Lord, May I Be Patient When I am Old

I went to my gym the other day and came out feeling refreshed after an amazing workout with my trainer Scott. I’m losing inches on my waist and feeling stronger and more alive after each workout. “You’re putting years back on your life.”

Agreed.

As I left the gym a number of elderly gym-goers were heading out the door. They had just gone through their daily regimen of exercise and were now slowly walking towards the door. Step by step they made their way out to the parking lot ever so slowly.

I was in my usual rush and I ambled past them and it occurred to me that I was fortunate to be able to still be able to walk at such a fast pace. I imagined it must be frustrating to have to walk slowly and that it takes longer to get places and to have more time for people that you love and for activities that you wish to engage. I found myself praying for those who are old and awakening myself to their needs. This is especially important because my parents are now old, no longer are they “getting old”, but now well into their 80s (86 to be exact), I think we can seriously state that they ARE old.

And that, as you can imagine is frightening to their son and daughters and daughter-in-law, especially when health and caregiving are no longer matters to be taken for granted.

It is difficult to be so far away and to stay in the conversation regarding doctors and health care and living situations. I remain unaware of so much because work and ministry keeps me busy and the calls are less frequent than I would like.

So today I am particularly praying for those who are old. My 86 year old father will soon need surgery, which is always risky for a man his age. My mom is also not in great health and so it causes great concern on many levels as my dad has continued to be dedicated to her care even in his advanced age along with my sister.

So today we pray for Dad and his doctors who seem baffled at the moment. May they care for him well and may he be patient with all of them. May God continue to watch over him and all those who are sick and need care.

And if you’ve got a prayer or two…toss one this way.

Peace…Amen

A Prayer for Sarah

This morning my friend and colleague, Sarah Signorino will likely give birth to a daughter, whom she has already named Clare. So I’ve dedicated my morning prayer to her and her family, Jarrod and her little girl, Mary who is going to be the best big sister ever.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s sometimes hard for me to be happy for people when they have children because I have none myself. With each new birth, I revisit the feelings of not being a father and it has made me weary at times. Ignoring the feelings isn’t going to help. So I have met them head on and prayed with them often this week.

Sarah is very clearly called to motherhood. One moment spent with her and her daughter, Mary betrays her vocation to motherhood clearly. A glance at her Facebook page shows literally hundreds of “Mom and Mar” pictures.

As she often notes, there are people who “live to work” and others who “work to live” and she is seemingly the latter, while I am very clearly the former. She’s one of my best workers on this staff and she makes us all look unorganized with her own sense of being hyper-organized, as only a working mom can be. I am grateful for her work and she does a great job for us. But she very clearly works in order to provide for her family. And when she is home with her family, work is very clearly in the background. She’s the mommy for Mary and now Clare and that is primary in her life.

Not being a father, provides me with the opportunity to really thrust myself into my work and my marriage. Sure, we have a dog, but he can be alone for stretches at a time and he gives us some of those “parental” feelings, but he is far from a human child. I love him dearly, but it is clearly different. I get to be as one of my favorite students, Kaitlyn calls me, “a campus dad” a surrogate of sorts, someone who is there when parents cannot be there. Someone who gets concerned when students seemingly make bad choices and helps to guide or pick up the pieces for someone else’s kid.

When people ask if Marion and I have children I usually say “Yes, 5000 of them and they are all in College.” That comes from a friend who noted that it is good that we don’t have children because indeed I have a bunch of students who depend on me, often at a moment’s notice.

I now also have a staff that depends on me. Fathering a group of people in a new way. Deciding what is best for us and negotiating for what I think the ministry needs with great colleagues who are often eager to help us.

As I sat an meditated on my feelings of loss an overwhelming feeling of joy came to me this week. I realized that the pain of not being a father has in fact led to understanding how great my life has become. How I wouldn’t have half the joys that I have discovered if life were indeed different and how God has shown me my vocation more clearly in reflecting on how well Sarah and other parents live out their lives.

I am grateful to those who parent and work. They do that balancing act with grace and with care for all they meet. But I am also great that there are those of us who have a different energy–who can dedicate time and effort in other ways. It is our way of being “life giving”. And for me, it is more than enough.

So today, I pray for Sarah and am filled with gratitude for her motherhood. She mothers many of us with her great skills of organization and with how she cares for our students and our colleagues. But that is only a shadow of her love for her daughters. And I find God deeply in witnessing that experience of her motherhood. It gives me the opportunity to find my own deep love for the campus, for my wife and for a furry puppy and I find that life is better than I would have designed. Somehow God knows what he is doing and Sarah and I have great trust in that.

