Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sad News: Fr. Thomas Dubay

I have mentioned Fr. Thomas Dubay's publications a number of times on my blogs, and they are in my recommended reading list. For me, his works have been my sanity checks and mainstay when it comes to dealing with the mystical experiences that have come my way. About two years ago, after a string of locutions and having just finished his book, Authenticity, I wrote to Fr. Thomas to tell him how helpful I had found that book (probably not one of his most popular because it is directed to those people who have experienced sound, voice, touch, and, as I have found over the past four years, they are not found in every pew in the church). I also told him of some of my experiences, of the details of my quest to determine their authenticity, and of some of my questions and concerns. I did not ask for a response and did not expect one. Nonetheless, a few weeks later, I received handwritten comments on my letter from Fr. Thomas, who apologized for the format but said that he had just arrived from another trip, was tired, and wanted nonetheless to respond to my note immediately. He told me that he thought that my experiences, as described, were likely authentic and why, commented on my comments, and suggested some answers to my questions. His letter gave me greater confidence in moving more deeply into contemplation and not pulling away from God at the most intimate moments.

Fr. Thomas passed away this weekend, and his passing feels like a personal loss. I will now treasure those handwritten notes even more. If you have not read Fr. Thomas's books, please find some time to do so. They are, for me, second only to The Cloud of Unknowing/The Book of Privy Counseling on my list of books to which I am addicted.

The following is from the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, D.C., who cared for Father Dubay during his final days; I have blatantly "stolen" (borrowed?) this information from his publisher and am certain that the publisher will be happy to have the word spread.
Rev Thomas Dubay, SM
RIP September 26, 2010

From Washington, DC:
This morning at 4:45, the Lord welcomed into His Kingdom Rev Thomas Dubay, SM, after suffering kidney failure and massive bleeding in the brain. Father’s frail health had been declining ever since his admission to the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Washington more than a year ago, but his suffering was even more noticeable in recent months. Despite this fact, Fr Dubay was just as witty as ever.

When Father’s superior, Fr. Bruce Lery, SM, called the Little Sisters on Sunday morning to tell them, he said, "We have a saint in heaven" –how true! Fr. Dubay was hospitalized about a month ago and then transferred to a rehabilitation facility for specialized treatments but his health was steadily declining. Yesterday he was re-admitted to the hospital with bleeding in the brain, and he was put in coronary intensive care. Although the ventilator was removed, he continued to breathe on his own.

Although he suffered from his loss of independence, he was happy to concelebrate Mass almost every day in the chapel of the Little Sisters Home in the shadow of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation’s capital.

The Marist priests and brothers visited him almost daily, and Father depended very much on his superior, Fr. Bruce, who was always there for him. In a few words, Fr. Dubay literally practiced what he preached! Father was happy to give weekly classes to the Little Sister postulants –classes which he enjoyed as much as they! From his room, Father continued his spiritual direction with many persons who called on him and this also was extended to letter writing.

We can render prayers of thanksgiving for the wonderful support Father gave to religious communities spending a good part of his life giving conferences and retreats. Although his preaching and spiritual direction was delivered to contemplative communities, his teaching was not for them alone. Religious the world over benefitted of his spiritual wisdom and guidance for years. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace after leading so many souls to true spiritual peace during his lifetime! The opening prayer of today’s liturgy says it all: “Help us hurry toward the Eternal Life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom”.

For more about Fr. Dubay's writings and work, see his author page at Ignatius Insight.
My note: Many have said that Fr. Thomas Dubay is one of the greatest spiritual directors and writers of our day. I believe it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

If the Road Comes to an End, Find a Path through the Woods

I grew up barefoot and suntanned on a farm in rural Maine, the oldest of eight children. My father was a shoe cutter in the winter and a farmer in the summer. All the children I knew in the Maine farmlands grew up barefoot, suntanned, self-confident in the country air, and a little insecure when confronted with city bustle and impersonality.

We were bussed to the city for school. Everything in the city seemed better than on the farm. Our classmates had nicer clothes, shinier shoes, and spiffier haircuts. Life seemed to move faster, and you were supposed to have toys, gadgets, candy, money, fancy book bags, and all sorts of things. The differing levels of affluence were painfully obvious to all of us.

So, when it came time for the science fair, I did not consider the possibility of entering. I loved science, but the cost of supplies was not within my reach as a single exhibitor. I could not partner with one of the city kids because I could not provide my fair share. I could not partner with one of the farm kids because even together we would have no money.

My science teacher would not listen to my explanation. He personally signed up my girlfriend and me and challenged us to figure out a project that we could do with what we had.

