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.

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

Wholesome. I love this word. It means anything suggestive of good health and well-being. It has a connotation of warmth and nourishment, virtue and pure intentions.

I’ve decided that for 2019, I’m going to end each month sharing with you 5 things that I found to be wholesome, because to paraphrase Philippians 4:8 – we are to dwell on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. In short – those things that contribute to the fullness of life that God intends for us. **

I know – that sounds pretty lofty. I’m not aiming for grandiose ideas, just everyday things I encountered that were notable, enriching, and/or helpful in some way.

So, here we go. FIVE wholesome things I learned in January.

  1. If a woman can’t have her family with her 24-7, the next best thing is a beautifully framed photo of the people she loves. I’m rather picky about photo printing. Now that film has gone the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to find a shop that delivers prints with true-to-life color. For years I have been looking for an online company producing premium-quality prints, and recently a friend suggested Mpix.com. This month, I chose from a nice selection of mats and frames to create a birthday present for my mom – a gorgeous, ready-to-hang 8 x 10 framed photograph of her two girls and 4 grandchildren that was taken last spring at my youngest son’s First Communion celebration. She cried when she got it. First-time customers get 25% off for sharing an email address. Check it out.
  2. The most important sentence we can say just might be: “Tell me more about that.” Jonathan Fields says this a lot when encouraging his guests to continue in the podcast that’s got me completely hooked – Good Life Project. The premise of the show is that every story matters, and Fields’s guests are purpose-driven, community-oriented individuals who have meaningfully processed both personal and professional issues. I’ve only been listening for about two months, but in January, I was gripped by conversations Fields had with Brene Brown, Bronnie Ware (author of The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying), and Mark Nepo (author of More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and the World). I also loved that my youngest son happened to hear the story of Maggie Doyne – a young woman who took a gap year after high school, only to find her passion in caring for orphans in Nepal and collaborated on the formation of a Nepali school, health clinic, and foundation for 350 children. Good Life Project. It’s good food for thought.
  3. The memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, is going to become a modern classic. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m surprised, but before long you will, because it’s an unforgettable story of a girl from a survivalist family in Idaho who is barely home-schooled, yet manages to teach herself enough to enter Brigham Young University and then Cambridge and Harvard, all while trying to negotiate unspeakably complex ties between herself and the people who love her in profound and profoundly unhealthy ways. Like all great writers, Tara Westover has a gift for drawing connections between the visible world and its invisible undercurrents, crafting electrifying sentences like these: “I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (p. 304)
  4. Fermented goat’s milk from Answers Pet Food is healing my dog. I have two canines – Luna and Seamus. Luna is a Beagle with a host of allergy issues and she’s been suffering from a cough for months that comes and goes in intensity. We’ve been working with our vet to uncover the root cause, but three weeks ago a nutritionist friend suggested I try adding a natural probiotic – raw fermented goat’s milk – to her diet to help support healthy immune function. The fermentation process increases digestive enzymes, b-vitamins, antioxidants and lactic acid, and it’s been working. Luna is still congested in the mornings, but the cough is basically gone. Cheers to improvement in the lives of our fur-babies!
  5. Handwritten thank-you notes warm the soul. Okay – so maybe I didn’t really learn this one this month, but I received three very nice notes in January that are worth mentioning here, if only to say that when you take the time to tell someone that what they did for you touched your heart, you WILL touch theirs too. We are so glib with our thank-yous these days. Putting pen to paper and expressing gratitude in a few thoughtful phrases means so very much. Consider how it feels to read, “You are a treasured friend,” “You are truly amazing and appreciated,” “I treasure the bond that we have and thank God for you regularly,” “Thank you SO much for thinking of me.” For February – let’s go and put more encouraging words out there in the world.

That’s it for January’s wholesome list! I appreciate your reading time more than you will ever know, and I’d love to hear what you’re learning too. Email me via the “Contact” link on my home page. Peace and blessings in February!

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Praiseworthy Boys

Praiseworthy Boys

eagle-scout_painting
Eagle Scout by Joseph Csatari.

I was watching my teenage son wrestle with his emotions as he grabbed his kid brother a little too roughly by the collar to pull him out of the way. A skateboarder, a few years older than him, was flying by. We caught his breeze as he launched himself up onto a empty planter next to the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, DC.

By now my little one was whining.

“Mom! He pulled me too hard!”

“I know, I know. He was just trying to help. Give me your hand.”

Meanwhile, my oldest was off on his own train of thought, a bit of a tirade.

