Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Techie and the Traditionalist

Today I experienced the perfect example of the techie married to the traditionalist. We heard some sirens, then I heard noises from Donnie's iPad and asked what was going on. He said he was listening to the dispatch calls to try to find out where the fire in Ignatio was. I stood up, looked out of our big living room window that overlooks the whole town, pointed to a plume of smoke and several fire engines on Fourth Street, and said, "There it is!"

(Just had to share!)

The Price of a Miracle

Here we go again with another Internet story. My sister keeps sending them, and they keep being good enough to share with others. I hope this one is true. I have seen it before, but each time I read it, it is a tear-jerker.

A little girl went to her bedroom and pulled a glass jelly jar from its hiding place in the closet.

She poured the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. Three times, even. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes.

Carefully placing the coins back in the jar and twisting on the cap, she slipped out the back door and made her way six blocks to Rexall's Drug Store with the big red Indian Chief sign above the door.

She waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her some attention, but he was too busy at this moment. Tess twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise. Nothing. She cleared her throat with the most disgusting sound she could muster. No good. Finally she took a quarter from her jar and banged it on the glass counter. That did it!

"And what do you want?" the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. "I'm talking to my brother from Chicago whom I haven't seen in ages," he continued without waiting for a reply to his question.

"Well, I want to talk to you about my brother," Tess answered back in the same annoyed tone. "He's really, really sick, and I want to buy a miracle."

"I beg your pardon?" said the pharmacist.

"His name is Andrew, and he has something bad growing inside his head. My Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So, how much does a miracle cost?"

"We don't sell miracles here, little girl. I'm sorry but I can't help you," the pharmacist said, softening a little.

"Listen, I have the money to pay for it. If it isn't enough, I will get the rest. Just tell me how much it costs."

The pharmacist's brother was a well dressed man. He stooped down and asked the little girl, "What kind of a miracle does your brother need?"

"I don't know," Tess replied, her eyes welling up. "I just know he's really sick, and Mommy says he needs an operation. Daddy can't pay for it, so I want to use my money."

"How much do you have?" asked the man from Chicago.

"One dollar and eleven cents," Tess answered barely audible. "And it's all the money I have, but I can get some more if I need to."

"Well, what a coincidence," smiled the man. "A dollar and eleven cents -- the exact price of a miracle for little brothers."

He took her money in one hand, and with the other hand he grasped her mitten and said. " Take me to where you live. I wan to see your brother and meet your parents. Let's see if I have the miracle you need."

That well-dressed man was Dr. Carlton Armstrong, a neurosurgeon. The operation was completed free of charge, and it wasn't long until Andrew was home again and doing well. Mom and Dad were happily talking about the chain of events that had led them to this place.

"That surgery," her mom whispered to Tess, "was a real miracle; I wonder how much it would have cost."

Tess smiled. She knew exactly how much a miracle cost: one dollar and eleven cents plus the faith of a little child.

(Double-posted: 100th Lamb and Mahlou Musings.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sharing Sick Days with Happy Cat

Short burst of news here. I am finishing up a full week of being stuck inside, including 72 hours straight on the sofa, fighting off an upper respiratory infection. Two weeks ago, we rescued Happy Cat, a feral or, more likely, abandoned cat who had been living outside our house, when he got an upper respiratory infection. I came down with this thing soon thereafter and at the follow-up visit told the vet, jokingly, that I think I caught the cat's illness. He said, given the kind of infection it was, that it is entirely possible that this is what happened. I should have asked him for a shot; the one he gave Happy Cat worked. The cat is now well; I am not. Really thinking about a trip to the vet for me tomorrow morning!

Thankful Thursday #1: A Grateful Heart in Kiev

Since it has been a brutal day for me, having spent more than three hours on foot (taking the metro and marshrutny taxi -- the express mini-bus -- does not eliminate a lot of walking in Kiev), more time in chairs meeting with people, followed by facility tours (more walking beyond the three hours), very little down time, and limited Internet minutes, I have decided to join the Thankful Thursday crowd this week because I am thankful for so much these days. More information about two-year-old Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone. So, here is what I am thankful for today.

• In keeping with yesterday’s post, I would have to say that I am thankful again and again for all the times that God takes care of me. I have come to rely on that, whether at home or traveling the world. After all, the entire world is home to God.

• On a pragmatic level, I am grateful for the purse-size Korean hand-fan that I purchased on a whim in Korea; without air conditioning here in Kiev and with the temperatures soaring to unseasonably high levels, I am putting that little fan to good use.

• I am grateful for people who let me know when I have made their lives easier; for example, the young professor who was assigned to be my escort when I visited the university told me she did not sleep at all the night before because she was anxious about our meeting, but once she had met me, she really enjoyed the time we spent together and was quite relieved that things turned out differently from what she had worried about; a hug took away any remaining reservations.

• Of course, in recent days, I am thankful for the health of Shane and Nikolina (and even Nathaniel and Doah, who have had their small issues); we could have lost them both, but we were reprieved (once again, spoiled).

• This week I joined Face Book (under my real name) and found many old friends there, including a number of high school classmates; I also have found new friends; for every single person, I am grateful.

• We got a little bit closer to finding Ksenya this week, and I am very grateful for that.

• I had lost contact with my friend from Austria, and up she popped on my email the morning I was leaving for Ukraine and Germany; I would have been shouting distance from her and not have seen her; instead, after mass on Sunday, we are going to meet in Austria, in the Alps, just across the German border for lunch; I have not seen her for nearly ten years!

