Choosing Love in the Tough Times

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― 
Lao Tzu

 

I’ve been working on being content with what I have. Trying to fall in love again with my home. Trying to be happy with what I own, and being fine living without accumulating much more than what we already have. It’s a tough war going on inside of me. I see friends with bigger homes, houses cleaner than mine, their kids better dressed and well-mannered, enrolled in the greatest of sports opportunities, their lives seemingly soaring with perfection when my own seems a jumbled puzzle of trying times. I struggle with the balance of being fine with what has been given to me and what we work hard to maintain; what is being asked of me and what I feel I can manage with grace and balance, and it isn’t much.

I’ll admit my tendency toward selfishness gets the best of me many days. In realizing this awful truth about myself, I try to combat the inner-greed by turning my attention toward the practice of giving thanks daily. Over the years, I’ve retrained my brain in a way to instill a sense of gratitude, not loss. At first, I thought my efforts fraudulent; now I know that’s farther from the truth. What contemplation of blessings brings is a perception of will and a renewed mind, body, and spirit. A peaceful place of heart and a contentedness of spirit grows with practice. Amazing what a simple, “thank you for my good health, thank you for the kids I finally have, thank you for the husband I can’t even believe is mine, thank you for the goodness all around me” can do for one’s overall emotional and physical health.

What I’ve garnered from the practicing of minding grace is that my environment is affected by my natural discontented spirit. My home is a large source of contention, in this game, I’m afraid. Too often, I’m nervous when new friends are invited over for the first time, when family gather, even. My inner-critic feels fear of being judged for our ancient couch covered in a decade-old, faded Pottery Barn slipcover, the discount pillows strategically arranged to camouflage red marker and juice stains, all of the bargain Craigslist finds. Years ago, I used to be proud of my frugal nature, the knack I possessed for scoring the hidden gems at consignment shops and Goodwill. Deep down, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of, for this is who I really am—a delightfully frugal, sort of crunchy-kind of woman concerned with too much excess. Honestly, I’d be a nervous wreck having much nicer things than we own since my kids are still in that exploring stage, hard players, not too careful with a red marker in hand. They don’t care if our things don’t impress. So, I shouldn’t either.

“We need much less than we think we need.” 
― 
Maya Angelou

If I’m completely honest with myself and you, my patient readers, I’m not—at all—that unhappy with our place of residence. There have been countless wonderful memories made here, certainly some major heartbreak, but mostly the inner-workings of a family trying their best to live and love together inside the confines of a relatively small home. Most days, I like that we live among one another, that there aren’t too many places to hide away, that The Husband and I are teaching our children to be happy together. After all, what matters more than those we love?

What is restless, truly, is my heart. And when this cracked, pumping vessel of mine becomes restive—as it is now—I realize that the unease is due to a level of great imbalance within our family, something is off-kilter inside the four walls of our home. An imbalance that I can’t seem to tip back to level. Discontented in spirit is a personal defect I struggle with each and every day.

My initial reaction—when life becomes so overwhelming that it can’t be ignored—is that if I could just escape the confines of the instability here then the discontent will release its hold on my family and me, and we will be able to break free of the confines of the pain, the source of disruption, and all the troubles will disappear. In my right mind, I know that these issues we are grappling with will follow no matter the place and space, no matter what the numbers on the mailbox say, despite the size of the mortgage payments. Though, the fantasy of someplace fresher, cleaner, brighter, untarnished is a pleasant divergence from the reality of our messy lives. And so today, I remain stuck inside the walls and look for a resolve inside myself. For, we all know that the only control we have is over ourselves and our own choices.

During quiet times of reflection and prayer, I can change my outlook on the muck before me and merely choose love, stillness and calm, patience, and tender care no matter the trial set before me. It’s my choice. And the choice is yours for the taking, too, if you are brave enough to change.

