Write In Between

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One Last Kiss

The last kiss goodbye unashamedly took place on a crowded sidewalk along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Funny, I didn’t picture it being like that, but there it was. My daughter was starting her college life with a service program that connected her with hundreds of eager fellow freshmen. We arrived early at the designated meeting place.

I held her close as I held my breath, feeling my throat tighten. She caught my eyes welling up. It was time for her to go. She confidently mingled with her new cohorts. Over her shoulder she said she’d call tonight when she got back to the dorm.

I held my husband’s hand as we walked back to the van for the ride home. Next to us strode our teenaged son—there for moral and muscular support for his sister’s move up to the 18th floor of the dorm. During school months now our youngest of three will be an “only child”; a subject he deems a tremendous perk of birth order.

Speaking of births, bittersweet occasions such as these bring instant mother recall. We can usually remember a first kiss—I met my daughter after 6 hours of labor and delivery. And if I could have pre-planned my first kiss to greet her, I probably would not have pictured a hospital delivery room, but there it was.

So it’s not so much the place, or what we wore, or the day of the week, that matters most. It’s the love. For we remember moments.

So it is natural that we greet each other with a holy kiss, as St. Paul’s epistles often recommend.

These are moments of truth for parents: as the young adult child moves on, parents must move on too. We know we are crossing a certain threshold where the relationship changes permanently. But drenched in love, trust, and hope, it is a holy moment… a visible sign of an invisible reality.

A long line of obvious milestones prepared us for this day. They stretch back through high school to pre-school. Smaller but equally vivid memories marked the passage of time: final exams and SATs, graduation, award ceremonies, drivers ed., job interviews, going to camp, sacraments, first crushes, sports victories and losses, birthday cakes, recitals, broken bones, and broken hearts. As the hugs and kisses multiply, the bond between parent and child is unmistakable.

Yet, some milestones were less obvious. Looking back, how many “last” moments did we miss not realizing they were “the last” at the time? Like the last time we pushed them on a swing? Or the last time we had to help shampoo their hair? Or check over their homework? Or sat on their beds as they prayed their nightly prayers? Had we known those moments were “last”; we might have celebrated them a bit more.

Somewhere along the way, our children grew up and we slowly did what we were supposed to do to raise and educate them. Still, these thresholds cause us to wonder: did we say and do all that was needed? Hopefully. Usually, we did our best given our circumstances at the time. Now we must leave the rest to God and his providence. In letting a child go and grow up, we must also let go of missed opportunities and our mistakes along the way.

We drove home from Boston. Later, I crawled into bed making sure the phone was on my nightstand. I wondered if she would call. I’m a seasoned parent who knows college students are not known for going to sleep as early as I do. So I kissed my husband, offered a prayer, and turned out the light.

I hadn’t been dozing very long when the phone rang. “Hi… Mom?” That’s my girl.

What a gift to offer one more kiss goodnight.

©2008 Patricia W. Gohn

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Writer's Wednesday -- Richard John Neuhaus

The Magisterium of the Church presides rather than controls. The pope claims universal and immediate jurisdiction over the Church, but nobody should think that he and his few hundred aides in the Roman Curia can control the hundreds of thousands of bishops, priests, theologians, and teachers of all sorts who are charged with the responsibility of guarding and transmitting the faith. The Magisterium demarcates and to some extent patrols the outer boundaries of the permissible, and occasionally disciplines egregious offenders. It provides authoritative and readily accessible points of reference such as the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Magisterium raises the flag at the center that holds, to which the confused and pedagogically abused can repair...

To say that the center holds is to say, in part, that the Magisterium is an anchor. But it is also a compass. Both anchor and compass are needed, depending on the turbulence of the surrounding sea. The Church is called the barque of Peter on its way to the destination of the promised Kingdom. In the third Eucharistic prayer we ask God "to strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth." The images speak of stability and movement, of communal identity through time. Employing the nautical imagery, the Magisterium is in command on the bridge... Those on the bridge and in the engine room have their appointed tasks and, we are assured, the charisms necessary for carrying them out. As do we all. We are pilgrims and passengers and members of the crew beckoned onward by what the Church calls "the universal call to holiness." Which is to say, beckoned on by Christ and the promise of the Kingdom. What is expected of us is to respond to the call where we are, and in doing so to allow ourselves to be carried to where we are to be.

---Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters, Confusion, Controversy and the Splendor of Truth, Basic Books, 2006.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- Ronald Rolheiser

The mystery of the incarnation, simply stated, is the mystery of God taking on human flesh and dealing with human beings in a visible, tangible way. The radical character of this, however, needs some explanation, especially as it pertains to three things: why God would act in this way; the shocking rawness of this kind of act; and its ongoing, rather than one-shot, character.

Why would God want to take on human flesh? Why would an infinite power want to limit itself with the confines of history and a human body? Why incarnation?

There is a marvelous story told about a four-year-old child who awoke one night frightened, convinced that in the darkness around her there were all kinds of spooks and monsters. Alone, she ran to her parents' bedroom. Her mother calmed her down and, taking her by the hand, led her back to her own room, where she put on a light and reassured the child with these words: "You needn't be afraid, you are not alone here. God is in the room with you." The child replied: "I know that God is here, but I need someone in this room who has some skin!"

In essence, that story gives us the reason for the incarnation, as well as an excellent definition of it. God takes on flesh because, like this young girl, we all need someone with us who has some skin. A God who is everywhere is just as easily nowhere. We believe in what we can touch, see, hear, smell, and taste. We are not angels, without bodies, but sensual creatures in the true sense of the word sensuality. We have five senses and we are present in the world only through them. And God, having created our nature, respects how it operates. Thus, God deals with us through our senses. The Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine could be seen, touched, and heard. In the incarnation, God became physical because we are creatures of the senses who, at one point, need a God with some skin.

---Roland Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, Doubleday, 1999.

Photo credit.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

In Honor of "Mom"

"Momma Mary," as she is affectionately known within my Catholic circle of friends, is celebrated today with the wonderful feast of The Assumption.

Nothing I can write could improve on what the Church has already written and proclaimed about our Blessed Mother. So I won't try. But if you need a little more inspiration about her, go back and read this post capturing the thought of John Paul II.

But let me offer this tiny thought about "Mom's" holy influence: I really didn't "get" motherhood and its eternal ramifications until two things happened in my life:

1. I became a mother myself. And,

2. I got to know, and later, consecrated myself to the Blessed Mother.

As far as I know, its all about the LOVE, baby. And as I watched this short video, I heard my own motherly heart saying, I really love my family. And I heard the echo of Momma Mary--on this her day--saying to you, me, and the Church and world at large: I really love my family.

Mary's Assumption into heaven means we have a mother's heart waiting for us there; she is showing us the way home.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 6

So, it's official. My 6 week check-up reveals that my surgery for my total hip replacement was a complete success. I have officially abandoned my crutches in favor of my old friend, Cane, who will be my dance partner until I am ready to solo.

In the meantime, I am beginning the heavy-lifting physical therapy required for my recovery.

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Incredibly moving account from the family of Steven Curtis Chapman

You may recall, and indeed, you may have prayed for the family of Steven and Mary Beth Chapman when you first learned of the sudden accidental death of their 5 year old daughter.

Here, now, the Chapman's speak of their insufferable loss and unfailing hope in this television interview last week on Good Morning America. It runs about 10 minutes.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- John Paul II

In honor of Mary's Feast of the Assumption...

Sometimes it is objected that devotion to our Lady, especially popular devotion, risks detracting attention from the center of the faith, which is Jesus, who died and is risen. But this is not so. Through Mary, we come to her son more easily. Mary is held up as a model for the believer and for the whole Church called to respond to the Lord with her own "yes".

Mary Immaculate is the sign of God's fidelity, which does not yield in the face of human sin. Her fullness of grace also reminds us of the immense possibility for goodness, beauty, greatness, and joy which are within reach of human beings when they let themselves be guided by God's will and reject sin. In the light of her whom the Lord gives us as "our advocate of grace and pattern of holiness," we learn to flee sin always.


