Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Book of Afformations

Sometimes, to make a difference in our lives, we just have to ask a different kind of question -- and the answer to it will open up new worlds. That is what Noah St. John suggests in his new book, recently released by Hay House, The Book of Afformations: Discovering The Missing Piece to Abundant Health, Wealth, Love, and Happiness. purchased 10,000 advance copies of this book -- readers of this blog might like to get one of those copies for themselves.

Oh, the life-changing question that Noah asked: Why are we trying to change our lives saying statements we don’t believe when the human mind responds automatically to something even more powerful? I won't spoil your reading of the book by giving you Noah's answers.

However, here are some "hints" -- enjoy the watching!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Jobs God Would Not Let Me Have and the One He Insisted I Take and Keep

Only four years ago now, I was peacefully and happily working in Jordan, a wonderful country -- ancient, holy in history, and friendly. Then, I got a fateful (not fatal, but at moments it did seem so) phone call from a former boss. He had just been selected to a CEO position and was asking me to come back to the States and work as one of his four direct reports. I would be responsible for national and international operations. Hm. It was intriguing, but I was already working internationally, shuttling between Bahrain and Jordan in order to help out the division in Bahrain which had lost its head person, and doing occasional consulting in any one of two dozen other countries. Hm. I wavered, mostly toward the status quo of the time.

Then, my boss in Jordan, an Egyptian of grand proportions and even greater temper, learned about the phone call, and the full fury of an Arab slighted fell upon me, loyalty being the number one trait that Arabs expect from friends and employees, at least in my experience. He immediately tore up my contract. He would not allow me to leave him; the only way I would be leaving would be if he sent me away, and he was doing just that. It was odd that he found out about the phone call. Only two people knew, and both insisted that they had not told. I had no reason not to believe them and still have no reason not to believe them. I am now pretty certain that my boss found out because God wanted me back in the USA for two reasons: (1) to find Him even though I was not looking for Him; and (2) my current job -- and I am still trying to figure out why God wants me in this particular job but have reached the firm conclusion, given a preponderance of evidence, that He does.

There was only one problem with this scenario (for my boss): I had already been paid for the quarter, so I got a 3-month vacation. However, there was nothing my boss could do about that. He left for Egypt, his residence, and returned in a month for his one-day monthly visit. By then, he had calmed down. We met, in the Arab way drank tea before broaching serious matters, and then settled down to discussing "the situation." I asked why he thought I would choose the USA over Jordan; I might very well have chosen Jordan over the USA. He seemed puzzled about that at first, talked about how I was "leaving him" (yep, I was right about the loyalty bit with him), and finally commented that he would be in his hotel room until the morning if anything else came up that I would like to talk to him about. We parted civilly. There was almost a sadness in the air on his side. Months later, I realized that in the Arab manner of saving face he was letting me know that he would like me to come back but that I would have to be the one to take the first step. I know that. I had lived in the culture long enough to read between the lines, but I did not. I took everything at face value, in the American way. Why? I have been called a "cultural chameleon;" I am known for being good at understanding the unspoken communication in other cultures, yet I failed to recognize something that I knew very well. I ask again, why? In retrospect, I think God must have clouded my thinking because He wanted me in the USA.

I began rapidly opening doors in Jordan, and I had lots of help. I had become well known there and had acquired enough respect for being a good teacher and a good administrator to have a number of job offers. I taught at the top university in the country for fall semester, which ended the day before I left Jordan for the USA (yes, I did ultimately take the job there/here).

Every door I opened in Jordan was closed. No, make that, every door I opened was slammed shut. Every person who tried to help me moved unexpectedly. Seriously. One professor and one administrator were moved by their organization to Bahrain, and one dean was recycled back into the faculty (it was the appropriate time for that to occur); but then he had the opportunity to teach in Lebanon, and off he went.

In the interim, I kept being pushed in less than subtle ways toward the USA job. First, given that I had no contract and every possibility for staying in Jordan dried up as quickly as it appeared, the job in the USA did not look all that bad. Actually, it was a very good job. While I was hesitating, the starting salary offer increased by 20%. That sweetened the pot, but I was still pretty intent on staying in Jordan. Then, I coincidentally (?) ended up at a conference with the most senior leadership from the organization, ran into them quite by chance (?), socialized a bit, and they urged me to put in my papers. I did -- one day before the deadline. That turned out to be a problem because they needed my transcripts from Russia, where I had completed my PhD. Oops! I assumed that this meant I should continue looking for jobs in Jordan, but no, the USA organization extended the deadline, quite coincidentally(?), by three weeks, just enough time to get the transcripts. As soon as the transcripts arrived, I was interviewed and shortly thereafter a firm job offer was made. At the same time, the contract of my husband, Donnie, was terminated in similar fashion to mine. Well, as I have learned, when God says "no," God means "no." So, with the USA job offer being the only one I had in spite of the fact that never before have I had any trouble cultivating job offers, back we came to California.

And within six months God entered my life as a Force to be reckoned with. (For details, see my conversion story.) And now, more than three years later, God has pretty much taken over my life!

After two years of working in my current position, I began looking for another job for several reasons: (1) the lure of a higher position and higher wages and (2) a bit of an ethical dilemma associated with one of the projects I supervised -- I disagreed strongly with the position of the organization. Once again, I quickly found another opportunity, a vice president position close enough to home that I would not have to move and with a salary that would be equal to a 25% raise. I was one of the top three candidates, and on a Wednesday interviewed.

I felt confident after that interview -- one usually has a sense of the success (or not) of an interview. However, clearly God had put me at my current position and wanted me to stay there. Things started happening again. First, every single day about once an hour one employee after another would come in, tell me how much they liked working with me, explain how much I belong here where I am, and share some story of some difference I had made in their life (usually something minor such as previously hating to come to work and now loving to come to work -- well, I suppose that is not all that minor). Here was something new, and I began to feel some obligation to these people. Second, on the Saturday after the interview and knowing nothing about my job search, Fr. Barry showed up at my door with an article related to the ethical dilemma I was facing. I had discussed it with him on a couple of occasions; he is my spiritual barometer. He told me that he thought that I was in a very good position to help the ethical dilemma be resolved and that I should keep this in mind whenever I was troubled about it. (He was stunned to hear about the job interview.) Third, just to make sure that I had no choice (because sometimes I do have to get conked on the head in order to hear/see God's direction), the job for which I had interviewed went away. Poof! The Board of Directors decided that they did not need an executive VP, given the current economic climate.

Financially, through all of this, God took care of me. Consider that my contract in Jordan had been paid three months in advance and that my current job began a mere two weeks (travel time) after the end of those three months -- and because I was also teaching during the fall semester, I got more than two weeks of extra pay to cover those two post-contract-expiration weeks. As for my current position, not only was the starting salary increased by 20%, but when the organization found out that I had been interviewed (there seem to be no secrets at work), my supervisor put through a 25% retention incentive, the maximum allowed by organizational regulation, and so my current salary matches what I would have made had I left. Amazing!

So, it would seem that here is where God wants me (for reasons only He knows). Therefore, here I will be until directed elsewhere.

