Monday, December 27, 2010

A Thought for the Quiet Period

Since I am reduced to silence for what would appear to be a few weeks, I would like to invite followers to guest post. Just send me a post (, introducing yourself and, if pertinent, your family, your blog if you have one (and a link if you would like), and post about something you would to share. You can re-post something from your blog or talk about something new -- whatever tickles your fancy. Let others get to know you. I think it will be fun for readers to discover who is behind the pictures under the follower list.

Here Yesterday, Gone Today, Back after Some Tomorrows

Just as I took vacation time to work on my next book, my computer died. This is called Leaver luck; it has happened to us on so many occasions that I was not surprised. You see, Murphy's home is on a cloud right about our house, and whenever we start to feel comfortable with life as it is, he drops some raindrops, hail, blizzard flakes, and the like. The computer repair shop said that the computer was too dead for emergency CPR, so they have to send it to a hospital far away to see if it can be resurrected (perhaps not). That is going to take "weeks," they assured us. How many, they cannot say. Happily, the computer is under extended warranty. I am glad I had the foresight to purchase that. So, if it cannot be resurrected, I will be sent a brand new baby.

In the meanwhile, Donnie has loaned me his very old, but functional Macintosh laptop. I used to know how to use Mac; I am re-learning. The problem is that the computer is so old, it cannot handle even my Word files, and every single document I want to use, Donnie has to convert on his machine. Internet is difficult. I seem to be able to get onto blogger and publish comments, so please feel free to explore and comment on old posts. What is difficult to do is write new ones because I have no access to my graphics, no way to upload graphics, no way to handle large files, etc.

So, it looks like I am out of commission for some weeks. I can get online to read your blogs, and I will continue to do that. Posting on my own blogs, though, is, unfortunately, on hold until my electronic life returns to normal.

I am indeed still working on my next book. Donnie was able to convert the book file, but all my notes are not available. :( Well, I thought of those ideas, they will come back, or God will plant some new thoughts. I actually ended up drastically revising the table of contents while waiting for Donnie to convert the old document on his desktop computer, put it on disk, and pass it along to me in a format that the laptop will recognize. I also changed the title of the book: A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God. I seemed to be getting more inspiration coming my way now that nearly all I can do computer-wise is work on that book. (I am also getting more family and friend time, which is not all that bad, either.)

As for posting anything on my blogs, I am afraid I will have to wait until I am past the computer crisis and my electronic life is back to normal, which looks like nearly the end of January -- right after the book is due. Interesting, how dates and tasks work out that way!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Find the Angel

In nearly every situation, there is an angel who could help. They are often easier to find than one thinks.

Probably the most literal example was at a Christmas party held a number of years ago by a group of Czech immigrants who taught in one of the foreign language education programs I supervised at the time. They invited Doah, who has made a lifetime habit of asking people for help, to attend.

Doah did not know Bohemian traditions, but he quickly figured things out. All the children sat in a circle while Mikolaz (St. Nicholas) read a list of their bad behaviors during the year (prepared, of course, by each parent). The, for each, Mikulaz decided whether the devil, who was dancing up and down in gleeful anticipation near the child in question, could throw him or her into his sack for transport away from this world, or whether the child's behavior had been good enough or contrition deep enough for an angel, also standing nearby, to give a present. Each child quaked. Some cried.

When it was Doah's turn, he must have thought that there was no hope for forgiveness for him. Partway through Mikulaz's reading of Doah's "sins," Doah got out of his child, walked over to the angel, took her hand, and said, "I in trouble. You help me? It your job help people in trouble."