So welcome to the world today, dear Clare. You are in good hands with your mother. She will care for you with great love and it will fill you with gratitude.

As Sarah “the mom” has done for us all.

A Follow Up On Fr. Meanie

So fast forward a week and we learn much about children.

You’ll recall my recent post about my friend’s 6 year old who got upset when a priest yelled at her for reaching up to try to touch the ciborium in his hand at communion.

Turns out her little brother all of 3 or 4 heard about the story. So this week when he went to mass with his mother, he went up to communion and looked at the priest and said “You made my sister cry!” And then kicked him in the shins.

And that young man will one day be a Jesuit. Or possibly Pope.

Daddy, The Scary Priest Made Me Cry

images-2So be forewarned, I’m about to be cranky today. And this is so because I have bent over backwards trying to remind people that welcoming is one of the central aspects of church that people look for in a parish. Quite often, this is forgotten by pastors and pastoral associates, who granted, are far too overworked and who we depend on far too much.

But this one takes the cake.

My best friend took his six year old daughter to mass about a week ago. He takes her up with him to communion because she hasn’t yet received her first communion and doesn’t want to sit in her pew alone. (I did the same thing as a kid–when my father and sister went up and left me alone, I cried uncontrollably once when I was four. Amazingly, I have a strong memory and have sent them the therapy bill.)

He reached the head of the line and the priest offered him communion and as he received the Body of Christ in his hands, his daughter tried to grab the ciborium from the priest because after all, she wanted Jesus too.

Now my friend’s daughter is six. She’s a precious child and she’s a lot of work. We often can’t have a phone conversation without at least 5 interruptions from said precious daughter.

But the priest’s reaction was to pull the ciborium away and say angrily “DON’T YOU DO THAT!” I’m sure he tried to slap her hands away too, but my friend is too kind to mention it.

So my friend said nicely and quietly to his daughter as the rest the church snapped their necks to see what Fr. Meanie was reacting to, “No-no honey, don’t do that. Come on, let’s go back to our seats.”

He thought she was fine but when he got to his pew, he heard a strange noise…a low whimper. Here was his daughter, crying a low cry. So he turned to her and asked her what was wrong.

“I…want…to…go…home.”

But he couldn’t take her home, one, mass was not finished and two, is that she had Sunday school right afterwards. Which she was then fighting with my friend about because she sure as heck didn’t want to go there today.

Now let’s think about this in any number of ways.

There are now future implications to this. The first being, good luck getting her to be excited about her first communion. She’s going to be terrified to head up to that same priest who frightened her. And who knows, he’ll probably yell at her again because she didn’t put her hands out properly.

The second thing is good luck getting her to want to go to church at ALL.

The third thing is obvious to me, but many others might disagree:

Jesus doesn’t NEED us to protect Him.

What if the worst thing happened and she knocked a few hosts out of the ciborium and they fell to the floor?

Well, someone would pick them up and wipe up the particles with a damp purificator and then have that purified. We should be respectful of the sacrament, undoubtedly, because it is Christ himself in the appearance of bread. But what about the living and breathing Christ that is a little girl that stands before us?

I train eucharistic ministers and this is always a question that they have…What happens if I mess up and drop my ciborium or my plate? And I always tell them the same thing:

“We should respect the sacrament, but accidents happen. But you want to know something? Here’s something that was no accident. Look to the cross.”

And when they look up at the cross I say: “Jesus went to the cross for us. That’s the worst thing that could have happened to Jesus. And now look! Here He is again with us anyway. Jesus defeated death and remains with us now despite going to the cross and physically dying! I don’t think you dropping a ciborium is going to hurt him all that much. But that said, respectfully pick up the hosts and then place a corporal over the spot until we can wipe up any particles.”

They often smile at me and relax into their ministry and I think maybe twice in 15 years have we ever had to deal with someone dropping a host. They become more comfortable in the presence of the Eucharist as well.

And a six year old should also be comfortable in Jesus’ presence and now she is not.

My friend had a great line. “Didn’t Jesus say let the little children come to me?” I concurred and said “He also said a great millstone should be thrown around the neck of someone who distances a child from Jesus!”

