The Vaulted Files: Reflections on Advent (2010)

My latest project is recipe scrapbooks into which I am compiling recipes, photos and stories.  As I scrolled through my vault of writings in search of holiday themed essays, I came across this one from 2010. I think it was written as a way for me to reconcile my Catholicism with my love for Christmas decorations.  My kids, now on the brink of full-blown adulthood, are not as likely anymore to gather around the Advent wreath with me for prayers, or collect stars from the Advent calendar as we count down the days to Christmas Eve. But this narrative reminds me of all the joy that is still present in the season, even as my family scatters like dandelion seeds to fulfill the duties of our days.  Happy Advent, everyone. 

While the city is alive with Christmas decorations and as families are planning their gifts and activities and preparing their homes, we Catholics are reminded throughout the Advent season that it is not, in fact, Christmas just yet.  Sometimes, I attend Mass only to leave feeling guilty for having already put up my Christmas tree. Obviously, I need to work through these feelings.

I love the Christmas season, whether it is celebrated liturgically or secularly. I love it for the lights and decorations, for the magic and mystery.  I love the planning and preparing – both in my home and in my heart.    I am generally cheery and positive, but let’s face it – I am waaaaay more joyous during December.  I find that I smile more, I giggle more, and I am more generous with both my time and my treasure.

Every time I look at my office doorway and see the red stocking peeking in, I am reminded of the season’s magic.  I love the signs of the season, and I want to display them as early as possible because I love the feeling that I have during the holidays.

I know the season is not all about presents, shopping and Santa.  I know it is about celebrating the birth of Christ.  I love the liturgical significance of Advent in that it tells us to “prepare.”  I want my children to feel the Christmas spirit all year long, because the reason for Christmas is with us all year long.  I also want them to understand the liturgical significance, so we have an Advent calendar and an Advent wreath.  We say daily prayers during Advent, and we do our best to prepare room in our hearts and home for the Christ Child. Advent is a time to recollect and ready ourselves for Christ. I always thought that meant I had to chill on Christmas until December 24 and allow Advent in as a time to rest and wait.  But that’s virtually impossible for me to do.  I want Christmas, like all. the. time.

To me personally, Advent is about anticipation, not delaying. Preparing, not waiting. We should be busy now – preparation is not a passive thing. May each Advent – whether busy or restful – lead our hearts to the perfect Christmas.

Not All Who Wander…

I said some day I would write this down.  Figure it all out. Make the story make sense.  Because I am a figurer… and a planner… and a puzzle solver.  It’s what I do.  I may do it on a small scale, but I do it whole-heartedly.  And often.

It was 2014 when I said to Dom, “What if I went back to school? What if I wanted a master’s degree? Would you be cool with that?”

I wasn’t asking permission to expand my horizons, mind you; Dom would never hold me back from what I felt called to do with my time. But we are a team, and I needed to know if he could sacrifice some dinners or pitch in with the housework while I studied for the next two years. I knew this would not be easy on any of us.   I would publicly state two years later, “If I ever say that I want to go back to school for a  third time, someone hit me in the head with a rock.” It was an adequate statement, and I sensed it before I even began.

So there I was, rocking along toward an MBA.  Dinners were still relatively on schedule.  Dom was becoming a laundry KING. I was stressed out and stretched too thin, but I was killing it, or so I thought. And then the bottom fell out.

October 2015.  I’d been in school for a year. One down, one to go.  Mid-way through Halloween decorations and smack in the middle of terms, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer.  We live right next door to her, and of the six of us “kids” (her three sons and their wives) I had the most flexible work schedule.  So I rose to the occasion.  I managed to balance school and work and doctors’ appointments.  Against all odds, Mom lived.  Hell, she was outright cured.  I fell to my knees in gratitude and when I rose I danced and cried and danced some more.  I had plenty to be thankful for and I was ready to shout it from the rooftops.

Six months after the doctors looked at my mother-in-law in astonishment and I thanked God and every saint I could name, I finished that dang program and got my MBA.  The trials were over; the dust had settled.  There was light at the end of our tunnel.

I thought the achievement of the degree would satisfy me, but a desire to do more started murmuring in my head and wouldn’t shut up.  What good was that degree if I wasn’t going to use it? What had all the struggle been for if nothing was going to change? Why did I pay that tuition if my family would never see some return on the investment?

So I said to Dom one morning, standing at our bathroom sinks, “Among those companies that your company works with, if you hear of any job opening that I might be good at, let me know, okay?”

I don’t know how much time passed between that statement and a certain phone call.  “Hey, remember when you said for me to keep an ear open for jobs?” he asked.  “OIB is looking for a credit analyst.”

“A what?”

Seriously.  That’s how this journey unfolds.  The next thing I knew, I had an interview.  I’ll never forget it – March 30, 2017.  My father-in-law had a doctor’s appointment that morning at the same time as my interview.  After two years of my accompanying them to every appointment and my helpful ability to recall dates and details so that I was almost a walking medical file on my mother-in-law, Pop wanted me there at his appointment.  “That’s alright,” I remember him saying. “They’re just going to look at my esophagus and figure out why I can’t swallow. It’s no big deal.”  That wasn’t self-pitying sarcasm; he genuinely meant it and I believed him.