To this day, some people cannot stop laughing at what they perceived as the difference between the "American approach" and the "Czech approach" to a problem. Actually, I don't think Doah's behavior had as much to do with cross-cultural
differences as with his own skill at finding angels. Of course, the angel helped him.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Note: Also posted on Mahlou Musings and 100th Lamb.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Brief Steps Away

As this goes up (automatically), I should be on a plane for Hawaii, where I have some end-of-year business to conclude. After that, on Saturday, I will fly back home, just in time for the Christmas season to descend in full tempo. This year, though, Christmas cards will have to wait until February (January if I can manage a trip to Korea and card writing). We have no tree -- our cat Intrepid eats all plants, including artificial ones, and nearly died from the latter a few years ago so we have given up on a tree -- therefore I will not be distracted with tree decorating. Some holiday activities will, of course, take place as they should and as we want them to. However, I will be stepping back a bit from my normal kinds of blogging posts and the normal tempo of my blogs.

I have taken some days off from work to do a second edition/sequel of my book, Blest Atheist. Unfortunately, over the past two years, the title has been snagged for a variety of odd things, none of them having to do with the remarkable kindness of God, which is what the book is about at its core. Even a furniture store has taken it, along with an atheist reading group! In fact, although it is a spiritual book, essentially Christian, most bookstores carry it in the atheism section. (I guess no one reads books before categorizing them!) That has caused some angry, even rude, reviews from atheists who got a conversion story, rather than a confirmation of their atheism -- which must have been quite a surprise for them. (Christian readers and believers belonging to other religions generally review the book well.) So, the book needs a new title, which I am working on, and since time has passed and my spiritual experiences have continued on a path of deepening conversion, I plan to revise the book dramatically, as well as include those new conversion experiences.

For publication and marketing purposes, I need to turn in the manuscript no later than December 30, so I will reserve most of my writing effort for the book. Monday Morning Meditations will continue, and I will post excerpts from the book as I go along on Mahlou Musings. So, for the next 15 days, my posts may be sparse in spite of having prepared a few backups in case of situations like this.

I will indeed take time to enjoy the Christmas season. San Ignatio, as you can see from the pictures above and below, goes all out for Christmas. (Note: the placard under each lighted wreath/halo is the story of a saint important to this town: St Francis for it was founded by the Franciscans, St. John the Baptist after whom it was named, the real name of this town being San Juan Bautista -- I used San Ignatio as a pseudonym in my book and so I have continued to use it in this blog.) If this town has a year-round sacred feel to it, at Christmas that feel intensifies, beginning with the lighting of the streets, intensified by the daily performances of La Virgen de Teyepac (Our Lady of Guadalupe) by our local El Teatro Campesino, and concluding with our midnight Mass, which usually realljavascript:void(0)y is at or near midnight, depending on how you count the caroling.

So, please forgive my moments away. I will catch you when the book muse takes a recess and will be back on full-time blog duty in January.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Please Help Us Choose

For years now, after our children grew up and became adults, rather than spending money on gifts that are neither needed nor particularly wanted, we have taken a family collection of the money we would have spent on each other and have instead spent it on things that others both need and want. For example, last year we gave visa cards to all the staff (cooks, janitors, librarians, handymen, monks, etc.) at the St. Francis Retreat Center, who do much to make sure that retreatants are able to devote their time exclusively to spiritual matters.

Each year we select a charity that has some special meaning to us. The retreat center is a place where both Donnie, my husband, and I have spent time that has contributed to our spiritual growth. Years ago, floods in India destroyed the homes of relatives of Appu, the college roommate of my daughter, Lizzie. When we were living in Jordan, we gave the money to the only animal shelter there, one which took in more than two dozen cats that I rescued from the streets of Amman. And so on and so forth. Family members nominate various options, and we all vote on which we would like to support in a particular year.

This year we have four "charities" from which we are choosing. Before we take a family vote, I thought it might be interesting to hear what readers thing. Here are the options we are considering:

(1) Afghans for Afghanis (see the link in the right sidebar under Ways to Help). Having spent time earlier this year in Afghanistan, I have developed a soft spot for this very impoverished nation. While factions in the leadership may have been working toward mutual extinction for decades, if not centuries, the everyday man is the one doing the greatest suffering. From the little I could see, by Western standards they have very little, even considering that their desires, values, and concepts of what a "normal" life looks like is quite different from those same concepts in the USA.

