Resurrection is the reason for our hope and joy

We all have a story.

For families, the story includes those of parents, children and the ones we love, living life intertwined, each person affected, for better or for worse, by the joys, Crossonsnowmountain
sorrows, and choices of those whose stories touch ours.

Sometimes, it is in the darkest moments of our stories that we become aware of our own capacity to love.

My epiphany came on Mother’s Day, 2015.  It was not, perhaps, an epiphany to match that of Thomas Merton, the very famous Trappist monk who had an epiphany of love on a street corner in Louisville. But it was my epiphany and all the more meaningful for me.

I was sitting in the locked-down lobby of the county jail while waiting to visit my son. I had been visiting once or twice a week for the past two months, and every time, as I sat waiting, I was thinking, “This was never part of my plan. How did we get to this place?”

My first visit was surreal … being buzzed in, the police officer checking my ID behind a protective shield, the glass window behind which my son stood when he was brought down, the phones we used to communicate, the prisoner’s uniform. It just seemed like a scene from “Law and Order” instead of one from my own family story.

I realized that, in jail, they use the more politically correct term of inmate instead of prisoner, but prisoner is what my son really was – a prisoner of opiates long before he ended up behind that glass window in that uniform. I felt sick, heart-broken, guilty and alone. Surely, looking around the lobby on that first visit, I didn’t belong here, and neither did my son. Still, here we were, at the cross.

But in one instant on Mother’s Day, in that dreary jail lobby, I realized that all of us, waiting for our turn to visit, had entered, in our own way, into the life of Christ. Like the Apostles, each of us, no matter how different and in spite of our own weaknesses, were there because we loved someone, hoping to make a difference in their life by our simple presence – and I heard the words of the powerful Taize hymn, “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray.”

In the Gethsemane stories of those who sat waiting with me, I heard their unique, yet familiar, struggles – broken marriages, broken relationships, drug addiction, the death of children, bad choices, bad friends, loss of faith, loss of family, suicide, terrible financial difficulties and, sometimes, homelessness. Some stories were so heartbreaking I could barely contain my emotions, and I was grateful, and privileged, to have exchanged promises to pray for one another.

Not long after Mother’s Day, my son called to tell me he had been paroled. His time in jail had been good for him. He was drug free, though he would need continued support to stay so, and he was positive and prayerful, looking forward to a new chapter in his life. “See, I make all things new,” filled my heart.

I remember breaking down in tears. “My son is coming home,” I thought, and I wondered if God might have had a similar feeling on the day of the Resurrection. Surely, the God of Love would have felt the pain and anguish of his only beloved Son, and would have known the joy of Jesus’ coming home, the joy of new life. Certainly, Mary did.

How far we have come, my son and I, since the days when an exceptionally inquisitive toddler would find ways to escape the locked doors of our house and wander happily in his pajamas in the new winter snow in our backyard. Loving him has taken on new forms as he’s grown into a man. One of the most meaningful has been waiting with him in Gethsemane, and walking with him as he embraced his crosses. It has not been easy. After all, the hallmark of a mother is to fix everything, to take away pain and make things better. Part of the growing up process for moms is accepting that there are many things we cannot control.

For us, as Christians, Jesus’ Resurrection changes everything.  With love at its heart, the Resurrection is the reason for our greatest hope and our greatest joy. It allows us to accept the invitation to new life that is inherent in every cross, and to hold on to our faith in God’s promises.

For me, the Resurrection has become a new focus of my faith, one that as allowed me to believe, when others didn’t, that my son would experience his own resurrection through his singular faith in God.

That is reason for a very joyous, “Alleluia!”

A mother's appreciation for Inspector Gadget

Inspector_Gadget1While babysitting for my delightful grandson, Jacob, my oldest son was showing me where to find all the accoutrements for making coffee. Much of what I needed was on the top shelf of an upper cabinet, difficult for me to reach.

“How does Nikki reach these things,” I queried, referring to my petite daughter-in-law who stands at least several inches shorter than me.

“She has go-go gadget legs,” he quickly retorted. “You should remember that; all mothers get them in the hospital when the babies are born.”

Thinking back to the popular cartoon show, Inspector Gadget, which my sons often watched, I had to laugh at the image, but also at the fact that he was basically right. New mothers seem to find a way to do anything they need to do, as if they have been given superpowers, or at least outfitted with a never ending supply of James Bond paraphernalia.

Certainly, I had my own version of go-go gadget legs, arms, fingers and eyes while raising my six sons. But I’ve been noticing the past few years that the warranty must be up, because my seeming superpowers have, for the most part, petered out.

I think it goes hand-in-go-go-gadget hand with the empty nest syndrome; the many legged version of the supply and demand principle.