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” 
― 
Pema Chödrön

The focus now needs to be keenly set on love. And not just the mushy-gushy type of heartfelt sentiments, but the difficult, tough-love kind—the talking myself into loving when my heart feels like a stone, when my stubborn nature builds walls around me, when I’m just plain tired of caring. When The Girl retaliates by ingesting foods with her allergens that she knows will make her sick, yet deliberately sneaks down to gorge herself on these intentionally, I need to find the love to deal with her terrible choices and the patience to remain calm when she is sick and wheezing all day long—she, yelling at me, as if I’m the one who made her so allergic and sick, as if it’s all my fault. These challenging times are the times to have compassion for her, to see the plight in her eyes from the slight stance where she stands before me, too often screaming in my face, her pain and anguish shooting daggers at my heart. Even in these trying times, I choose love.

The focus now needs to be on remaining still—right where I am, exactly where I’ve been planted—because any slight movement might erase the magic in the moment—imperfections and all. For, when Baby Girl slides into bed beside me every night lately because of her fear of the dark despite a nightlight in every outlet, and the rising fear she feels of losing her almost-four-year-old self to the baby she once was not so long ago. Even when I feel the anger  in losing precious sleep because of her beside me tossing and turning, snuggling up to every inch of me like she’s going to lose me in the intensity of her fears, I choose to be still beside her in her fear. Even in the middle of the night when I have been awaken too many times to worsen me for the wear—most definitely then—I must find the love for Baby Girl in the morning as she remains cuddled next to me, so innocent and happy, and kiss her sweet porcelain cheek despite my wretched grouchiness. I choose calmness and love, because who knows how long my Baby Girl will want to remain so close by my side?

The focus now needs to be on patience and tender care—the kind that can mend hearts, minds, and moods—the type of uplifting calm and true presence of Love itself. So, when The Boy stays out late with his dad for a Cub Scout camp-out and at 11:00 PM comes home hyped-up on the thrill of Halloween excitement, animatedly describing the fun he had that night with his buddies, too jazzed-up to fall asleep, then suddenly, quickly resorting to full-on meltdown mode, startling his sisters awake—this is when a mindful patience is necessary. Certainly, when The Boy wakes up at his usual early bird time, clocking only eight hours of sleep last night, uncharacteristically grumpy during breakfast, head-strong and groggily resolved to build Legos this morning, speaking only in whiny retorts to his sisters who are annoying him a little too quickly today because of his sleep-induced edginess—this is when I still remain patient in loving him in the rough moments together and all throughout this jolted day. For my son, I choose love because he needs to know that he is deserving of my love despite his having a bad day, and that I will always love him no matter what.

Folks, my dad said it best when he turned to me, just before he walked me down the aisle to be married to The Husband, with tender concern in his eyes and stated, “Remember, LOVE IS A CHOICE.”  My late father’s words have remained within me, and make more sense now than ever before.

“All your life, you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate…I choose love.” 
― 
Johnny Cash

Going forward, my focus remains inward with the intent of turning all the interior reflection outward realizing the swirl of imperfection in my family’s less-than-ideal traits are so delicately mirrored as my own personal deficiencies, though it can all be overcome in time by choosing love. Humble mom moment.

 

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.” 
― 
Henry David ThoreauWalden

In Loving Memory, A Wave of Light

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
IN LOVING MEMORY
October 15, 2014

Wave of Light

 

October 15th Wave of Light

“There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms.”

― Charlotte Brontë

 

October 15th is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day. At 7:00 tomorrow evening, I will partake in the “Wave of Light” for all children gone too soon. For at least an hour, my home will be aglow with candlelight to honor my own six miscarried babies and the dearly missed children of friends and family members. In annual memory of those children we never had the chance to hold and in honor of their short lives, here are the names The Husband and I gave to our six miscarried children:

Agnes Elizabeth (April, 2004)

Julian Olivia (June, 2005)

Max Kolbe (April, 2006)

Catherine Teresa (December, 2006)

John Victor (January, 2013)

Francis Cuthbert (March, 2014)

If you’d like to learn more about National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day, here are some well-informed websites that will help you to spread awareness for SIDS and child loss, find an event in your area to participate in, and further make a difference in the lives of deceased babies and their families:

Please join me in the “Wave of Light” by lighting your own candle on October 15th at 7:00 PM (in your time zone) to honor all families grieving the loss of a baby, infant, or child.  Please spread the word, as well, by posting pictures of your flickering candles on your blogs and social media accounts, and let’s set the world aglow with awareness, support, and love.