• Recently, one of my employees at a branch site became very ill (cancer) and used up all his sick leave, with no end in site; I donated two days of leave to him and asked all 400 of my employees, if they could, to follow suit with one hour or however much they could afford; the payroll clerk tells me that we got many donations (some went straight into the system without going through her so I only know about those anecdotally and some I don’t know about at all); I am very proud of my employees and very thankful for their generosity.

• In the same vein, I am pleased and grateful that nearly all the managers I supervise understand the difference between doing things right and doing the right thing and consistently choose the latter; it makes the working atmosphere so much better.

• I am also grateful that I no longer have any non-believers among the managers in my division; that was not anything I caused or planned; rather, I assume that God is spoiling me again.

• I am grateful that God intervenes in my work place, creating miracles and positioning people to help one another.

• And finally, coming back to where I started this post, I am grateful to God for being in all the strange and familiar places to which I travel so that I am never alone, never without help, and never without someone to talk to.
For what are you thankful this wonderful Thursday?

Thankful Thursday #2: A Grateful, Still Recovering, Heart at Home

Although I am still recovering from that German germ that came home with me from Garmisch and not the best things have happened this week, there is still much for which to be grateful. For example:
• Not only have I blogged this week about robberies, but two people I care about have experienced car break-ins -- in two hemispheres at almost exactly the same time. Go figure! Padre Julio Skyped me from Colombia with the information that his car had just been broken into for the second time in three months; his laptop and a computer that belongs to his school was taken as well. Then, just a little while later, I heard that the car window of my son Shane here in California had been smashed and his i-pod stolen, but $40 in cash that had been stashed away was ignored. (I think both should stop keeping electronics in their car, and I am now going to start taking our tom-tom into the house when we get home even though I live in a small and, I think, trustworthy community. I am thankful, though, that neither person was hurt, and, the robbery was to their car and not to their house. Electronics can be replaced. Of course, I am grateful for all the folks who said that they would pray for Padre Julio. Shane is having a bit of a bad year, too, but since it is darkest before the dawn, I think he will have a very rosy 2010. (Oh, yes, I have an incurable case of optimism.)

• Speaking of incurable cases, I was very, very grateful that the German medicine that I bought as I was leaving Germany worked like magic at the end of last week (before I ran out and crashed into 38 hours of nearly non-stop sleeping over the weekend), allowing me to attend the semi-formal dinner that the head of my organization threw for a very high ranking (national name recognition, but I won't name-drop here) government official held with our six senior managers. I happened to be the manager who ended up sitting across from him and had a very enjoyable dinner conversation, which I would not have been able to manage without that medicine. At the end of the evening, as everyone was shaking hands good-bye, he startled me a bit by hugging me instead of shaking my hand. (No, I was not the only woman there, but I was the only person -- male or female -- that he hugged. Dunno why.) I just said a quick prayer, "Lord, the nation needs him; please don't let me infect him." It has been almost a week, and I have not heard of any dire consequences from his brief meeting with me. Whew! Thank you, Lord!

• Earlier this week, my daughter Lizzie found Princesse, one of her two cats, flattened on the floor where a bed had fallen on her. (she and her husband are moving into a new place.) She was devastated. When she was a freshman in college, Lizzie had acquired Princesse from the US Embassy in Tunis (hence, the French name, as well as a sheaf of vet papers in French that the San Diego vet, who just happened to know French, got a kick out of reading). Princesse was slated to be turned out into the street by the new ambassador at that time, and the former deputy chief of mission, who had returned to the USA where I met her, took upon herself the task of finding homes for all the cats she had befriended while assigned to Tunis. I offered to take Princesse, but when our landlord said, "no cats," Princesse ended up in San Diego with Lizzie, Noelle, and Blaine. Lizzie had Princesse all through college and graduate school to her PhD completion, a real blessing as a source of calm during a long period of stress. Then Princesse accompanied Lizzie to New York, where Lizzie spent two years as a visiting professor at a university in New York. Now, Lizzie, Blaine, Princesse, and second cat Woody, were settling into a new home as Lizzie began a new job as a tenure-track professor at a university in South Carolina. That's when the bed fell. Lizzie and Blaine rushed Princesse to an emergency care facility in nearby Georgia, where the cat had surgery for a fractured jaw. She seems to have some brain damage -- or so Lizzie, whose specialty is brain pathology, thinks, but she is making progress. Three days ago, she began drinking water (still needs a food tube). Two days ago, she started using the litter pan by herself. Yesterday, she started wandering around the room and finding the litter pan by herself through sniffing. Today, Lizzie wrote, "She looked at me! She looked at me! And she knew me!" Yes, one must be grateful for small things, and when trauma happens, we are reminded of how important the small things are. We are praying for brave little Princesse, and we are grateful for every little bit of progress. It is exciting watching her recover, and we are grateful that she is not in pain and not on pain medication.

• I am grateful, oh, very much so, more than words can convey, that this week -- Yippee!! Praise the Lord! -- I found (i.e. re-established contact with) a work-study college student in Jordan who calls me "Mom." An Iraqi with no local family, she needed someone to talk to every time the bombs fell on the university where her father worked or EIDs exploded along Airport Road where her family lived. Typically, she would not be able to reach them when these things happened, and she would come to my office and say, "Mom, may I come in and cry for a while?" I would shut the door, and she would have some peace. Some times she wanted to talk; other times she just wanted company while she sat in silence; yet other times she really did want to cry and to be held. I kept a prayer rug for her in my office so that during prayer hours (she is Sunni) she would have a private place to pray. I met her real mother once when she came to Jordan for some medical care. She seemed to approve of me and told me how happy and relieved she was that her daughter had someone in loco parentis in Amman. I lost contact with my "daughter" about a year after I left Jordan, and when I returned last July, my efforts at tracking her down were futile. I was concerned, but I knww that God has always watched out for her. I am a very poor second to Him when it comes to ensuring her safety, health, and happiness. Nonetheless, I was delighted this week when I found her, through a mutual friend, on Facebook! We are now back in touch! Life is sweet!