Falling in Love with Some Special Churches

Since today is Sunday, and I have just had a round of visiting churches -- one for mass (St. Martin's in Garmisch, Germany) and Seekirchl in the Alps where I walked with Austrian friends in the afternoon and yesterday receiving a tour of St. Sophia's in Kiev courtesy of a Ukrainian colleague who is also an architect -- it seemed appropriate to talk about churches today.

You probably recognize this church as the one that accompanies my Monday Morning Meditation blogs. This is one of the California mission churches founded by the Franciscans. Since I have joined the Secular Franciscan Order as a candidate, this church has special meaning to me. It is not gilded or ornate in any way. It is not exceptionally large although it does have three aisles whereas most of the mission churches had only two. The floor is uneven, and one can even find animal prints in the tiles. The old pews get dusty; I know because I volunteer to clean them periodically. There is something very special about this church, though, that draws me twice on weekends and whenever possible on weekdays. I I have never failed to sense God's presence in this church -- and neither has any guest I have taken there. One feels that God loves being in our church. Perhaps that is why in more than 200 years, the church has never been without a priest or missed a mass (quite a feat considering the offering of daily masses and 5 masses in 3 languages on the weekend). And perhaps that is why on nearly any given day, if you drop in, you will find someone kneeling at one of the icons, at the altar railing, or in one of the pews in prayer.

A colleague and I, both visiting Garmisch, Germany for work reasons and having the weekend free, decided to attend mass prior to a day of separate sightseeing, he in town and I in the Austrian Alps with friends. We misunderstood the times and ended up at St. Martin's as the early mass was ending, so we returned an hour later. I am so glad we did return. St. Martin's is a beautiful church, with frescoes and ancient, straight pews built in such a way that one wonders if the early parishioners spent the entire mass kneeling -- the kneelers are considerably more comfortable than the pews. We were not there for comfort, however, and we certainly found something far greater. The parish is well-priested. Three priests presided, two sisters from the local convent did the readings, and I could not count the number of acolytes. Were our parish that rich in religious leaders! We seemed to have stumbled into the church on an important day, the 50th anniversary of the founding (with American help!) of the local convent. The homily was wonderful even though I understood at best 60% of it because my German is rusty. That mattered little because the touch of God was in that place -- and my sense of God's presence and my love of being in it is not at all rusty!

Seekirchl in Seefeld, Austria is the church that heads this post. It is so charming in winter that I had to include the winter picture (above at the top of the post) even though today was a crisp fall day. The church inside is tiny, holding perhaps 40 people at best, there being only 5 rows of differently-sized pews on each side, each holding 3-4 people. Built in the 1600s, the church has charm and history. I was told by my friends with whom I was walking about the Alps, having taken a train ride there from Germany in the early afternoon, that it is a working church but services are held only in the morning. Well, maybe next time...In the interim, there was no need for a live mass to know that God spends time in this place.

St. Oswald's, also in Seefeld, Austria has been made into a museum as a result of an incredible event that took place there. As the story goes, on the night of Holy Thursday 1384, a knight named Oswald Milser attended mass at this church. A man of great arrogance and pride, he approached the high altar with his sword drawn and a band of intimidating armed men, demanding the large host, the one normally reserved for the priest, for himself. The frightened priest handed him the host, and Milser remained standing as he took it. However, as soon as he had the host in his mouth, the knight sank into the ground up to his knees. Pale with terror, he grasped the altar with both hands, leaving imprints that can still be seen. The knight begged the priest to remove the host from his mouth. As soon as it was done, the ground became firm beneath him again, but the host turned blood-red. The humiliated knight rushed to the monastery of Stams, confessing and repenting his sin of arrogance. It is said that the knight thereafter befriended the poor and became a great servant to God. Anyone who ever has any doubt that God is present in His churches would do well to visit St. Oswald's and check out the fingerprints.

St. Sophia's church, in my mind, is the perfect one with which to end. Given the Mongol invasion, which wiped out much of Kiev, a history of battles, and the communist regime which destroyed a number of the churches in the USSR, it is amazing that St. Sophia's Cathedral is still standing. After the communists blew up St. Michael's church, the people of Kiev begged the Soviet government to leave St. Sophia's untouched, and the government, surprisingly, agreed. Perhaps it is not surprising, though, that the government agreed and that St. Sophia's outlasted the other churches. On one of the arches near the iconastas are written the words: this church shall never be moved. Hm...Seems like those words foretold God's centuries-long protection of this very large, two-story, beautiful church.

Yes, I know that where two or more are gathered together in His name, God is present, and I usually feel that presence. However, being in God's presence in a church where His people have worshiped Him for centuries always strikes me as an incredible blessing bestowed by God, who has known all of these who have loved Him throughout time and who is allowing me into their midst, even if I do not deserve to be there.

The Boy in White

For some time, I have wanted to post about the boy in white, but I have hesitated because the story appears in my book, Blest Atheist, and I have generally posted excerpts from that book and my other publications on Mahlou Musings, rather than here. There are differing audiences between the two blogs, but I think the story can also appeal to readers of this blog. So, I will summarize the story here. You can find the longer, more complete story that is closer to the original in the book on Mahlou Musings.

The story of the boy in white intertwines with many of the leitmotifs of this blog. I began this blog with discussions of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) and blessings, and the story of the boy in white, which comes from my childhood, contains these leitmotifs as well as hints of the supranormal/angelic, which have also been discussed here at various times. Here is the story in brief:

On one bright, cold winter day, I dragged my sled three houses down our New England street to our neighbor’s teton-shaped hill, where all the children in our area of town gathered to race down to the mostly untraveled country road below on sleds, cardboard, or whatever else was available. I pulled my sled up the hill, waving to the other children in the neighborhood but mainly concentrating on the anticipated thrill of the ride. We were a community of children in the sense that we all knew each other, but our sport was an individual one. We did not share adrenaline-spurred shrieks of fun, but rather we quietly felt the thrill that defined the fun of New England downhill sledding.

That afternoon as I was pulling my one-person wooden sled up the hill a third time, I noticed a young boy, clad all in white and definitely not adequately covered for the sub-zero temperature that rosied our noses as they protruded from the scarves wrapped around our necks and faces and tucked into the hoods on our coats. I puzzled over the boy in white only momentarily as I mounted the hill and then the sled and began my third downhill run toward the road. Suddenly, about half-way down the hill, the boy in white, well blended with the surrounding snow in my visual field, began moving across the path over which my sled was about to speed.

“Get out of the way!” I yelled. I was as much annoyed at his being in my path as I was afraid of hurting him. He stepped back, and I briefly caught his sad look as I zipped past.

The memory is old and the details lodged in the mind of an 8-year-old whose perception of the world had moments of extremism. Therefore, I will not insist that every detail was precisely as I remember it today. What I do remember precisely, however, was being shaken by my own unkind words. I hurried home, towing my sled and a bundle of regret and concern. Somebody had to help the boy in white! He was wandering through the New Hampshire cold with no coat! He would freeze on the hill or anywhere else in our neighborhood. He seemed so oblivious to his surroundings and to the cold. He must be poor, indeed, I thought. We did not have much when we were children, but we always had warm clothes, and we were always bundled up, displaying a “cared for” look.