I had my interview and came back to my office at the Catholic Center to tell my co-workers, “Y’all, I bombed that thing! There is no way I’m getting that job.”

Within an hour my phone was ringing.  Remember that light at the end of my tunnel? Turns out, it was another train.  Dom told me that Pop’s appointment that morning had taken a morbid turn. Esophageal tumor.  A biopsy had been scheduled, but it was most likely cancer.  No. Just, no.

Sometime in the next three weeks, Pop’s diagnosis and treatment were confirmed, and I got the job.  It was bittersweet, to say the least.  In a new work environment with entry-level vacation time, there was no way I could attend all of Pop’s appointments as I had attended Mom’s.  Everything felt upside down and I felt guilty for so many things –  for being happy about new opportunity when those I loved were so distraught, and also for not being available to my extended family when they needed me.

I cannot imagine that I was much good those first six months of my employment at the bank.  My family was going through some tough stuff – scary, and yet too familiar all at the same time – and I did not have my same confidantes and supporters in my day-to-day world.  I had new people. Wonderful people, but not those onto whom I thought I could dump all my crazy and still keep my job.  I held it in, for the most part.  I only let out the little bits that I thought wouldn’t send my new coworkers running for the hills or searching for the nearest straightjacket.  I know now that I did not give them nearly enough credit.

As 2017 drew to a close I experienced my first series of working holidays. Switching careers from the Catholic Church to banking is culture shock, to say the least.  We work on Christmas Eve?? Are you kidding me?? Perhaps I would not have been as selfish with my holidays if I were not watching Pop dwindle in strength and spirit with each passing day.  I managed to take some time off after Christmas that year, and I vividly recall taking a phone call from my new friend and supervisor as I stood in the backyard on a partly cloudy, cold December day.  She was informing me that our community bank was being bought by a larger bank. Our merger would be complete in February.

I spent that last week of December mentally willing myself to see the silver lining in our merger.  Maybe I would start to grow into my position and gain some confidence. I had not been with the community bank long enough to feel credibility in how I did my job; maybe that would change.  I don’t know if I was tricking myself, but I managed to feel hopeful about the whole thing.  Maybe this was why God led me into banking. Perhaps I would find my footing after all.

Three days into 2018 Pop succumbed to the cancer we could not beat.  I don’t have to tell you how badly that hurt.  I started comparing the timelines and sizing up his cancer journey and my OIB journey.  Both began on the same day. Both ended within just a few weeks of each other. Both turned my world upside down.  Both were beautiful and painful. Both would leave permanent marks on my heart.

The following month I spent my birthday in training for the new bank.  My heart was still heavy, my body was still tired, and my head hurt with too much new information. While I had only six months of procedures to re-learn, my co-workers had years’ worth. I was quite surprised (and somewhat ashamed) at the relief I felt as more and more people joined me in my unsteady little boat of The Unknown.  I finally felt like we were all on the same ground, rather than me being in a pit while everyone else stood far above me. To be fair, some days we were all above the pit, and some days we were all down in it, but at least we were together.  Misery does indeed love company.

It was somewhat similar at home.  Some days we were all smiles and some days we were just weepy messes. Oh, I could talk a good game – God’s plan for our lives, waiting patiently on the Lord, no need to worry about tomorrow, blah blah blah.  I was saying it, but I wasn’t instantly buying into it even as the words were passing my lips.  Okay, yes, my heart knew the truth.  But it was like my brain had just been through a war-zone video game that it couldn’t shake even though the game was over.  There were no winners in that game, by the way; it was all just destruction and shambles – programmed blood and pixelated gore that I couldn’t unsee.  There was real loss that I couldn’t unfeel.

I recall one particular Spring day when I was feeling especially down and I was complaining to Dom that making new friends at work had not been easy, that I missed terribly the sisterhood I left behind at the Catholic Center, and that I didn’t know if I’d ever have that level of emotional camaraderie again.  His response gutted me. “I know how you feel,” he said. “Think of who I hung out with, who I shared everything with when I wasn’t with you. Daddy was my best friend; we did everything together. If I wasn’t with you or at work, I was with him. I don’t have that anymore.”

The realization stung as it sunk in.  I had been so laser-focused on what I was missing that I failed to see the innumerable layers to Dom’s loss.  My selfishness had known no bounds.

I wasn’t willing to ignore our feelings at home, and fortunately neither was Dom.  We began to set aside time every night just to be together and talk about our day with no distractions. We tried to make sense of where we were, both personally and professionally.  Did we want what we had? Did we like who we were? Were we simply too scared to change? The answers varied, depending on the day’s events, but ultimately we realized that we had been changed by our experiences, not ruined by them.  The question that remained was simply, “What now?”

In the midst of our grief-filled year, we had some pretty significant events – Aaron graduated from high school and we dropped him off at college. I managed to distract myself from the additional changes in our home by focusing on travel, crafts and holiday party plans.  But December found me at my lowest point. For the first time in memory, my favorite season of all was not filled with hope and wonder and peace. I had no spare vacation time and was working through Christmas. I came home one night in tears and vowed to Dom, “I will not do this to another Christmas season. I have to have a different job before this time next year.”