For what are you thankful this wonderful Thursday?

More information about the Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone.

Thankful Thursday #5: I Love This Town

Early this evening (New Year's Eve), I arrived home after letting my employees leave early for the day. I stayed on a bit because it is only after the hundreds stream home that I have time to catch up on the introverted tasks that need to be done. (If I were to change my open-door policy, I might get more of that kind of task done during the day; however, on the other hand, it might make no difference at all because many employees think that "open door" policy means "open the door.")

The kinds of things I am dealing with at work these days, as I explained in last week's Thankful Thursday post, are highly visible and highly challenging. To build a new office with various programs, managers, and employees in other states in a matter of one month is nigh onto impossible, but there is no option to fail. The work we are doing is in direct support of the US government efforts to bring peace in place of war. God has blessed me incredibly in putting me in this job and insisting that I stay in it. Now I understand perhaps why: with my many languages and experience in working in 23 countries, including the Middle East, I can bring some expertise to the process. In return, it is such a reward to be among those watching peace develop before the rest of the world sees it. (See my post on the wonder of being in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and perhaps contributing just a tiny bit to changes in that country.)

At my office (perhaps I should say offices, since I travel from one site to another routinely), I deal with the world at large, the international scene, the big cities, the places where one often ends up alone in a crowd, where interactions and relations are highly formal and formularized. (Of course, I do have close friends in the various places where I have lived and worked and a warm working relationship with most of my employees. Nonetheless, the mindset is big picture, process, strategic thinking, and impersonal implementation of programs.)

When I come home to San Ignatio, however, I enter an entirely different life. More than being in a different world, my whole life changes. I drove off the local road entering town and turned into the parking lot where we have our only set of stores, driving past the sign at the edge of town that says "Welcome to History." That sign about sums up our town; we still speak Spanish, we still attend daily Masses at the mission, we still very simply and supportively -- or at least, that is how I imagine people lived here 200 years ago.

I parked in front of the post office, which is a small wooden building with a wooden sign -- we are too small a town to merit home mail delivery. After picking up our mail, I called Donnie to see if he would like to order dinner from Pizza Factory, which is next door to the post office, while I went into the small grocery story, The Windmill Market, a few steps across the parking lot from the Pizza Factory, to pick up some dessert and small items for tomorrow. Yes, he wanted to do that, and so he called in the order.

As I stood in line at The Windmill Market about 15 minutes later, the Pizza Factory manager, one cucumber in hand, jumped into line in front of me. "Hi, Steve," I said, yielding room to him.

"Hey, Beth," he said, "I had to run in to get a cucumber for your salad! I'll see you over there in a few minutes. Your pizza is almost done."

After I put the groceries into the car, I started down the wooden sidewalk that connects all the wooden buildings that make up our tiny shopping complex. (I purposely do not call it the town center because the town center is the Old Mission; even the fire station and city hall, such as it is, are located across from the mission -- all of it walking distance from The Windmill, or perhaps I should say that The Windmill and everything else in town, including my house, is walking distance from the mission.) Rolling down the sidewalk on a scooter was a member of the city council.

"Hi, Beth," she called to get my attention. I walked over to hug her, and we got talking about her latest plan for feral cat rescue, an interest we share. We also both are members of Old Mission church; just about everyone in town is, and Fr. Ed is as much the town's leader as is the mayor, serving as chaplain for the fire department (there is no police department -- we are so blessed as a town not to need a police force) and acquainted, it seems, with every person in town.

After finishing the conversation with the city councilwoman, I finally popped into Pizza Factory to pick up my now-ready pizza. The owner was there along with four employees.

"Hi, Beth," the owner called out.

"Happy New Year," I responded. Elizabeth, the daughter of a woman who co-teaches the First Year Confirmation catechism class at Old Mission church with me, smiled. The other two, who were in the back room and whom I know from birthday parties held at Pizza Factory and many other visits there. (Pizza Factory is the only pizza shop in town and the closest thing we have to fast food -- nope, we have no McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's, etc.) As I paid for the food, I handed four $5 bills to Steve, one for each of the employees for New Year's. It is a very small amount, but it goes further here than in some other places. My special tip for the Pizza Factory employees is now a New Year's tradition, and for all of us, it is the thought that counts.

The Windmill is on the south edge of time, and my house is on the north side of town. From The Windmill to my house is a one-minute drive and a ten-minute walk. The one minute, though, is wondrous this time of year. The main street lights are decked out with Christmas wreaths that look like halos at night and pictures of saints. (This year they went up in October because City Hall is being renovated and there was no place to store them. City Hall, which is a two-room building, is still being renovated, and so the decorations may stay up for some time yet. That is okay; they are part of what contributes to the feeling of holiness in this town. (My retarded son, Doah, when he first set foot in town after God clearly led me here, stopped, took assessment, and pronounced, "God here!")

As I was carrying the pizza into the house five minutes later, our next-door neighbor showed up with some apples. I thanked and hugged her. She departed as quickly as she had arrived, leaving Donnie and me to our dinner.

I love this town! I am overwhelmingly thankful to God on this Thursday for putting me here.
More information about the Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone.

Thankful Thursday #3, Escaping Evil

Some time after coming to faith, strange things started happening to me, so strange that I am reluctant to talk about them in a blog or in real life. I have mentioned them to few people although perhaps if I mentioned them to more, someone would be able to educate me about what happened. I have had a few people tell me that I had come face to face with evil, and that sends some chills through me, especially because I am an optimistic, eternally happy, trusting human being. Moreover, I am hopelessly naive despite the number of years I have lived, the amount of international experience I have garnered, the scope of academic knowledge I have gathered, and the extreme difficulties I have survived. So, it is no wonder that I had no way to interpret at least three puzzling events. (There may have been more, but besides being naive, I am also somewhat oblivious to everything around me, so it is only the great strength of the associated ambient sensation that allowed me to perceive these three.)