The Gift of One, Simple Day

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.  ~Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward. ~Spanish Proverb

(Blog post authored by purdywords)

My family is in our fourth week of the school year, fall soccer is well underfoot and Baby Girl is officially a lover of all things ballet. The kids are happy, yet I’m barely staying afloat with all the expectations that come after 3:00 PM in a bustling household being taken over by Friday folders and signed papers, homework battles and fundraisers to promote, attempting to cook nutritious meals that match a delicate balance of life-threatening food allergies with a hint of young-kid pickiness. In a matter of two days, our weather has gone from the humid and sweltering 95 degrees to a cool and tolerable 65–perfect. Under the cloudiness, I’m no longer worried about applying sunscreen, but digging out sweatshirt layers for each little arm I clothe, reheating soup and warming pasta noodles for the bellies I’m charged with feeding. How quickly the seasons of life change before our eyes.

By the time my three hit the sack near 7:30 PM, I’m ready to climb into my own bed. But, alas! The dishwasher died a few weeks ago, so The Husband and I have been spending our nights finishing chores, exhausted from the days’ work and the arguing and tantrums that have become second-nature with The Girl. Honestly we are still climbing our way back from the emotional upheaval The Girl has been putting us through, her pinnacle reached only a few weeks ago when we thought we had nowhere left to turn. Yet, her tides finally crashed and she’s regained some of her level of normal—not a new normal, not a peaceful normal, yet a normal that is tolerable by comparison. Still, The Husband and I remain on guard for the next crest of high emotion and turmoil. We’ve not quite recovered from our tumultuous summer, and the residual effects remain in pieces of our every day.

Recognizing that I might be reaching burn-out, The Husband responded in-kind and for the first time, I felt no guilt for accepting his offer. So, dear fellow moms, please listen. When your husband offers you the priceless gifts of time and space, you graciously accept. For, he may know you better than you know yourself.  The peace and quiet, calm and rejuvenation of just one day may be enough to carry you through, strengthening you for the journey ahead. No, I didn’t book any fancy spa treatments (although he told me to). No, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, really. However, what I did do was finally make the time to see my doctor for a physical (it has been two years!) and then treated myself to brunch. I came home and opened all the windows in the house, ignored the breakfast dishes in the sink, and climbed the stairs into my bed for an hour-long nap. I read, prayed, and stretched. For lunch, I ate leftovers. I signed on to my computer with the intent to write for the first time in—I’m ashamed to say—more than a month and that is just what I did for the last hour. A homemade decaf chai tea beside me warmed my body in the chilly afternoon air, and the spicy scent and simple beauty of a burning pumpkin-scented soy candle warmed my senses with a calming peace. In less than an hour, I will retrieve The Boy from his bus stop, and together we’ll drive a mere ten minutes to pick up the girls from our care provider. Today’s afternoon drive will be different–I feel the change churning inside of me. For the first time in a long time, I will be rested for the journey before me, beginning with our Friday night soccer games, a restful peace remaining with me for the days ahead.

