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When God Sends an Old Friend to Revive You

March 19, 2018

Sometimes I get the feeling of mentally wearing a bike helmet, strapped into a window seat on the struggle bus. Lately it kinda feels like the bus is on fire, careening over a cliff, bumping and banging on every rock, shrub and boulder all the way down toward what looks like a happy little river but will most likely turn into Niagara Falls when we round the first happy little bend.

Ok, that might be just a little dramatic. A slightly more realistic depiction would be a cushy motor coach on a Sunday drive in a light rain. I’m probably still wearing the helmet and licking the window, super confused about how to get the cold rain from outside the bus to refresh me because life can REALLY dehydrate you.

In either scenario I’d be pleased to find an eject button or rip-cord to pull, for to be doing the stopping and the disembarking but nope. I keep looking, though.

I think I’m currently in my third month tryna read Henri Nouwen’s emotionally and spiritually dense A Cry For Mercy but it is probably more like six months. I’m usually all about a difficult read and often have a stack of four or five books that I’m reading simultaneously. Usually I choose non-fiction, the nerdier and more obscure the better. I usually prefer spiritual works and science, always knitting God and science in my head and heart because that’s how life makes the most sense to me. I usually devour a good book, especially thin books like this. Usually. Yet here I am on page 82 of 145. For months, people.


Somebody send help.

And wine.

Good wine.

I’ve decided being stuck in Nouwen isn’t a reflection on my ability to read and comprehend. I think I’m stuck because this book is jam packed with truths. Truths God wants me to know about life in general and truths about my own life. Who knows, perhaps truths He wants you to know about your life, too. The hard thing about truth is that it isn’t always what we want it to be, it is what is.

Some days I read an incredibly personal passage, slam the book closed and look around for hidden cameras. “I’m not reading THAT for a while because it knows too much.”

Anyhooo… as the title says… enter the Old Friend.

Very early in our homeschool career we studied the masters and were particularly fascinated with vanGogh. His adept use of rich, bold colors and his terse yet fluid strokes engage like few other artists. I also have always loved how his own red beard appears in many of his paintings because Vince and I share a super power of injecting ourself into our work and seeing life through a “me” monocle.

I thought I had seen all his work and yet today right there on page 82 mention is made of vanGogh’s The Raising of Lazarus, with the bright sun representing God, in whose light all become new.

Um, excuse me? His raising of what now? We missed one. Maybe we didn’t really miss it but it was a divine plan that I not truly encounter it until today when I really needed a good resurrection.

Must. Know. More.

In the words of my brilliant brother-in-law: “Consult the Googles!”

I found the image and then whoosh down a rabbit hole I went finally landing on this webpage, a meditation written for the 5th Sunday of Lent 2011.

Ummmm, yeah, so yesterday was the 5th Sunday of Lent.

A “coincidence” like this is just too much to keep to myself.

Happy Monday, my loves ❤️

What is God calling you to that is outside your comfort zone but may just set you free?

Imma write.

She Can Read. Who Knew?

July 13, 2017

Guess whose crazy red poodle can read. You already know, don’t you? Ya, ours.

For six years (her entire life) it has been a struggle to get her to eat. She has always been several pounds under the breed standard. Visitors often comment on how skinny she is, especially when compared to our two <ahem> meatier dogs. She has earned the nickname Bird Bones because she is built more like a baby bird than a majestic standard poodle.  I often worried that perhaps she was Penny-rexic.

I’ve tried so very many bowls: pet bowls from pet stores, pretty ceramic bowls from human stores, paper plates and even metal bowls but she would only eat when the planets aligned and/or the humans humiliated themselves and even then it was a crap shoot.

We have tried numerous ways to get her to eat: sprinkled parm over the food, sprinkled “magic” dust (just rubbing empty fingers over her bowl), stirred plain yogurt in, mixed in bits of  leftover human food, which she picks out leaving the kibble behind, and I’ve made “gravy” by adding water to whatever pan I cooked the human dinner and mixed that in.

On more occasions than I care to divulge I’ve even tried blowing kisses into her food. Yes, a loud “mmm-wah” with accompanying theatrical gesture and overdramatic blowing. Desperate times call for desperate measures. She may eat a little then just backs away.

Sometimes she would eat if a human would sit rightnext to her and pretend to eat, too.

If we did get her to eat it was a tenuous situation. We have been known to loudly whisper “she’s eating nobody move” and every human in the room will freeze in place lest we disturbed the balance of her universe and she stop eating.

Close the dishwasher, fridge or a cupboard door? Pop a cork on a bottle of wine? Speak too loudly? Dare to cough, sneeze, burp, fart or laugh? Peace out, it’s over, baby, she’s done.

The struggle is more than real.

I bought some new dog bowls at TJ Maxx last week and since using them HRH  GOBBLES up every last nugget – instantly. How are these bowls different? They have words on them which she has read and taken to heart, I’m certain. I guess she needed aesthetically pleasing, clearly labeled bowls.