The first incident happened in the car as I was leaving work late one evening. I so strongly felt a presence in the back seat that I turned around. There was no one there, and yet the sense of a presence would not dissipate even when I turned on the inside car light. Hm. I had to drive home. Was this my imagination? It did not feel like it. Yet, while not being able to see anything, I felt a terrible sense of something bad, evil, negative, dark. I had a half-hour drive home alone, and I did not much like this sense of something that I could not see in the back seat. So, just in case I was not totally hallucinating, I invited the evilish thing that I could not see to join me in the front seat. "We can pray together all the way home," I told it (out loud, actually), and suddenly it was gone. I drove home with no more interference. I assumed that God had intervened, and for that, I was more grateful than words can relate.

The second incident happened on the mission grounds. I like to walk around them each evening around 9:00. Depending on the time of year, sometimes it is light outside, sometimes dark. On this evening, it was dark. On such evenings, I would spend much time in meandering prayer, and I would also take time out from my ambling to kneel at the church door and pray in earnest. This time, as I approached the church door and stood still, I felt someone standing beside me, about a half-foot taller than me (in other words, average male height). I turned to say something -- and jumped. There was no one there, just a mass of air that was darker than the surrounding air. Spooked, I walked away rapidly, stopped near the close-by rose garden, and looked back. Nothing there. Had it been my imagination? Was I losing my mind? Too much evening air? Determined that nothing was going to keep my from my evening prayer, I walked back to the church door, kneeled, and suddenly felt the dark presence beside me again. Not knowing what to do and determined to connect with God, confident that God would protect me if there was a need for protection as He always had and always does, I said my prayer, surprisingly unimpeded by my "companion," whose presence I felt until I had finished, stood up, and returned to my ambling. I did not look back as I walked away. Perhaps I should have. Suddenly, I heard a leaf crack, as if someone had stepped on it. I whirled around, but no one was there. Then, I looked at the ground, and there was a cracked leaf a few feet away where I could not possibly have stepped on it. Spooked again, at least a bit, but mostly angry and not knowing how to eliminate this "thing" from either my mind or the location (not knowing whether it was real or not -- how does one determine reality beyond a shadow of a doubt?), I shouted at it: "Whoever or whatever you are, real or in my mind, get off this land. This land is God's, and you have no right here." Just as suddenly as it had appeared, in my universe or in my mind, it was gone. I assumed that God had once again intervened, and for that, I was blessedly, relievedly grateful for my aloneness and my returning sense of sanity.

The third set of events began soon thereafter. I was traveling to many locations -- so, what is new? -- and had trouble getting rest because every night I would experience nightmares. I could never remember the details, but I knew they had been dark and frightening, demonic. Sometimes I awoke in the middle of the night from them, a strange phenomenon because throughout my abusive childhood I never once had nightmares. Throughout my difficult parenting-of-special-kids days, I never once had nightmares. Throughout my travels on rickety planes to dangerous countries with no money in my pocket, I never once had nightmares. And I did not want them now. So, I began to pray before going to sleep to God to keep any nightmares away from me, to let me dream only of Him, and He answered that prayer. I have not had a nightmare since. Nonetheless, I still ask every night, and God still gives me my request, for which I thank Him endlessly.

Truly, I am ever so grateful that these apparitions or whatever they were seem to have disappeared in recent days. I am a new convert to Catholicism, to belief of any sort. I don't know how to understand these things. I don't even know if they are related to my newfound belief, about which I am still learning. (I keep asking God for lessons, and He keeps giving them to me -- tough ones.) However, I certainly don't want any other opportunities to learn more about this dark stuff first-hand, regardless of source or what it is related to. I hope God keeps it away from me permanently so that I can at least maintain the self-illusion of being sane! For that illusion, I am grateful!

Now, if you have not written me off as hopelessly insane or the equivalent, please tell me for what you are thankful this wonderful Thursday.

More information about the Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone.

Thankful Thursday #7

Today my brother sent me a story that had been sent to him. Obviously, it originated somewhere on the Internet, but I cannot find it in order to give proper credit. Nonetheless, I will repeat because it is a perfect example of what Thankful Thursday is all about.

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"

"It was great, Dad."

"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.

"Oh, yeah," said the son.

"So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered:

"I saw that:

- We have one dog, and they had four.

- We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end.

- We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night.

- Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon.

- We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight.

- We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.

- We buy our food, but they grow theirs.

- We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them."

The boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."

Isn't perspective a wonderful thing? Makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don't have.
More information about the Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone.

Thankful Thursday #8

Just a brief few thoughts today about some of the many things for which I am grateful.

1. Noelle was facing possible amputation of her right leg because of a bone infection. Fortunately, a new doctor showed up on the scene a few weeks ago and pronounced that he might be able to surgically eliminate the infection (and bone?) without amputating the leg. So, Noelle was admitted with the view to saving the leg, if possible, and we were quite hopeful that we might end up with some optimistic news. As things turned out, we ended up with better than good news; we ended up quite surprised and grateful. The infection had abated sufficiently that all the doctor had to do was to insert some tubing so that the remaining infection can be pumped out over the next weeks or months. Noelle will be released tomorrow.