"You don't have to buy science," he told us. "Science is all around you."

We picked the topic of light and color, then scoured our houses and barns for anything useful: some leftover pieces of glass from a broken barn window, oddly shaped pieces of wood from the woodpile, and some scraps of wool from my mother's sewing basket. We realized that we had the makings of a display. Perhaps our science teacher was right. Perhaps we could, indeed, make something from nothing.

First, we cut the broken window glass into triangles for homemade prisms. We found, though, that the light diffracted into a multitude of directions so that we could not get the clean spectrum that we wanted. After thinking a bit, we conceived the idea of gluing black construction paper remnants from art class to the flat slides of the prisms to absorb the ambient diffusion. It worked. We made a couple dozen homemade prisms to hand out.

Next, we built a stand by hammering and sawing the pieces of wood to the approximate size and shape we needed, and we hung the scraps of wood on the stand to make a lightproof enclosure. It teetered and sometimes tottered, but it worked.

Using scrap materials was fun. It required creativity and really helped us to understand principles of light and color better than learning about them in a book. We were satisfied that we had put together a credible project that cost us absolutely nothing.

On the night of the science fair, we carefully packed our multi-piece exhibit into some old cartons we found in the barn, lining them with newspaper to keep everything clean. Arriving at the school gym, which had been set up with dozens of conference display tables, we saw the projects our classmates had assembled from beautiful, expensive science kits. Suddenly, our window-glass, black-paper prisms and our rickety stand seemed shoddy. We could not even begin to compete with the blood circulation machines and the fancy optic displays of our classmates. Without a word to each other, we both turned around at the same time and walked out of the gym. We would have gone home, but there stood our science teacher with a stern look on his face. He marched us back into the building.

We spent the rest of the evening in embarrassment, watching the judges look at the impressive, professional-appearing exhibits of the other students. We crossed our fingers that none of our classmates would walk by and poke fun at our display. They did not. They were too busy showing their displays to the judges and parents. Although we did not understand how our homemade apparati could possibly interest the judges, we were enthusiastic about our project itself and appreciative that they came back several times to ask us ever more interesting and challenging questions. We were especially appreciative that they did not laugh at our homemade displays but thanked us and pocketed the prisms that we handed out as if they were just as good as those pretty, store-bought, sparkling ones.

As a seventh-grader, I was surprised and puzzled when we won first place although our science teacher was not. As an adult, I have found many applications of the lesson I learned at the science fair. It is not what you have that counts but what you do with it. Or, when the road comes to an end, find a path through the woods.

Double-posted on Mahlou Musings and Clan of Mahlou.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Worst Is the Best

A while back I was attending a First Friday gathering where we had an interesting experience-sharing activity. Fr. Gavin asked us to write down for later sharing the best things that ever happened to us (and the reasons we considered it the best thing) and the worst thing that ever happened to us (and the reasons we considered it the worst thing). As I reflected on my life, pondering over what really and truly I would consider the best thing and what I would consider the worst, I stumbled against a dilemma: the best thing and the worst thing were the same thing! I didn't think that Fr. Gavin would expect that particular outcome, and when I shared my thoughts, his stunned surprised indicated that he clearly had not considered that the best and worst things might be the same, but he understood my reasons for saying this.

I identified the birth of Noelle, with her array of birth defects, as the worst thing that had happened. This was not the cute, cuddly baby we had expected. In fact, it would be some time before we could even pick her up because she had to be airlifted out of town and run through a series of surgeries. Thirty years ago, surviving spina bifida, epilepsy, Arnold-Chiari malformation, paraplegia, and hydrocephalus, along with some of the surgeries done to manage her life, such as a colostomy, was not as likely as it is today. Never, though, is it easy to handle all the physical, psychological, emotional, educational, relationship, etc., etc., needs of a handicapped child. Learning that my perfect baby had some imperfections in the eyes of the world, at least in the eyes of the medical world was not the best moment of my life.

Or was it? I could not think of anything better that had happened to me. Through Noelle, I learned much that I would never have known. Through her, I became ready to mother Doah. Through her and Doah, our family bonded, our able-bodied children learned compassion, and all our children learned a lot about creative problem-solving as we struggled to figure out ways to incorporate all our children into all our activities (e.g, traveling, hiking, roller-skating -- even paraplegic Noelle learned to roller-skate, braces and all). None of them are afraid of life because they have met it head-on, thanks to unique situations that first Noelle, and then Doah, and the Shura introduced us to. And, of course, thanks to Noelle and Doah, we were all ready to open our home and hearts to Shura when the time came.

