of people, but I was stuck, focused on the fact that my neighbor was gone from this earth, reunited in heaven with his lovely wife who passed on almost two years ago. They were older people – had six children who were now grandparents themselves. This is the way life is supposed to play out. And I didn’t know them well. Yet I was so very, very emotional. Why?

Standing there, staring at the church rafters and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I asked Him, “Why am I so upset? Why can’t I stop crying? I’m happy for them. Why does this hurt?”

From somewhere inside, His answer came:

You love life. He loves life. They love life.

Um…ok?

I knew from experience that walking in faith means living with ambiguity, and that in time, hopefully, what I’d heard would make more sense to me. So I proceeded to do what seemed right.

I’d seen more cars than usual outside Mr. and Mrs. Schab’s home in the previous three days, and now I knew why. After lunch, I wrote a condolence note, collected myself, and walked over.

IMG_2120
Mrs. Schab’s hydrangeas bloomed the week that Mr. Schab entered heaven.

A white-haired woman in her sixties who bore a strikingly beautiful resemblance to her late mother welcomed me warmly at the door. My tears began to return the moment I said,

“I was just at the 11:00 Mass and I heard the news.”

She said, “Yes. He was my dad. He passed a week ago yesterday.”

Oh, I thought. We were away. That’s why I didn’t know.

She added, “The day before his 99th birthday. So, he got to celebrate it in heaven.”

Any idea I had of consoling her went out the window.

I stammered, barely able to see now, “And I miss your mom.”

She smiled slightly and looked down saying, “Oh, we do too.”

The next thing I knew, she was opening the screen door wide to hug me and kiss me on the cheek.

Then she said, “What is your name?”

Oh boy. I guess grief is like that. You forget to say your name.

I told her. “Gretchen.” And we went from there. The ten minutes or so we spent getting to know one another reminded me of what I had loved so much about her parents.

From the moment she laid eyes on me at the door, she appreciated me. Not for what I wanted to give her (or thought I could give her, and others who were there), but because she saw my mere presence as a positive in her life. And I remembered right away that her sister had once greeted me at the door of this very same house with an identical warmth and generosity of spirit when I came to visit Mr. and Mrs. Schab, who of course, had been the genesis of the love these two women showed me. Or were they?

The first time I ever met Mr. and Mrs. Schab was Halloween. I think my oldest son (now 12), was 4. Instead of just handing out candy, they invited trick-or-treaters and their parents in for refreshments and conversation while offering a spread of treats from the dining room table, located just inside the front door. Maybe it was the glow of the antique lamps shining out from the bay window that made the house so welcoming on approach, or perhaps it was Mrs. Schab’s cheery, “Hellooooo!  Please! Come in! Aren’t you adorable?” that made my son and I feel cherished. But from that memorable evening on, their home was, by far, our favorite on the block.

Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Schabs were the founders of our church’s marriage preparation program, and over many decades had helped to counsel over 1,000 couples. It was easy to imagine them sharing their experiences, faith, joy, and time with men and women embarking on the road they had been journeying together – one which would culminate in 72 years of devotion. They also served on numerous community committees and stayed active outside of their home right up until the very end of their lives. They were humble, gracious, energetic servants.

But my personal memories of Mr. and Mrs. Schab – time talking in their garden, their gratitude for my cookies, how I loved hearing their stories of how our neighborhood changed over six decades – all of these are grounded in a feeling of us being “present together.” When I was with them, even though I didn’t know them well, time seemed to stand still, because in each moment, they were focused only on what was essential – living the moment. Not the next moment. Or the one after that.

After a week’s reflection, I think I understand what the Lord was trying to tell me as tears streamed down my face last Sunday….

When you really fall in love with Life, so much so that you see the divinity of it in every single person you meet, you can truly stop – right now – to appreciate the wonder and beauty of it all, and share deeply and effortlessly of the Love you are living. And the Love comes through you, to make the people with you feel cherished. You can give those around you a glimpse of eternity. 

When we love the Maker of Life, we are given all we need to live this life in all the fullness He intended for us. 

The key to living life in full, is following the Way of Life, and basking in His Love. 

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

– John 10:7, 10

Heart Friend

imageI talked to my heart friend today. That’s what she is to me. I hope I’ve been one to her. But time is cruel and changes things, and I fear I’ve lapsed in love – which is always more verb than noun.

I’ve known her almost as long as I’ve lived in this town, and we’ve literally walked through the stages of motherhood together. But the kids are growing up….at different schools….separate activities….scheduling is difficult. It’s been said, “Don’t let your kids be your excuse.” “Yes, yes.” I say, my voice trailing off….

So I call her today, to discuss an event – an increasingly rare overlap in plans, and I remember I’m the one who’s usually rushing. And I stop.

“Did I interrupt you?” I ask. “Is this a good time?”

“It’s fine.”

We are going on a trip tonight. I’m staring at dishes in the sink. There’s a suitcase waiting upstairs. But the Lord has his hand on me, so I stand still. And suddenly, it starts coming out..

“Did I tell you??” I say…

“No,” she says.

And I spend an hour telling her what I should have…months ago.

And we’re talking in big circles, about us and others…people we know, who are moving in different directions – some geographically away, to start new lives elsewhere. We both know from personal experience, how very hard that is….to make close friends. To find people you trust. People you really love. And I find myself telling her the deeper truth – the one I really want her to know:

“I’d do anything for you.”

My heart is always for our friendship. I’m not sure she knows. But as I was reminded earlier this week, “Friendships must be forged.” With open hearts and hands.

Lord, please bless all our friendships. Show us how to enrich them. Forgive us our wrongs and oversights. Strengthen our bonds. Let what was forged once, be forged again – anew.