The [Vatican] Council itself offers us a criterion for discerning authentic Marian doctrine: Mary "occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us." The highest place: we must discover this lofty position granted to Mary in the mystery of salvation. However, it is a question of vocation totally in relationship to Christ. The place closest to us: our life is profoundly influenced by Mary's example and intercession... The entire teaching of salvation history invites us to look at the Virgin.

---John Paul II, A Marian Treasury. Pauline Books and Media, 2005.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- Dale Carnegie

Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, "I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you." ...

"People who smile," [said Professor James V. McConnell, a psychologist at University of Michigan], "tend to manage, teach and sell more effectively, and to raise happier children. There's far more information in a smile than a frown. That's why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment." ...

The effect of a smile is powerful--even when it is unseen. Telephone companies throughout the United States have a program called "phone power" which is offered to employees who use the telephone for selling their services or products. In this program they suggest that you smile when talking on the phone. Your "smile" comes through in your voice...

You don't feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing. Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy. Here is the way the psychologist and philosopher William James put it:

"Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling which is not. Thus, the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there..."

Everybody in the world is seeking happiness--and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn't depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.

It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

----Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, revised edition. (It is interesting to note that this book first came out in 1936, and it continues to be relevant (i.e. published) today!)

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Movie Alert: Brideshead Revisited

I have long trusted Barbara Nicolosi's take on movies and especially the craft of screenwriting. On her blog, Church of the Masses, she cautions that the new Brideshead Revisited in not at all faithful to the book, and most especially, has taken on an unhealthy anti-Catholic tone.


A related story from the Wall Street Journal: on the downfall of "what's romantic" in movies these days.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ideas on the Care of the Sick and Infirmed -- Part 2

Part 2 – Physical Nurture

To read Part 1, go here.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

The Christian goal of caring for the sick or infirm is to do it in such a way as to enhance the dignity and well being of the person in need. Putting yourself unselfishly at someone else’s service is, after all, love in action.

Pope John Paul II wrote:

The parable of the Good Samaritan [see Luke 10: 25-37] belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbor. We are not allowed to "pass by on the other side" indifferently; we must "stop" beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris - On the Christian Meaning of Suffering, 1994, paragraph 28.)

“Availability” can take a variety of forms. And most of them fall into that old, but familiar category of the corporal works of mercy. (Do you remember them all? Here’s quick review: Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick or those in prison, and burying the dead.)

The corporal works of mercy personify how to physically nurture the sick and infirm. Let’s look at a few examples.

~Feeding the hungry. When I was in the hospital, and later in recovery, I had numerous meals prepared and delivered to my home but loving members of our parish. In fact, during my long cancer recuperation, I had a veritable “chuck wagon” team, headed up by a volunteer “quarterback” who coordinated the people who were willing to make meals for my family. That person also suggested a healthy meal plan rotation ensuring that we didn’t receive three trays of lasagna in the same week! My husband didn’t have to worry about the dinner meal for a month. We even received gift certificates for local take-out restaurants so when I was feeling better I could give myself a night off now and then.

~Giving drink to the thirsty. Or, making sure that the Gatorade is packed for baseball practice. There’s nothing like the help of another mom or volunteer to help you chauffeur your children to their commitments when Mom is off her feet for a while…especially another mother who “knows the drill” with regards to our children’s sports, dance, or music lessons. On more than one occasion, I had a thoughtful mother who came by to drive my child to practice and make sure my child was properly outfitted for their activities.

~Clothing the naked. My recent surgery left my hip size swollen two sizes beyond my normal size. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan did some last minute shopping to get a few needed clothing items to ease me through my first few weeks home.

Here’s another example: In the weeks after my breast cancer surgery, I’ll never forget the dear friend who braved my tears and walked into the lingerie section of a department store to help me shop for a bra for my new post-op body. This was a moment-of-truth event in my physical and psychological recovery. Imagine the relief I had later as I was later laughing about it over an ice cream cone with the same friend who got me through it.

~Visiting the sick. This is most obvious. But do so with permission. Some days may be better than others. For example, when I was on heavy pain medications, I could have very little visitation. I was just too tired and needed to sleep. But, once I was past those foggy days of early recovery, I really rejoiced in those friendly visits. Pain and illness have a way of robbing one’s good humor. A fresh smile and normal conversation go a long way to helping restore “normalcy.” Also, when someone volunteered to stay with me, my family members could take a needed break from my care.