 

 

 

Women’s Memoir Retreat: Madeline Island School of the Arts

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

 

I had writing to do. What I needed was creative prompts and the structure of a workshop with involved, honest feedback from like-minded women—those who write the hard stuff of being a parent, too. It was pertinent that I travel quite the distance from my real life in order to stop, slow down, and reconnect with myself and nature so I could reflect properly and pour my memories out on the page. So, I went away for six days, a lucky participant in the Women’s Memoir Retreat led by author and writing instructor, Kate Hopper and hosted at the famed Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA). Leaving my whirlwind life, dear husband and three kids behind to fend for themselves while I boarded a plane to Minneapolis/St. Paul in pursuit of a dream was a tough, yet necessary decision. One I would gladly repeat every year from now on. After landing in Minnesota, I indulged in a solo lunch—a special occasion for a busy mother of three—and delighted in a grilled salmon salad while reading on my Kindle without even one distraction.

Kate met me at the airport so we could drive together to our final destination and I was glad for the company. We spent the next four and half hours talking of writing, family, stress, books, projects, funny moments, and she generously included me in on what the upcoming week of writing would involve. After a slight, yet winding detour, we arrived in Bayfield, WI just in time to board the four o’clock ferry. Eager to stretch our legs, we found seating on the upper deck of the boat, glad for the sun and wind upon our faces as we searched for Madeline Island in the distance.

After driving off the ferry dock, we went less than two miles before arriving at MISA.  Immediately, I was enchanted by its prime location and knew it was a haven for writers. Nestled admist a peaceful landscape, the entire feeling and locale ignited my mind with creative expressions I knew were not possible on the mainland. Surrounded by a picturesque field of brilliant wildflowers and an abundance of eager butterflies (and the occasional friendly fawn), I was already delighting in the quiet beauty of this untouched island escape. Any doubt of my ability to write at MISA quickly dissolved.

The long day of travel was worth every effort. My writer’s mind was craving an intense adventure and Kate’s workshop seemed the only answer. Under Kate’s creative wings, the quantity and quality of my writing soared to new heights. Her effective workshop format was effortlessly balanced, providing daily creative challenges with a keen focus that molded and stretched my writer’s muscles with a gratifying intensity finally manifested on the page.

My fellow workshop attendees and I quickly formed a  bond of understanding and friendship—an unexpected, positive gain of attending such an intimate and focused retreat. Each of these women writers wrote with such fierce love and raw honesty, shared their masterful pieces, and exposed their lives, fears, challenges, and the complexities of love they face alone. This type of bravery is a bold magic I’ll never be able to forget. All of the stories we shared under the barn roof of MISA, so gently guided by Kate Hopper’s brilliance, will remain forever etched on my writer’s mind.

photo by purdywords

Madeline Island School of the Arts

 

 

 

Emerging

(Blog post authored by purdywords)

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring. ~ Bern Williams

It’s been awhile since I last checked in, hasn’t it? The brutal winter had me buried beneath a vicious cycle of caring for one sick and ailing child after another, a little seasonal depression, with little motivation to write. Frigid temperatures demanded we all stay inside for weeks on end. Too cold to play outside, the whipping winds and biting frost gave me the push I needed to purchase and ask for gifts of new board games and craft kits, a mini-trampoline for the playroom, a wobble board, and a spooner board as kid energy exertion tools (and mommy sanity savers).

Literally, the freezing temperatures proved too physically painful to bundle up all three children for a quick dash to the grocery store for the usual replenishment of milk, eggs, bananas, and bread. This season, I made many a solo, late night grocery store run–giving me the reason I needed to venture out of the house. Too depressingly torrid for typical winter fun, we made the best of our plight by hunkering down with the fireplace on, cuddled under blankets, watched too many movies, colored and created some more, and a plethora of stories, we told. Yes, the wintry dread took a toll on our moods and energy levels, but we survived and on some days, even thrived.

Although it’s presently a chilly twenty-one degrees outside in my central Ohio world, we have been graced with a few signs of early spring–just enough to spark our hope. Last week, we saw a couple of warm, bright and sunshiny days where we fled to the nearby park after school to play until well past dinnertime. Our lovely friends, the birds have slowly returned, chirping away as they merrily nibble and gnaw at the newly formed buds on the trees in the backyard. Just the other day, the influx of emails from soccer coaches announcing the spring season suddenly flooded my inbox.