2. I planned to go to the hospital in a nearby city for a routine blood test (cholesterol) this morning before attending daily Mass, then dropping in to see Noelle, whose surgery was done, without our being told, a day earlier than planned, i.e. yesterday. (Given the results, we have no complaints about missing the surgery. The important thing is that the patient and doctor were both there and did not miss the surgery. I, however, missed my blood test. I forgot my paperwork, and no one was in my doctor's office to fax the order. This was after fasting for 12 hours! However, as I discussed the problem with the doctor's assistant, trying to avoid the need to drive all the way back to San Ignatio, she piped up with the information that the little part-time clinic here in San Ignatio draws blood from 8-10 on Friday mornings. I confirmed. Yes! I can go in just a little late to work and get the blood drawn here. That will save me lots of time in the future. I love it when mistakes turn out to be so helpful. That is often the story of my life, and for that I am indeed grateful.

3. Today, Lizzie (oldest daughter, then age 11), now a professor of cognitive neuroscience and psychology, put a note for her students and others on her Facebook page about the value of failure for learning lessons and becoming better. Yes! Many years ago, when she was 11 years old, she was a straight-A student, knowing nothing about failure. She excelled at whatever she touched, especially academically. Then, she and I went to Moscow for almost a year, where she studied in Russian schools. When she returned to her advanced 8th grade classroom (where students were all working in 9th grade subjects), she had six weeks of school left. Once again, she excelled at English, French, and all her social studies and science classes, as if she had never left. Two subjects, though, produced major hiccups: math and band. She had studied algebra in Moscow and was quite good at it. However, Russian students learn how to do the calculations before studying the theory, and American students study the theory first. So, she failed her theory tests, surprising the teacher when she got 100% on the only exam, the last of the year, when he introduced the topic of calculations. She had to go to summer school. As for band,she had been only introduced to the parts of the flute when we left for Moscow in October. In April, when we returned, everyone was already playing band pieces. She failed band and was told that participation in high school band was "out." The band director also advised her that holding out any dream of learning to play music was naive since she clearly had no talent for it. Off Lizzie went to summer school, studying algebra every morning, and acing all her exams. Her A from summer school replaced her F from the school year, and she was placed in the college track geometry course for her freshman year, finishing that course, too, with an A. In the afternoons, she practiced her flute. She really wanted to learn to play it, so I advertised for a tutor. A member of the Marine Corps band replied. (We were fortunate that we were living in the Washington DC area at the time.) That man was truly gifted and truly patient, with an unusual teaching style in which he had Lizzie observe him (smart man -- observation first is her learning style), then try to follow suit. By the end of the summer, not only could she play the flute, but she could play it very well. She approached the high school band director and asked to audition. He agreed, then took her into the band. During her high school years, she played flute in the school band, school orchestra, marching band, and drama club pit orchestra. When the band lost both its saxophone players at the end of her junior year, she and her best friend taught themselves to play the sax and switched instruments. At her graduation ceremony, Lizzie was presented the band's Most Valuable Player award for that year. I am grateful that Lizzie learned the value of failure. I am also grateful -- and delighted -- to see her passing the lesson that she learned as a child along to her college students of today.

For what are you grateful?

More information about the Thankful Thursday meme can be found at the website of Grace Alone.

Thankful Thursday #10

Today, I am taking a slightly different approach to Thankful Thursday. Whereas I usually have a longish gratitude list, today I am going to list only one thing for which I am thankful. That is because the one thing for which I am grateful is very powerful: the grace of God.

In doing so, I will relate a popular anecdote, which is worth repeating on the off-chance that you have not yet heard it. In this anecdote a very chaste man who has loved and obeyed God all of his life ends up at the pearly gates after death, met by St. Peter.

"To enter these gates," said St. Peter, "you need 100 points. Tell me from where your 100 points will come."

The man furrowed his brow for an instant, and the obvious sprang forth from his mouth, "I never missed a Sunday service."

"Ten points," announced St. Peter.

The man was flabbergasted. Only ten points? Hm... He furrowed his brow again and then brightened. "I was a catechist for fifteen years."

"Five points," announced St. Peter.

The man was even more flabbergasted and thought long and hard about where he could gather some points.

"I worked at a soup kitchen every Wednesday for three years," he offered hopefully.

"Three points," pronounced St. Peter.

The man began to panic. Where could he find more points? Oh! Money! "I donated nearly $10,000 to my church over my lifetime," he pointed out with pride.

"One point," pronounced St. Peter.

The man was now in a full-fledged panic. He looked at St. Peter, his head empty of thought, and wailed, "At this rate, I will only enter Heaven by the grace of God."

"Bingo!" replied St. Peter. "You're in." With that, he opened the gates.

I am very grateful for the grace of God. What more marvelous gift can there be on this earth?

Thankful Thursday is becoming a very popular meme. At this point, not knowing which came first, I am not sure to which meme host to link, so I am linking to two of the three I know about. Check out both of them for reading pleasure and a real upper.

hMore information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Grace Alone. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

Thankful Thursday #11

I am thankful for the gifts God has given me, ones that I take too often for granted. The greater of these are tongues, music, words, and science.

1. The gift of tongues. Here I am talking about present-day languages, not about talking in tongues, a gift that would be problematic for me to accept, were it to be offered, because, as a linguist, whenever I hear someone talking in tongues, I begin to analyze the structure and lexemes of the utterances. One has to accept a gift without question, or as the American proverb goes, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Otherwise, it is lost as a gift. So, my gift is modern tongues, or as the common English word is today, languages. I am currently studying my 18th foreign language and acquiring it very rapidly, perhaps because I will need it soon for one of my upcoming tasks. (Never let it be said that only children can learn languages rapidly; that is an entrenched myth.) As I blogged last month (see post, Arrogance), being able to speak their language and interpret for them gave me the opportunity to relieve a good deal of stress for two Russians stranded at Dulles International Airport. In helping them, my own stress disappeared. And then, there is the Greek and Latin basis for the language that I will term, Medicalese, for lack of a better name. Being able to understand doctors and talk in "their language" often prompted them to share more information with me about my chidren's various conditions than otherwise they likely would have, including allowing me into some places that parents do not go (e.g., the echocardiogram back room).

