Monday, February 18, 2013

Risky, but Right

Friday night Warren told us that a friend of his was getting kicked out of the place she'd been living and had nowhere to go, and asked if she could stay with us for a few days while she sorted it out. This was not the first time something like this has happened. Between the fact that Warren has a lot of friends from more precarious circumstances than himself and the fact that he actually has a very soft heart, we have had extra kids here at various times. She is at least the third to stay here short-term to avoid imminent  homelessness, and if I thought longer I might recall more. So much so, in fact, that when I talked to Sam on the phone and mentioned it he said, “Mom, you do realize you're not running a youth hostel, right?”

It's not always easy. People in situations like this usually need help with transportation. They need to eat. They need to take showers, and to sleep somewhere. When the someone is female, logistics are even more complicated. And of course, there's the nagging concern about security. Is this person as he or she seems? Is it safe having him or her here in my house, or are we going to come home one day to find all our valuables gone?

This young lady actually ended up staying with us only two days and one night.  She left last night to re-enter the uncertain life she knows.  She was really very sweet and I wish we could have done something to make a more lasting impact on her life.

But the real point of this post is, I'm so glad I didn't follow my first instinct and say no.  That would have been safer; by almost any standard, wiser. But I've spent most of my life living my Christian mission more in theory than practice, sending money without getting my hands dirty.  Lately I have felt like God wants to disturb my status quo a little more than that.

The other reason I'm glad I didn't say no was that it was actually a delight to see how kind Warren was to her while she was with us.  I had suspected, frankly, that he wanted her here because he thought it a convenient set-up to hit on her.  His behavior humbled me and made me feel bad for even thinking that.  He was kind and respectful.  Definitely treated her more like a little sister than a dating prospect. It was a pleasant reminder of why we invited him to live with us in the first place. He can sometimes frustrate and annoy, but there's a really good heart in that young man!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Old friendship: a rare and precious treasure

Yesterday a dear friend posted pictures that included me from a party we attended 30 years ago. While it was a blast seeing all those faces, it really made me stop to appreciate the fact that she and I have been friends for that long. A thirty year friendship is a rare and precious thing.

I don't have a lot of long-term friends. At the risk of sounding whiny, I partly blame my upbringing. We were rather nomadic, moving enough times that when I started 9th grade it was my 10th school. I learned a lot of good coping skills through that experience, but what I didn't learn was the value of holding onto friends. Apparently it wasn't something my parents put much stock in, either, because I didn't grow up seeing them keep in touch with any old friends.

At any rate, I drifted through childhood and into young adulthood with a kind of “love the ones you're with” approach to friendship. I almost always had friends wherever I was, but if life moved me on down the road, I didn't stay in touch with the old friends. Prior to the advent of Facebook with its power to reunite old classmates and the like, I had stayed loosely in touch with only two high school friends. I had not managed to maintain ANY of my college friendships. I still have no contact with anyone from graduate school. 

 My wonderful friend who posted the picture (and her husband, an equally close friend) came into my life around the grad school era, but as classmates of my first husband. We all shared a house during their last year of school. Ironically while my marriage didn't last, the friendship did. She later served as a bridesmaid in my wedding with Bob and while we don't get to see each other face to face very often, when we do it is always like picking up where the previous visit left off.

Apparently, I didn't begin to put down roots in friendships in any big way until I entered the working world. I do have at least a few friends who date back to my first post-grad school job. And each phase of my life after that seems to have generated some lasting friendships. Admittedly, each later phase is closer in time, so there hasn't been as long to lose touch with people. But my experience has been that I lost touch almost right away, because I used to not understand that friendship was worth holding on to.

It has been a big delight to reconnect with a lot of high school classmates and a few college ones through Facebook. The thing I have really enjoyed is seeing how the things that seemed so divisive in high school just don't matter now. A lot of the people I now interact with frequently were only casual acquaintances then. They moved in different circles and in high school, those social roles mattered. Now, we've all lived through enough that we are who we are. If who we've become clicks, we pick up the friendship. In some cases it is a renewing of something that was always there, in others it is like finding unexpected treasure.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent? But it was just Christmas a minute ago!

Our church life has been yet another aspect of our lives adding interesting dimensions lately. In early January it was announced that a new pastor has been named to serve our parish, but he won’t start with us until March 5. Though no one I know is closely familiar with our new priest, the general scuttlebutt we hear about him is good. So hopes are up. Meanwhile, we won't hire a new music director until the new pastor is here to lead the effort. Fortunately our interim director, Paula, is doing a fine job and seems to be retaining her sanity fairly well.

A few years ago our parish went away from electing the parish council that advises the Pastor to drawing names of willing people out of a hat. (I believe the thinking was that in a parish as large as ours, voting yields only the highest name recognition, not necessarily any other characteristic.) Last year Bob was drawn as 2nd alternate, so he felt like he had dodged the bullet, so to speak. But now the second person this year has resigned, and his name was called. He is already so overextended with Boy Scout volunteering that he wasn’t at all sure he could take this on. We discussed it and realized that now that Sam is off at college, I would probably actually enjoy taking on more of a leadership role at church. So we asked if I could take his place, and I am now a member of parish council. I have attended only one meeting so far, so I don’t yet have much of an opinion about it.

And now Lent has begun. For us that is a busy, intense time in the church. We started with special services on Ash Wednesday, and there will be special components in our Masses each Sunday. Many of us adopt some sort of Lenten discipline to help further focus us on listening to God during this time. At our parish, there is also a weekly fish fry put on by the Knights of Columbus, but drawing additional serving staff each week from a different organization. It’s a lovely way to enjoy fellowship with others in the church.