We are emerging around here–from illness, from isolation, from the frost and snow. Soon we’ll be shedding all extra layers–the coats, scarves, hats, boots, and mittens, and the sadness and gloom. Better days are ahead of us, friends. It won’t be long, now.

(Blog post authored by purdywords)

Living Intentionally in 2014

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.  ~Henry Moore

It’s that time of year, one resplendent with making promises to ourselves that this new year will be better than the last. It’s an awesome, positive time of year despite that the good intentions might be laced with bitter despair by looking back on all that went wrong in a previous year. In 2013, I was facing emotional and physical trials that put an abrupt end to any worthy resolution I had in mind for the year as I began with joyful anticipation of focusing on growing my family and writing my motherhood stories. Instead, I spent my days and months fighting to get my body, mind, and spirit back. It was an exhausting feat, but I survived and once again, the wounds of despair have made me a stronger, kinder, more resilient being. The writing, in fact, saved me.

Writing is therapy.

Writing is therapy.

The first week of 2014 has found me locked up indoors tending to my three children, all whom fell ill in a staggered progression that began with a quick onset of fever and chills, moved to various stomach ails, and was followed by a brutal, lingering head and chest cold. Now we are all stuck inside a little while longer due to the unsightly arctic blast growling outside. No school, no recreational activities, no heading out for us. There are blessings in being grounded together for a couple more days. Not only do the kids have some extra time to recoup, but I’ve found ample time to reflect on what I want differently out of today, tomorrow, and the days ahead. At the top of my priorities for this new year?  Cutting myself some slack and worrying less about the future. Living less in my mind and more in the present.  Lacerating my tendency toward undue anxiety and negative self-talk. Deeper, mindful breathing. Allowing myself to move slowly and deliberately as long as I’m heading forward and onward to a better self, life, and sense of purpose.

Slow down and live life more fully.

Slow down and live life more fully.

What do you have in mind for your new year? How do you want to live differently just for today?  

The Magic of “Three”

(blog post authored by purdywords)

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child.  There are seven million.  ~Walt Streightiff

Baby Girl is now three years old. The days that inhabit between ages two and three are tremendous to watch, aren’t they? It’s like viewing a slow motion picture unfolding before your eyes of one joyful life lived in profound newness and exploration of the most plain, yet beautiful moments.

It’s incredible–the simple and complex changes, I mean–that occur in one short year. All of a sudden, I see marvelous, natural progress in my Baby Girl, when I didn’t quite notice the differences before her third birthday last week. Where I once saw a little girl with chubby fingers, a round face and rosy cheeks, I now look with amazement into a delicate faced version of a growing-up girl; eyes replete with wonder, a mind quick to widen with study, a dainty body wanting to stretch beyond its limits.

Her bouncy blonde hair, once a short halo of ringlets that framed her angelic baby face is now a long, flowing cascade of Rapunzel-like lockets falling just shy of the small of her back.  From her tiny rosette mouth, she once spoke short staccato words of newness and amazement. Now she speaks a lengthy flow of little girl sentences interrupted only by quick bursts of amazement or emotion, using advanced phrases confidently from the surface of a soft pink pout.

Baby Girl dances around the house playing ballerina fairy and the magical make-believe pixie dust falls around her petite shoulders like snowflakes fluttering through an imaginary winter blue sky. She’s one of those kids who wears her emotions out on her sleeve for all to see; facial expressions truth-telling of what she feels deeply on the inside. And that heart of hers? It’s pure as light and strong as diamonds.