We laughed a bit and I asked him if he spoke to the priest afterwards. He replied, “I waited for him after he came back to the sacristy and when he came out, I went to apologize to him and he said “Hi” and then ran past me and out the door.”

Upon further reflection I asked how did he get into the sacristy so fast? Wasn’t he shaking hands with his parishioners afterwards? He said, “There was a small crowd it was an early morning mass, so it didn’t take him long to greet people and I was busy calming down my daughter then and he got back into the sacristy before I could get her calmed down.”

Of course he didn’t spend a lot of time with parishioners. Instead he got back to that sacristy as fast as he could. It takes me a good half hour after a student mass to get back to the sacristy some days.

Here’s what should have happened in my humble opinion and I’m a eucharistic minister and I’ve had children do this to me. One, is that we should remain calm. Again, Jesus can take care of himself pretty well, so nothing that we do is really going to matter too much. Two is you can calmly tell the child, “Oh honey, I know. But soon you’ll get to receive your first communion. Sorry you can’t receive yet, but God loves you. Hey dad, thanks for bringing her to mass with you today!” I’ve even given kids a little pat on the head or on the cheek afterwards and they’ve often become kids who have sought me out later. One need not snatch the ciborium back angrily. Even if the kid got a host, well…then you could just ask for it back. Even if she consumed it and received her first communion that day…is that REALLY so bad? It would be an opportunity to explain things to her at the very least.

Some days those of us who distribute communion need to relax a bit. And in particular, those who are clergy, priests and deacons, have an extra responsibility when it comes to children. Especially these days, when our record with children is not all that stellar. That means that they have to take an extra moment for a six year old and give them a good experience and not a scary one. Welcoming is the NUMBER ONE thing that we need to do and the POPE is screaming at us to make sure we do it.

And even he’s screaming softly and politely and dies it all while hugging little kids and kissing them on the tops of their heads.

Can kids be rambunctious, sure? Could a kid really mess things up by knocking a ciborium out of a eucharistic minister’s hands? Of course that could happen. But guess what?
Things of a lesser concern happen to their parents every single day. Dinner plates get broken, milk gets spilled, walls get written on and things get messy.

And we love our children anyway and more importantly we try to be patient with them and explain what they should and shouldn’t do calmly and politely and maybe we need to do this with each other as well more often so that children see that adults can deal with things calmly and therefore they can too.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for this priest who I won’t reveal, nor will I reveal the parish or even the town this took place in. Suffice it to say that I pray this day that one little girl will be able to find Jesus waiting for her when she seeks him and I pray that a welcoming pastor and parish might be around for them to seek out and feel comfortable in.

As for you, Fr. Meanie. I pray for you too. May you be able to relax just a bit more and maybe take a vacation to calm those nerves. And while you respect the Eucharist greatly, perhaps you might show the same respect for all the members of the Body of Christ who present themselves before you.

And to my friend’s little girl: I hope your first communion day is so special. Jesus loves you.

How to Stay Married: Celebrate Anniversaries

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Today is the 63rd wedding anniversary for my Mom and Dad. That’s SIXTY-Three. Amazing! It’s not often that you hear about marriages reaching that level of longevity these days and I’m hoping that this changes with the coming generations. Marriage is not easy, but it is wonderful. It’s made me a better person to be married to my beloved, Marion and I know that Michael Hayes, Sr. would say the same about his beloved Evelyn.

A bit about my parents. My father is an Irish immigrant. He came here in the late forties when he was only 19 and he travelled by boat. A four day journey with just a small carry-on style suitcase was all he needed. Unbeknownst to him, his friends had him smuggling Irish whiskey underneath a carton of eggs. Somehow he made it through. He met my mother at a dance when a spider crawled up the back of her dress and it gave him to opportunity to be her hero.

And he’s been that for her ever since.

My mom for as long as I can remember has not been in good health. My dad has stood by her for now, 63 years and worked hard to pay a whole lot of medical bills and to provide for his family. He’s not just her hero…he’s also mine.

My mother was born in Yonkers, New York and has lived there her entire life. She’s an amazing woman who managed our household budget on a shoestring and really showed me how to stretch a dollar. She invested in the family and when things like cable TV started coming into neighborhoods my mother balked. “I’m not paying $21/month for TV! That money can go to better use.” As a recent “dumper of the cable TV” I started to see her wisdom when I began to save $550 a year by not having cable in the house.

She often would ask if the things we wanted were things we really needed or if we could just do without them in favor of something else, often something better.