“Ma,” I called as I dropped the rope of the sled and ran into the house. “There is a boy on the hill without a coat. He is going to freeze! We have to help him!”

“Well, let’s go,” she said. I could not point him out through our window, so we set off for the hill. By the time we got there a few minutes later, however, he was nowhere to be found. We looked farther afield, but we saw no lad in white. Ma asked some of the other children, but none remember seeing him. I was at a loss to explain to Ma why he was not there, but she was not angry this time. In spite of her inability to love her children in an altruistic manner -- indeed, she was a highly abusive parent, one frequently emotionally out of control -- whenever someone in the greater community needed help, Ma was always jolly on the spot. Those two seemingly mutually exclusive attitudes — cruelty to her children and kindness to the community — made it difficult for us children to understand Ma. It also made it difficult for the community to understand our reaction to Ma for the community’s experience of her has always been positive.

As for the boy in white, I never saw him again. My friends insisted that he never was there, that he was a figment of my imagination that had frozen in the cold and was hallucinating snow images. Not a boy in white but a boy of snow. Still, I can see him today as clearly as I saw him on the hill so long ago. Today, I wonder if he was not there to teach me a lesson in kindness, in neighborly love — and to reveal perhaps why Ma may, indeed, live in grace, in spite of all her earlier cruelty and self-absorption for when there was a need for a Good Samaritan, Ma was usually the first volunteer. Perhaps God was using her, too? If God could use an atheist, as I was for so many years, then perhaps a believer with a temper, like Ma, might also be a potential instrument.

The long-ago lessons of the boy in white, unspoken lessons that allowed my subconscious, rather than conscious, mind to develop a morals-based value system, also showed me two important things that have dramatically shaped my life. First, I realized that day that there were two faces to Ma. That provided the foundation for the forgiveness that God required of me years later and which came easily once God pulled me out of my beloved bramble bushes. What God forgave me, I can certainly forgive others. Where God took me back, I can certainly take back others. Tit for tat gains nothing for no one. Forgiveness heals. That is one of the great lessons God has taught me on more than one occasion.

The second conclusion I came to all those years ago on the hill was that unless I was careful I would grow up to be the same hothead as Ma: my instinct had been to yell at the boy in white. Certainly, I did not want that. From then on, I worked hard to be the opposite of Ma. (Of course, I would tell her so from time to time when she was in the middle of beating, kicking, biting, or otherwise abusing me, and that did nothing to endear me to her; rather, I usually got an extra helping of the physical abuse as a result of my “big mouth.”)

How young I was when the boy in white crossed my path! Decades later, I can only conclude that God has always been with me. I have just been slow in seeing the linkages. I am grateful that now I can see them. Once again, God is spoiling me (and I love it).

God Took Care of Me Again!

Just a quick post today because I am not even sure which day “today” is. I need to hop into bed for about four hours of sleep before getting up in the Ukraine to a new day, a day full of meetings and work. It is still Wednesday afternoon in the USA, if my telephone clock is correct. So, I will label this a Wednesday post, make it short, share one of God’s small mercies for which I am always (well, at least usually, thankful), and go to bed.

I came into Kiev this evening (actually, early this morning) with two colleagues. Neither was from the Ukraine and therefore not aware of how to handle the taxi situation from the airport – how to tell which ones were safe, how to gauge the price, etc. Fortunately, we did not have to know anything. The young man sitting beside me and I got into an interesting conversation. He told me about how he got into working in Germany albeit being a Ukrainian. Then he asked me how it was that my fate brought me to the USA. For a minute, I thought I had misunderstood something in Russian, then I realized that he had just paid me a huge linguistic compliment. I explained that I had grown up in Maine. He still did not understand and asked how my parents had gotten to Maine, at which point I told him I had only a Russian tongue and not a drop of Russian blood. He laughed at his erroneous assumption that I was a Russian emigrant to the USA, and then, realizing that I was a foreigner in a strange land (not entirely strange, but it has been 15 years since I was last in Kiev), he offered to share with the three of us his company’s driver. What an easy way to get to the hotel!

I gave him my email address and asked him to keep in touch. He may. It seems like quite a repeat of my meeting with Eddie Pareiras of Campinas, Brazil. Once again, without my even asking, God took care of me. How otherwise would one explain the perfect seatmate on the plane? Luck? Okay, I suppose one could. But such luck twice, in two different hemispheres? I think luck may be, as someone once said, those times when God chooses to be anonymous!

Yippee! I’m off to bed, wishing you all a blessed day, evening, night…whatever it is where you are!

Blest Guest Wednesday #11: Why Is Love the Greatest of All the Gifts from God? (Kathleen Smith)

At times, my crazy travel schedule interferes with my ability to post regularly, and I have to bring a little sanity to the blogging part of my life by asking for help. I am now entering one such crazy period. Some wonderful fellow bloggers have been willing to write guest posts for me on Wednesdays, hence the name "Blest Guest Wednesday."

As today's "Blest Guest," I asked Kathleen Smith (Heart 2 Heart), who comments on Blest Atheist frequently, to share something she thought would be interesting to BA readers. I think you will find her post interesting, so here goes:

Why Is Love the Greatest of All the Gifts from God?

I was reading tonight a book about Heaven and what it's actually going to be like. After all, it is where me and my family know for certain we are going when we die, so wouldn't you like to know a little bit about what it's like? I will discuss some of those things with you tomorrow but it isn't really about a tunnel of light either!

So the question that presented itself in my readings pertains to the chapter in the Bible known as the chapter about love. 1 Corinthians 13:13, which reads, in case you don't happen to have a Bible handy, is " and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

So why is love the greatest? To figure this out, you need to go back to the Bible in Genesis to when God originally created a sin free world with Adam and Eve. The garden and world in which God created was perfect! No sin, or sinful thoughts or any evil. Adam was having conversations with God in the garden so there was a sense of an intimate relationship with God. Adam didn't pray to God, but he actually talked to him like we do with close friends and relatives. So if you are living in a sin free world, it's easy to see why love remains the greatest.

Remember that the world we live in today is filled with sin and a sin filled nature. Which is why, even after we are saved, we will continue to struggle and often times go back to things we know we shouldn't, like books, movies, TV shows, language and other things. God never said once you give your life to him, becoming a Christian, that your life would be carefree and easy. In fact, the opposite is true. We are faced with more struggles because the enemy, the devil, does not want us to wind up with God in Heaven. His goal is to take out as many of us as possible before his time is up.

But God when he returns promises to destroy the earth as we know it and will create a new heaven and a new earth in which sin will be removed. Imagine that! No pain or suffering is easy to believe along with no more death. We will never have to face the fact of losing someone close to us ever again. The other thing is we will restore that intimate relationship with God and Jesus Christ. We will see them face to face. So there will not be a need to pray anymore. We won't need anything which is why we pray. We will have it all.

Our sinful nature and thoughts will go away as well. No more doubting things, no more evil thoughts ever!!!

So now that that relationship with God was severed on the initimate level we have to have faith. What is faith?