As 2018 became dust and shadows I realized that we had been to Mass approximately four times during the year, not counting Pop’s funeral.  How had I been such an idiot?  No wonder the year had been so hard.  I prayed still, but my prayers were more akin to venting sessions with the hopes of a magic eraser.  They lacked gratitude.  I began to see that as a general rule, I lacked gratitude.  This had to change.

“We gotta go to Mass,” I finally told Dom after the year anniversary of Pop’s death.  “We gotta get our butts back in a pew or we are never going to recover from this.”

He nodded.  “I feel it too.  We need a major change, though.  Maybe a different church.”

I could be on board with this.  I understood the sentiment.  We needed a drastic enough change that we could see and feel a fresh, new start. “Okay,” I said. “But, can I ask one thing?  When we change churches, can we still be Catholic?”

“I’m not gonna quit being Catholic!” he exclaimed, and then we both laughed – he with amusement and I with relief.

There were so many issues with changing churches that my stomach soured at the thought of addressing them all.  Victoria was in the middle of her Confirmation year; I served on the church finance council; our church had a new pastor whom I deeply respected and whose feelings I did not want to hurt; we had grown to love so many of the congregation members, and all of those people had supported us and loved us through the highs and lows of the previous twelve years. There was no way leaving wasn’t going to be awkward.

I decided to start with the pastor of the church we would attend: the church where it all started – where I fell in love with Midnight Mass, where I became Catholic, where we were married, where our children first learned how to sit still in a pew. In other words, home.  I called Father Tim, whom I know from my days at the Catholic Center, and said, “I need confession and consultation.”  He came to my office and we talked about all my issues. There wasn’t a single problem I brought up for which he didn’t have a reassuring answer. It was not official, sacramental “confession,” though I did share with him all the ways I had gone wrong in the past year and my general state of discontent.

“You need to come back and work for the church,” he said.  I laughed.  He didn’t.  “Why not?”

It was the question that would start the healing I needed.  The next time I saw him, he outlined a job description for a new position he was creating. I didn’t tell him right away, but that description was exactly what I had decided I wanted to do – a little HR, a little insurance, budgeting, facility management – basically, managing a small business.  I just never thought that business would be a church.  But, if I’m qualified for anything, it’s a church job. We touched base with each other several times over the next two months while he fine-tuned the position and took applications and I prayed for direction.

“You still interested?” he’d ask.

“Yep.” I handed him my resume. “You still hiring?”

“Yep.”

It became official on April 17, 2019, just a few weeks past the two-year anniversary of the kick-off of my journey. I got the job.  I’m back in the fold.  I’m going home.

In The Lord of the Rings epic, Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” It feels like I have wandered for two solid years, and I frequently felt lost. Hindsight is 20/20, and only now I can look back and see that I may have lost myself but God never lost me.  Even when I let go of his hand, he still had my back.  He blessed me with new, dear friends and a bank “family” who consoled me in my loss and lifted me with their daily presence for two years. Perhaps he blessed me with a little darkness so that I could appreciate the light. And he blessed me with opportunity – to sacrifice, to grow and to love.  My mental image is of me as a child, toddling away toward something shiny while God gently reaches out and holds a belt loop to keep me steady. The toddler, oblivious to everything in the periphery, is only aiming for what’s ahead, and what’s ahead is always going to be unknown to us.  But we learn when we wander.  We learn so much.

 

** Since this post contains Dom’s feelings as well as mine, I had him read it to be sure he was okay with my sharing and required no edits before this was published.  He said he had only one edit from my original draft: that I share my mental image of God as Henry Blake from M*A*S*H. It’s true.  From the time I was little, I envisioned God with Colonel Blake’s quirky hat and fishing vest, complete the the pinned lures. I have no idea why I made that association at such a young age, but there it is.  Since Henry Blake was always smiling and happy, yet still Large-and-In-Charge, I suppose it’s fitting in its own way.  I can definitely picture him corralling a toddler by the belt loop.  And that’s good enough for me.

2018: A Year of Love

As I reflect on the year that began with so much pain, I realize that love has been our constant companion both inside and outside of that pain. Love came to us in friends, and in the form of hugs and texts. It took the form of cards and covered casseroles, potted daisies and even a few corked bottles. It saw us through a year that was simultaneously sad, hard, maddening, bittersweet and joyful.

To paraphrase a few lines from a book I just finished reading, we are never entirely healed. We will be “a patchwork of love and grief, of gains and losses”.**  Even though it was an emotionally draining year, we saw through each other our ability to laugh and be happy. Lennon was right. Love really is all you need.

With a full heart I present the sixth annual pictorial recap of a year that was ultimately filled with love beyond measure.

January
After Pop died, we all needed a place to direct our grief. Tearing down his oldest and most decrepit shed provided our catharsis. This is the only pic I have of the day, taken after the shed had been razed to the ground. I wish I had a picture of the tug-of-war team that pulled it down. It truly felt like Family Olympics.

01-18

February
Goofing around at my parents’ house one weekend, my dad and Vic played Heart and Soul together on the organ. (Go on, sing a measure. For the entire rest of the day. You’re welcome.)

02-18

March
Baby Girl turned 16 and got her license. We haven’t seen her since. (Kidding…sort of).