2. The gift of music. On the last day of our retreat last month, Fr. Kevin, who had himself been playing most of the hymns we sang, needed someone to take over so that he could lead the adoration. I may not have been the only other piano player, but I was the only one who volunteered to play. It could have been that I was the only one with good skills at sight reading. I'm embarrassed to admit that this skill comes from years of trying, as a child, to trick my piano teacher into thinking I had actually practiced. Then, too, years of playing for various formal and informal situations have made me intrepid before a crowd. As a counterbalance to the child abuse Ma heaped on us children, she made sure that we could read books, sew (and crotchet, knit, tat, and embroider), play the piano, swim, and ice skate. (I'm not sure what advantage the latter was other than fun, except being able to swim exempted me from a college requirement and being able to ice skate got me an A in physical education in college -- where my teacher was the 1957 Olympic champion, whose name I have forgotten, but I could probably find it online if it mattered.)

3. The gift of words. I suppose there is not much to add to the obvious: no gift of words, no blogs. Nor would I have been able to write a dozen professional books, two of them considered seminal works in my professional field. Then, of course, there was that day when I was told, "I gave you the gift of words; use them for Me," that resulted in Blest Atheist and hopefully will result in two new books now in progress: Raising God's Rainbow Makers (which I am excerpting on Clan of Mahlou) and Angels of Abkhazeti (a first spiritual novel attempt, which I am excerpting on Mahlou Musings).

4. The gift of science. In high school, I had a decision to make: take a college major in physics or in linguistics. I chose linguistics because even though I held the highest grade in my physics class, had a solid score on the college-board physics exam, and had won top prize in physics in the school science fair, everyone from my teacher to my parents to my school counselor discouraged me from majoring in physics because "girls don't do that." I have never regretted majoring in linguistics, but one does always wonder. Seventeen year later, my younger sister, a carbon copy of me in many ways, graduated from Michigan State University with a 4.0 in nuclear physics. Times had changed! My ability to understand science became essential in a very different way: with three children and two grandchildren living with birth defects, being able to understand medicine and question doctors has made a considerable difference in the quality of the kids' lives, even to the point of saving Doah's life when my knowledge gave me the courage to steal him from the hospital.

Gifts have been coming to the fore in recent days, so it is certainly time for me to say thank you. What about you? For what is it time for you to say thank you?

More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Grace Alone. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

Thankful Thursday #12

I am grateful for nothing. Now, I think I had better explain that for I mean something other than what you might think. Here are the nothings for which I am grateful.

1. I am grateful for Saturday and Sunday mornings when I have nothing to do at 6:00 a.m. Instead of jumping out of bed after a brief period of contemplation and running off to work, I can remain in contemplative prayer for an hour or two or three if I want. I can think of no better way to start the day than alone with God.

2. I am grateful when I can see nothing because the sun has gone down and there is no lighting in our yard or area of town. I can walk and walk and talk and talk, spending a wonderful time in conversation with God in the dark and the silence. Without distractions, prayer deepens with the shadows.

3. I am grateful when nothing is happening at work, when I can close the door, hear only silence, and spend a few minutes lost in prayer. (I put up a note, saying "in conference," which is a true statement because I am in conference -- with God.) Such nothingness does not happen nearly often enough, but when it does, it is a real gift.

4. I am grateful when I have nothing on my schedule for the noon hour on Wednesday or Friday for that means I can attend daily Mass at a nearby chapel. Although I mark my calendar "Do not schedule," somtimes my admin assistant has no choice but to put on my calendar an event or meeting that has been mandated.

5. I am grateful when I have nothing I must do on the weekend for then I can read through book after book. Reading and learning are my food. The other kind I can go without. For physical food, I have a limited appetite, but I am voracious when it comes to reading and learning.

More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Grace Alone. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

Thankful Thursday #14

Having just returned from a combat zone, I suppose it is a no-brainer what I am and should be grateful for this week: God's protection!

1. The time I spent in Afghanistan was enlightening and even enjoyable, but it did have its very serious moments, especially around issues of personal safety. I did not worry because I knew that many people were praying for me. More important, I anticipated that God would surround me with a bubble of protection. God always has.

2. God's protection does not mean that nothing ever bad happens to me. Of course, it does. Sometimes in large measure. Read, for example, my post on how muggable I appear to be. What it does mean is that somehow through it all, regardless of whatever bad befalls, I am not harmed. An interim priest once told me that he wanted to watch to make sure that I made it to my car okay (a difficult task since I had walked to the church!). I responded that he did not need to because I felt protected by God, and he responded, in an odd, sotto voice, "I believe you are." I know I am! (Why? Well, that's a different question, and one I cannot answer.)

3. Then there was the really close call that Lizzie and I had many years ago when she was eleven and we were walking home from the metro in what was then a lesser developed area of Arlington, Virginia (now the site of a thriving mall). Three apparently stoned young men marched behind us, chanting "you're going to die" for quite a ways until we were able to get away from them. Lizzie, fortunately, did not panic, but there was indeed a question in my mind whether we would walk away from that situation alive. (See the whole story on Clan of Mahlou: "Stalked by the Stoned.") That was a time we definitely needed protection!

4.And then there was the angel of Beirut, another story related in Mahlou Musings. In that case, I was visiting Beirut and had apparently wandered into an anti-American part of town that might have housed some characters prone to criminal activity. The "angel" that appeared out of nowhere to tell me to turn back seemed to me to be a moment of divine protection. (Read the story and see what you think.)

