Monday, October 9, 2017

Teach Me, Teacher

About 15 years ago this journey began. I don't remember the exact year, but it's been about 15 years. And now that journey is over - or, at least, put on hold for awhile.

Way back when, a friend asked if I'd team teach the second graders in the religious education program at our church. I had already been grappling with the distinct knowledge that I was grossly inadequate to teach the faith to my own children, let alone others. And that is precisely why I jumped in and said yes. The idea scared and excited me all at once. How better to equip myself to share the faith than to teach it?

Stepping up to be a catechist set my heart on fire. Our faith is deep and layered and wide. There is so much to learn and explore and, frankly, I know I will never learn everything there is to know about our faith. Searching for materials, activities, and music to supplement the course was energizing. 

Over these 15 years, I've taught at four different churches, used various textbooks, and changed grade levels (2nd grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade). 2nd grade was fantastic because the kiddos were sponges and excited and soaked up everything. They were free with their hugs and, generally, not shy about showing their enthusiasm.

However, I found myself drawn to the older kids. They'd ask deeper questions and I didn't always know the answers, which was PERFECT! One of the things I wanted to teach my kids was that learning about their faith should go on and on through their lives and if they had questions they should dig and learn why the Church teaches what She does. If they asked a question that I didn't know, I'd always find out for our next session. We were teaching each other.

For the majority of my years as a catechist, I taught 7th and 8th grade mixed classes of boys and girls. The last three years I taught 8th grade boys. At these ages, they are still sponges, but not nearly as excited, certainly not free with their hugs, and, generally, incredibly shy about showing any enthusiasm for religious studies. Yet this age group could get me laughing at silly things and searching and digging for ways to present topics to them in a way they would find engaging. Did I always succeed? Definitely not. There were nights I would come home feeling deflated and defeated at how class went. However, there were more times I would come home energized at the discussion generated or someone participating who usually sat quietly in class. 

Each year I fell in love with my kids. I doubt they felt the same, and that is okay. Of course I wanted them to like me, I just never felt like I had the kind of charisma that would really draw them to me. I'm a mom. I like things in order. I had high expectations for the kids in my class. Therefore, it would surprise me, happily so, when a parent would tell me that their kiddo liked me. Whether they liked me or not, I always fell in love with them. They all came from different backgrounds, had different knowledge about our faith, some attended church regularly and some barely attended at all. Yet, they were each placed in my class. These children of God were entrusted to me by their parents for a couple hours each week to learn our beautiful faith. I would ask for the class list in the summer and begin praying for the kids before classes began. As I got to know them and prayed for them throughout the year, I couldn't help but to feel a connection with them. Because of that connection, the prayers for them continue even now. 

The 2016-2017 year was challenging for me on so many levels. I had 18 boys in my class. That was, by far, the largest class I had ever taught. Previously, my biggest class topped off at 12. 18 seemed like a daunting number. Plus, my mom was undergoing some very difficult health issues. It was an emotionally and physically exhausting year. At times I felt like a rubber band being stretched to breaking point trying to keep all the balls I was juggling in the air. 

I had my class prepared for the evening of March 6, 2017 . We were going to go to the church with the 8th grade girls as well as a younger class to say the Stations of the Cross and spend some time in the church. My dad called that morning to say that my mom wasn't doing well and that I should go to the house. I called to let the Director of Religious Education know I wouldn't be in class and headed to my folk's. As the day progressed, it was determined that hospice should be called. (You can read more about that journey here.) That night, I left my parent's house and was on my way home. I felt numb and, as I approached the church, I was drawn to go in and have some quiet time with the Lord and light some candles for my mom. As I opened the door and headed to the candles, I was surprised to see so many people. I had completely forgotten that my class was in the church!  A number of the boys came over to say hello and ask how I was doing. I will never forget their reaching out to me with kindness at such a sad time. 

As the school year came to a close, I prayerfully discerned that I needed to step back from being a catechist for awhile. It was not an easy decision as it is a ministry that has brought me such joy, but it was the right decision for me and family. 

Just this past Sunday, I was able to do one of the readings at the confirmation Mass. What a blessing! It is always so touching to witness the sacraments being conferred. I found myself getting teary as I was able to see all these young men and women receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, but especially touched to watch every one of my boys from the previous year stand before the bishop, be anointed with chrism on their foreheads, and be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Mass ended and an overwhelming mixture of happiness and sadness washed over me. I left the church and as I turned to go down the stairs and head to my car, I saw one of my students. He caught my eye and his face was filled with such joy and he came right up and hugged me. How could I be sad when right in front of me was someone experiencing such joy from his encounter with God?