She loves all things sparkly—she’ll ooh and ah over my wedding ring set, spend as much time trying on her bejeweled Cinderella crown, and put just as much effort into chasing rainbows on the surface of the wall in the front hallway or watching the streaming sunlight reflecting off a nearby pond. My girly girl, she is rarely seen without the color pink somewhere on her ensemble, and more than likely in the form of a ballerina’s tutu.

photo credit: purdywords

photo credit: purdywords (http://asadsongbetter.com)

Music is her guide and she will stop anywhere, anytime for the sake of a catchy beat. It’s common for Baby Girl to break out in dance, shaking her tiny tush to the beat of a drum, the strum of a guitar, the rise of a lyrical voice. Her shoulders will begin shimmying to and fro, and she’ll start to  match her own sweet voice to the song being played overhead. Later, she’ll recall the melody and verse by carrying the tunes as a secret kept inside her heart. (Some nights, I catch her singing herself to sleep.)

Ah, my Baby Girl, my delightful charmer is three years old! I can not believe how fast these few years have flown by. So fast. Too fast. All of these days–all of these lightning-fast days spent as her mother–have been one miraculous adventure after another. More than anything, I hope she continues to find unending reasons to dance, sing, and dream for all the days of her life.  That is my lifelong wish for my Baby Girl.

(blog post authored by purdywords)

Grateful for Strange Moments of Grace: Days 9-17 (30 Days of Thanks)

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; And passing even into my purer mind, With tranquil restoration:—feelings, too, Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps, As have no slight or trivial influence On that best portion of a good man’s life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts Of kindness and of love…. ~William Wordsworth, 1798

Fate, Chance, God’s Will – we all try to account for our lives somehow.  What are the chances that two raindrops, flung from the heavens, will merge on a windowpane?  Gotta be Fate.  ~Robert Brault

Have you ever been given a mesmerizing glimpse of the past? Perhaps, you had a chance encounter  in your dreams that upon waking you felt like you had experienced the hand of the Divine working through your mind and in your heart? Have you ever seen the past in someone else’s eyes?  Well, I have. Something so wonderful and unexplainable happened during my vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in September. It is still one of the strangest moments of my life. And ever since, I can’t seem to put the encounter out of my mind or figure out the meaning for why it happened.

My mother, younger sister, and I attended Saturday evening mass together at the charming and quaint Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Oak Bluffs. It was not a packed crowd that evening, so we had plenty of space in our pew. It was a beautiful night, and my mom and I were both so pleased we had made it to Confession right before the beginning of mass. It is still one of the most profound, memorable sacramental moments of my life. Nonetheless, the Confession was mild compared to what was about to transpire about halfway through mass.

As the congregation stood together in prayer, I noticed my younger sister bow her head down and let out a sigh. As I glanced her way, she opened her eyes wide and whispered, “Look over there,” jilting her head to the right.

“Do you see that man over there? Do you see him?” she asked with in a panicky voice. “He looks just like dad! Look at his profile. And his nose!”

Be still my heart, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She was right! It was our dad. It couldn’t be, truly, since he had died from small cell lung cancer eight-and-a-half years prior to our vacation. We stood with eyes transfixed on this man, this spitting image of our father. It was unreal and seeing him felt so strange.

As we continued to steal glances at this stranger, we realized that not only was the man the exact likeness of our father, but he seemed to embody all of our father’s gestures and quirky traits. He was exactly what I envisioned my father would have looked like if he could have lived beyond his fifty-seven young years and be with us on the Vineyard that very night. Tears begun to sting my eyes. It really was that profound.

It’s strangely emotional to feel such affinity for a complete stranger. For a brief moment during this incredible mass, I felt a pang of jealousy toward the woman sitting next to my father’s doppelganger. Obviously, it was his loving wife, but I did not like her sitting there next to “my father.”

It was a confusing mass. I couldn’t stop staring at this man. I studied every mark of his freckled, wrinkled face. His eyes—oh my goodness!—his eyes were the same shade of brown! The same almond shape, even! When the man turned to the left, I could see that he had the same droopy skin fold over his eye that my father had! His hairline, the largely pointed nose, the thinner lips–all of his physical traits–right down to his attire–was my dad to a tee. If this wasn’t enough, I about passed out when he rested his face in his hand with the pointer finger up near his temple—the same restful stance my father had for as long as I can remember.