Let's define that. The dictionary states that faith is

1a: allegiance to duty or a person;

1b loyalty (1): fidelity to one's promises; (2)sincerity of intentions;

2a (1) belief and trust in and loyalty to God; (2) belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion;

2b (1) firm belief in something for which there is no proof; (2) complete trust;

3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction, especially a system of religious beliefs.

Basically, in a nutshell, faith is believing in something you don't see but believe is there.

Since we will be in heaven and everything we wanted to know will be revealed, we don't need faith anymore. God won't allow disbelievers of God or Jesus into heaven so the only people there are the ones who believed when they didn't see. Remember the Beatitudes? Blessed are those that are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

So with no needing of faith, that one is gone. Now we have hope left, so let's define hope.

Here is the definition according to Webster's:

intransitive verb
1: to cherish a desire with anticipation
2 (archaic): trust

transitive verb
1: to desire with expectation of obtainment
2: to expect with confidence : trust

Well, for now we can hope for a better life. We can hope to be reunited with our loved ones. It, again, is something we want and trust but can't be sure will happen until it does or doesn't. So, back to the new heaven and earth, if all our desires are provided for and given to us, what else is there to want?

That leaves love. To see why that is the greatest goes beyond the initial love, the romantic feel-good, emotional love that comes and goes. What I am talking about is the act of love. Unconditional love with expecting nothing in return when you give it. That is the love God gave us.

Imagine you are a parent and you have a child. No matter what your child does in life, you will always love him or her unconditionally. But let's say you had a child that was perfect in every way. Yes, to some parents, we would love a child like that. But a child that never talked back, never did anything wrong, always listened. Perfect in every way.

You go to a city one day with your child and find yourself in the middle of the courtyard that is filled with people who are about to be put to death based on their horrible, evil crimes: mass murderers, liars, thieves, rapists, (you fill in the blank with any crime that makes you sick or cringe). The men are ready to receive their just punishments. After all, we punish our children when they doing something that is wrong. Then, you hear about the worst one there, the evilest of all the criminals and he is about to be put to death by the executioner unless someone steps forward to take his place. You hear laughsfrom the crowd around you. People begin to shout for the execution to take place, and some in the crowd throw things at the man. Then you step forward and offer your child to take the man's place.

People in the crowd begin to whisper about how you could sacrifice your child for one of this city's most notorious and evil criminals. But you say I am glad I could do this for you. You owe me nothing. You watch the criminal walk away without being executed. How would you think the criminal should react?

If I were the criminal, I would be eternally grateful, offering to work for you or do something for you as payment.

Or would you say thanks or not say thanks perhaps and simply walk away?

The story is real!

The child as you may have guessed is Jesus Christ, and the parent who gives up his perfect child is God our Father. We deserve the punishment we should receive for all of our evil doings in the world. True, we may not be the most notorious and evil criminal or ever think of doing those things but the Bible says all fall short of the glory of God! Every one of us was doomed to be executed, but Jesus took it all for us so that we may have eternal life if we simply believe in Him. It is by His grace to offer us the gift of His son, that we can have faith and hope while we wait to return to Heaven when our lives are over.

Will you simply choose to be like the criminal and just say thanks and walk away! The great thing is that even though we would want to give that guy the world, he wanted nothing from us, but our love. That is why I believe that love remains the greatest.

Now that you know, what will you do with this gift?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Religious Climate Questionnaire

Jennifer Fulwiler, Conversion Diary, annually asks the following questions about the religious climate in various areas where her followers live.

I think I am very lucky to be living in San Ignatio (real name: San Jaun Bautista; I had to conceal the location in my book, Blest Atheist, in order to protect some people).

Here are my answers to Jennifer's questions. What are yours? Trek on over to Jennifer's blog and leave your responses. (You can also leave them in a comment here, too.)

1. Where do you live?
San Juan Bautista, California (an old mission town near the central coast of California), population 1700; the name means St. John the Baptist; it was founded on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, and the only two statues in town are of SJB and Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded most of the California missions.

2. What is church attendance like? Are there many churches?
There are two churches: a large Catholic church and a very tiny Protestant church.

The Catholic church is an old Spanish (Franciscan) mission, which is the largest of the 23 missions in California.The mission is the center of nearly all town activity. Most people in town attend church and are members of the parish. Our priest commented in his homily this evening that there is a good regularity to life when he can look out and see the same people in the same pews on the same day at the same time each week.

Pictures of Old Mission San Juan Bautista and statue of St. John the Baptist
inside the mission during the solstice when the light from the rising sun streams down the middle aisle

There is also a Franciscan convent and a Franciscan monastery, as well as a Franciscan retreat center. The friars and nuns are actively involved in the community and church, and the community is actively involved in the activities and support of the retreat center.

Sisters of the Atonement Convent

St. Francis Retreat Center

There is a very tiny Protestant church that might hold a couple dozen people.

Protestant church: small building with spire

3. How appropriate would it be for a person to acknowledge that he or she is a believing Christian in casual conversation?
Quite appropriate, but quite unnecessary; it is assumed. Even a casual visitor, especially during the Christmas season, can tell.

the main street at Christmas; placard is of a saint; each one is different
lamp post with saint's placard on the main street

4. What kind of faith do the politicians claim to practice?
We have very few politicians; as far as I know, all are Christian. There is a small city council (five people); all are members of our parish. There is a mayor, typically one of the business owners and a member of the parish. We have no police department or sheriff's office. A deputy sheriff for the county, who lives in town (grew up here) and is a member of the parish, keeps an eye on the town on a part-time basis; his part-time hours are purchased from the county. We have a newspaper -- about 8 pages, comes out monthly; the editor is a member of our parish. Our school is part of a larger school district with surrounding towns, so the school board is not integral to our town. We have no senators or representatives from our town -- they all represent a larger area of which we are a small part. We do not have a court although we do have one attorney; he is a member of our parish. Well, you get the picture...

5. How common would it be to see a family with more than three kids? What are the attitudes toward family size?
It is uncommon to see a family with fewer than three kids. Many families have 5-8 children. Partly because the town is mostly Catholic and partly because it is highly Mexican (we have both English and Spanish Masses, as well as mixed-language Masses on holy days of obligation), there are no "attitudes" of any sort toward family size, large or small. 

6. What was the dominant belief system in your area 50 years ago? What is it now?
Catholic then. Catholic now. Catholic since the town was founded 214 years ago -- and in 214 years, not one day has passed without daily Mass (apparently, a national record). The town was featured in the movie, Vertigo, filmed in 1954, in which Jimmy Stewart tells Kim Novak, "There is a little town 100 miles south of San Francisco, called San Juan Bautista, that has not changed in 100 years." Whenever the movie is shown locally (usually every summer on the grassy square in front of the church -- there are no movie theaters, bowling alleys, fast food joints, or malls here), everyone laughs because the town, as seen in that movie, looks exactly like the town today. It has now not changed in 160 years! Even the grove of eucalyptus trees right before the turnoff into town is still there, as is the stable and the courtroom, although neither is any longer used and both have become part of the state park of historic buildings.