All these years I've tried to be a vessel for God to work through. I don't know if, with God's grace, I've planted any mustard seeds that found fertile soil. What I do know is that through these years these kids, who I had been entrusted to teach, have taught me so much. They've made me a better person, a better mom, a better catechist, a better Catholic.

I don't know what is next for me on my journey. Since my mom's passing, I've felt spiritually and emotionally depleted. I know that God will show me what He wants me to do and where He wants me to serve Him. Maybe He will lead me back to being a catechist or maybe He will lead me elsewhere. What I was reminded so clearly of this weekend, however, is that God has such good things in store for all of us, from the young to the old and everyone in between. 

I'm so grateful for the time I've had teaching and being taught by the youth of our Catholic community, our Catholic family. They have a lot of wisdom to share. I thank God for the blessings He has poured on me as a catechist all these years. I can't wait to see all the blessings that come forth from these great kids. They are inspiring and I look forward to seeing what sets their hearts on fire, like being a catechist set mine on fire. 

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12      

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 8th, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Most of my siblings and some of my nieces and nephews were at my folk's house. We were waiting for my mom to die.

Although my mom had been dealing with many health issues for over 5 years, she took an extremely quick downturn after being home just a short time from her last trip to a rehabilitation facility. She had been doing so well at the facility that I was excited when she came home. "She'll be more confident getting around with her walker," I thought. "She'll be able to get out and about a little more now." I was wrong.

I went to see her Sunday the 5th. She was having trouble speaking. "Dorothy. Where's my Dorothy?' she asked and smiled when I said, "Here I am" and leaned over to kiss her. Before I left that evening I told her that I loved her and we kissed again after she told me she loved me, too. Those were the last words I heard her speak to me. 

Monday the 6th my dad called to say my mom wasn't doing well. I drove over. She was lethargic. Not moving. Not really communicating. I stretched out on the bed next to her. I held her hand. I read her the prayers she always loved me to read to her when she was in the hospital. When I went in the hallway I asked my dad if we could call our priest to perform the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the afternoon, Fr. Mark came and prayed over her and anointed her and led all who were there in a Litany of the Saints. 

Shortly after that, her physical therapist came and, after she saw my mom, she spoke to me in the hallway. Well, first she cried. "I'm sorry. I've treated your mom for so long. I really love her." The therapist called the nurse. It was determined that her doctor should be called and hospice brought in. My mom's visiting nurse spoke to me on the phone. "This may be an odd request. Please give your mom a hug and a kiss for me. I love her." It didn't sound like an odd request to me. I knew how my mom impacted people she met. 

Hospice came the morning of the 7th. We spent the day reeling from the news that she had hours to very few days to live. We held her hand. We prayed. We cried. We talked to her. We reminisced. 

Wednesday the 8th was a continuation of our vigil. Sometimes a bunch of us would be around her and sometimes only one of us. I put the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on for her, because she would pray that at least once a day. At one point I asked my dad if he wanted some time alone with her. "No. I woke up at 1 last night and I talked to her until 5. We had our alone time together." One of my sisters was scrubbing the kitchen. I cleaned the bathrooms and washed the floors. My mom always was such a great cleaner and she used white vinegar and water when she cleaned the floors. When I finished, I went and took her hand. "The house is all clean. I bet you can smell the vinegar. I cleaned the floors just how you like them."

Later in the afternoon, I was talking to one of my sisters in the kitchen and we heard great belly laughs coming from the bedroom. We just HAD to find out what that was all about. We headed to the bedroom to find mom surrounded by most of my siblings and some of my nieces and nephews. They were trying to figure out why it was so funny when you saw videos of people falling and were just laughing and laughing. My mom loved music and the Alan Jackson song, "Remember When" was playing. I had used that song in my parent's 50th wedding anniversary video 12 years prior. Her breathing became more labored, but she was peaceful. Many of us were crying as her breaths slowed down, we were touching her, and I suddenly felt incredible heat spill over us. As the song was coming to a close, she stopped breathing. My nephew looked up and said, "Should I go and get Gramps?'  

As my dad was coming into the room, she began to breathe again. Shallow, labored, slow breaths. My dad went up and put his hands on her face. "“It’s okay, Lovie. It’s okay to let go. Your mom is waiting for you, and your brothers. Dot is there, and Kay. They’re all waiting. It’s okay, Lovie, to let go." Someone suggested we pray. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory Be. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory Be. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory Be. 