When the strange man arose stiffly from the knees to make his way to the altar to receive the Eucharist, I was startled furthermore. His posture was as my father’s had been—a rather tall gait, slightly bent shoulders, longer arms than you would have expected on such a build, with a walk that seemed more like a glide as he set about on his way toward receiving the Lord in Communion.

Was I imagining all of this? Surely not, if my sister saw it, too. She was the one who first noticed the man. And my sister is lovely, but not one to spark with emotion even over strange encounters such as these.

Trying to get myself to pay attention to what was going on during mass, to prepare myself to accept Communion with reverence, to stop staring like a fool, I shook my head and willed myself to look away. I couldn’t. All I wanted to do was catch another glimpse of this stranger who took on my dad’s physical body—and to somehow meet him, touch him, even. It was clear I was having some kind of bizarre overtaking of my faculties in the presence of God and this stranger.

All of a sudden, appalling feelings of anger overtook me. Horrifying thoughts passed through my clouded mind–thoughts that convinced me my father had never died years ago. In fact, I let myself venture that what really had occurred was that my father was truly sitting in that pew in front of us, that he was attending mass, too, but ignoring his real wife and two of his children! Because instead of dying, I said to myself, my dad had actually left us all to mourn his death while he has enjoyed a leisurely life on Martha’s Vineyard for all these years gone! I was enraged!

I have no idea how I thought my dad would have pulled off this kind of illusion, but for a moment, I was convinced. Convinced! The audacity! See, there was no other explanation to the phenomenon of the man sitting ahead of us at mass, the one who looked so much like my father.

Trying to get a grip on my emotions before I stood up for Communion, I came to my senses, realizing that my ill thoughts were nothing but the result of purely wishful thinking on my part. How easy it would be to forgive my father for such betrayal if only it meant he was still alive and well and that we could embrace and talk once again. Forgiveness would be easy if only I could have my father back in the flesh.

After Communion was over, I wanted nothing more than the rest of mass to end–and swiftly.  I have never wanted or needed to rush through a mass before. But this was no ordinary mass. Once the priest gave the blessing, and after he and the altar servers made their way down the middle aisle toward the front of the church, I left my belongings where they lay in the pew and headed straight toward the familiar stranger. I needed to talk to him, ask his name, find out for myself if he knew me, too. If I didn’t take the opportunity to approach him then, it would feel to me like the entire moment never happened. And I could not take that chance.

I’m not sure if my sister and mom were beside me when I went up to the man, or if they held back in our pew to watch their crazy sister and daughter take a chance charged only by pure emotion. However, I walked right up to that strange man, and gently touched his arm if only to get his attention. When he turned to me he, of course, smiled my father’s smile with my dad’s teeth!

Being that close to the man overwhelmed me like nothing ever has. With my right hand over my heart and choking back the tears that were pouring from my eyes, I managed to say, “Excuse me sir. Uh. Hi. I’m so sorry, but I must ask you your name? It’s not John is it?”

“No, dear, it’s not,” he replied, a little confused by my asking.

“Oh, well, I have to tell you,” I continued, convinced I was staring in the eyes of my aged father, “you are the spitting image of my late father. It’s overwhelming, really” And this is when the trembling began.

“Oh, your poor thing,” said his kind wife as she placed her wrinkled hands over mine. I could not believe I was carrying on like this before a set of strangers!

“My sister, mom and I saw you a few pews in front of us and we haven’t been able to keep our eyes off of you since. We can’t get over how much you look like our dad. It’s unbelievable!” I managed to tell him through tears that were borderline deep sobs by this point. I was completely beside myself with emotion.

“Ah, thank you, thank you,” he said to me with a tear in his eye. “He must’ve been a wonderful man.”

“He was, he was,” I agreed as I wiped my tears away and managed a smile. “Thank you.”

“God bless you dear,” his wife said before they were on their way. The man looked back at me once more and smiled my father’s smile. What a gift.