But the one thing she know she could not live without was her husband. And they have lived together now for 63 years in wedded bliss. I don’t know anyone more devoted to family or to each other than they are. And they have been the best models of marriage for me in my own.

So raise a glass, lads! To 63 years! Thanks Mom and Dad…simply for being who you are for one another…

And for me.

Thoughts on Treyvon Martin

I’ve been silent on Treyvon Martin thus far and will be no longer. I’ve been silent because I tend not to comment on court cases in general. I think everyone, including George Zimmerman deserves their day in court and I have no right to meddle in that.

But I’ll sum up my thoughts with several points to ponder:

1) George Zimmerman takes is role as a neighborhood watch almost obsessively in my opinion.

2) George Zimmerman also has the right to protect his home and to keep his neighborhood safe from robbers and other criminals.

3) It seems odd to me that Treyvon Martin was “minding his own business” in the rain in a neighborhood that was not his own.

4) Treyvon Martin does indeed have the right, however, to walk where he wants.

5) George Zimmerman called 911 and should have stopped being involved at that juncture. He is not a police officer and does not need to take the law into his own hands.

6) Anyone who thinks that Treyvon Martin wasn’t the one screaming on the phone needs to see their audiologist. It’s clearly a young voice and doesn’t sound like Zimmerman’s voice.

7) The big question is “Who rushed who?” How did the tussle begin? Based on the screams heard on the 911 call I believe that Zimmerman attacked Martin and Martin tried to stave him off as best he could. Zimmerman seems like a big guy to me in comparison with Martin. In the struggle, Martin probably did what he could to get away from Zimmerman and in that struggle Zimmerman retaliated by shooting Martin.

8) Regardless of any of the above, Zimmerman did not have the right to shoot Martin. In fact, he did not have the right to even touch him. He could have simply asked Martin “Can I help you?”

9) The issue here is stereotype. A young black man with a hoodie in a neighborhood that is not his own is not necessarily a criminal. The problem is that too many believe that they are. The second problem is that sometimes that person IS a criminal and when criminals get approached sometimes they take matters into their own hands and get nervous and attack. This is why George Zimmerman should have called the cops and stayed in his home if had concerns.

10) The fact that Treyvon Martin was a pot smoker, suspended from school, got into fights before and was interested in getting a gun is irrelevant. While he certainly was not a stellar citizen, he still has the right to walk on the street without being shot.

11) George Zimmerman’s background is also irrelevant to the case.

12) The police really mucked this case up and should have minimally brought Zimmerman in and charged him immediately.

I believe that Zimmerman unjustly and unnecessarily killed Treyvon Martin because he was walking in his neighborhood and he PRESUMED him to be up to no good. I wonder if Martin was a white kid walking around, if Zimmerman would have jumped to the same conclusion.

Two personal stories: I grew up as a white kid in a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood. It was not easy. Sometimes I’ll admit, I was scared to walk down the street in my own neighborhood and I was mugged in front of my own house for TWO DOLLARS. The money isn’t the issue, the issue is that I could have gotten hurt. There were three guys who jumped me. Two were black and one was white. I knew them by name. One “set me up” by pretending that he was “kidding around” and threw me up against a car, “play fighting” as we called it. He was older and stronger than I was and I was terrified. The other two guys grabbed my hands and searched my pockets and took my money.

Color did not come into play here. But the fact that these guys were known as “troublemakers” was important. It made me afraid of them and with good reason. One of the guys indeed did kill someone with a gun, the murky details say it was an accident, but the fact that he had a gun disturbs me. The other two also had police records.

What did we do? We called the cops.

We left it to them and they did have me look at mugshots, etc. But nothing more was done. No arrests.

But I never saw two of the three men again. And “Mr. Set-up” was still present in the neighborhood and was a constant problem. I occasionally still have nightmares about him. Bad people are in fact real.

But I never went and got a gun to shoot him. Neither did my parents.

So I know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood where you live in fear from time to time.

But I also know racism when I see it. The great majority of people in that neighborhood were wonderful people. I had friends in the neighborhood and it did not matter if they were white, black, Hispanic. Color was not a determinate of friendship. And we didn’t make assumptions about people based on their color. We made assumptions about people based on what they did in the neighborhood, how they acted towards others and whether or not they were good neighbors.

My second story needs a fastforward to my years in radio. Ralph Snodsmith was one of our talk show hosts and one day Ralph was running late. He left his car illegally parked in front of our building and ran to the elevator. He tossed his producer the keys to his Mercedes Benz and asked him to park it legally around the block.