I asked my sister to put on "You'll Never Walk Alone." That was my parent's wedding song. We cried. We held her. We held each other. My dad remained near her face - touching her - looking at her. Again, I felt heat pour over us. Then my mom was gone.

When my mom was in the hospital, my sisters and I would take turns spending the night with her. She told some of us how when she saw my dad's face she would feel safe. That was all she needed. Just to see his face and she knew everything was okay - she was safe. How fitting, then, that this is the man who was by her side, looking in her face, as she left this world and entered eternal life. 

I've been numb since her passing. However, the reality is slowly beginning to sink in and the truth that she is no longer physically here crushes my heart. But there is hope. We have hope in the Lord. She taught me to trust in the Lord and right now I cling to what she taught me.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017. A great woman passed from this earth, but her impact is like that of a pebble that is tossed into the water. The ripples go far beyond what she could have ever imagined. I just pray that in my lifetime I can touch people even just a fraction of the way my momma did. That is a life worth living, indeed. 

Memorial Video for My Momma

"But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect."

Wisdom 3:1-9

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Things Were Going to be Different

2016 was going to be different.

The last number of years, the weeks before Christmas had been a whirlwind. Shopping. Decorating. Baking. Stress. Anxiety. Worry. That isn't what these weeks are supposed to be about.

2016 was going to be different.

Back in October, I began mentally preparing what would help to make the year end run more smoothly and allow for more time to just be, just breathe, just pray, just be.

2016 was going to be different.

The 1st of November I got a call from my dad. He wanted me to go to his house. I watch my great-niece twice a week and that was a day I had her. He asked me to leave her home with my 22-year-old daughter. My mom suffered a stroke in 2013. It's always a concern when my dad asks me to come by the house. I went to the house and we called for an ambulance to bring her in to the hospital.

2016 was going to be different.

She was taken to the emergency room by ambulance. My dad drove himself. I ran home to make sure everyone was situated and then headed to the hospital. Things looked bleak. I was texting my siblings with each bit of new information. This was not like her other trips to the hospital since her stroke. Things were worrisome.

2016 was going to be different.

Finally, things were somewhat stabilized and my mom was in the intensive care unit. She had a breathing tube, which made it difficult for her to communicate. We didn't know what was going to happen. After a couple days, the tube was removed and she slowly, ever so slowly, began to improve.

2016 was going to be different.

Thanksgiving came. I made my mom's signature apple pie and my dad's famous stuffing. We gathered as a family, feeling somewhat lost without our matriarch and patriarch present at the table. Dinner was brought to mom and dad at the hospital.

2016 was going to be different.

Remarkably, mom was discharged in December and sent home. I thought we were going to lose her on All Soul's Day and instead she was brought back home as we were preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

2016 was going to be different.

For months prior to Christmas, I was reflecting on what I needed to do differently so that advent and Christmas and Epiphany would be more calm and more prayerful and more joyous. I didn't want the stress and the worry and anxiety. Then we almost lost my mom. I wasn't able to make any of the changes I had planned on implementing.

2016 was different.

I let go. I prayed. I baked. I shopped (well, to be fair, my husband did a LOT of shopping in 2016). I listened to Christmas music. I wrapped gifts. I trusted that what we needed to have done would be done. I spent a large amount of time reflecting on my life and how the people in my life touch and change me. 2016 was nothing how I planned it to be and yet all I needed it to be.

2016 was different.

I've had the privilege of sitting and holding my mom's hand. At times she laughs. Other times she cries. She likes when I read prayers to her. She tells me she loves waking up and seeing my dad's face - that he makes her feel safe. Her challenges are many and her crosses are heavy to bear. 

2016 was different.

I've watched my dad care for my mom. I've seen him sit at her hospital bedside. He arrived early in the morning and left late at night. I heard him call her "lovie." I've watched him care for her at home. He makes her meals. He helps her get from room to room. I've never heard him complain. I've seen the worry in his eyes when she is ailing. I've seen the love in his eyes when he gazes at her. 

2017 is going to be different.

Last year I was caught in the usual "stuff," making a to-do list for how my Christmas season could flow smoothly and effortlessly. And then my mom went in the hospital and things changed. I was reminded to narrow my focus. Hold a hand. Look at someone. Hug a friend. Listen. See the person next to you. Really see them.

2017 is going to be different.

My parents have spent a lifetime teaching me important lessons. Yet the most important lesson they didn't even try to teach me. They just love each other. Just love. And it is all they need. So that is what I'm going to try to do in 2017. Just love. Maybe you'll join me. 

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."  John 13:34