Jimmy Stewart in our mission church (note: arches temporarily filled in for 1954 earthquake repair; now opened up again)

eucalyptus grove, shown in Vertigo as north of SJB, is actually immediately south of SJB -- still looks the same

Stewart and Nowak in the stable; even the model horse (not seen) to the left of Nowak is the same

the courtroom as shown in Vertigo

 7. Do the people where you live seem happy with their lives?
Yes. It is a small, quiet, calm place. No crime to speak of. No gangs as in some of the cities not far from us. About the only "action" in town is the mission -- Mass, catechism, prayer groups, etc. That and arguing over whether the feral Mexican chicken population should be thinned out or left alone.

a typical street gathering of chickens

local chickens crossing the main street

our local shopping area

A Perversion of Justice

There is an important guest post on These Stone Walls this week, informing readers about the most recent obstructions to finding justice for an apparent false allegation that landed Fr. Gordon MacRae in jail for 18 years. Now that evidence of perjury and miscarriage of justice has come to light, the courts are not willing to re-hear the case. The overview of the case is summarized below:

“In what the petitioner asserts has been revealed as a scam to obtain a cash settlement from the Catholic church, Tom Grover, a drug addict, alcoholic and criminal, accused Father Gordon MacRae of molesting him years before. Grover’s civil suit – featuring MacRae’s conviction -earned him nearly $200,000. No witnesses to the alleged acts could be found, despite that they were to have occurred in busy places. Grover’s claims were contradicted by objective facts (e.g. inoperable locks that he claimed worked, acts in an office to which MacRae did not have access, claims about a chess set that had not [yet] been purchased).”

To read the whole article, click here: These Stone Walls.

From Grief-Stricken Mom to Real-Life Angel: The Case of Casa do Zezhino

After telling some bad tales about my travels abroad (see, for example, Muggable Me), it seems like it should be time and only fair to tell a remarkably good tale that I learned about during my days of providing consultation to state and private educational programs in Brazil. It is one I have been meaning to tell for a while, and I do at least have a button about it under "Ways to Help Others" over there on the right-hand side of this page: Casa do Zezinho (Little Joe's House).

The following description comes from the English-language site:

"On the outskirts of São Paulo, there is a poor and violent region so dangerous, it is known as the 'death triangle.' Thousands of families live here and don't have the resources to move elsewhere. Children have no access to leisure activities—there are no libraries, no theaters, no museums, no parks to enrich their free time. In fact, on average, three children die in this neighborhood every week by violent means or neglect.

In the middle of this terror is a safe haven called Casa do Zezinho. This daycare and after-school center is a sanctuary for children and teenagers who take part in their educational programs as well as the arts and culture programs they offer. The children are encouraged to explore creative hobbies and engage in cultural activities as well as participate in self-esteem and self-development programs.

Dagmar Garroux, the founder of Casa do Zezinho, and known as Tia Dag, describes it as, 'A house where we learn with children, and children learn with us, how to open the doors which are usually closed by poverty.' Casa do Zezinho provides a sheltered place for the children to play and learn. It is a place where children receive attention, affection, nutrition and education. It is a place where they can find hope.

Their programs include the graphic arts: mosaic, paper recycling art, woodworking, ceramics and silk screening—as well as the performing arts: theater, dance, musical instruments, and singing. Instead of dead end roads, the children are shown the way to make positive choices for their own future."

What the website does not tell you is Dagmar's personal tragedies. I felt an instant bond with Dagmar when I learned that she had had a child with spina bifida, like my Noelle. Unfortunately, unlike Noelle, who has reached the grand age of 33 and counting, Dagmar's daughter died at the age of six. The loss of her daughter prompted Dagmar to found Casa do Zezinho. Instead of losing hope, Dagmar developed an approach to teaching (and life) that she called "hope pedagogy."

Beginning with just a few students, she had reached an enrollment of 300 when her father came to visit this marvelous oasis in the middle of Death Triangle. (I have been to Death Triangle and can personally attest to Dagmar's institution being a real oasis, where hope lives and grows.) Now, Death Triangle has earned its name: it has the highest per capital rate of murder anywhere in Brazil, and deaths come easily, quickly, and voluminously there. Dagmar's father was little more than one tiny number in a large statistic: he was murdered before he ever saw his daughter's triumph. She was heartbroken and angry and stayed away from Casa do Zezinho for a month after her father's death. Then, a group of older students came to her, told her that they missed her and that they had determined who had killed her father. They promised to take revenge -- kill the killers -- if she would come back. As she told me, she realized that this kind of thinking was just the opposite of what she had been trying to teach the next generation, and so she told them that she would only come back if they forgave the killers (and that she would, too). Forgiveness was had all around, and Dagmar came back in full force to build the institution to 1200 children and growing.

Dagmar's Casa do Zezinho is one of many examples of God turning bad into good. Dagmar's losses became a major gain for hundreds of children with some of the worst potential futures in all of Brazil; instead of looking at a life on the street, selling drugs, these children have learned about selling other kinds of things, things that they make, as well as have traveled to Germany to participate in a bi-cultural choir, giving them a perspective on life that ranges far beyond the small triangle in which they were born.

Good from bad is such a common theme with God. How can we we feel sorry at all for ourselves or our kids when God has used their plights to create delights? Because of Doah's experiences, many children who would otherwise have died have lived and a class of autistic children was left far less autistic. (I guess I should blog about the stories behind that statement some day.) Noelle has been a spokesperson for all kinds of disability-related events and campaigns, including being quoted at one point in the Washington Post for her testimony at a Congressman's hearing on special education (the only child to testify). Shura bonded an entire community that had only one desire: that he live (and he did).

And then there are those muggings where in just a few minutes I learned more about cultural aspects of the countries where I was mugged than I could ever have learned (or understood) from university studies. And, of course, there is the story of St. Francis Retreat; the new super-duper digs would never have been undertaken had not the old burned to the ground. Nor is it likely there would have been such a rallying of community support that is likely to last long after the new building opens.

I could go on and on about how many times and ways I have seen God turn bad into good, but I won't. I'll save the discussion for a future post when others can share their experiences, too.

I am, however, reminded every hour of every day of the goodness of God that is poured out upon the children living in a violent neighborhood in the bowels of Brazil through a real-life angel called Dagmar. You see, the clock in my office has the Casa do Zezinho logo, hand-drawn and given to me by a child from Dagmar's oasis.

When God Says "No," God Means "No"

I once wrote a rather nasty note to a priest. (It was to none of the priests I have mentioned in this blog from time to time, but to a longer-term visiting priest, holding an interim assignment to our parish). He did something that I, in good judgmental fashion, thought was quite wrong. Actually, what he had done was to say something negative about a priest I love during mass, something that was not true and clearly hurt the feelings of that priest. It was an attempt by the visiting priest to make a joke, but it fell flat. I was indignant by the inappropriateness of it. (There we go again with judgment! Who am I to judge? Yet I did!)