Interesting, isn't it? Just when we think something really bad has happened, God puts it all into a different light, using it for good, and showing us the very worst can actually be the very best.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Days of My Broken Back

Having had Doah at home for a couple of weeks now, once again balancing family needs and work requirements, I find myself remembering the days when all the kids were home and I was doing the same -- balancing family needs and work requirements.

At one point, years ago, I needed to have a psychologist's note for work. It was a routine type of thing, dealing with a back injury that had reared its head, something that rarely happens but was probably the result of both work stress (the reason the psychologist was involved although, for Heaven's sake, a simple doctor's note should have done but was unacceptable because this was a ten-year-old injury, not a new one) and the physical stress of caring for seven children, one of whom could not walk (due to paraplegia) and was getting pretty big for lifting and carrying. All I needed was the note, relieving me from certain activities at work for a few weeks, and in the end that was exactly what I got. However, being a psychologist, the lady felt that she should have a little psychological discussion with me. It went something like this:

She: So, tell me, how do you spend your days?

I: Well, I get seven kids ready for school in the morning, then dash off to work, where I sit in front of a computer for long hours at a stretch, answering dozens of email notes, then I run around visiting classes, counseling teachers, attending and conducting meetings, hiring people, firing people, and working together with our resource office on budgets that don't quite meet the needs of work requirements, a very stressful endeavor. The physical running around is actually great. It relieves the stress on my back, but the sitting at the computer, in the classes, and at long meetings has been problematic lately.

She: Forget the back, let's get back to your schedule.

I: Okay, well, after work, my oldest daughter picks me up because she has the car during the day. She needs it for work more than I do because I can walk to and from each of my 12 buildings, which is good for my back.

She: Forget the back for a while. Let's get back to your daily routine. What do you do when you get home?

I: Oh, well, fortunately, I don't have to make supper. My kids won't eat anything I cook, so my husband does that. While he is preparing supper, I go over the homework of my teenage son who is being homeschooled. We discuss the various papers he has written, research he has done, and any questions he might have. I also want to know what he thinks he has learned. I check his understanding of the books that are not in English, and we have some debates over the meaning of various novels and stories he has read. Then I work with the littlest one. He is retarded so the schools think he cannot learn, but he can. He just has his own way of learning. Right now, he and I are working our way through 1984, and he gets Orwell's intent. However, he explains it in ways that would not work in a regular seventh grade class because of his speech disinhibition. I know he understands much more than he communicate because when I ask him who the protagonist is, he will say "little guy, like me." Then, dinner is usually ready. I always forget to make sure that the kids have washed up. They seem to remind themselves, though, and at the table we discuss what the other kids have done during the day, any particular problems (often, we attack the problems as a group), and highlights in which to delight. Then, Noelle has to catetherize; she does that pretty well for herself but I need to ensure that she has no oncoming urine infection or body sores. If she is out of her braces because they are being repaired, then I have to do range of motion exercises on her. After that, there is a scramble for baths, one on one time with the kids, helping with homework with the kids who are still in school: Lizzie and Ksenya have graduated and help as they can. Then, often, Ksenya, who is not my birth daughter, likes to crawl up in my lap because she misses her mother in Moscow; we spend time reminiscing about Moscow in Russian. Sometimes, Lizzie joins us because she went to school in Moscow and can speak Russian; it is good for her not to forget Russian. On a school night, the kids go to bed around 10:00, but if it is a Friday night, we generally gather at that time for a family meeting to make family decisions on expenditures (money is always tight) and forthcoming activities.

She: Well, that's interesting, but what do you do for yourself?

I: Oh, right, after that, somehow I squeeze in dishes. It's only fair I do them since Donnie makes dinner, and I get some thinking time while washing them. Also, laundry and some light housekeeping. Donnie does the trash detail. The kids help, too, and the heavy cleaning we do as a family on Saturday morning.

She: That's not what I meant. I mean for yourself personally.

I: Well, I used to do some exercises to try to keep my weight normal, but I cannot do many of them lately because of my back -- which is why I need to have that piece of paper I came here for -- so that I can take a couple of weeks off and let the back recuperate.

She: We can talk about your back later. I am curious as to what you do for self fulfillment.

I: I thought I already told you. I get the delight of entering my children's minds every night and helping to develop their thinking -- both ethical and analytical. I get to discuss literature that I love with my own children. I get to shape the education of my home-schooled son. I get some one-on-one time with myself while doing dishes and laundry. I get to relax with my "adopted" daughter and my oldest daughter, reminiscing about Moscow and helping the former make the transition between cultures. Sometimes, I even get to talk to my husband before or right after tumbling into bed -- and sometimes the two of us get to talk even more while doing chores together. If I have time, I will help him with the trash, and he will help me with the dishes. (Actually, we met doing dishes, so that is appropriate.) And, if my back is okay, I spend a few minutes exercising.