“DOG live, love, bark”


I’m thankful they don’t say “eat” because if she read that she probably wouldn’t.


December 25, 2016

THE gift.

Growing up in the 1970’s my parents had a beautiful nativity set which was set up in our mantle every year. It was accentuated by a beautiful sky behind it made by my mom. It was deep navy blue and she had placed lights and angels all over it with a large star. It was so beautiful over our fireplace and as a kid I would often sit and look at it while thinking about all that Jesus meant to me.

Fast forward to last year when my two youngest kids and I were dragging my parents’ decorations from their attic to help them prepare for Christmas. My mom had decided to purge some old decorations and handed me a sandwich baggie filled with the little angels from our childhood nativity. She said “You can throw those out.” I gasped and said “Throw out the angels?” She laughed at my horror and said “You can have them.” So I took them home in the little baggie.

This year when we were decorating our house (by “we” I mean my youngest daughter, Kolbe, because I was sick in bed.) Kolbe asked me what to do with the angels. I certainly could never throw them away but also, what should I do with a baggie full of tiny angels from the seventies? I told her about the beautiful sky my mom created for our nativity scene and how much they meant to me. I could not possibly part with them this year and then I put them completely out of my mind.

This morning as my kids were passing out all the gifts from under our tree I was handed a wrapped box which said “To: Mom, From: Kolbe” and all my kids said “That will be the last present anyone opens because nobody wants their present to follow that one.” And they warned me that I would cry. Kids are mean, anticipating my crying. Who do they think they are?

I was determined that I would NOT cry. I would be an ice princess with zero emotions. I was expecting some sort of photo project with images of my babies, now all adults. NO. No crying.

After waiting what seemed like FORFREAKINGEVER for all my peeps to finish opening all their gifts from Jon and I and from each other and then opening all the gifts for me from each person, I was left with the one box that was declared “the last gift.” I was hungry, brunch was almost done, my champagne was good and cold, waiting for me on the patio steps and I was ready to be tear-free and show my kids that I have a heart of stone. LET’S DO THIS.

I opened that box and when the first layer of tissue was removed I could not believe my eyes, nor could I stop the river of tears. My Kolbe had taken each of these tiny 70’s angels and attached them to a string of lights which she then wrapped around a wreath covered in deep navy blue tulle ribbon. Absolute perfection.

I wept like there was no tomorrow.

After drying my face, we all agreed that nobody should ever buy anybody another gift EVER because this was THE gift. My childhood joined to my adulthood, and on a Christmas on which I couldn’t be with my parents, well, it just brought so much comfort. AND JOY.

I know Christmas isn’t about stuff. I know this. It is about God becoming a tiny baby who would grow to sacrifice His entire self for all of us. It is the story of the Incarnation and the story of our salvation. It is the proof that each of us is loved more than we could ever imagine by our God who would have come to save us even if there was only ever one human to save. It is the fulfillment of a promise and the completion of a covenant between God and man. It is real love, an all encompassing, overwhelming, powerful love that withstands everything and anything. It is the remembrance of an event now rich with traditions which further serve to bring us closer to the God who created us from nothing yet longs for us to love Him.

For me, today, it is a reminder that I am part of something that can never die, not just the family from which I came but also the family I helped create. It is about a sense of belonging and a knowledge that God loves me, always has and always will.

Each of us is loved, more than we know. I wish I could just convince everyone everywhere. God IS love and each of us is His favorite ever.

All this sprang from an inspired, loving gift of 70’s angels on a wreath. Maybe not a miracle, per se, but an amazing inspiration.

Sixty-five years of love.

September 13, 2015

Today my family celebrated a pretty big event, the sixty-fifth anniversary of my parents’ wedding.  Technically, their anniversary was August 19th but it has been a really rough year and we moved it to a time when they were both well. It was a small gathering, compared to the size of our family, but it was full of love nonetheless.

My daughter, the one I call my “Apple Ninja”, scanned several of my parents’ photos, starting with their wedding photos, She set it to some Anne Murray music and voila!, tear invoking images of their/our collective life.  It has been a good life, make no mistake. A REALLY good life.

Several people at the party asked me and/or my Ninja to provide them with a copy of the slide show.  For now we have this video for you to watch and for the family who couldn’t make it and the friends who are interested in seeing little Amy… and aren’t we all curious as to her beginnings?

Aaaaaand there it is… one of my super powers, perhaps my strongest… making it all about me.  My other super power is turning food into poop but alas, that is another post for another day.

Please enjoy this glimpse into the gift that is my family.  They are the best.

Exorcisms 101

March 3, 2015

This past weekend I attended a conference that changed how I see everything.  Everything.