I carefully thought through all aspects of what the priest had said and what the consequences seemed to be and decided to write an irate letter to him, something that is generally out of character for me. (I highly value all the priests in my life and am grateful for them and to them, and I certainly do not expect them to be all-the-time perfect.) In this case, though, I was certain that I had the high road, and I explained all my concerns to the interim priest in FOUR written pages! As I folded the letter to mail it, I felt a twinge out of nowhere, a strong feeling that what I was doing was wrong. However, being in a happily judgmental mood, I started to seal the envelope. The twinge came again. Okay, I considered, so maybe this twinge means that God does not want me to send this letter. I thought it over, figured I knew better than God, and, still in my great judgmental mode, rewrote the letter, removing all the vitriol and about half the contents. I then sealed the envelope and busied myself with something else.

As I busied myself, that twinge came yet again. Stronger this time. Oh, for heaven's sake, I thought, I better rewrite the thing. So, I threw away the envelope with the original letter and revised what I had written. When I was done, the letter was only one page and, I thought, pretty kindly and succinctly worded. The revised note went into an envelope, which I sealed, stamped, and put into my purse for mailing during my lunch hour the next day.

When I reached my office the next morning, I was surprised to find a colleague who was supposed to be at a conference. "I am leaving right now," he said, "but I am supposed to tell you something. I have no idea what I am talking about, but I am just going to say it straight out, and perhaps you can figure out what is meant. 'You should not mail the letter you have written because the person to whom you have written it is too weak.'"

I questioned my colleague, who is a highly spiritual person and has had this sort of thing happen to him more than once, but he had no more insight than he had already given me. When I told him that the only letter I had written was to our interim priest, he was surprised but nonetheless certain that I was not supposed to mail it. I told my colleague I would consider his words, and he left.

I took out the letter, read it again, and decided that, just in case, I should rewrite it one more time. I cut it down to one very gentle paragraph. (I am an obstinate one; no wonder God had to conk me on the head to get me to convert and even now occasionally has to get a little rough with me.)

At that moment, the phone rang. It was the visiting priest who asked me to go to the Chrism mass and pick up the oils for our parish. He said he would not be there. Being a pushy type, I asked him why. He was evasive, but eventually I got the information out of him that he was being evaluated for cancer surgery that day in a city quite some distance away. I tore up the letter as we spoke, and I begged him to share the information with the parish, which he did, after some more prompting, at the next mass that he celebrated.

I also led a prayer vigil for him. Then, on the day after his successful surgery, I drove to the distant city and took him flowers from the parish and the candle we had used for the vigil, which I had placed during our prayers in a candle holder that I had brought to the USA from my days of living in the Holy Land.

So, God got my attention, and I finally listened (as I usually do or at least try to). The bottom line, though, beyond the lesson to "judge not," is that when God says "no," He is going to get His way, and that is good! It is as it should be.

Monday Morning Meditation #6: Good from Bad

This week, I made it through only one additional verse of Genesis. That's right: not one additional chapter, but one additional verse. Why? Because the content of this particular verse, God turning bad into good, is the theme of my life and as such deserves at least a week's contemplation and probably much, much more time. Here in Genesis, I find this theme in another life, one that is centuries old: Joseph of the many-colored coat. Joseph, in continuing the conversation with his brothers who have come to Egypt to buy grain during a great famine, states: "And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive."

Reading: Genesis 50:20

Meditation: After telling his brothers that he has forgiven them, Joseph explains to them that while some very terrible things seem to have happened to him, these events ultimately led to good and without the knowledge, experience, and foundation initially created by them, the good (saving his brothers and the rest of the Middle Eastern world of the time) could not have happened.

On a personal note, as an atheist I never questioned why all the difficult things in my life happened to me, especially three children and two grandchildren with multiple birth defects; I just assumed that it was a matter of an imperfect nature. After coming to faith, however, I asked God why. I did not blame God for anything. I just wanted to know why. I was led to read Job. It took five readings to understand that God does not cause bad things to happen, but free will, freely evolving nature, and Evil itself create those negative things. Our love for God and God's love for us is independent of whether our lives are filled with good or bad. However, God will take the bad that happens to one person and make it good for many people. (For example, because I had the experience of raising an American spina bifida child, along with the ability to speak Russian, I was able to take in a child artist from Siberia, dying from complications of spina bifida, and, with the help of others, find proper treatment to save his life -- as for the money, God led me to a multibillionaire to pay the bill. My life has indeed been filled with miracles, but many of these came from God fixing difficult situations, and some of these could not have happened had not there been a string of bad building upon bad, uh, make that, mathemagenic experience building upon mathemagenic experience.)

The other thing I would point out about the times that God has jumped in to turn bad into good is that the individuals, while they may have been frightened or angry, were never in any danger. God was there with them and had plan for pulling them out of their messes (like God does so often with Mahlou messes). God told Satan that he was not allowed to kill Job. So, Job's life was not in danger; Job just did not know that. There was an angel in the fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (the good that came from this bad was great testimony to King Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Babylon) and in the lion's den with Daniel (the good that came from this bad was religious freedom as a result of the testimony to King Darius).

I think we do not always see the good that comes from the bad because we sometimes want it to happen too quickly. (Joseph had to wait many years.) Sometimes our view is too restricted; we see only what is happening immediately to us and not to a larger swath of the population. Sometimes we want it to happen our way only, don't see that God often has unique and much better solutions than we can imagine, and fail to recognize answers to prayers that differ from our requests. And sometimes we don't realize that God uses people as His hands on earth to create the good -- and perhaps we are actually part of His work (or could be if we were to be willing and open).

And that is far as I can go with you on this Monday morning. I must retire to prayer to ask God for greater willingness and readiness to be part of His plan for turning bad to good for the people around me, to express my regret for any and all opportunities to do this that I have missed, to give thanks for all the times he has created good from bad in my life, and to offer praise for caring enough and being great enough to create miracles in my life and the lives of my friends and acquaintances.

After that, I will spend some time in contemplation with this wonderful God who has done so many wondrous things for me and mine.

I will now leave you to your prayer and contemplation.

If you pick this up as a weekly devotional activity, please share with me and others your own thoughts about the message of Genesis 50:20 or any other scripture that you choose for meditation. Feel free to export the image of the mission church; maybe some time in the near future my Internet-inept self will be able to figure out how to use the Mr. Linky buttons. In the interim, perhaps you are welcome to use the image and share the meme of Monday Morning Meditation for starting out the work week closer to God.

Have a good day and a blessed week, filled with all good things -- and let any bad be turned to good for your sake and the sake of all around you!

What a Wondeful Day It Was!

Yesterday was the most amazing day. Seriously! No tongue-in-cheek intended here.

First thing in the morning, Lemony dropped Nathaniel at school and picked me up in her rental car. (Shane's and her car broke down while Nikolina was hospitalized at Stanford--transmission needs to be replaced.) I could not drive because our battery was not working; Donnie had had to call AAA from the hospital parking lot the day before when the car would not start, and the battery had to be ordered.