April
A pic of my favorite men just before Aaron headed out to the Senior Prom.

04-18

May
This. Just… this.

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June
Three days after we watched A Dog’s Purpose, a stray German Shepherd showed up at our house and wouldn’t leave. He looked neglected so we fed him, bathed him and named him Bailey. He’s a genuine sweetheart who lives with Charolette now, and Kasie and I believe he was sent by Pop. I just love big dogs with big paws.

06-18

July
My kiddos altar served at our church for nearly six years. As Aaron prepared to leave for college, Vic announced she didn’t want to serve without him. This was the last time they served at Mass.

07-18

August
Here’s the one WTH? picture. There’s always one. Breakfast time and one of our eggs had two yolks. Was this really the most exciting picture I took in August, you ask? Why, yes. Yes it was.

08-18

September
Labor Day weekend found us driving to Ruston to leave a huge part of our hearts at college. I cried the whole way home. Max didn’t take it too well, either, and spent the next ten days sulking in Aaron’s room.

October
Part of our first-ever trip to New York to see Harry Potter on Broadway (which deserves its own full-length post) was the fun I had making t-shirts for our Hogwarts-loving travel companions, customized with each person’s favorite quote. And of course, experiencing the magic of Broadway and the Big Apple with my favorite wizard.

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November
Nothing like a wedding to remind us all that life is good, family is precious and true love is eternal. My oldest nephew, Jacob, and my newest niece, Cassidy:

11-18

December
Remember that family I told you about in my most recent post? The ones who make Christmas entirely magical? This is them.  I love these people to the moon and back!

12-18

Well, there it goes, folks. The credits are rolling on 2018. May your 2019 be blessed and may you find peace, love and joy in every single moment it holds for you.

Bonus pic from the NYC trip: I couldn’t resist. So long, 2018. See ya in the funny papers.

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** Clare, Cassandra. Queen of Air and Darkness. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. 2018. Print.

Christmas Past

What follows was originally intended to be one chapter in a larger collection of essays that chronicles our family’s journey through cancer over the past three years. I began writing the collection just as the dust started to settle from Charolette’s cancer, and before the storm of Pop’s.  It has been through several edits since Pop’s illness and death, but the original version below is one of the happier essays and captures the joy and peace with which I have always viewed Christmas Eve.  In the spirit of the season I’d like to raise a glass to Christmases past, and to my family who made them magical.

I frequently tease Dominic that I’m going to start dragging him back to Midnight Mass during one of these Christmas seasons in our future. He staunchly refuses, stating in no uncertain terms that he is over any desire to stay up late enough to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. (Even in college, it was well known that Dom would be the first one to call it a night and go to bed.) Once we had children, Midnight Mass was no longer a viable option for our schedules. But, oh, how I miss it.  Of all my memories, our family’s attendance at Midnight Mass and the wee-hours celebrations that followed are some of my most treasured.

They say you can’t go back, and I accept that; really I do. And I accept that those memories may have to remain only memories, being that so much has changed within our family since the days when we were young, just beginning our adult lives, full of hope, possibility and promise.  When I reflect on that time of my life it is as if I am seeing it transpire inside a snow globe.  I shake it and a memory forms, its edges slightly blurred. We are walking up the driveway of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. The air is bitterly crisp and I clutch my winter-white wool dress-coat tightly around me. Dominic offers me his arm, and I loop my own through his and snuggle close against his suit jacket, resting my cheek against his shoulder as we walk. Bob and Charolette walk beside us, elegant in their Christmas attire, as we are joined by Victor and Melissa and then by John and Kasie. We enter the church and head up the center aisle to our familiar pew on the right-hand side six rows from the front. We genuflect and file in, filling the pew almost to capacity.  We greet and are greeted by familiar faces throughout the sanctuary, which is adorned in boughs of greenery. Deep red poinsettias and several Christmas trees decorated only in lights flank the altar while a large, solitary manger stands nearby. As Mass begins the smell of incense tickles my nose and makes my eyes water, but I love the tradition of it all. This is Christmas to me – holy and unrushed, simultaneously simple and resplendent.

I watch the memory for a while before shaking the globe again, and the memory fades out like a dream sequence as another forms in its place amid the falling snow. We have left the church and returned to Bob and Charolette’s home. We are loud and lively. We redress in blue jeans and sweatshirts, getting comfortable for the festivity ahead. A thousand tiny white lights shine on the Christmas tree, which is filled with so many jeweled and ribboned ornaments we can barely distinguish one branch from another. The ornaments were handmade by Charolette’s cousin, Boots, many years prior, and they are the only tree ornaments I will ever know inside this house. We have a full meal planned and ready. Wine glasses are filled and Pop reaches far back into a kitchen cabinet to retrieve a bottle he will use to top off the eggnog. We laugh and eat and laugh some more before settling in to exchange gifts in the living room, a process in which we take turns opening one gift at a time. Sometimes Father Dave is there, standing at the kitchen counter, popping the top on a beer and joking with us. He is as much a part of this family as we are, and his relaxed smile says that he feels it.