The first speaker was a theologian, Dr. Lawrence Feingold.  His talk was entitled Angels and Demons.  There were many brilliant points he made but the most significant concept to me was that just as humans are the very top animal of the created material world, we are also the absolute bottom of the spiritual world. I have created in my own mind a Venn diagram, the intersection of which has a marker which states “YOU ARE HERE.” We are the only creatures in both realms and also the only creatures that cooperate with God in creation, that is, the creation of new humans.  All angels that will ever be were created in the same instant and because they are pure spirit they never die, they also don’t have baby angels.  Another important concept is that humans do not become angels when their physical bodies die, they simply leave their body behind and only their soul, their spirit, remains. All demons made the decision to turn against God in the very instant they were created and there is no conversion among them.  There is no hope, ever, for their salvation and this is just one of the reasons that demons work like mad to separate us from God, too.

Any hoo… back to the scary stuff…

Two of the talks were given by an exorcist.  Yes, a real-life, nothing like in the movies, humble, funny, absolutely brilliant, Roman Catholic priest who exorcises demons out of humans every day. He is extraordinarily busy.

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger is the pastor at a large parish in Milwaukee.  He was quite calm and matter of fact.  I can’t think of a subject that is scarier than exorcism, just ask my family; I avoid demon movies because they’re just too real for my taste.  Fr. Cliff’s dry sense of humor and complete confidence in God made it easier for me to hear the things he talked about and I did not have nightmares after, so that’s a bonus.

There are several different kinds of extraordinary demonic activities and I am not qualified to even attempt to define them.  When I started writing this I looked for a webpage to which I could hyperlink, to provide the necessary definitions. As I read through some of the search results, I decided it is all just pretty frightening, mostly because it is quite real. I don’t want to send anyone to a scary page.  My reason for writing this post is to relay information that was either new to me, surprising, or super cool.

A differentiation was made between a demonic infestation (the attachment of demons to a place, thing or animal) and a haunting, which is a human soul, suffering in Purgatory yet stuck on Earth.  Fr. Cliff explained that “haunted” television shows featuring these poor souls exploit the suffering of a human for entertainment.  He expressed great sadness at that.  It is quite sad.  They need help.  What is needed to free the soul? Go to your local Catholic parish and ask the priest to say a Mass for the soul, although sometimes it may require a few Masses.

During an exorcism, which is performed on a human whose physical body is controlled by a demon, the exorcist commands the demon to tell how they gained access to the person. It turns out there are a terrifying number of ways that demons enter.  Contrary to what we learn from Hollywood, you don’t have to personally invite them.  Each and every time you commit sin you open yourself up to demons, you enter into a contract with them.  They don’t always take up residence but you may notice that after one sin, subsequent sins become easier.  Slippery slope.  Easy fix: go to confession OFTEN and don’t sin.

One case he shared was that of a man who had been experiencing extraordinary demonic activity.  When commanded by Fr. Cliff to tell how the demon gained access to the man, the demon answered “in a can of coke.”

Ho.  Lee.  Shit.

It turns out that this man, who was married, declined the romantic advances of a woman at his place of work.  The spurned woman happened to be a witch and yes, we learned this weekend, witches are real, too. She put a curse on a can of soda and the man drank it.  Fr. Cliff called this a “fortuna” and said curses can be placed on anyone or anything.  Other common items that contain a fortuna include cursed tattoo ink and illegal drugs that have been cursed, often as an offering to Satan, then sold on the street to cause addiction and chaos in the life of the buyer.

At dinner later that night my sister and I half joked that in addition to swearing off cola, we should sprinkle everything we eat or drink with blessed salt from now on.  She carries blessed salt with her at all times, I do now, too.  I mean, c’mon!  Can you imagine the possibilities? An angry food service worker, an evil minded food or drink distributor, farmer, grocery store worker…  There is so much evil in our world and there are those who just want to plunge our society further into darkness.  It makes me want to never eat or drink again.  Oh, wait… that easy fix again: go to confession, attend Mass regularly and don’t sin.  Phew.  But I’m still putting a small container of blessed salt in my purse.

Fr. Cliff explained that what you see in a movie exorcism is nothing like what really happens.  First, it isn’t over in 90 minutes.  Exorcisms often take months or years to accomplish.  What you see in a movie, with all of the terrifying deformities, super human strength, apparitions and voices, is quite accurate but all of the activity one would see in a movie actually often takes place over many, many exorcism sessions.

As I mentioned, he is a pastor in Milwaukee and his parish has a school.  Those responsibilities could each easily be two full time jobs and exorcisms are actually his part-time work.  He said he only does them at night because with a school full of children on the campus of his parish, the shrieking and screaming associated with this job is bad for business.

He also said that possessed people puke during exorcisms.  They puke a lot.  He  keeps several buckets at the ready during the exorcism process.  He can tell how an exorcism is progressing based on the changes in the vomit.  For example, the man who ingested the cursed coke, although it was consumed years earlier, once Fr. was told the method of entry and commanded that the coke (and the demon) leave the body, the man began to vomit coke.