His producer happened to be black.

A cop saw him coming out of the car and immediately pulled up and asked him questions:

“This your car?”

“Nope. It’s my boss’ car.”

“What’s his name?”

“Snodsmith”

“OK hold on.”

It checked out, naturally, but had I, a white man who was not the owner, gone and parked that car would I have been stopped?

Probably not.

When the producer returned I had never seen him so angry. And I realized just how tough it was to be him simply because of the color of his skin.

And so we pray today for anyone who has faced racism in their lives. We pray for Treyvon Martin. We pray for people who are afraid in violent neighborhoods.

And we pray for justice. God’s justice that redeems all suffering and pain.

And death.

Today’s gospel asks the question “Who is Your Neighbor?”

Perhaps that’s exactly the question for all of us to meditate on today.

But Don’t Tell the Others

Several years ago I went to visit my sister in law’s family. I was sitting with my youngest niece and asked her how she liked having her sister home from summer camp.

“I like it better when you come to visit.” she said. And meant it sincerely and at that moment I became the favorite uncle and she the favorite niece.

But we don’t tell the others.

Everyone knows that Katie is my favorite, but we never really say that out loud in front of her brother and her other sisters, who I also adore.

With many of my students, I have the same game. There’s Megan, who I call Meggie and she in turn calls me Mikey back. I check out the latest boyfriend to make sure he’s treating her right. If I owned a gun I’d be sure to be cleaning it in his presence. We’ve travelled to alternative breaks together and I’m often inspired by the way she mothers children that we serve.

She’s my favorite…but we don’t tell the others.

There’s Vineet, a graduate student from India, who was the life of the party on our trip to Cleveland, regaling us with stories and then hitting us with a serious note that gave us all something to think about. He’s off to New York after graduating and I still wear the cross he gave me on our Cleveland trip.

He’s my favorite…but we don’t tell the others.

There’s C.J., a bright medical student who has taught me much, blurring the lines between campus minister and student. He’s got one year left before I get to call him “Dr. C.J.” which I think would be a cool name for a rock star–something he already is to many already.

He’s a favorite….but we don’t tell the others.

And In my prayer, I hear God whisper those same words to me.

“Mike, you’re my favorite, but don’t tell the others.”

Instead, God asks us to treat each one that we encounter as our favorite. And sure, some of those we meet will certainly strike a special chord with us and touch our hearts in ways we could not imagine.

And that love that is shared helps us open our hearts just a bit more to let another favorite into our lives. There is always room enough in our hearts for more and we are often challenged to find that room.

My wife and I have no children of our own. If we did they’d probably be just a few years younger than my favorite and youngest niece. Perhaps that’s why she’s incredibly special to me. I have known her nearly her entire life and can even remember when she first started talking. But we longer for a child that did not come to us. But instead of being disappointed at that, we decided to ask ourselves how we can be life-giving in other ways.

How might we treat others as our favorites, as if they were our very own?

I don’t remember who said this to me, but when I first started at UB as the Campus Minister, a parishioner came up to me and said,

“Oh! You’re the new campus minister, right?”

“That would be me, yes!” I replied and introduced myself by name.

“Oh, so this was a big move to Buffalo from New York–how is your family handling that?”

“Well, it’s just my wife and the dog, so it’s not so bad.”

Parishioner: “Oh you don’t have any children?”

Me: “Nope. Just hasn’t happened for us.”

Parishioner: “Well that’s good because you’ve got THIRTY THOUSAND of them now. And they’re all in college.”

Me: “That’s gonna be one hell of a bill.”

Parishioner: “I’ll put a little extra in the basket this week!”

Perhaps in my longing for a child, God reaches out and indeed blesses me with each one who comes before me, throughout my day. In those moments I am asked to be present perhaps, as a parent cannot, for whatever reason. And as I listen, I need not tell them that they are my favorite, because they sense that this is sacred time, as do I.

And that is always more than enough. And it deepens our relationships and helps us experience the presence of God in our lives where we are all the favorites and at the same time, none of us are the favorites.

Because God doesn’t tell the others.

And neither do we. Instead we live our lives encountering glimpses of God in each one. And in that glimpse, we find favorites and we a rich beyond belief for the encounter.

Each one, every one.

Which is why we don’t tell the others.