She: Lizzie, you have a serious problem. When do you put your family aside and do things for yourself?

I: I don't quite understand your question. I would want to put my family aside, why? Doing things for my family is doing things for myself. That's the source of my happiness. You are right, though. I do have a serious problem. I need that note for work so I can take a couple of weeks off to heal my back!

She sighed and gave me the note. Mission accomplished. Sheesh! Why did it have to take so long? I would be late getting home and miss my reading time with Doah. Big help that lady was!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Evening Conversation with Murjan, The Cat Who Thinks He Is Human

Murjan, about whom I have blogged before, truly does think he is either a dog, or more likely, human. I have mentioned how he loves to have his belly rubbed and lies down on the floor as soon as I walk in the door, proffering his belly to a ready hand. I have also mentioned how he follows me from place to place, lying at my feet as I go about my work. Then there is the little yip whenever he wants some attention from me, especially treats.

There is another trait of Murjan's, however, that makes him seem part human. As can be seen in the picture above, he is quite good at lounging on the couch, sitting propped up against the arm in much the same way I have seen Donnie sitting. The more compelling evidence, however, are his midnight chats and snuggles with me. Since pictures are worth a hundred words, here are the pictures, without commentary, that Donnie snapped one night recently (please overlook my unkempt look; I was not planning to model).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Goodnight, God"

Doah has been sleeping on our couch while we are waiting to find a new group home for him. (That event may be very soon, ilhamdu Allah/Thank God.) Last night I spent time on the couch beside him, perseverating on computer work until the wee hours of the morning, unlike on the weekday nights when I usually tumble into bed before Doah goes to sleep because I have to get up early and go to work -- and, of course, for now, he does not.

It has been years since I have watched Doah go to sleep. As a child, he would make a nest of blankets under my desk and sleep there. As a mentally challenged child, he did not think of the world in the same terms as those around him, and I always wondered what his teachers thought of us as parents if he told them that he slept in a nest!

Since Doah was right beside me, I could see him drifting off to sleep as his breathing slowed and became regular. Right before he totally zonked out, I heard him whisper, "Goodnight, God." Then he was unwakeably asleep for the rest of the night.

Once he no longer slept in a nest, I no longer observed him falling asleep -- and it has been years since his nesting days. So, I was unaware that he always says goodnight to God.

How funny! So do I! It must be in the genes!

I always say good morning to God, too. I consider it a prayer of sorts, albeit a very short one. I wonder if Doah, who is usually up before I am, does the same? I bet he does! After all, it's in the genes!

(re-posted from 100th Lamb on Sabbath Sunday -- the day I take a rest and therefore re-post older posts or posts from other blogs)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Doah's Divine Protection

Since Doah has been in our "news" nearly exclusively, it seems appropriate to post an excerpt about him from the book I am working on now, Raising God's Rainbow Makers. (I do want to thank all of you who have been praying for him. He is doing well; I post updates on the right sidebar of the 100th Lamb blog.

One time Doah decided to take a walk. Doah always loved to walk, but where he ended up was sometimes a mystery and often a worry. He could slip away faster than loose change in a holey pocket. In this instance, Doah was about 5 years old and was planning to accompany me to work. Apparently, tired of sitting on the stoop for longer than he thought it should be necessary for me to dress, he headed off down Lee Highway, a major road through Arlington, Virginia where we lived at the time.

When I emerged from the house, ready to scoop him up into the car, there was no Doah to be seen. I could only imagine what might have happened had he set off down a 4-lane road on foot. Heart pounding from exertion and fear of the worst, I ran up and down each of the side streets, calling his name.

Fortunately, the fourth street I ran down, I hit pay dirt. A man, who had been standing somewhat bewildered in the yard of the church — I didn’t even notice the the name of the church so focused was I exclusively on finding Doah — ran up to me and asked if I were looking for a small, blond boy. Was I? Yes!!

The man was as relieved as I was. He had seen Doah walking down the highway and, worried about his safety, had taken him to the church, confident that the church members could track down his parents. That was before they met Doah. The dialogue with him, as I understand it, when something like this:
Church man: “What is your name?”

Doah: “Doah.”

Church man: “What is your father’s name?”

Doah: “Daddy.”

Church man: “What is your mother’s name?”

Doah: “Mommy.”

Church man: “Where do you live? “

Doah: “Home.”
Everyone was relieved that “Mommy” had shown up to take Doah to where he lived: “home.”