This brings me to something I had never really thought about before.  I guess I just always accepted that demons, although spirits, do have control over things in our physical world but I never really thought about how.  There is a scientific law that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. The coke was reconstructed from the contents of the man’s body and expelled.  Other examples Fr. mentioned of ways in which demons rearrange things within a human body were the appearance of fangs, bruises, scratches and blistering of skin.

Father Cliff told another story of a teenage boy who, having purchased a Ouija board, brought it to the home of a friend where a group gathered to play with it.  The teens invited any spirits present to touch them.  All of them were immediately beaten up by unseen assailants.  Covered in bruises, the owner ran home, leaving the board behind in his friend’s basement.  Once home, crying and praying, he discovered his Ouija board had made its own way home, too.

He told another story of a young man in a cohabitating relationship began to exhibit demonic manifestation.  The girlfriend kicked him out, thinking that the behavior was his.  Having been raised a Catholic, instinctively consulted a priest, ending up with Fr. Cliff.  During the months that followed, the young man went to confession, returned to an active faith and remained in the state of grace, going to daily Mass and Holy Communion.  The demon was eventually exorcised and the man returned to his normal self.  Once himself again, the girlfriend welcomed him back.  Fr. Cliff told the young man that he was better off possessed by a demon with his soul in the state of grace than he was as a demon free man living in his current situation.  Should he die as the former, his salvation was not in jeopardy, as it was in mortal danger in the latter circumstance.

Father said that he always asks the demons’ names and has encountered the same demon in different people.  He also said that some methods of entrance are more common than others, one of those being pornography.  It seems that many pornographic producers  are also active Satanists.  They put curses on their images.  Humans voluntarily ingest (via sight) these images and the demon gets in.  He told us that in one exorcism he commanded the demon to tell him the method of entry and his reply was “through my greatest invention ever, internet pornography.”  I certainly didn’t have to be told that Satan invented pornography but the way Fr. related the story sent chills down my spine.

During a question and answer period someone asked if he was ever in frightened or in danger during an exorcism and he immediately answered “No, not at all.” I believe his courage comes from his complete trust in God and the Catholic faith.  Being a “cradle Catholic”, if I ever encounter a problem of the demonic variety I would immediately seek help from a Catholic priest. I had always been curious about what people of other faiths and denominations do when they have a possession, well curious, but not curious enough to look for an answer.  It turns out that they, too, go to Catholic priests, just like in the movies.  Fr. Cliff told us that he exorcises many non-Catholics and , I was very surprised to learn, large numbers of non-Christians experience extraordinary demonic activity and that they not only seek the help of Catholic priests but they usually convert to Catholicism afterward, too.

Another statistic that I found extremely interesting is that there are two rites for exorcism, one is Latin and a newer one is English.  Fr. told us that of the 80 some exorcists in the United States he does not know of any who use the newer rite.  Apparently the old rite is preferred.  As a fan of all things ancient and Latin this makes me happy.

On another happy note, I was very relieved to know that demons, and angels for that matter, do not know your thoughts. This isn’t to say that they don’t know what you are thinking because they are more intelligent than we could ever imagine and they can usually figure out where you’re heading.  They do, however have complete access to any sensory input you have ever had and all of your memory.  This is how they are able to tempt us with the precision of a surgeon.  They know everything about who, what, when, where and how you are and have ever been.  Yikes.

The simple fix?  The spiritual solution?  The one thing that can keep you safe?  Get in the state of grace and stay in the state of grace.  Frequent confession.  Daily Mass. Don’t sin. Pray.  It is exactly that easy and exactly that hard.  In our world we often forget what the Bible tells us over and over and over: Repent and sin no more, be healed.  I know I’m on repeat but this is it.

Just Be Holy.      +:o)

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger has written several books, some of which you can find here.  For an interesting article published by The National Catholic Register click here.

Baby it’s cold, wait, nevermind, it’s not.

October 14, 2014

Raise your hand if you remember the great and terrifying Sussman appliance apocalypse in the Spring of 2013. It was one sad week which saw the demise of our washer, dryer, refrigerator and dishwasher. We replaced them all in one trip to Home Depot. A few days later we had to replace the garbage disposal because the dishwasher installer broke the old one but I digress.

The stove became the Grand Dame of the household appliances. I whispered about the others when I was near her and told her every single day how pretty she was and how dearly I loved her. In hindsight perhaps I killed her with kindness.

Three weeks ago she just up and quit as I was to embark on an all day cooking extravaganza for our first dinner party in months. Well, poop on you OLD stove, who needs ya? My daughter and I prepared an amazing feast (if I do say so myself, which I just did) using only the toaster oven, the grill, the microwave and two crockpots.

The dishwasher at some point in time had decided that she would only complete a wash if we ran the 2 hour 47 minute “super” cycle. I made the unilateral executive decision to just run the super cycle and if the minions forgot and she stalled with an error code I would throw in another detergent pod, top off her “Jet Dry” (the crack cocaine of the dishwasher world) and tell her how pretty she was then reset her to run again.

