I'm not sure why I went. I didn't really know the person who died. I didn't know what he looked like. I didn't even remember his name.
What I did remember, although vaguely, is his mother bringing him to church many years ago, when he was just a boy. He didn't like going to church, and would frequently walk out during the Mass. Eventually, he stopped coming, along with his dad and brother. But his mother didn't stop. For 30 years now, she has come to Mass, alone. And last Friday, it was that boy, her son, who died. And so, I went to the funeral.
He was younger than me by a few years, which means he was way too young to die. It was the kind of death nobody will talk about. Some say suicide. Some say drug overdose. Maybe both. Only those closest to him know, and will probably ever know. But it doesn't really matter, does it?
The story is all too common. It's the story of a conflicted soul, tormented it seems, since childhood, maybe even since birth. It's a story so common that it has become irrelevant. And surely, this young man felt that.
His mother tried to save him. She came to that fountain of grace for years, maybe with only one single prayer on her heart. A prayer to save him. Maybe she did save him. Sitting in that funeral parlor yesterday, it was hard to know. These things are not mine to know.
What I do know is that, like her, I have two sons. Will I lose them both to the world? Will the demons who whisper in their ears "this will make things easier," "this will make things better," speak louder than my prayers? My words?
I don't know.
They had a hard time finding someone to do the service for this young man. At the last minute, an elderly priest agreed to make the fifty-mile drive for the ten-minute service. There were only a handful of people in the pews, mostly friends of his mother, and a few members of family. Two songs, a couple of readings from scripture, some kind words, and it was all over.
But it wasn't.
Because sitting in the second pew, with only his mother by his side, was a young boy with bright red hair and cherub cheeks and freckles on his nose. And as the priest gave the final blessing, the young boy who had previously been smiling and joking with his mother, started sobbing. He held his head in his hands, hiding his face, and his body shook. The priest walked over to the young boy, put his hand on the boy' shoulder, and stood there. If words were spoken to the young boy, I couldn't hear them. I didn't really want to hear them.
The boy looked up, and his mother took his hand and led him out of the parlor. Out of the parlor and back into the world. Now it is his turn to be tested.
The priest walked to the back of the room, found a chair, and sat down. I watched as he opened his prayer book, and he seemed oblivious to everything else around him. He seemed deep in prayer.
The rest of us walked to the front, formed the obligatory line, and gave our condolences to the young man's family. "I will pray for you," I told his mother and she nodded.
And I will be praying for a red-haired little boy who, through God's mercy, has a daddy in heaven now, praying for him, too.
Lots to be happy about around here on this October 13. This is one of the most significant days of the year for us, because thirteen years ago today, Tom and I did this...
...and as they say, the rest is history.
"Thirteen" has always been a lucky number for us. Without any forethought to what day it was, Tom popped The Question to me thirteen years ago, on April 13. Six months to the day, we got married, partly because we didn't want to wait a day longer than the diocese asked us to (hee hee) and partly because of the day's connection to Our Lady of Fatima. The Blessed Mother always has my back, it seems, so it just felt right that October 13 would be the day . Not to mention, four years previously, I had spent October 13 with a group of pilgrims at Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France, where I asked the Blessed Mother to help me find a good man to marry someday. So, thank you, Our Lady of Fatima and Lourdes. You found me a good one!
Today is also the thirteenth birthday for our little dog, Sage (or is it
91 dog years?). We found Sage abandoned along a woods road in
February 2002. She was such a frightened little puppy and I knew as
soon as we saw her that Tom was in love. She looked like a little black
lab puppy and he had been talking about wanting to get a lab so I knew I
was doomed. I did not want a lab because they are big dogs. I wanted a
smaller dog. But this little puppy went home with us that day and has
been with us ever since. I could write an entire blog post about her,
but will just say that when she is gone, I know we will never have a dog
as great as she is. She has truly been a gift to us through these
years of marriage, and especially, during our years of childlessness.
When we found her, the vet said she was about four months old, so we
decided to use our anniversary date as her birth date, too. So happy
birthday, Sage! Oh, and I should probably add that she never did top
out at more than 40 pounds.
Little Sage, the day we found her.
Wise Old Sage, truly living up to her name.
Along with the celebration that comes with our anniversary, Tom and I also now remember this day as the day we lost our first baby, Francis Gabriel. Sometimes infertility can feel like a very cruel joke. It took us almost four years of trying before we conceived Francis Gabriel, and so you can imagine the joy and elation we felt when we learned that we were expecting. However, a few weeks later, our little Francis went to heaven. We were going to tell everyone we were expecting on our anniversary that year, but instead, I was in the pains of miscarriage and we were alone with very broken hearts. It was an anniversary we will never forget and I have asked God many times, why then? Why on our anniversary? It truly felt like we were being mocked. Eight years later now, I realize that this was a turning point for me, and for our marriage. It got harder after that, but our marriage today is also stronger because of that. So yeah, it makes every anniversary bittersweet now, but Tom and I share this bitter-sweetness together, and I suppose that is what marriage is really all about. You can't go through stuff like that without it either tearing you apart or bringing you closer together. I praise God that for us, it was the latter. Definitely God's grace at work. So, while on the surface, this may not seem like something to be happy about, considering we have our own little intercessor in heaven now, whose prayers no doubt have strengthened our marriage, it really is a Little Happy. And to mark the occasion, I made some cupcakes with the best frosting ever and we all sang Happy Birthday to Francis on Sunday evening. It makes me happy to know that our boys will grow up with the knowledge that they have siblings waiting for them in heaven.