Of Nieces and Nephews

413467_10100125075504590_91791839_oThis past weekend I went to the final bat mitzvah for my sister-in-law’s kids. The youngest is clearly my favorite, but we don’t tell the others and it was her turn to be called to the Torah.

Yes, we have quite an interfaith family on my wife’s side. A female episcopal deacon, an evangelical minister, a Catholic Deacon (now deceased), some protestants and my sister in law is married to a Jewish man and she converted and her immediate family is Jewish.

You would think that Thanksgiving would be quite the battle, but it’s not. We talk pretty openly about religion and we learn much from one another. It’s helped me venture into interfaith relationships on campus and helped all of my colleagues understand one another a bit better. It’s very cool that I’ve been the conduit for such openness.

But back to the nieces and the nephew…

They are a gang of five and they all were in our wedding. One is now a sophomore in college (and clearly my wife’s favorite). Another a high school senior. The twins, a young man and young lady have started high school and the youngest is still my pal even though now, the teen-age years are upon us. I wonder how much time I have left before Uncle Mike no longer is cool enough to sit at her lunch table?

I love them all. But hardly get to see them as much as I’d like to. The high school senior performed in her final high school play–which has been a huge part of her high school experience. As a final doff of the cap, each student kisses the stage goodbye as their final act. So long, high school.

It seems like yesterday they were in our wedding as cute little kids and now one of them is working on political campaigns and another is about to be traveling the world on a “gap year” experience.

They are growing up so fast. I can only imagine what this is like for their parents because it is giving me whiplash. The boy’s voice is as deep as mine now. My favorite is getting taller by the minute and plays a mean piano now. I don’t dare challenge anyone to a basketball game, because they’ll wipe the floor with me.

Indeed time is limited. The world turns and while I’m not an everyday presence in their lives, they always have the grace to welcome us into their lives when we are able to be there for the big events.

I joked with the youngest this weekend and said as we were getting ready to say good-bye:

“Well, we have to get ready to leave soon.”

“Yep. Guess so.” she replied.

“Um, the proper response is ‘Oh no, Uncle Mike! I never want you to leave!'”

She giggled and parroted my line back at me, sweet girl that she is.

I have no children of my own and no other nieces and nephews. So these five are indeed very special to me. The youngest was barely a year old when Marion and I married, so perhaps that’s why she is especially dear to me. I have known her close to her entire life and continue enjoying watching her grow. Their parents are great folks and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend to like them. My brother in law has a great sense of humor and enjoys a good ribbing.

As she was called to the Torah, I shed a few tears. As her older sister cried as she kissed the stage, I wept for her loss, knowing that time past is not always as slow as we would like it to be.

God calls us to cherish these present moments. Because they are all we have. Each day, each minute is to be savored.

922810_10100394516891890_977507305_nEspecially when we have such great people to share these moments with.

Blessings, on each of you, my dear nieces and nephew. You always reflect God’s love in my life.

Mommy Always Comes After Nap and Snack

IMG_2058-1My dear friend and longtime colleague Ginny Kubitz Moyer has a wonderful new book out that’s perfect for Mother’s Day called Random MOMents of Grace. It’s all about her experience of being a mom and a nice addition to her very fine blog, Random Acts of MOMness which I love for the Fisher-Price toy on her homepage banner alone.

Ginny is the mother of two boys: Matthew and Luke–they’re just about past the toddler stage, but they are boys. And Ginny is this regal woman, a classically trained English scholar. She carries herself so elegantly everywhere she goes, with her hubby Scott, another classy guy himself.

So now picture her with two boys who think poop is the most hysterical thing in the world!

Boys indeed are yucky. They love mud and boogers and playing with food. And somehow this woman rolls with it as the mother of these two…BOYS.

I’m sure I was no worse than Ginny’s boys when I was her age. And one of her chapters jarred a memory of me and my own mother.

I was 6 and in first grade. My elementary school was a block from our apartment house. To get home I would walk out the gate and walk down to the corner mailbox where my mother would be waiting across the street. I would catch her gaze and wave each day. A reunion that I would look forward to each day. Somedays my sister (who is 16 years older) would be the one to meet me and I loved my sister, but she wasn’t mom.

A bit of a backstory. My mother has suffered immensely in her life with the disease of rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other ailments. There were numerous hospital trips and a few times when I was young it was touch and go as to whether mom was going to survive. She rallied each time and today at 85 she’s still around. But to be a little boy with a sick mother was no easy task. It caused me much anxiety and so each reunion with my mom was always a reason to rejoice. It meant a day of health and not a day of hospital, where I was too young to go and visit mom.