Being the professional level procrastinator that I am I haven’t called for service. I. Am. The. Worst. Wife. EVER.

This morning I noticed a small puddle of something that looked like poodle diarrhea (YES, I actually am an expert in identifying that particular substance) next to the fridge in the kitchen so I wiped it up and, as is my duty – NO, MY DIVINE RIGHT – as poodle queen, I sniffed it.


It was purple-brownish and had a decidedly fruity aroma.

I opened the freezer and immediately had PTSD from the appliance apocalypse. Everything was melted.


The ice bin held a tiny ocean with a few floaty cubes, the frozen waffles and bag of frozen wontons were soft, the ice cream was goo. All the frozen veggies were dripping, soft bags. The Popsicles had melted and, along with my homemade frozen Sangria, were the cause of the goo on the floor.

The fridge seemed cold, though and so I deemed it ok and I made a mental note to call for service, LATER, and took the opportunity to deep clean, throwing everything in the freezer away, except 3 lbs of chicken breasts which I flung in the crockpot for soup, which BTW… amazeballs.

With the freezer clean I went about my errands for the day. Included in my errands: over $300 worth of easily microwaveable pre-prepared refrigerated meals (duh, no ovey no cooky) and some refrigerator only staples, grass-fed butter, organic half and half, artichoke/jalepeno dip, cheese and an anti-pasto tray that I bought to try so we could see if it was good enough for big entertaining scheduled in 2 weeks.

Daughter and I put it all away and I took a post Costco nap. The smell of my “let’s make the best of a bad sitch soup” filling the house.

Husband arrived home around 9:30 and we discussed my appliance woes. He ever so gently suggested that tomorrow I call for service. I nodded… Yes, honey. Then we discovered, TO OUR HORROR, that not only was the room temperature freezer not cool, the refrigerator wasn’t either. In fact, it was warm. All that Costco food… Over six hours… Above 50 degrees…

You may be physically ill now. I was.

We threw out so much stuff I wanted to cry. Condiments, eggs, hard boiled eggs, all my pickle friends, cheeses, olives, yummy leftovers, the pre-prepared Costco dinners which were supposed to buy me another week until I had to call for service. I stood at the sink grinding up the contents of So. Many. Jars. Husband gathered the stuff we thought would be ok and moved it to the garage fridge. The only happy thought was that in the time it took me to clean out all those jars, the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, relocated to the garage fridge was FINALLY cold: 34 degrees- Hello brain freeze, good night moon.

So tomorrow I call for service. I promise: refrigerator, stove and what the heck, dishwasher, too.

I know, first world problems. That’s all I got.

Ninety nine problems and a fridge ain’t one. Oh, wait… Yes, it is.

Late Night Frog Lessons

September 6, 2014

I go to Eucharistic Adoration every Saturday morning from 1 – 2 AM.  I do not do this because I am holy.  I do this because I am most definitely NOT holy.  Holiness or the lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with this post.  I’m merely explaining the setting for my story.

For the last several weeks I have encountered nature on the way to my car after adoration.  I’m just going to put this out there:  Nature?  I am not a fan.  On two occasions a tiny snake slithered across the sidewalk in front of me.  Several times I have encountered a tiny frog frantically hopping across the sidewalk.  Tiny frog chased by tiny snake?  Quite possible.  I don’t know, maybe it was a toad.  Whatever it is, it is always super fast and ALWAYS scares the snot out of me.

Last week I quite loudly asked it “What the heck? What are you doing?  It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!”

I thought about it on my suddenly brisk hobble up a very long hill to my car and decided that the little guy was just being completely obedient to God. That frog is just “doing him” and nothing more.  He didn’t set an alarm for 1:58 so he could jump out and scare that one lady on her way to her car and give her a mini heart attack.  He probably didn’t even notice me.  He was just being a frog, in fact the very best frog he could be.  Animals have it easier than we do because animals have no free will. (Although my poodle, whom my kids call the worst dog ever, sometimes makes me wonder.  Alas, that is another post for another time.)  Animals do exactly what God created them to do. They obey Him perfectly.

This week as I was walking from my car to the chapel I was completely lost in thought.  I had a super crap week, which culminated in a super-duper crap Friday and I was intent on spending my whole hour complaining about it. I was making my list of things to cry over and planning how I would unload all of it as soon as the adorers before me closed the door.

I did not see the frog.

That is, I did not see the frog until I opened the door and he leapt, arms flailing, into the adoration chapel  like they were giving free flies to the first 50 customers.

It gets better and by adoration frog“better” I mean more embarrassing. The husband and wife who adore immediately before my shift were sitting on a pew, quietly praying when I shrieked “OH! FROG!”

In unison they turned to me and said “What?”


It jumped into their view and the man was up and after it instantly. It crossed that chapel and disappeared in under two seconds.  The man was crawling around under a pew, I handed him my phone to use as a flashlight to no avail.  The man looked under everything but no frog.  The couple chuckled then left.