This was just one of many times that Doah seemed to have divine protection.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time to Quander

I ask the indulgence and prayers of readers of all my blogs. Other than for an occasional, already-written post or the Monday Morning Meditation (I never miss an "appointment" with God and right now that is especially important to me), I will be taking a week or so off to quander (ponder a quandary).

Donnie received a shocking call today from the work place of Doah, our youngest son, who lives in a group home from the mentally challenged, and immediately called me: Doah had been raped. I immediately left work, and we headed north. We met with the sheriff's department, the folks from Doah's workplace in whom Doah had confided, doctors and nurses, an advocate for victims of violent crimes, and Doah himself. Doah went through five hours of medical tests and over an hour of interrogation from the sheriff's department. The medical staff said that Doah inspired them with his obviously deep faith that gave him an extraordinary resilience. The deputy told Doah that he was the best crime victim he had ever met -- Doah was straightforward and explicit, got the details right, and did not back down from uncomfortable truth. By the time the evening was over, the deputies had tracked down the rapist, an illegal alien without documents who seemed to have disappeared according to everyone who knew him, and had him behind bars. Impressive! So was the orderly procedure and all the help made available to us.

Nonetheless, this event has thrown our lives out of kilter, and I need some time to put things back together. We have brought Doah home with us until we can find another group home for him. We have to decide on any legal action we wish to take against the group home -- a difficult decision because I am suit-averse by nature. There is also more testing to do and results of testing to receive: hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV/AIDS. The latter is very frightening and very possible. I am asking all our friends to pray that Doah passes through this terrible experience without contracting HIV/AIDS as a permanent reminder and life-threatening consequence.

Thank you for your understanding and any prayers you are willing to say for Doah (or candles you are willing to light). God bless you until I am up and running regularly again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Outdo God? Impossible!

Yesterday, Desiree, the young woman who has been sharing the apartment with Noelle since Ray died in January, called Donnie, quite upset. The apartment manager was kicking her out because the apartment was rented only to Noelle. (Ray did not live in that particular apartment; he did not even visit because Noelle rented it after he went into a coma in 2006 and was in and out of a coma from then until he died this year.) There being no other option, Desiree is now looking for another apartment.

She called Donnie because she is Noelle's age, does not have local parents (is not in touch with her parents at all, as far as we can tell -- we don't push her for information), and has adopted us as family in loco parentis, calling us Mom and Dad. She has enough money on a monthly basis to pay for an apartment of her own, but she has no savings. The typical $200 security deposit for the size and location of apartment she was considering was out of reach for her. She wanted to know if she could "borrow" the money from us, "borrowing" in this case being a euphemism of asking us for a gift for there is no way she will be able to pay it back and we would not expect her to do that.

The timing of this call was particularly bad. I gave Lizzie 25% of my salary this month because the summer courses she was supposed to teach at the university were underenrolled and did not run. I give Shane 5% of my salary every month. It is not a lot, but it helps bridge the gap between what he earns at CHP and what he used to earn before he lost his job with the city police department. Doah always needs something since he makes only a pittance at the sheltered workshop, and this month those needs were more than $100. Beyond that, I had used God's credit card to send $300 to Wajeeha in Pakistan (an expense I fully expected would be paid back without any effort on my part -- and in the three days since I sent the money, all but $25 has come in from unexpected sources, as is typical with God's credit card).

Hm, what to do? I pushed the budget around this way and that way, but little seemed to help. Water, which is very expensive here in our arid region, and rent are both due from this bi-weekly pay check. There just simply was not a spare $200 to be found. I contemplated using God's credit card for this. After all, Desiree seemed like a person in trouble, and usually that is what God's credit card gets used for. However, I do not put God's credit card to personal use, so somehow this particular need of Desiree's did not feel right. Would God want me to use the card for this? I wondered about that even as I told Donnie, with a bit of uneasiness, that he could call Desiree in the morning (this morning) and agree to the $200.

God answered my question within a couple hours of my getting up in the morning. On the way to work, I had to run into the post office in the morning to pay the box rent, so I picked up the mail. There I learned that my uneasy feeling was not without basis. I must be going to need God's credit card for something else in the near future because in the post office box, when I checked for the mail, lay the answer to my question: a check for $202 for royalties from one of my publishers, almost precisely the amount Desiree needed, arriving a month earlier than the publisher typically pays. In fact, there was also a note from the publisher in the box, saying that the check would be sent at the end of September!

So, I could use the unexpected check for Desiree's need. That lets me save God's credit card for whatever is out there awaiting me for its use.

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