But things are looking up. Today, when my grandson was moving precariously towards the edge of couch, my go-go gadget knees kicked in and I lept across a space insurmountable just months ago. I actually beat him into the kitchen when his two- year-old legs propelled him too close to the hot stove. Even he was shocked.

And now that grandchild number two has arrived, I’m sensing a resurgence of power.

It seems the empty nest was just a time and space to refuel and recharge all the moving parts for round two.

Navigating the sea of change in an empty nest

Empty%20nestWhen the oldest of my sons was preparing to leave for college, I spent the last night of our family vacation sobbing like I would never see him again. Even as I cried, I tried to analyze why I was behaving so irrationally, considering he was only going to Pennsylvania.

 “It must be all about our mortality,” I mused soulfully, assuming there is always a profound, often obscure meaning behind all human behavior. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as I was going to miss him.

 By the time the third son was leaving, it was a quick hug and kiss at the dorm room amid piles of unpacked stuff, because my husband and I wanted to hit the local diner for lunch.

 When the fourth and fifth sons decided college was not their thing, I figured the empty nest syndrome was a vague promise that would never be fulfilled in my lifetime, though there was a sliver of hope when son number six went off to NYC to study drama.

When the revolving door began spinning with their subsequent (temporary) returns home in well-timed succession, some staying longer than others, I was certain I would never know the “pain” of having the house to myself.

But I have since learned, as so many before me, that the empty nest syndrome is not so much a physical space phenomenon as it is an emotional one, and no matter how many big feet are still roaming through the house, it’s possible, or more to the point probable that, as a mother, you will, at some point, feel alone. It seems the empty nest is not your house as much as it is your heart.

The beautiful thing about the heart is how it grows to hold more love, more people, new experiences and creative energies. If we open our hearts to all things new, it will never be empty.

Never forget what is worth remembering

Throughout the years with an Irish father, I heard many an Irish blessing. He was fond of theseMuffinapron little lessons, and would often repeat one of his favorites over a cup of hot tea and a warm piece of apple pie: “May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best forgotten.”

In time, this particular blessing took on new meaning for me, especially when, as a Hospice volunteer, I would visit patients during their final days in a nursing home.

It was here that I learned the often repeated lesson that life can be as difficult as it is beautiful, and where I began to understand the lesson my mother taught me over and over again as a child through her frequent visits to sick or lonely family members, friends or aquaintances.

My mother would enter a room with a smile to warm any heart, a plate of homemade Jiffy muffins and everyone would begin to feel better. She was love in a dime-store apron.

On one of the few occasions when I saw my dad get mad at her, it was because she had gone to the hospital to visit someone on Christmas Eve, and hadn’t returned before my bedtime. I couldn’t understand why he would be mad about that. Having my mom there, with muffins and presents, sounded to me like the best gift in the world for someone who might be facing Christmas alone.

That’s a heavy cross to bear, but life teaches us that crosses come in all shapes and sizes, some heavier than others, and we are all destined to carry one at some point in time. Perhaps the heaviest of all is loneliness, and the belief that we are forgotten.

When I was a catechist for children, I sometimes saw the fear of “forgotten” in the faces of students waiting for overdue parents. Often a young child would cry inconsolably believing they had been left behind.

But I saw this pain experienced most profoundly with a homebound friend—aged, infirm, fearful, lonely; a beautiful child of God who truly was left behind by family and friends.

On a particularly bad day she called to talk and her words will never leave me: “This is not living,” she said. “And if it is, I would rather die.”

She was living a forgotten life; one that was acutely empty and painful. For her, as for anyone who suffers from such loneliness, the pain is made worse, not simply by the absence of human love but more so by what that represents.

When we have been forgotten by family and friends alike it is not hard to believe that God has forgotten us, too.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote powerfully of that experience: "There is no human misery more strongly felt than the state of being forsaken by God. Nothing is so terrible as rejection by Him. It is a horror to live deserted by God and effaced from His mind.” 

His words recall the pleading, pain-filled cry of Christ as he hung dying on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

How often have we felt the need to speak the same words? How often and how deeply does the wound of loneliness rupture our hearts? In these moments of pain it is easy to believe that God has lost sight of, what we believe to be, our insignificant lives, but Heschel would not agree.

This prayerful man of God wrote of "Divine pathos," the grief and suffering of God with God's children and God's creation when they are in pain.

Anyone who has ever loved knows that this kind of suffering can only flow from love, for without love there can be no grief. The deeper the love, the more profound the grief.

It is comforting to believe that God knows our pain, feels our pain and holds our hearts and souls in the passionate embrace of divine love. It is from such an embrace that we are able to renew our strength and overcome our loneliness, so we can be God’s hands and feet and heart for people like my dear, lonely friend.

Even in the midst of our own pain, and sometimes because of it, we are all called to put God's love into life because every life is worth remembering.

How well we do that is up to us, but “forgotten” should never be anyone’s last memory.