While I was waiting for her, I remembered the financial issue that had been hanging around for a few days, jumped online, and discovered a deus ex machina resolution to my financial problem. An amazing solution -- but I am getting so spoiled by God pulling my family out of the muck all the time that I was not even surprised. First, earlier in the week, in order to overcome the sizable deficit caused by my not canceling an automatic payment when I chose to send in a paper check through the mail (thus paying twice and unable to get the money back in any kind of timely fashion), I had made arrangements to use savings and max out the credit cards with advances. That earlier morning, however, when I got up and checked the bank balance before going to the bank for the advances, I found that all the rest of the automatic payments for the month had been sent in and cashed, bringing the negative balance to a level beyond my capacity to make up in the manner I had planned. (I have no idea how the earlier release date got on those checks. I must have made a typo on the automatic payment date for them, but that seems strange. Possible, but truly odd and unlikely.) So, I was left with an impossible situation. What a crazy answer to a prayer for help! But God knows best, so I figured that since I could not catch up the account, anyway, I would not even try, especially since the amount I was able to round up would bring the negative balance to exactly $-666, and I did not like that number. I would just wait and see what would happen. Well, what happened was a bit extraordinary. First, the bank paid everything. Not maxing out the credit cards turned out to be important because we needed to put the car battery on them, as well as some other things that came up associated with Shane's emergency and other unexpected "activities" of this week. (Had my plan to fix matters myself worked, we would really have been stranded.) Then, yesterday, I saw that on Wednesday some per diem I was owed had come in, but for twice (!) the amount I expected. I was then back in the black by a few cents, and of course everything was much better Thursday morning, which was pay day.

This is why I never worry or even think again about any problem after turning it over to God: because God fixes things so well! (Well, there was that one time that I did worry, and God made it very clear to me that I should not do that; I never have again, at least so far.) My experiences in this vein have, I suppose, turned me into a little kid, always expecting the parent to rush the rescue. Actually, I never ask to escape the bad. I don't even worry about bad things happening; they happen, and that is inescapable life, free will, bad genes, evil-doers, and all that. But I do expect to be rescued. I also know that something good will come from the bad stuff, and I am curious enough to want to see what it is. I do bring the bad stuff to God's attention because I think it never hurts to ask, but generally I only ask once because somehow I am pretty certain, given the complications of our lives, that God must have us on a weekly checklist: "clean up this week's Mahlou mess."

So, Thursday morning started out easy! Little did any of us know what was to come!

After being picked up, I watched Nikolina while Lemony went to visit Shane in the hospital. Shane's appendix, it turned out was not about to rupture as the doctors thought Tuesday evening. It had already ruptured several days earlier, but apparently the concern over Nikolina's spinal surgery and the trips back and forth from Stanford kept him ignoring the pain. Only after Nikolina was home did he realize that something was wrong. Very wrong, as it turns out. He was full of gangrene. The appendix has been removed and his insides scrubbed. He is on mega doses of antibiotics, to which he seems to be responding well. The doctor has maintained a partially open incision because with Shane having a fever that comes and goes, the doctor is not certain that he got all the infection out. So, we wait. Until Monday, we are told. At least, Shane is now allowed visitors (initially restricted), and both we and Lemony have visited although yesterday Lemony's visits were abbreviated and between my babysitting duties and Donnie's trying to get a battery for an older car and wire money to Blaine (whose car had also broken down) -- once again glad that we had not gone ahead and maxed out the credit cards, we were not able to visit at all. But all of that was but a hint of things to come.

Not long after leaving for the hospital, Lemony returned home with Nathaniel in tow. The school had called about ten minutes after she arrived in Shane's room to ask her to pick up Nathaniel who was being sent home with conjunctivitis. She had to take him to the pediatrician, who is in a city south of us by about 20 miles. Most of her afternoon was spent on that while I got to teach Nikolina pattycake and other baby games that her great-great grandmother taught me. (It's interesting to see how, as a grandmother, I instinctively mimic my grandmother, not my mother nor myself as a mother. Odd!)

Lemony returned just in time for me to give Nathaniel a hug, and then both of them went off to open house at school. Donnie showed up at Lemony's with a working car, and we were just beginning to relax from all the stress and trauma of the past week, beginning with Nikolina's surgery, when all the lights went out. A helicopter that was helping to put out a forest fire several miles away had flown into the power lines and knocked out the electricity and cell phone tower for three towns. Lemony came home, left Nathaniel with us, and went to the hospital to confer with Shane on next steps. Nikolina was not tolerating the 100+ degree weather without air conditioning, and not having a working phone in an emergency was a concern.

Shane and Lemony found a hotel for Lemony and the kids about 30 miles north that had electricity and air conditioning -- and space. Off we went in our two-car caravan. (We did not want Lemony driving alone without a working cell phone.)

What fun! After settling Nikolina and Lemony into the hotel (Nikolina immediately perked up), we picked up some snacks for the next morning for Lemony and kids, gas, and dinner at Denny's. (Once again, I was glad I had not maxed out those credit cards.) After dinner, Nathaniel and I had fun splitting a root beer float: I drank the root beer, he sipped the "fuzzy stuff," and we split the ice cream. Then he proudly carried Lemony's dinner that we had ordered for her as take-out back to her at the hotel. As I left, I turned to say goodnight to him, but he was fast asleep in the bed, shoes and all!

We arrived back home at midnight and went straight to bed but not before offering a prayer of gratitude for once again being spoiled. Fixed finances. Car that works. Shane out of danger. Nikolina home (well, hotel, but better than the hospital). A day spent with family, which is hard for me to get, given a job that has me traveling frequently. And important lessons taught (and, hopefully, learned), such as

(1) Family is more important than work;
(2) Family bonds are built through time spent together, even if it is shared trauma;
(3) People have physical limits -- we should keep those in mind and enjoy our family and friends every day, treating them as though we have limited time with them because we truly do;
(4) There is no problem that God cannot fix better than we can try to mend ourselves:
(5) God will come through for us, just perhaps not always at the time or place or in the manner we anticipate;
(6) Cars, modern conveniences, things -- none of these are more important than relationships with family, friends, God;
(7) It is important to stop and smell the roses -- had not all these things happened this week, I would have been at work from 8-8 and would not even have seen the roses, let alone stopped to smell them; it is important to remember that life is for the enjoying, the valuing, the gee-whizzing, and the thank-you-God'ing, not for burying ourselves so deeply into our work that miss out on the wonder of it all;
(8) It is okay not to be fully mature, to run to God whenever help is needed;
(9) We can trust God without reservations of any sort; we don't have to worry (we simply choose to); and
(10) God likes to spoil us.

Yesterday, Lemony asked me rehtorically, "When is this all going to stop?" Ah, she has missed the point. It may not stop. Life is what it is. It is not important that the bad stuff stop because God will fix it, God will use it to teach us important lessons, and in many cases God will use the bad for ultimate good, often widespread good for many people. In the end, if we let Him, God will spoil us.

God, for sure, spoils me and mine. But you don't see me complaining!! As Nathaniel recently said to me, "Grandma Beth, you spoil me, but that's okay because I love it." Likewise, I say, "God, you spoil me, but that's okay because I love it!

Justice or Mercy?

This afternoon I was too angry to be angry. Ever had that feeling? Knowing that it is better to say nothing because what you will say will be so awful that it will take forever to make up for it? Yeah, that kind of afternoon. (Let alone that we still do not know Nikolina's surgical status -- all that is still pending. So today was not the best day for bad news.)