My perfect plan to moan, wail and gnash my teeth was ruined.  I looked at Jesus and said “OK, this week?  This week broke my heart but you already know that, don’t you?  You were there.  I don’t have to tell you.  You know.  You know how confused and sad and worried I am about all of my loved ones and what seems like really, really unfair suffering. You know about my anxious, sleepless nights because I talk to you during them. I didn’t want to even come here tonight, except to tell you off but now I have a frog to worry about, too, so I’m not going to unload.

<Audible Sigh>  Sometimes it feels like I have to do everything around here.

Yes, that little frog had interrupted my regularly scheduled broadcast.

I was back to my frog spirituality thoughts from last week:  free will, obedience and fallen human nature.  After a few minutes the frog came barreling, out of nowhere, right at me, moving so fast that it looked as though he was waving his arms, about to hug me, shouting “Amy! Yay! There you are!  I thought you were lost!”

I just knew I had to take care of him.  Armed with a kleenex and last week’s church bulletin, I tried to gently persuade him to go outside. I chased him for another 10 minutes until he disappeared again.


Light bulb over my head much?

Here is what I learned from spending one hour with the Blessed Sacrament.  And, um, a frog.

Just because I think I know what to do does not mean the frog has the same plan.  He has to be who he is and I have to accept that.  I can’t make him jump out the door, even though I believe that is what will be best.  I could have kept chasing and forced him outside but then I’m not doing what I was put in that chapel to do, which is to pray for all my loved ones for an hour.  If I spent my time making him do things my way then not only is he not “doing him” but I am also not “doing me.”  I must pray. My loved ones need prayer.

Accepting that the frog is a frog and just letting him be him most likely means that he will die a premature death.  I have to accept that, too.  What better place for him to die?  I know that if I was going to die I would want to be near Jesus.  We should all want to be close to God when our time comes.  I think it is safe to say that most frogs do not get to die in the physical presence of Christ.

Accepting is a really hard thing to master.  I’m not there.  If I can get there, to that accepting place, I think I will be happier and much less anxious.  I will be closer to God and hopefully closer to those I love.  I think that accepting is a higher form of love.  It is unconditional love.  It is “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of love.  It is almost a form of blindness, blindness to perceivable faults of others.

I want that love.  Don’t we all want that love?  To get it we have to give it.

Fear, anger, judgment, jealousy… all of it… it has to go.  Where in my heart will I store all this love if those things are in there?  I want to love, accept and just “be” with those who need me, just let them be them, sit beside them and love them.  Serve them, when the opportunity arises but always and only from love, never from “Hey, you know what I think you should do?”

I’ve said it eleventy billion times and I will say it at least once more, Miss Swan:  Love wins.

I did leave a note for future adorers, telling them that the frog is in the chapel somewhere.

Thanks for the inspiration, little frog.  I wish I could have saved you.  I guess I had to save me.


IEP Reports, Recovery and Tears… Always Tears.

February 19, 2014

Reading IEP Reports ALWAYS makes me cry.  They’re long and dry and they capture moments of a child’s life in unfeeling terms.  I guess that is what they’re supposed to do, give a “measurement” of symptoms for comparison to previous years.  Professionals LOVE data.

To me they were painful because they reinforced what we already knew about our child but they never added any happy.  They quantify undesired behaviors but they don’t say a single word about his amazing blue eyes, his shy smile, his laugh or any of the million other things that have made me fall crazy in love with him over and over again every day of his 18+ years.

So this morning I stumbled upon a  bunch of these reports and before I knew it I was knee deep, wading through them.  I couldn’t stop myself.  The childhood years have passed so quickly, I just wanted to remember my little boy, now a man.

At times I can’t make sense of the words swimming on the pages before me.  A few heavy blinks and they spring back into orderly lines.  Sure, now the front of my pajama top is soaking but I don’t care.  Can’t. Stop. Now.

I am transported to the tiny conference rooms, seated at a too-small table filled with four to six professional educators, social workers, behavioral consultants, psychologists, autism specialists; all waiting, I believed, for a turn to beat my emotional brains in.  Occasionally there would be a person who would say something wonderfully insightful about our child, letting me know that they knew my REAL Ben  Twice there were teachers who teared up, watching me weep as I listened to the results of the current round of testing and observations, placing my baby at various levels on various scales of achievement.

I can even remember some of the outfits I wore, chosen oh, so carefully, to convey a message that I’m intelligent enough to chose coordinating clothing, have a husband who loves me, that we can afford nice things and that I will not be “talked down to.”  Funny, to this day I still consider the earrings I wore my “IEP earrings” because they made me feel confident enough to  face these highly educated people.  It was as if earrings could bridge the gap between my two years of college and their 4,6,8.  Looking back I guess I just wanted to convince someone, ANYONE, that I wasn’t scared because I sure as hell couldn’t convince myself.

Reading these reports today is different for me and I weep now because I believe that my son is recovered. RECOVERED.