5. Finally -- well, not finally, just a last example from among many I could choose from -- it seems that no matter what happens in my travels, my adventures always end with my safe return home. There are upon occasion, however, disconcerting moments. Often, those moments are associated with being abandoned -- arriving in a country or city for the first time and not being met as planned. One such time occurred in Brazil ten years ago when the US Embassy driver failed to show and, being a weekend, no one knew how to dispatch him. So, I was stranded in Sao Paolo, while needing to be in Campinas to conduct seminars for the next day. Fortunately, I had sat beside a man from Campinas on the plane, and he had given me his number to call when I was in town. Well, I will let you put two and two together, but the short story is that I took a bus to Campinas, called Eddie, met his wonderful family, and he figured out how to reach someone who knew where my hotel reservation was. How well and creatively God provides for our safety and our sanity!

More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Women Taking a Stand. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month. This month the host is Lynn at Spiritually Unequal Marriage.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

Thankful Thursday #13

Working with Wajeeha to bring the story of her planned journey to help her people in Pakistan to the attention of readers, I realized just what I am perhaps most grateful for in my life as a whole: the opportunity to help others.

1. They say that charity begins at home, and home is where I have had a great and rewarding opportunity to help others. First, Blaine came into our house; his father had disappeared back into Mexico when he was two years old and his mother threw him out of their house in the barrio when he was 14 because he refused to help her with her drug business. Then, my friend, Zina, called me from Moscow and informed me that she was sending her daughter, Ksenya, to live with us; this was right around the raspad (dissolution of the Soviet Union) and opportunities for someone with a mixture of Armenian, Tatar and Jewish blood in Mosocw were limited. And, our last live-at-home addition, Shura, was sent to me from Siberia by his parents in Siberia in a desperate attempt to save his life, which, with the clear help of God, we and those helping us did. Today Blaine is working as the head of the IT department for a university in South Carolina, Ksenya is working on becoming a Hollywood star (and has had her own show at one of the LA clubs), and Shura, having spent 15 years living and working in the USA, has returned to Russia to take care of his aging parents and continue his art work. What a gift God gave us with these three additional children!

2. Although both my birth children and the three children who were given to me are now in their 30s, I don't lack for additional mothering opportunities. Two twenty-something Iraqis living in Jordan, Shem and Leyla, who had been my work study students at the university there where I was the dean, latched onto me as their in loco parentis mother, their own families in Iraq being unreachable because of the war; they remain in frequent contact with me, and I visit them whenever I go to Jordan. They seem like my own children, coming to me when they need advice, cheering up, or support of any type. Then there is also Maha in Bahrain, who instantly adopted me as "Mom, when a clerk in a store where she was looking at makeup told her that she looked fine without it but her mother (me) really needed it. (Now there's a comment to which one does not know how to react!) She is about the same age as my younger children and has called me "Mom" ever since that incident. Ironically, over time I have served in that capacity as she has experienced some very difficult moments and has needed emotional support for extremely trying life events (the arrest and torture of her brother) which ultimately and surprisingly turned out okay, thanks to many prayers; she also came to visit me in California just the way any of my other children would. Finally, there is Yahyah, a Jordanian about the same age as my middle children, whose mother worried about him living in the USA until I promised her to be his "American mother" -- a promise that all three of us (he, she, and I) have taken very seriously, and he has become a real member of my family, going on outings with us, attending family gatherings, attending Mass and Bible Studies with me, and celebrating birthdays (his, too) and other occasions with us. Being a part of these young adults' lives have taught me so much more about their cultures and the ways in which the youth of these lands think than any number of college courses could possibly have made clear. A rich gift, indeed!

3. Not only have children been sent to me; so have animals, cats in particular. Donnie and I have rescued nearly 50 cats, about half of them in the US and another half in Jordan. For most of those cats we found homes after taming them or cared for them as feral animals until they died. Some still live with us: Murjan, Intrepid, and Simone. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows what comfort and friendship they bring to a relationship, relationships for which I am and always will be grateful.

4. It would appear that God put me in my current job for a reason. Although I initially and in the beginning tried to squirm out of the assignment, I have grown to love it and to be grateful to God for the opportunity to help so many people who work for me. In addition to run-of-the-mill mentoring that comes with any leadership experience, there are three clear examples that I have shared on this blog before that indicate to me that there is a reason for my being here. One was the case of Tareq who experienced a medical miracle and brought our division together through prayer for him. There was also the employee who was slated to be fired until I went to a meeting and found an extra manager there; our personnel office intended to him but I fortunately recognized divine intervention for what it was. The third instance was a time when I was sitting in a far-off land on a business trip, reading in my hotel room, and heard the words, "Bring him to me," along with seeing a vision of one of my employees, far below me on the hierarchical ladder; I did what I was told, and some benefit seemed to ensue from that, at least to the employee. More important, to me, than the situations of these three people about whom I have blogged earlier, is the case of an employee that had worked for me 13 years earlier as a manager but after I had left (my current job is a higher level position in the same organization that I worked at in the 1980s), he had fallen apart, given in to alcoholism, would come to work with long, dirty hair, disheveled, unwashed clothes, and the smell of alcohol on his breath. His current supervisor was preparing to fire him when one of his friends came to see me and explained the situation. We both knew that since this empoloyee's wife had died four years earlier, he would be alone at home with his bottles, and, given that he has diabetes, would be in very bad shape very quickly. I asked his supervisor to transfer him to me, and I told him that I would only take him if he cleaned up his act. He arrived in suit, tie, and freshly trimmed hair. I gave him a management position, but he soon fell off the bandwagon again and passed out at work. Even though both he and I knew that he was suffering from a hangover, I treated the situation as if it were not alcohol-related and insisted that he go to the hospital for discovery of the reason for his loss of consciousness, and I sent his supervisor with him to make sure he got there. All of us were surprised when the hospital discovered that he was in the early stages of lung cancer. They admitted him, operated right away, and got out all the cancer that might otherwise not have been discovered until too late. He has been fine ever since, and he has not come to work inebriated again, either. A few days ago, the same friend who asked me to take on this employee, dropped by my office. He, too, now works for me. He mentioned how wonderful it was to see his friend living a productive work life and a happy home life. "Bez tebya," he said, "on umer by." (Without you, he would have died.) Of course, he also had in mind the close call with cancer. That is a special gift indeed -- to have the opportunity to save a life. Now, I thank God every day that He put me in this job that I did not want.