The memory morphs easily into one of my most favorite Christmases, when during our gift exchange John hands Kasie a wrapped box of running shoes. On the laces is tied an engagement ring. She opens the box and proclaims her excitement that he has bought her exactly the shoes she wanted. And then, removing one shoe from the box, she sees the ring just as John kneels on the floor in front of her. Her hand flies to her mouth and a second later she is in his arms, crying and saying yes. John had almost given her that gift in private; I had to beg him to please let us watch, though I’m sure it was Charolette’s asking that actually convinced him to propose publicly. I believe that is the widest I have ever seen him smile.

Sleepy and satiated, we depart for our homes around three in the morning, only to regroup in the same place the next afternoon for lunch with the extended family. It is at these lunches that I would enjoy spending time with Dominic’s cousins and getting to know Charolette’s aunt and uncles.  Oh, the stories these people can tell on each other!

The tradition changes slightly after those early years of our marriage when we begin filling the church pew with children. Now the snow globe reminds me that we have committed to an earlier Christmas Eve Mass, Victor wears the well-deserved title of Gumbo Chef for the night, and the unwrapping of gifts is no longer facilitated one person at a time.  Tiny fingers rip bows from presents and hold books and dolls high in the air for all to see. “Look, Mommy, look!!” is shouted so much that Kasie, Melissa and I can’t tell who’s opening what or who’s calling to whom. We begin to nod and smile at every child in turn, saying, “Oooh, that’s great, sweetie! Did you remember to say ‘thank you?’” Pop examines the instructions that came with his gifts, collects wrapping paper into a trash bag and plugs batteries into new toys. Mom sits beside the tree, handing out packages still to be opened while her sons gather at the kitchen table to admire a new toolset someone has received.

It is at the end of these evenings of frivolity that Dom announces, “Saddle up!” and we wrestle cookie-filled children into car seats and drive home.  Once they are tucked safely into bed and our Santa duties are fulfilled, Dom and I continue our tradition of exchanging one gift each before turning out all the lights except for those on the tree and in the garland. This is where I find my silent night. We plug It’s a Wonderful Life into the DVD player and snuggle on the sofa. We know it’s okay if we fall asleep before Clarence gets his wings; we will watch it again the next night.  And maybe the night after that.

 

The Process

We all grieve.  We grieve things, circumstances, pets, people. It’s a process.  It’s long and it’s messy. I hate messy.

Sometimes during the process I realize all over again the finality of the situation. The bus just pulled away from the station without me. The person I love is on the bus. Gone.  Just like that.  Can’t call him.  Can’t go visit. No more last minute Hey-would-you-mind or How’s-your-day-been.  The imaginary line just buzzes, or worse, I get that upward ringing tri-tone and the voice that annoys me even though it’s pleasant. “We’re sorry.  The person you are trying to reach…”

I know, I know. He’s gone. I get it.

For the last two nights I’ve dreamed about Pop. They’re perfectly normal days and circumstances in the dreams, except that I’m aware Pop is supposed to be dead.  I’m glad he’s not, but I’m confused.  He awakes from his chair, round faced and wide-eyed. “Hey!” he says as he gets up and walks outside.  The family follows. He chats ‘em up.  I hear him laughing. That laugh.

I’m staring dumbfounded after him. I turn to my sister-in-law. “They embalmed him,” I say. “How is he walking and talking?” She shrugs.  And then she smiles.

“Where are the groceries?” Pop asks as he throws his arms around a grandson. Groceries are dinner. Pop’s ready to eat. What in the world is that doing in my dream? I don’t know, but there it is. I hear him laugh again.

I think of cooking, and suddenly remember that my food-prep knives are dull.  Really dull.  Pop always sharpened them for me.  I’d send them next door and he would bring them back, five deadly weapons wrapped neatly in newspaper. “Wash those before you use them,” he would advise. Hey, maybe Pop can sharpen my knives while he’s here.  I’ll ask him after dinner.

Pop moves to stand beside me and I examine his profile.  His hair is not the white I expected.  It’s black, peppered with a little grey, I notice. He’s younger than when I last saw him. How is that possible? I reach to touch him and he moves away.  If he’s aware of my confusion, he doesn’t let on. I let it go. Food. Pop was hungry.  I need to get food made.  I turn toward a kitchen I do not recognize and wonder why my legs are bound. I can’t move as freely as I should. I look down into nothing.

My eyes open and I’m staring at my bedroom ceiling. My legs are bound by the sheets, comforter, and a Siberian Retriever. Move over, Max.  I gotta go help fix dinner.

Except that I don’t. There’s no dinner to fix. No Pop to eat it. The realization brings back the heaviness. Ding, dinng, dinnng… “The person you are trying to reach…”

This sucks.

The Vaulted Files: A Letter to Youth

I was cleaning up my laptop files today and found this letter I had completely forgotten that I wrote back in 2015.  I do not recall if I ever sent it, nor do I think I could even retrace my steps to find the person for whom it was originally written.  But when I read it today, it struck a chord, as I’m sure the writings of the young girl for whom it was intended originally struck me. I still feel the sentiments expressed here quite powerfully, so they belong in this forum.  I hope it helps somebody.