So mom would always tell me that “Someone” will be there by the deli to help me cross the street and walk the rest of the way home. I trusted that knowledge and it was as dependable as the sun.

One day I was walking towards the corner with the mailbox and for some reason Robert Kastner thought it would be a good idea to push me…repeatedly. My mother saw two boys pushing and she knew that it couldn’t possibly be her son. I looked across the street and didn’t see mom. I was slightly worried but I was also excited. I am going to cross the street by myself and walk the rest of the way home and surprise mom!

I looked both ways and then another mom decided to give me a hand and cross me. I ran past the three houses to my home and bounded up the stairs. I knocked on the second floor door to my parent’s home.

Nothing. No answer.

Mom was gone. Where did she go? Maybe she went to the hospital and won’t come back and I’ll never see her again? Maybe she’s inside and can’t answer the door? Maybe she just got fed up with me because I wasn’t a good boy at school today?

I started to cry. Loudly. So loudly that my neighbor, Mrs. White heard me from her apartment below mine and then Mrs. Nappi, our landlord upstairs also heard me. They came to see what was wrong. I told them I didn’t know where my mommy was and that I had walked home but mommy was not by the deli and I thought I had just beat her to her post. Mrs. Nappi got the key to our apartment and they went in and searched the whole apartment with me waiting in the living room. It was empty.

Mrs. Nappi, always a little gruff said, “Are you sure you just didn’t walk past her and she didn’t see you?”

“I don’t know!” I replied through tears.

“Don’t worry, Michael, we’ll find her.” Mrs. White said.

We began to go downstairs to try to find mom outside. Mom meanwhile walked up to the school when she didn’t see me pass her on the corner. I had just not seen her (probably because the jerk Robert Kastner was pushing me). Mom had ignored the pushing kids and looked for me in the scrum of other kids, but I was not in that crowd.

As we reached the bottom of the stairs the door opened and there she was: Mom! I ran to her and was screaming crying. My mother was as white as a sheet when she arrived. Alls well that ends well, but this was too much. Simply put, mom missed me in the crowd of pushing kids.

Ginny in her book talks about the importance of routine for a child and the honor she has of picking up her boys “after nap and snack.”

There’s a satisfaction in knowing that I am bound to my little boys as surely as God is bound to me. I reaffirm this covenant over and over, every time I change a diaper or hug someone after a nightmare or pick up my little preschool scholar after nap and snack. And I like knowing that I am providing two little people with a sense of security, that I am giving them the confident assurance that Mom isn’t going anywhere.

My childhood was shattered when that sense of security was breached. My mom WAS in fact where she was supposed to be, but this time she just lost sight of me and I, her. The terror in her heart was probably 10 times mine.

I treasure my mom and know that she has never left me and never will. Moms make that first theological truth for us tangible: God never forgets us. For us to believe that, we need mom to claim us as her own, to always be there and for us to be comforted by those rhythms of the covenant. In a world too often marked by neglect and divorce, mom’s have a tough job in getting their little boys to trust that they will always be there “after nap and snack.” That nothing can ever separate them from mom, just as nothing separates us from God’s love either. It is the heart of our faith.

413FdiAHnML._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ginny’s book outlines all those times that moms reflect God’s presence for us. It’s a gem of a book and I have just purchased a copy for my mom for this mother’s day. Perhaps you might too and let it jar the memory of your now-no-longer-little boy memory?

I will never know the joy of having children. It is an unrealized dream for me. So I have to live vicariously through Ginny. So I treasure her stories. In some ways, Ginny’s writing has mothered me through the death of this unrealized dream, softening the blow a bit and moving me into the other dreams that God always offers me. It is there that I find the mother-God is always there waiting for me.

After nap and snack.

Gratitude

We received good news yesterday as many already know from Facebook:

The results of Marion’s breast MRI show benign findings.

Exhale.

She will proceed to have surgery on Halloween –I asked her doctor if she dresses up as Chewbacca for the surgery–to remove the other atypical cells they found. Those will be biopsied along with the cells beneath those to be sure there’s nothing else there. So we’re still praying here. But we’ve got one piece of good news on the chart now which leads us to believe that more is coming. The doctor was very positive yesterday as well.

But for today, we are filled with gratitude and continue to know that God will be with us no matter what happens.