I will end this with one more anniversary we are celebrating. This past weekend, our parish celebrated its fortieth anniversary. That's pretty remarkable, considering it's in the middle-of-no-where, in the hills of Kentucky. Our chapel is in a renovated gas station and we have about 40 families. On an average Sunday, we generally have about 30 people at Mass which makes it feel a lot like family. We're a mission church, and during an age when missions are being closed around the country, we're pretty thrilled to still be around. I pray we can make it another 40 years, and even more, that we do as good a job spreading the faith as we have done building houses and providing physical care to those around us. There is still so much work to do here but our future looks promising, especially if God keeps sending us holy priests. And speaking of our priest, he is slowly recovering and took his first steps a couple of weeks ago, so thank you to all who are praying for him.
Let's start with dancing. Or, to be more specific, clogging! I took up clogging many moons ago (1998, I do believe; I know, ancient history for some of you) and loved it then. But after moving to Missouri a few years later, I had to give it up because there were no groups nearby to clog with and then life just went on without it. Until this past Saturday. I was able to reunite with my fellow cloggers and we performed at our county's fall festival and it felt great! My joints definitely don't bounce like they used to and I did have a date with ibuprofen and a hot bath afterwards, but nevertheless, it felt so good to be dancing again. It's great exercise and the crowd really enjoyed it. Several folks came up to us afterwards asking if they could start taking lessons. The high point was watching the little kids on the sidelines dancing with us. We encouraged them to come into the street and dance with us, which they did. Those children had some of the biggest smiles I've seen. Kids love to dance! Why do so many of us lose that as adults? So crank up some music and get movin'. If there is a clogging group near you, check it out. It's for all ages and so much fun!
Saturday was also the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, one of my very first favorite saints. As a child, I loved St. Francis because of the legends surrounding his love for animals and nature. I've always felt close to God's little creatures and I admire St. Francis for being the same way. He is the patron saint of ecologists so I can't help but have a soft spot in my heart for him. I called upon St. Francis of Assisi many times during my career to assist me with various challenges and he never let me down. He also is the namesake of our first child, Francis Gabriel, which also makes him the patron of this little blog of mine. In honor of St. Francis, we ordered pizza on Saturday for supper and ate it on the back porch, where we could see the sun set and watch for migrating monarchs. "Keep it simple", I think St. Francis would tell us. I have so much more to learn from this wonderful saint. Happy Feast Day, St. Francis!
We ended our Saturday by building the first fire of the season in our woodstove. I grew up with wood heat as a primary heat source and there's just nothing quite like it on a cold winter day or a chilly fall evening like the one we had this past Saturday. Nothing warms like wood and as my father always said "wood warms you twice". Meaning, of course, it warms you when you cut it and stack it and haul it, and again when you burn it. I'm sure that by the time March comes around, Tom and I will be more than ready to stop hauling in firewood and tending a fire in the stove, but for now, it doesn't get much better than a cozy house with a wood fire on a chilly damp autumn evening. It's the little things, you know.
My Dear Guardian Angels,
I wasn't sure whether to address this letter to one angel or many angels, but considering my history on earth so far, I'm pretty sure there are more than one of you assigned to my case! I hope I haven't been too much of a challenge but I know I haven't made your jobs exactly easy, either.
Anyhow, since today is your memorial, I thought maybe this would be a good time to tell you how much I appreciate everything you've done for me during these past four and a half decades. I apologize that I don't say "thank you" enough, and I'm ashamed that I don't think of you more often, while I know you are with me every second of my days and nights, thinking only of me.
I just want to commend you on what a great job you've been doing. You and I have certainly had some adventures, haven't we? Without you, I know I would've never reached adulthood. Heck, I probably wouldn't have even reached age one. And as I got older, I know your job got harder. Like that time I was learning to drive and I drove that car half-way off a bridge, leaving the front tires suspended over the edge; was that you holding the car up? Or remember when I walked over that rattlesnake, miles from any doctor, and looked down to see that the snake had just eaten and it was too full to strike at me; was that you who'd fed him that snack? And that time when I was drowning in the river, sinking ever so slowly to the bottom, was that you who kept me calm and gave me the shove back up to the surface? The black widow spider that I missed touching by millimeters with my bare hand; the burning snag in the wildfire that fell just seconds after I'd walked under it; the car that I didn't see that I pulled in front of that stopped in the knick of time; the crevasse that I nearly fell into when I slipped on ice while climbing that pile of boulders; the waterfall that saved me from passing out from heat exhaustion...all those times and many many more, was that you looking out for me, doing God's will and giving me another chance?
And during those years when I suffered my darkest spiritual trials. The years when I longed to have children but for no reason that I understood, couldn't. When I wanted to just walk away from any faith and from any God that would allow that kind of pain to go on year after year, were you there battling those demons with me? When I didn't want to believe that the path I was on was the one God had chosen for me, were you walking it with me?
My faith tells me you were. You were there. You have always been there and without you there, I would not be here. Here, now, at this place where I find myself physically and spiritually. You and me, we've been to dark, dangerous places together, and you keep saving me and bringing me back to where God wants me.
So, thank you for that. Thank you for being there, always, even when I forget it and even more so, when I doubt it, which I'm afraid is too often. God-willing, we'll be together for a few more decades while I walk this earth, and I'll try to make your job a little easier during the second-half of the game.
And, if you would, please pass along my sincerest gratitude to your colleagues who have been assigned to my three most precious gifts named Tom, John and Joah. I find great consolation in knowing that their bodies and souls are under the care of your fellow angels, and for that peace-of-mind, I thank you most.
So, have happy memorial day and please, keep up the good work!