Hi there.  Let me introduce myself by saying that I am a mom.  I sing horribly, embarrass my kids with unbridled car-dancing, and say cliché things like, ‘I am old enough to be your mother,’ mostly because I am.  I have two teenagers, and one has turned me on to the Gorillaz.  So there I was, surfing around for the backstory on the characters so I could know more about why this real band had these interesting cartoon images, when I stumbled upon your blog.  And for the life of me, I cannot get your personal comments out of my head.  So, that is essentially why I’m writing to you…because I’ve read your blog, comments others have made and comments you have made back in reply.  And they touched me.

Let me also say that I do not make a habit of getting in the business of other people’s families.  I have never suffered from anxiety or depression or gender fluidity, so I am puzzled by my own need to reach out to you, for I know I have little to offer you in the way of support.  Except that I am a Christian.  I hope that confession does not instantly conjure negative images or emotions for you, because I believe that as a Christian it is my mission to love.  And with that in mind, I want to give you hope.

I want to tell you that your life has value, that you ARE important and dignified and worthy of love beyond measure.  I want to tell you to never, ever, ever give up on who you are, because you are an inspiration to people and can be even more of one if you just allow yourself the time and space to grow.  What you have done with your blog, in my opinion, is given people a chance to let their thoughts be heard without judgment or repercussion.  You have allowed people to be free to express themselves in a way that we stuffy adults don’t seem to understand.

Honestly, we do understand it.  I think sometimes we’re so jealous of youth that we would rather hold it in oppression than let it blossom into something new and beautiful. I, for instance, still feel 25, newly initiated into adulthood, swinging the world on a string.  I look in the mirror and that is not a vibrant 25-year old staring back at me.  It’s a little unsettling sometimes. 😉

YOU are strong and brave and amazing for your honesty and strength of spirit.  And I know that not every day is sunshine and roses, but I want you to recognize the days or even the moments that are, and believe that in your future those days and moments will become more numerous than they are now.

I am not the sort that goes around spewing scripture at people, and I am certainly not going to preach to you.  In fact, the only people I want to hit over the head with a Bible are the ones who are using it to spread hate.  But I heard a verse today and it made me think of you, so I want to share it, in the hope that it will give you some peace:

“Everyone will sit under their own vine, and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Now, why that is not grammatically correct is beyond me and it drives me crazy, but I digress.)

That made me think of you because I think that sitting under our own vine means we are each different, living our own ways of life, enjoying the customs and lifestyles that fit each of us.  The part that I hope you find comfort in is the second part: ‘and no one will make them afraid.’

Some day, some day we will get it. Some day we will stop trying to change people because we disagree with them.  Some day we will stop trying to control others because we want them to be just like us. Some day there will be no reason to worry or fear.  That day, I know, has not yet come. But as long as you breathe you have hope within you.  I will pray that sustains you in the hard times.  Please, please remember that even when you think this party we call life is not worth the cover charge, there is a middle-aged lady in Louisiana who thinks you’re pretty cool.

Peace for your beautiful soul,

Lori

 

When the Sun Shines Again

It’s been ten days since Pop left us.  So many people have offered consolation and wisdom for what we face.  They tell me it will get easier, that time and memories will see us through.  I believe them.  I have certainly found reasons to smile and laugh in these past days, but I also find that I cry over the smallest things now.

I think it’s the moments in between the moments that get me the most.  The quiet moments when my mind is still.  That’s when I think of the little things, just out of the blue.  Like lunch, and how every day when Dom and I would meet at home for a lunch of leftovers from last night’s dinner, we would be stirring or re-heating or pulling plates out of a cabinet and he would casually ask, “Want me to see if Pop wants any?”

“Of course,” I’d say. “There’s enough.”

A few minutes later Pop would come striding through the side door into our kitchen, tea glass in hand. “Hello, hello,” he’d say, quickly followed by, “Get back!” as he admonished our dogs to stop greeting him with such enthusiasm.  He would stroll around the island and take a seat at one of the middle barstools before launching into a lively conversation about something on the news that day, or a chat he’d had with a friend that morning. Many conversation topics began with Pop waving his hand in the air as a means of pointing our attention in a certain direction as he stated, “Dominic, we need to…” followed by a task or chore that he wanted Dom’s help with somewhere on the property.

Pop would eat with us, compliment the meal, then lean back in his chair with a satisfied sigh before saying, “Alright. Let me get back to your mom. Thanks for lunch. It was delicious.”

“Alright, Pop,” Dom would say. “See you tonight.”

I’d chime in with, “You’re welcome, Dad. See you later.”

And then Pop would walk out the door with one last, “Thank you.”

Pop thanked us every time he saw us, even when I didn’t feel like we had done anything to be thanked for. Each time I told him goodbye, he would answer with, “Good night, now. Thank you.”

The last time we spoke he thanked me. I truly feel like it should have been the other way around. Of course, I didn’t know that was to be our last conversation. That night, it should have been me thanking him – for unbridled laughter, for raising his boys to be perfect gentlemen and showing them how to be great husbands and fathers, for being an amazing father-in-law, for letting me see his own strength as well as weakness, and possibly for leaving that strength behind so that each of us who miss him can use it to get through the hard times without him.