Nonetheless, bad news forced itself into my happy little day. And it all happened so innocently. I had taken time off work to be available to help Shane with any family needs before, during, and after Nikolina's surgery and decided to use some of my found time to balance my checking account. I opened the online version, figuring it would only take a few minutes since I was pretty much caught up, having balanced everything last week, which was pay day. And then a thunderstorm overtook my sunny day. To my horror, I saw that a $1500 payment to the IRS that I had put into my list of checks-by-mail account as a temporary place holder had not been removed when I sent the paper check on pay day to the IRS (my bad) and the bank had gone merrily on its little way and already mailed it, with an arrival date of today. Needless to say, I do not live in that echelon of society that can swallow an extra $1500. Trying to get the $$ back from either the bank or the IRS will take weeks; that much is for certain. The first payment already cleared, and now the second payment, unless something happens, will bounce (or all my other pay-bills-by-mail will bounce and cost a fortune in bounced check fees and quite a bit of embarrassment and paperwork with the companies that are expecting paper, not rubber, checks.) Putting a stop-payment on an IRS check was a nervous-making thought. So, the only reasonable approach seemed to be to find the extra money somewhere -- and I knew where. I could take out an advance on one of my credit cards that would cover half of it, and the rest could be taken from savings for now. We had put that amount of money into a savings account six months ago for an expense we had anticipated (and still anticipate); that could be borrowed temporarily. So, off I went to ask Donnie to go take it out of the bank while I worked on getting the credit card advance.

And then that little bubble of perpetual happiness that seems to bounce up and down around me wherever I go got a leak. Donnie became very quiet. He had that little-boy-caught-with-his-hand-in-the-cookie-jar look on his face. Finally, he admitted that (1) he had never put the full amount into the savings account and (2) over the past six months he had been removing the money bit by bit to buy himself comfort things (like foods that I don't buy because they are bad for his diabetes and little gadgets that I don't quite understand the need for). Now, there is nearly nothing in the account. My happiness bubble was leaking pretty fast, and I decided I had better do something to get out of the house -- uh, I could pick up the mail -- before I totally lost it and said those forever-type things.

On the way to the mail, all kinds of things went through my head, most of which centered around divorcing the "freeloader" (Donnie has not been able to find a full-time job since we returned to the USA from Jordan three years ago and brings in small amounts of money through freelance graphics, which he typically keeps for his own use unless there is an unexpected urgency), divorcing the "thief" (Donnie has emptied one or another account in the past without telling me -- the only joint account left is the savings), or putting the "child" on a short leash (making him turn over his checks to me and then giving him an allowance). Clemency was not among any of my thoughts.

Of course, divorce won't solve the current problem. However, the leash might take care of things in the long run! And then there is the real situation. We have been married 40 years, definitely have a quiet but deep bond of love (when I am not angry), survived all kinds of trauma and drama (more than a dozen families together would be expected to survive), parented a bunch of kids, serve actively and happily as grandparents to Nathaniel and Nikolina, and stability is needed now more than ever for Shane and his wife Lemony, given the situation with their children, for Doah who will need to have a united front to solve his addictive-medicine dilemma on Monday and beyond, for Lizzie and Blaine who have just moved to South Carolina on a shoestring and both about to start new jobs who will need a little financial support for a short while, and for Noelle who herself is trying to provide emotional support to her significant other who will likely be in a care facility for the rest of his life due to total renal failure. Shura has returned to Russia to be with his natural parents, has had Julie for support anyway, and has not needed us for a while. Ksenya is busy becoming famous in Hollywood and has her natural mother here now. Nonetheless, at least a half-dozen members of the successive generations do not need to have their parents losing their cool at this moment in their history. Still, the thought of total freedom, just walking away into the sunset, enticed me, well, at least for 5-10 seconds.

In real life, away from my thought-life, I guess it boils down to the one thing I did not consider on the way to the post office: clemency. (Not that the post office trip helped much: there in my post office box lay a demand for payment for $650 for a bill that we have sent evidence twice that we have paid in full! Argh! Is anyone in the billing office capable of reading?) Sigh! Clemency...That is not the choice I feel like making right now. It was not even the choice that came out in the two daily mass readings that I heard this morning. One was the post-battle sacrifice of the king's daughter and the other was the binding and ejection of the guest who came improperly attired to the banquet. Sheesh!

I am going to go walk around the mission grounds in just a little bit and talk to God. I am pretty sure God will hand me back my happiness bubble and teach me more about mercy, my initial reaction always being oriented toward justice rather than mercy. And then life will go on - because it has to and because God always makes my boo-boos stop hurting.

Oh, the money? I sort of forgot about that, didn't I? Nothing to worry about - I already asked God for help, so I have indeed forgotten about that problem other than being ready to follow any guidance that comes along. Actually, after today's thunderstorm, I am looking forward to tomorrow's rainbow, just one of those many gifts from God!

Monday Morning Meditation #4: Awareness of God's Presence

I continue along the path I started a month ago, reading through Genesis sequentially and stopping when something strikes me as needing greater attention. This week I got as far as the 28th chapter of Genesis. (Yep, it's going to take years at this rate to make it all the way through the Bible, but then, I'm in no hurry. The journey is more important than the destination, as I blogged in an earlier post.)

Reading: Genesis 28:16

Meditation: As I meandered through Genesis, a few things blipped on my radar screen momentarily: where we get government taxes (Joseph required all to give back 1/5 of the produce to the Pharaoh), where we get tithing (Jacob/Israel promised God 1/10 of all he owned and acquired), how often angels appeared to people in those days (probably today, too, a topic of some interest to me, considering that I just made a series of posts about angels), and how often barren women, especially quite old ones, were blessed with children.

What truly jumped out at me, though, was verse 16 in chapter 28: "And Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said: 'Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.'" I wonder how many times God is in a place where we are and we know it not. Because we are too busy tending to matters at hand, whatever they may be. Because we are too focused on ourselves. Because we are tired. Because we are not alone. Because we just don't think that way. And then I recall how Doah, in visiting the old mission town where I live for the first time, said to me quite simply in his limited, mentally-challenged language, "God here," and nodded his head in great satisfaction. He knew. In his great limitation of mental faculty, he knew. In his naivete, he knew. He knew what people of much greater intellectual prowess do not know. It causes one to stop and wonder, doesn't it?

And that is far as I can go with you on this Monday morning. I must retire to prayer to ask God for enlightenment to know when I am in His presence, to express my regret for any opportunities to be with Him that I missed, to give thanks for His willingness to be with me (with us all), to offer praise to a God who cares enough about us to be present to us, and to tell Him how I revel in His presence now that the shock I felt the first time I knew He was present with me has turned to joy. (I know God knows all of that since He knows me better than I know myself, but I still like to tell Him -- the telling may be more for me than for Him, but I suspect that He does not mind.)

After that, I will spend some time in contemplation with this wonderful God who came after me, brought me into His flock, and has never abandoned me.

I will now leave you to your prayer and contemplation.

If you pick this up as a weekly devotional activity, please share with me and others your own thoughts about the message of Genesis 28:16.

Have a good day and a good week!