“Mom! They’re destroying government property! They are NOT showing respect!”

He was right, of course. There are black treadmarks and dislodged pieces of pavement all over the area because skaters have made it a playground. And there appears to be little resistance to their doing so.

I didn’t get into the whys and wherefores right then – the complexities of urban life and how he (my son) has opportunities for education and to expel energy that others don’t. But I understand his frustration. I hope and pray he’ll grow up to be someone who will contribute solutions.

My husband and I try to give him tools. We’re trying to get him ready.

Be prepared. It’s the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and a darn good one at that. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know that my oldest son is a Boy Scout and has been moving up through the ranks, starting as a Cub Scout, for the last 7 years.

Scouting provides unique opportunities to gain leadership skills and self-confidence while teaching the importance of service to nation and community. I have also seen the ethical values my husband and I are trying to instill in our children at home – such as hard work, courtesy, trustworthiness, and honesty – reinforced through the activities and actions of individuals committed to this organization. It’s a group I believe is a force for good in our country.

In 2015, 54,366 young men became Eagle Scouts – the highest rank of Boy Scout. That amounts to 6.57 percent of eligible Scouts (defined as registered Boy Scouts or male Venturers who are under 18). It also marks a 4.9 increase in new Eagle Scouts from 2014, but 7.3 percent fewer than the all-time high of 58,659 in 2012, when the Boy Scouts celebrated 100 years of the Eagle Scout award and many young men pushed to attain it, along with a special centennial Eagle Scout patch.

Young men who earned Eagle in 2015 together recorded 8,503,337 hours of service on Eagle projects. That’s an average of 156.4 hours of service per Eagle project!

An Eagle project is generally completed in the community where the Scout lives, and is designed for that community’s benefit. Eagle projects can be found in places you probably frequent on a weekly basis, such as churches, parks, and schools. In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service valued volunteer time at $23.56 an hour, which means that while working on these projects, the Eagle Scouts and the volunteers they led contributed more than $200 million worth of time in their service.

This is of course after years of service on other, smaller projects, and after having acquired prerequisite skills in leadership, civics and citizenship, personal management, family life, and general health and well-being.

Young men who are giving of themselves to their communities in their teenage years should be thanked and praised. They are a source of hope to our nation – which often complains of its self-absorbed youth.

There are more than 50,000 new Eagle Scouts on average each year. This, I think, is good news.

Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it. – Proverbs 22:6

 

Statistics for this piece are from “Eagle Scout Class of 2015, by the numbers” by Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, and senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines, and well as from Independent Sector.org.

 

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

Tomatoes_Summer2016

I’m digging into my salad when I see that a friend has posted on FB a photo of his Yellow Lab sleeping in the grass and captioned it, “Dog days of August.”

Ah yes…dog days. Lazy days. I too want to do…absolutely nothing.

Just a few weeks left of summer vacation, and what a fabulous summer it’s been. Family trips to the Outer Banks and Maine, long days spent poolside, and plenty of time for reading, movie-watching, and sipping lemonade. Heaven on earth.

I appreciated the dog photo, because it reminded me that it’s easy to become lulled in these hot, humid days into taking this season’s blessings for granted. So here are three ways to renew your appreciation of August.

  1. Visit the farmer’s market. We go every weekend to find the juiciest corn, mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, and biggest cantaloupes around. I love to fill my bags with the fruits of the earth, knowing that these fresh foods are divinely designed to nourish my body in exactly the right way. And oh – the peaches this month! Don’t get me started on my love for peaches…
  2. Make a date with a friend. In this season more than any other, it’s easy to lose touch with people because families go their own ways. Within communities there are fewer routines, and we don’t cross paths with friends we see on a regular basis at other times of the year. I saw a dear friend at Mass on Sunday, and we hadn’t connected in weeks! If you’re missing someone, let them know, and make a date to get coffee or have lunch. We are created to love; we need one another. We need to connect with our friends.
  3. Take a day trip. Go see something new. Or revisit someplace you haven’t been in awhile. We’re going to Ocean City, NJ – my husband’s childhood summer retreat – to eat pizza and play mini-golf. Take a short escape from the ordinary and go, while keeping your eyes open to the wonders that await.

As I grow in appreciation of the beauty of each season, I see the world for what it is – a home for me and for all of us, created in love, by Love Himself, to be cherished and utilized conscientiously. And the more I meditate on its offerings – the more I savor life in all its fullness – the more I realize that I can’t begin to count my blessings.

Happy are those who dwell in your house!

They never cease to praise you.

-Psalm 84:5