I imagine it will always sting when I think of the things we won’t get to do again with him. But I will be forever grateful for the time we had and for the gifts of his love and laughter, which he shared with all who knew him, holding nothing back. I will remember to say “Thank you” every time I think of him, and I will smile at the memories. One of my favorite Rose Kennedy quotes reminds me that it’s okay to find joy even after loss: “Birds sing after a storm.  Why shouldn’t people feel as free to rejoice in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

You know me.  I’ll be looking for the sunshine.

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Robert Joseph Mainiero
October 27, 1942 – January 3, 2018

 

 

 

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

It’s funny, the things you remember once your brain gets past bad news.  I’ve been in a funk lately.  Duh, right? No, it was more than a sick-family-member funk.  It was a why-is-the-world-like-this funk. A what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this and how-will-I-ever-get past-this funk. I was run down from emotion and circumstance and the general 2017-ness of it all.  I’d had enough.

To be honest, I recall many details of the past year, but it flew by.  Seriously.  Wasn’t it just last month that Pop was diagnosed? It was April.  Has it really been eight months? No.  Where did the year go? I’ll tell ya where it went.  It spiraled down a swirling vortex of suck, flinging out tiny moments for my memory to hold on to. Little snapshot photographs.  A conversation here.  A milestone there.

Until yesterday.  Yesterday I decided to get my spirit back on track.  I threw myself a little pep rally right there in front of my computer at work. The day was decent.  Baby steps. I held another pep rally this morning in the car on the way to work.  It’s not my car, actually.  It’s Pop’s truck.  After my van was totaled a month ago we decided not to replace it right away.  Pop’s truck had been sitting dormant in his driveway for the better part of the year. Suddenly the truck needed a driver, and I needed wheels.  We seemed a perfect match.

Can I state for the record that I am sooooo not a pickup truck driver?  There it is. But back to the pep rally.

I turned the wheel of Pop’s truck and literally said to myself, “You’ll never get past this if you can’t be grateful. It’s time to move on.” It’s a whole new year, I reasoned.  And, as much as I miss the comfort and convenience of my van, at least Pop’s truck has heated seats.

Although I’m usually having these conversations with God, today I was talking to myself.  He answered anyway. As I straightened out onto another street, a verse lodged in my head. “This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Be glad in the day.  Not hard, right? Be glad that we have this day. I’ve said repeatedly over the last few months that God only gives us one day at a time and that’s all we should concern ourselves with.  So what’s up with all my moodiness lately? It serves no one, least of all God. I’m his child.  I’m the daughter of a King, I reminded myself. THE King. Whatever today brings, He and I can handle it together.

The call came in just after 2:30 this afternoon. Pop was gone.

Twelve hours later I rolled over in bed, aware that Dom was up, aware once more of the events of our day. I closed my eyes and instantly saw Pop’s steering wheel and the ridiculous half-patched bump in the road I take to work, the sun blazing down on me as I drove in freezing temperatures. I recalled my conversation with myself and God’s interjection. I can see now how He was preparing me. Be grateful… Take one day at a time.  I thought I was preparing myself for a good day.  He was preparing me for a hard one. “This is the day the Lord has made.”

I will rejoice and be glad in it.  Even as my heart breaks.

So Long, ’17!

2017 started off pretty smoothly with no notable bumps or bruises.  Remember New Year’s Eve when I almost cried into my keyboard over how grateful I was to have everyone safe and sound? That feeling got to hang around through the Spring time change.  We got the wind knocked out of us again in April when Pop was diagnosed with lung and esophageal cancers. Mark my words: if I ever get my superhero powers activated, I’m kicking that disease’s stubborn ass.

Only a few of the photos below recount the truly memorable moments of 2017 which include not only Pop’s condition, but also saying goodbye to Lady-Bird, my career change, Victoria playing soccer for the first (real) time, becoming a three-car family because the kids are driving, becoming a two-car family again because I had a collision, and literally everything about Aaron’s senior year – right up to getting his college acceptance email. (So much for the frameable letter for my archives.) If I were to post only photos of the moments which years from now I will most likely recall from 2017, I would appear both incredibly proud and undeniably whiny. But as I have stated before – repeatedly, I think, because it’s not easily pounded through my own thick skull – this post is not where I recall the in-your-face moments of the year.  Rather, it is where I acknowledge the sacredness of the ordinary minutes of our lives.  The minutes that peer out through the emotional cobwebs to say, “Hey, remember how good this moment was? Be grateful.”

With gratitude in mind, and in accord with my end-of-year holiday custom, here is our pictorial year in review.

January


One thing I can’t get enough of: sunsets. Here’s a cold January day closing its eyes over our back yard.  Not sure why I’m so attracted to bare trees backlit by the glow of the sun, but really…who can resist those colors?

February


As a family, I think we all realize how very fortunate we are, despite the trials of the past two years. On February 4th Bob and Charolette celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  That evening was the calm between the storms, and it was nothing short of blessed.

March


This is Max.  To say we have spoiled him would be a gross understatement.

April


We all took a few minutes in the midst of celebrating Aaron’s Confirmation to snap some family photos.  Here are all the Mainiero kids.

May


Okay, spoiled though he is, Max was unable to escape the inevitable neutering on his first birthday.  As a retaliation technique, he spent the next four months eating items of great import to me and Dom.  Here are destroyed DVDs of LOTR and (gasp!) The Ten Commandments.  Hey, Max, can you wrap your head around “Thou Shalt Not…?”