5. Leaders, to help their employees, sometimes have to take immense risks. I have told senior managers whom I have trained to work with difficult "overlords" that if one is to do the right thing (as opposed to doing things right), in other words, to take the moral, compassionate, supportive approach as opposed to the approach of appeasing one's own supervisor(s), then one has to be willing to lose one's own job. Doing the right thing is more important than keeping one's job if keeping the job means doing the wrong thing. My job in Jordan challenged me strongly in this regard. To protect employees from an abusive boss, I would draw his anger away from them and often that meant it landed on me. Finally, one day, I was fired. Later my boss mentioned to my administrative assistant that I had been doing the right thing and he had made a mistake in firing me, that it was simply an emotional reaction that he had been unable to control. The third most important thing about my losing the job is that the senior managers understood at last what I meant, and more of them became morally braver. The second most important thing about losing the job was that it forced me into taking the job that God seemed to be pushing me into, and the fact that I immediately had another job, a good one, did not fail to impress those senior managers whom I had been trying to teach the importance of risk-taking on behalf of employees. The very most important thing about my losing the job, however, is that it brought me back to California in time to be present to help my children when my little granddaughter, Nikolina, was born with life-threatening OEIS Complex and they had to spend months with her at Stanford University Hospital. Donnie and I were here to babysit my grandson, to offer moral support, and when the little girl came home to watch her occasionally so my children could get some breathing room. God has my eternal thanks for pushing me into a position where I not only have had so many opportunities to help others but also to help my own family (And I try always now to be just a little more obedient!)

More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Women Taking a Stand. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.

Thankful Thursday #15

I am fighting some type of viral infection in the only way that I know that works: sleeping. So, in order to take my medicine (sleep), my "gratitude list" today will be short, not because I have few things to be thankful for (I have lots, actually) but because I really do need to fall into bed and into sleep, preferably in that order!

1. Driving home tonight, even though I was feeling pretty miserable physically, I could not be anything but grateful for the location in which I have ended up, thanks to God wanting me in the job in which I serve. My daily drive home feeds me one kind of eye candy after another: Pacific Ocean splashing against sand dunes and rolling out along sandy beaches, followed by a snaky road through rolling farmland, then the freeway through the open valley, and right turn after the eucalpytus grove made famous by Hitchcock's Vertigo, and culminating in two too-short miles through Californian golden hills into my pastoral town with Mexican roosters slowing my final approach as they walk solemnly and stately in front of the car.

2. As I drove up to my house tonight in the historic area, I felt a wave of gratitude for the house that we found a while back, a little charmer that all my friends think we are lucky to have. It is on the historic register, which means that we cannot change any of its structure, a fact that some might consider restrictive, but my response is, who would want to change it?

3. As I turned into the driveway tonight, I saw that my son's truck was there, so I parked on the street. Walking up the deck stairs to the back door, I could see my daughter-in-law, Lemony, in the kitchen. Oh, no! Were both the grandkids there, too? I really did not want to expose Nikolina to any bad germs. Although she has turned out to be quite a hardy little girl, we still avoid making her immune system work overtime, considering all that she has been through medically. It turned out, luckily, that Nikolina was home with Shane and only Lemony and Nathaniel had come. Neither was concerned about exposure to anything since they had just had their flu shot. Yes! We had a nice time chatting for a while.

4.Thinking back on the day, I am grateful for wonderful employees. Many today showed up in my office with their favorite means of treating viral infections. The Russians took the cake, literally, however. (Because I completed my dissertation in Moscow, they consider me an honorary Russian.) They brought me a pot of honey, lemon slices, and hot tea -- and a big piece of chocolate cake. Chai s medom (tea with honey) is the Russian remedy for whatever ails you -- and if that does not work, there is always chai s viski (tea with whiskey).

5. Finally -- well, not finally, just a last example from the thoughts of today -- I am grateful for a roof over my bed and a comfortable bed to sleep in so that I can take my medicine (sleep). Not everyone has access to that kind of medicine but rather have to make do in shelters or, in our part of the world where it is warm year round, on the street. One of my friends does a weekly supply run (food, blankets, and toiletries) to a group of people sleeping on the river bank a few miles from here. For that reason, I take my own toiletries and save all those little bottles of shampoo and little bars of soap that hotels put in their rooms. They are just the right size for Bennie's weekly runs, for which our SFO gathers food. As they say, "there but for the grace of God go I" or any of us. So, I am grateful that I sleep in a bed and not on the river bank and try not to take that gift for granted.

More information about one of the Thankful Thursday memes can be found at the website of Women Taking a Stand. This meme host is shared with other blogs so you will need to check to see which one is hosting any given month. This month the host is Lynn at Spiritually Unequal Marriage.

Link up with Greg's and Daryl's Thankful Thursday at Greg's General Store.