Still with hand over my heart, I let the water works flow and took this chance meeting as a sign that my dad was with us in spirit on that trip. So, I wrote his name in the memorial book at the front of church before my mom, sister and I headed out to enjoy our last night on the island along with my older sister who was waiting for us outside and had her own bizarre encounter story to share.

Maybe my dad needed our prayers that night. Maybe God wanted to unite us all in a divine moment. Maybe it was purely coincidence without any deep meaning attached to it. Who knows? What I do know is that in some fateful way, we met my father once again in the face of a stranger and it was a moment filled with sadness and joy–one I hope to never forget. Strangely, it may have been the best part of the vacation.

Has fate ever touched you so deeply? When have you been overcome with emotion by a chance encounter?

Grateful for Family, Friends, and Faith: Days 8-10 (30 Days of Thanks)

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~ Albert Schweitzer

The weekend was full of great and wonderful things, and for this reason, I gladly stepped away from the computer for a couple of days. My Friday through Saturday was spent enjoying time with out-of-town guests—some friends of mine who have always felt like family to me since our first encounter one fall day many years ago. That day would prove to be a fateful one for all of us involved. They came into my life at a time when they needed someone to help them out in enormous ways due to an unfortunate health crisis that they neither expected nor would be prepared to face alone.

Fresh out of college, I had a couple of going-nowhere jobs, was deeply discouraged, and felt lost in the world–stuck, really. Facing rapid burn-out and the dying-out of out of my idealistic nature, I yearned for a gap year. I needed the time to think and plan out how I was going to refocus my career efforts to match my personal goals. At the time, I knew I could always earn money as bookseller or in a café position at the local Barnes and Noble, perhaps pick up a server job on the side as I embarked on this necessary quest to utilize my degree in a meaningful way. When I took the time to ask myself and pray about what I was seeking, my answer was always the same: truth, meaningful experiences, significant internal change, love, and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

After mass one Sunday, I scoured the want ads and came across a job posting for a nanny position. Because I had worked as a mother’s helper between my junior and senior years of college, held plenty of babysitting jobs back home, and thought it might be just the type of work that could be equal parts fulfilling and fun for the year, I phoned the agency and landed an interview with this family on the spot. Soon thereafter, I was employed as their full-time nanny and fully immersed in their life as it was back then–a mix of crisis and relief, ongoing medical and therapeutic interventions, and the everyday happenings of a family trying to balance out normal during a shocking and trying time. Immediately, they enveloped me with their characteristically loving way and I soon became one of them. Quickly, I felt nothing but gratitude and love each day as I set about helping them to maintain some kind of normalcy while they focused on reviving the health and well-being of their young girls. At the time, I didn’t know just how much my heart, mind, and spirit would be stretched; how I would grow as a person and how greatly my perspective would change just by living among this one, incredible family. Nor, did I have any idea that fourteen years later this family would remain such a large part of my life.

If we are lucky enough in life, we will meet one person who will be the catalyst to our personal growth. Their impact will leave indelible marks on our hearts, perhaps change our behaviors, even increase our faith in love and God. These are the types of people who stick with us for always–whether they continue to share in our life or not. Some people can shape and mold us into who we’re meant to become. These friends of mine who came in for a visit this past weekend helped change my life and perspective years ago by living out their lives with integrity and care. They worked hard at putting their family and love above all else during an especially difficult time in their lives. They are friends who became like a second family to me and I’ll always consider them such.

Fourteen  years ago, I was seeking out an intense life-changing experience, one that would lead me out of the depths of my despair and into the light of life, turning me toward the path I was meant to take. My prayers were answered in the form of this one family seeking a trustworthy helper while they faced an uncertain, desperate time. I’m not sure if they knew it then or have figured it out since, but I needed them that year just as much as they needed me. My gratitude today is for their enduring friendship and all the lessons they etched on my heart, mind, and soul.

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