June


We spent our summer vacation in Memphis where we sought Elvis, found Elvis and promptly overdosed on Elvis.

July

20170716_211131381_iOSI tried not to put anything sad in this year’s post, but some moments demand to be acknowledged. More paw prints forever on our hearts.

August


There’s always one text conversation in these posts, right?  Here Victoria and I are discussing my determination to DIY repair the door handle on the kids’ car.

September

07-17

Apparently I married a funny, funny man.

October


Homecoming 2017.  The kiddos were gracious enough to let me snap close to 200 pics of them before the dance.  Here they are showing me their “Freeze with your hands up” pose.  So if the cops pull them over, my daughter will be the one vogue-ing.

November


My sister-in-law, Melissa, drove downtown with us and took Aaron’s senior pictures.  It’s really hard to choose my favorite, but I promised I’d only post one.

December

20171202_233247378_iOSChristmas decorating our front yard at dusk by the light of the rising Super Moon.  One of the last truly peaceful moments of 2017.

Well, there it is – 2017 in all its not-so-radiant glory.  There are blessings in these ordinary days.  I pray I remember that when I later reflect on this roller-coaster year.  Just out of curiosity…is it permissible to pre-order an easier 2018?  Perhaps I should just hold on to gratitude and hope for the best.

May each of you have a wonderful, prosperous new year, and may you be blessed beyond measure.

For the Love of Country

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For the love of country music, for the wounded, the grieving, and the taken…

I awoke from an unsettling dream in the middle of the night and rolled over in my bed, shoving my feet underneath Mabel for warmth and, admittedly, security. My mind replayed scenes from the dream in an effort to dissect the more disturbing parts of it.  And then I heard voices from outside myself, suddenly aware that we had fallen asleep with the television on.

A reporter’s words vied for my attention: “shooting,” “concert,” “dead,” “wounded.” When I blinked my eyes and focused on the context, I heard a gentleman explaining what it was like to have his buddy shot in the chest right in front of him at a country music concert.

Dear God.

In the wee hours of the morning we had confirmed 20 souls taken and 100 injured. I watched throughout the day as the numbers climbed to unfathomable levels. This afternoon, I paused in the kitchen of my office building to absorb the information that we now knew of 58 people who had died, with a staggering 515 injured.

I hurt for the people injured and for the families of those whose loved ones won’t come home from that concert. I hurt for the country music family. People had gathered to have a good time, and their memory of that event, perhaps even their love for the music itself, will be forever scarred.  That breaks my heart in ways I cannot even begin to express.

Last call, last chance
Last song, last dance
Sometimes you just don’t know when that’s gonna be
Hold me baby, give me a kiss
Like tonight is all there is
‘Cause there’s a last time for everything

I do not know what makes a person want to hurt, much less kill, someone they have never met.  Seriously, if you want to hurt someone who has never wronged you in any way, then a large part of you is quirked up far beyond my meager understanding.  But I will say this: hiding behind a gun for fame or acknowledgement is the pinnacle of cowardice. Those who shamelessly kill innocent people are the biggest cowards, perhaps even the very weakest among us, whether due to a blackness in their souls or a sickness in their minds. I cannot say what medical, security or domestic policies – if any – can address this deficiency in our society.  Smarter people than I will have to figure that one out, and I pray they can.  What I do know is the people suffering the most from last night’s tragedy were just trying to chill, to sing and dance and to have a good time.  But we are Americans, and only if we have the courage to band together beyond all of our differences will we rise.

I’m a riser
I’m a get up off the ground, don’t run and hider
When pushin’ comes to shovin’, I’m a fighter
When darkness comes to town, I’m a lighter

I am so over the recent discussions that have divided our nation because quite frankly I think these subjects have been protested to death and gnawing on them has yet to bring us to better action. Do you want your neighbor to succeed, to truly be “equal?” Then lift him up. Want inequality to be a thing of the past? Then teach your children that all are equal, regardless of race, income or religion. Want both our leaders and our children to be respectful of all people? Then we ourselves must model that respect in our homes, in our workplaces, in our congregations, and even on the road in our minivans and SUVs. Reach out your hand and shake the one of the person next to you, no matter where you are.  It is so much harder to hate someone when you look in their eyes and admit they are just like you.

Raise ’em up
Fist black and blue, fight for the truth
It’s what you do
Hand on your heart for the stripes and stars…
Raise ‘em up tall and strong
Raise ‘em up right from wrong
Raise ’em up so damn high they can hear God singing along

As a Christian I know that this life is not meant to be the easy one.  Lately, I am reminded of that daily because the good Lord gave me a thick head and only He has the patience necessary to put the same message in front of me day after day after day. Sadly, I will have the privilege of singing along to a Jason Aldean song on the radio a year from now without being jolted back to the horrific events of last night.  Not everyone can say that, and my prayers are infinitely with them.

May we all do a little bit better than the first time
Learn a little something from the worst times
Get a little stronger from the hurt times…

To the artists who make the music, and the people who are held together by it, my heart is with you all.

(Apologies to Brad, Dierks, Keith and FGL for the lifting of your lyrics, but they have always lifted me.)