Gone are the tics, the stimming behaviors, the lack of eye contact, the choosing physical return over verbal.  The things that masked his brilliance are gone.  I believe he is now entirely neuro-typical.  I see a bright future ahead of him.  I weep because looking back I see clearly the grace of God woven into Ben’s years of work at self mastery.  I see my son, this brave, funny, kind, handsome, holy man emerging from Autism and walking down the path God has lain before him.  I see Ben cooperating with God’s plan for him.

I weep tears of joy.


November 15, 2013

Every November I read the daily “Today I’m thankful for…” posts of my Facebook friends and am inspired by them, thinking “Maybe next year I will get my poop in a group and post my own.”

This year is no different.  I want to, I really do, but… well… allow me to sing you the song of my people:  “Aint nobody got time for that!”  (Sung in the key of “R”, of course.)

All singing aside, I truly am thankful.  Here’s why:

  • I am the last one to bed every night and first one up every morning, queen of the realm and boss of all things domestic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • At home I am always within 5 feet of at least one huge poodle, but usually all three curly, slimy, barking, cat-chasing, smelly, snoring, disobedient, burping, bed-chewing beasts who make me laugh every minute of every hour of every day.
  • When I’m not home I am most likely in a car with at least one delightful Susschild, but sometimes all three.  I get to witness all of them become who they are meant to be.  God’s plan fulfilled before my eyes in these three kind, smart, humble, owners of my heart. I sometimes worry that they will figure out what a goon I really am and trade me for a bag of magic beans.  That worry makes every minute I spend with them all the more precious.
  • God has blessed me with two brilliant, funny, supportive, amazing parents from whom I have learned more than I could have ever learned on my own.  They passed their faith to me and I embrace it with every fiber of my being.  Despite my selfishness, they love me and they tell me every single day.  I would not be who I am, nor would I have the life I have if God hadn’t placed me in their care.  They are the reason I am me.  Depending on your opinion of me you can thank them or shoot them in the face with a bazooka.
  • I am thankful for the generous, funny, tender, sweet woman who raised my husband and is now trapped in-between here and heaven.  Although Alzheimer’s has taken most of her away from us and her brain and her body are atrophied, I am thankful that she is close and that every now and then, although farther and farther apart, I can get a laugh or a smile from her and see the real Sue, if for only a second.
  • I’m married to the sweetest, most hard-working man, whose sacrifices allow me to live this magical life, surrounded by poodles and Grandpeeps and Susschildren.  I have a hand to hold and a reason to live.  This man.  Coincidence that I met him on the ninth day of a St. Anthony (he finds things) novena?  Nope.  I didn’t ask St. Anthony for much, only every tiny detail: hair color, eye color, facial features, height, intelligent, college student, preferably an engineering major, who thought I was all that and a bag of potato chips.  He was, and continues to be, an answer to my prayers.  He knows everything about me, all my faults and weaknesses and he still choses me on a daily basis.  After almost 27 years of marriage I still marvel that this is really happening.  He is my happily ever after.
  • Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins who I promoted to sisters, nieces, nephews are all the accoutrement that membership in a large, crazy, wonderful family provides.  I’m part of a tapestry, part of a story.  These are the first friends, the ones who HAD to play with me, on account-a we swim in the same gene pool.  An extended family is a gift that can so easily be taken for granted.
  • The close friends who I know will rush to my side when they hear “Help! We’re losing her, people! Push 50cc of Pinot” or “Help! Starbucks STAT!” or “Help! Nosebleed!” or “Help! My kitchen is over-run with puppies!” or any of the other eleventy billion mental, physical or imaginary emergencies I can (and have) come up with.  I have heard it said that friends are the family we choose, which in no way diminishes our biological family but adds to  it, another layer to keep us warm.  There are also those who are echoes in my heart but I don’t see very often.  When we do meet, it is as if no time has passed and there are no awkward silences.
  • Then there are all the people who have wandered in and/or out of my life over these 51+ years, for whom I am thankful, some for the joy they brought into my life for a season and some for the lessons they taught me right before the screen door hit them on the backside.   Each one is a blessing.
  • I once read that if there was only ever one person in all of creation and that one person was in need of a Savior, Christ would still have endured the cross for one.  ANY one of us.  This is how much He loves each of us.  He loves us and wants us with him.   He cares enough about each one of us to put a different fingerprint on every finger ever, with no repeats.  He has a plan and a path for each of us and like our fingerprints, no two are the same.  It is up to us to find our path and to move forward.  Move toward Him.  I am thankful that He loves me and that he forgives me for all I am not.

All I ever wanted is to love and to be loved.  I have all I could ever imagine wanting.  I do not deserve this life and yet here I am.


So very grateful.

Buddy Eric

September 15, 2013

In the late eighties I was a young wife and new mom.  I didn’t know much about how the world really worked and I was still naïve.  One uneventful summer weekend a young, single man moved in next door to our Berkley bungalow.  I delivered a pan of brownies to welcome him.  That was the day our friendship began.