Don’t forget that phone calls and “get well” cards count as visiting the sick. If you can’t be there in person, say so. Taking the time and trouble to remember someone in need means so much.

I have been the recipient of many thoughtful and deliberate acts of kindness. This might sound a little silly and vain, but my recent hip replacement meant that for six weeks I could not bend or stretch to reach my own feet. Two resourceful women who know me took it upon themselves to give me pedicures. One came over to my home and personally cleansed and pampered my feet, complete with painting on a new nail color. The other women simply gave me a gift certificate from her salon to get the same treatment. Both recognitions of my femininity were deeply appreciated by the woman in me.

When I was a recovering breast cancer patient I had many apprehensive medical appointments. A few close friends made sure I never had to go to those appointments alone. My husband often had to work, so these wonderful women cleared their calendars to bring companionship to my medical journey. Each appointment became an event—not just an exam or lab test, but also a lunch date or a trip to a museum!

Paragraph 2186 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this statement:

Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week.

Maybe a good practice for us might be for us to reclaim Sundays as a day when we ask ourselves: “How can I be a good Samaritan in the life of someone who needs me?” Again, that word “availability” comes to mind. This Sunday, as you approach the table of the Lord, you might ask him to inspire the answer to such a question. My childhood was filled with memories of Sundays after church traveling to my grandmother’s home. She was severely disabled and we cared for her needs and cleaned her home. Her health care workers took the weekends off, so my family pitched in regularly.

In closing, I’d like to address a final note to mothers… especially those who may one day find themselves in similar situations of illness or infirmity.

I’ll call these closing thoughts “How not to be a Super Mom.” As modern women, many of us are used to being very resourceful—carrying on as if we need nobody to help us with our daily routines. That being said, I’d like to make two observations. First, if you are a mother needing to go into the hospital, or if you are ill for a lengthy time, you need a plan in place to care for your family. Find solid support people to help you accomplish this. It will give you great peace of mind amidst trial. Second, (and this might be harder than the first suggestion…) learn to graciously ask for, and graciously receive h-e-l-p.

With regard to having a plan: with all my surgeries and subsequent recoveries, I was fortunate to have some flexibility as to the timing of my surgeries. In this way I could plan ahead for the needs of my family. I realize that sometimes one does not always have the luxury of time to do so, but nonetheless, here are a few of things that I did to be prepared.

~Make a few meals in advance and freeze them.

~Find out if online grocery shopping with home delivery is available in your area. This service was worth every extra penny during my months of recuperation. (If I shopped the sales, I was more than able to make up the “delivery charge” in my savings.) Since all of my surgeries had movement and weight-bearing limitations, having that nice delivery person carry all those groceries to my kitchen was just what I needed!

~If at all possible, pay a month’s bills in advance, or at least, write out the checks in advance and mail them later. Similarly, for me, I found it very tedious to talk to the insurance company about my conditions and tests, etc. My husband was happy to make all the needed contacts before and after my illness. If you are alone, a trusted friend who is a good communicator might be up to these tasks.

~If possible, arrange in advance for some help, professional or otherwise, to help keep the house clean. You will heal better if you are not stressing over the need to do chores. At the very least, find someone who will help you keep the kitchen and bathrooms respectable.

~I tailored a few things to my family’s needs. Specifically, I knew one of my long hospitalizations would disrupt my children’s lives, but especially their bedtime routines. So I made a few recordings of my voice reading some bedtime stories while I was away. I also left a few little love notes and gifts to be “discovered” (with Dad as my accomplice) in my absence.

Finally, with regard to receiving help graciously, try to remember two things. First, trust that the Lord knows what you are facing. He understands this time of suffering. Try not to control it. Try to surrender to it. He knows your needs and wants to supply what you need. Therefore, if He places others in a position to serve you and your family, take it as a gift from Him. Second, you don’t know what a blessing it may be for another to serve you in whatever capacity they can. Your illness or infirmity might be the catalyst for another to grow in grace and love of the Suffering Christ. Don’t stand in the way. Accept such loving gestures and actions with grateful appreciation.

©2008 Patricia W. Gohn

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