(2) Adopt a Box. Our parish has collected Christmas gifts for troops in Afghanistan. Ah, there's that Afghanistan soft spot again! The amount of gifts collected has far exceeded what the parish member who headed the drive anticipated. She was prepared to pay for the mailing of the gifts, assuming that if the collection can were entirely filled, it would cost her about $100 in postage. Well, our parish donated not a can-full but a truckload of gifts, and the postage will be about $1200. So, our pastor has asked that individuals offer to adopt a box of gifts for mailing. As a family, we could adopt a number of boxes. (There is an additional option, as well. I have told the parish member that I would use God's credit card for any orphan boxes.)

(3) Bennie's Homeless. Our friend, Bennie, works with the homeless in a nearby city, providing them with blankets, clothes, food, and personal articles, thanks to the generosity of his friends and neighbors. In return, the homeless work to clean up the local river along which they live. Thanks to their efforts, the salmon, which had nearly disappeared, are now returning "home" to spawn.

(4) Hope. Doah works for Hope, which gives work to the handicapped, who do janitorial and other kinds of simple tasks that they are capable of handling. Doah mentioned that Hope is short of money this year, so it seems that this is a charity that truly "touches" home.

We will take a family vote very soon. In the interim, I would love to hear readers' opinions: which would you choose if you were a member of our family? (I will let you know the result from all the blogs and from our family's vote.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Friend, Bennie

Bennie called me today, trying to reach Doah. Now, he rarely has trouble reaching Doah. Doah calls him every morning very early and says, "Good morning, Bennie, this is your wake-up call." While most people would be annoyed since Doah is not very good at telling time and often calls when he wakes up, which can be as early as 5:00 a.m., Bennie (shown in the photo above with Donnie, Doah, and Noelle) at the Mission Thanksgiving dinner) loves it and worries if he does not get his wake-up call.

Bennie has been Doah's special friend since the two met. When Doah was living in Santa Clara, Bennie would drive up sometimes to have lunch with him. He also introduced him to Phil, a local police officer, who kept an eye on Doah and even took him to his house for Thanksgiving one year. Bennie has taken Doah fishing and camping, and Doah often hangs out at the Mission gift shop where Bennie works. After Doah's rape, Bennie took Doah under his wing, and for a few hours every day, Doah would spend time at the gift shop with Bennie. It did much to help Doah recover.

In addition to helping Doah, Bennie helps a whole host of people and even creatures of nature. A Secular Franciscan, Bennie takes very seriously St. Francis's commitment to animals and to poor people. With his brother, he has undertaken a project to clean up a stream in a nearby city so that the salmon, which had nearly disappeared, can come home to spawn. How did he do it? By enlisting the help of the homeless people living along the banks of the river. In return, he provided clothing, toiletries, and warm blankets to those people, no questions asked as to why they chose to live outdoors rather than indoors. (Some of them have alcohol and drug dependencies; some have other reasons for staying outside while shelters are, in general, available.)

Bennie asks no questions because he has been where these people are now. For many years, Bennie was known as a local drunkard. He is the first to admit the depths to which his life sank. However, thanks to the help of God and a decision to allow God to help, using the 12 Steps program, Bennie pulled himself out of that morass and commits his free time to helping others also climb back up to the dry heights of a normal life (however one might define normal).

Bennie is not wealthy. He makes a living by piecing together income from two different jobs. Although sometimes he does not have all that one might consider necessary even to "get by," he never complains, and whatever he has, he shares. Maybe because of this level of generosity and humility, Bennie has a special relationship with God. He assumes that his prayers will be answered, and they always are. He has shared with me understandings of what God might want in one or another spiritually significant situations. When I listen, often magic happens. Many people say the same thing.

How lucky we are to have Bennie as a member of our extended family! Or, just perhaps it is not luck but an intentional blessing.

Search This Blog