Buddy Eric  circa 1995

Eric c. 1995

He was a bright, sunny Californian who lived in the Detroit area because of his work.  He was intelligent, funny, kind, articulate, generous and wonderful.  Jon and I loved him like a brother and he made us part of his Michigan family.  Our toddler, Anna, adored him and he adored her.  She would run to him and he would scoop her up and they would have a love fest.  She called him “Buddy Eric” and eventually Jon and I did, too.

The day Desert Storm began he banged on my door and breathlessly told me what was happening.  He and I sat on my sofa, stunned, watching the events unfold on CNN, holding hands and crying.  We shared many important events, some scary, some happy and some sad.  Eric was devastated when his dad, so far away, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In time my family moved but I kept in touch with our “Buddy” and he would come over now and then for dinner.  One Sunday he called and said he needed to talk to us and asked if it would it be ok if he came right over.  Of course it was and he did.  Over the next two hours our precious friend told a horrific story about childhood sexual abuse and he confided in us that he was gay.  As he told us everything all three of us wept.  He had held so much in for so long, alone.  It was gut-wrenching to see this beloved friend in so much pain.

I had worked with a few gay men but I had never had someone so close to my heart “come out.”  My initial feeling was shock but I quickly realized that absolutely nothing had changed; he was the same Eric I loved and cherished.  He was still funny and kind and wonderful.  The only thing that changed was my knowledge of his abuse and sexual preference.  If new knowledge ends our love for someone then the love must not have been real. I feel blessed that my initial shock immediately returned to the real love I have for Eric.  It was an honor that he felt he could finally be completely honest and vulnerable by telling us everything.  I thank God that both Jon and I were able to tell him then and there that we loved him and that we were there for him.

We had a few more visits with him; the last was in 1995, shortly after the birth of our second child. Eric was moving home to California and he thanked us for our friendship and our love.  I think we may have received one or two letters from him at first but eventually we lost contact.

I never forgot about Eric and prayed for his peace whenever I thought about him.

Six years ago I decided that I missed him and I set out to find him so I could catch up with him. I Googled him.  What I found, instead of contact information, was a website set up by his family, dedicated to his memory.  At the time he had been dead a little over a year.  Our amazing, loving Buddy Eric had ended his own life.

I was heartbroken to know that this beautiful person, one of the most wonderful men I would ever meet, was so wounded that he couldn’t see any other way to find peace.  Somehow he lost the knowledge that he was loved and he believed that his life was no longer worth living.

As I said, I was heartbroken.  Was.  I’m still heartbroken but now I am also mad.  Why is our society so cruel?

He was broken as a boy, by abuse.  As an adult, when faced with his own traumatic reality he shattered into a million little pieces.  He needed love.  He needed acceptance.  He needed God.  Unfortunately, ours is a world with a serious lack of love and acceptance.  I’m certain Eric found love and acceptance from his mom and from his friends but from society as a whole?  Probably not.

It is when you are broken into a million little pieces that God can come in and perform wonders.  He can re-build you into so much more than you can build yourself.  His love can make all things new.  Sometimes staying focused on His love is so blasted hard. There is always someone there to drown out God’s voice, ironically, often by proclaiming God’s word… or at least their own interpretation of His word.

Make no mistake, our world is filled with God and His all-powerful love is always there but when His creatures, humans, treat one another with contempt, anger, fear, blame and unkindness, it is really, REALLY hard to hear God’s voice.  “I love you.  You are mine.”

Think about it… when was the last time you heard Him?  When was the last time you listened for Him?  When was the last time you extended His mercy to someone who needed it?  I did not say “to someone who deserved it.” God freely gives His mercy and His forgiveness to each one of us each and every time we ask.  Why would any human think that he or she had the authority to decide who gets mercy (kindness) and who does not?

Jesus gave us two commandments… “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.“  Matthew 22: 37-39

Eric, shortly before his death 2006

We are supposed to love God and love one another.

I feel guilt that I lost contact with Eric.  I wonder how the world treated him in his last years.  Was he shown God’s love or was he judged and treated unfairly?  Was it his own feelings of guilt that lead to his suicide?  Did he believe that the world hated him or was he told that mercy and love were not meant for him?  Did he believe the lies that morals vigilantes perpetuate?

What people say is only what people say.  What people think is only what people think.  What people do is only what people do.  Feelings are only feelings.  There is one real, unchanging truth:  God created you because He loves you.  He loves you and He wants you and He never stops loving you.  Ever.  People often have small minds and say mean, judgmental things… they are only people.  Who gives a crap?  Screw them.  Screw them all.  God loves you.  YOU are his absolute favorite.  Period.

Today my heart was heavy.  Today I contemplate two truths.  The first is that Eric is no longer here.  If I could tell Eric one thing it would be the second truth on my mind today: The only thing that truly matters most is love, God’s love.

God loves you, Eric.

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