For Catholics Lent ends with what we call the Triduum. This is one long worship service celebrated in three sections over three days. It starts on Holy Thursday with a focus on the Last Supper; resumes on Good Friday with a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross; and it ends late Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, where we celebrate the rising of Jesus from the dead. This three-day service is a great time to be a choir member, as we do lots of special, interesting music. But of course, getting from here to there also means a heavy rehearsal schedule.

Some of you who have followed me in years past know that I have often done a separate Lenten blog as my Lenten discipline. I have opted not to do that this year, partly because this year I was really moved by the words of Matthew 6:6: "When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." And honestly, it just didn't feel right for me this year, whereas in those previous years, it felt absolutely right, and probably was the right thing to do then. So I've undertaken a private discipline this time instead. But even though daily blogging isn't my Lenten discipline this time, I am hoping I can keep up the recent trend of more frequent posts in this blog through Lent and beyond.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Mother's Heart Goes On and On

I noted last night that there has actually been a lot going on in our lives, so it is time I start writing about some of it. Tonight, we update on my mother's health issues.

For the past several months, my mom has had bouts of two different problems. One is that she has had unexplained blackouts. She didn't always completely pass out, but she would more or less lose consciousness, become uncommunicative, and have no recall of it when she came back. First it was diagnosed as mini-strokes. Then when she had a worse one that landed her in the hospital, they suggested that it was actually seizures and put her on seizure medicine.

The second problem was increasingly severe abdominal pains. They had gotten to the point where she would be doubled over and screaming in pain. And really, my mom is not the demonstrative type. She doesn't scream. Between the two issues, she has had several hospitalizations, including I think three in a month's time.

Just over a week ago she was again rushed to the hospital, exhibiting both problems. But what proved to be different was that this time, the squad got there faster, so they ran a tape on her heart while she was in the worst of the problem. And it revealed that in fact, Mom's heart had STOPPED! Now the cardiologist says that he doesn't believe she ever had mini-strokes or seizures – that this has been the problem all along. A pacemaker was installed a week ago tomorrow, and she seems much better.

The abdominal pain, apparently, was from kidney infection that had escalated to near kidney failure. And the kidney infection was caused, we're told, by the assorted doctors who were treating her having over-prescribed to the point that they were poisoning her kidneys. So all her meds are being re-evaluated and adjusted.

Now Mom is at a nursing facility for two weeks of therapy and rehab before she returns home. On the one hand, it really highlights how little, old and frail my mom has become. She is 88 years old. She is in many ways a shadow of her former self. We are only given a limited time on this earth, and 88 years has to be nearing the extent of that. On the other hand, it is clear that the pacemaker and the nursing home are making a difference. She seems stronger than she has been in a while. It is looking like she might be able to go home, resume her daily activities and enjoy life as she knows it a while longer.

I've asked all my friends to pray for her, and I appreciate the many kind words I have heard in response. I continue to request those prayers. Everything logical tells me she is living on borrowed time, but I hope she and those of us who love her can manage to enjoy every day of that time.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

We Are Family

Over dinner tonight, Bob pointed out that we have had a lot of excitement and drama in our lives lately. And it struck me that he is absolutely why haven't I been writing?

One of the biggest, most dramatic events of the past few weeks was a death close to us. My Facebook friends have seen a lot of this already, but wow, it was an emotional experience.

For the past 18 years, I sang in the choir with Chris. For about the last ten years, I have sat right next to Chris. Every Wednesday night and Sunday morning, she was the person I relied on, joked around with, and got to know a little better than other people.

One Wednesday, it was just like always. Chris mentioned to me that she was seeing a doctor in the next few days and was concerned. She was a Type I diabetic and she had a wound on a toe that wasn't healing. That had her really concerned. Almost like an afterthought, she added that also, she was bruising. She said under her clothes it looked “like someone had beaten the crap out of” her. By the next Wednesday, we were praying for her soul, since life support was removed that afternoon and we didn't yet know whether she had survived the evening. (It turned out she was a fighter to the end: she didn't pass until 1:00 Friday morning.)

The bruising, it turns out, was because she had an aggressive leukemia. When the doctor saw her blood work he sent her directly to the hospital. They were supposed to do a bone marrow test, but before they could get to it, her brain began to bleed. They put her into a medically induced coma and cut her skull to remove the pressure on her brain. By Wednesday, her family made the difficult decision that Chris as we knew her was already gone and could never come back, and had the life support removed.

Chris was a person who had led a difficult life. All of us in the choir knew this, though she wasn't a complainer. In fact, quite the opposite. Chris was grateful for every positive thing that came her way and was always quick to offer a helping hand. She was a quiet, unassuming person with a wicked wit and a very generous heart. She did lots of things behind the scenes so quietly that none of us were aware of everything she did. Her absence from the choir is like a gaping, open wound. It has been really, really tough for us all.

In fact I would say that the only silver lining I can find in this tragedy is that this experience has made all of us in the choir stop and notice how much we mean to each other. We spend, on average, at least four hours a week together, sometimes more. Working together to a common goal. Often under emotionally charged circumstances. We laugh together, but we also pray together and sometimes, like this week, cry together. That's more time than most of us get to log with our siblings and other extended families. The loss of Chris has really focused us on the fact that we are, truly, a family too.