Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pupdate

Hello all! Here's on update on our girl Callie. The update is: there's no update! We sprung for a VERY expensive blood test to rule out (or in), if I've got this right, hyperparathyroidism and cancer. The blood test takes 7-10 days to return (it's been 8 as of today)- and so far, no calls.
If it is cancer (which, if I've got this right, hyperparathyroidism is?) they'll want to do a bunch of ultrasounds and/or x-rays to look for tumors, but if we can be assured that we can keep her comfortable, we probably will not go any further in exploring. She turned ten on the day of her blood test, and I am reading (I know I said no more googling, but what can I say?) that she won't necessarily have symptoms to speak of until she's really getting ready to go. If I've got this right, she will basically experience what an old dog experiences- getting old and dying of natural causes. I think that's a better scenario than lots of time spent at the vet's office trying to find/treat something at her age. 
So that's all the news that isn't, yet. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for asking, and for your good thoughts and wishes for Callie-loo! We're spoiling her in the meantime- a friend saw her last night and said "Callie's looking... healthy...." and he meant FAT. But she's loving life, still being the nearly-perfect pup that she is, and taking every chance she gets to roll in the snow/grass with delight. Lookit that face!!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Dog Is Love

Last week we took our dog, Callie, to the vet because she had developed a sudden limp- for a day or so she would barely put her hind leg down at all, and although she seemed like her sunny old self, after a (short) while we thought we should have her seen by the doc. While she was there, they did a blood test to be sure she could handle the anti-inflammatory meds they'd prescribed her, and by that blood test, the doctors found that her calcium levels were "slightly elevated." We were asked to collect a first-thing-in-the-morning urine sample to see what that could tell us. (Which we did, through impressive teamwork. It must have been quite a scene for the neighbors, and I brought in MUCH more urine than was asked for or needed, but hey- success!)
Google has told us that elevated calcium levels in dogs is not a good thing. We still haven't received the results of the urine test but I did spy a note "decision plan at next appointment" on her chart when I was dropping it off, and I've been carrying around a load of (hopefully exaggerated) dread since then. We have an appointment for her this Friday, and in the meantime, we're trying not to google any more and sorting through the possible endings to this story in our imaginations. 
Last night in the car, Scott said "you know you always say that we can trust God, that God has a plan for us" and I thought to myself "Do I say that? It doesn't seem like something I would say..." 
Of course, I do believe we can trust God, and I do, but that plan thing. I'm not really comfortable with that. Maybe it's just my wonky sense of justice but, if God's plan is to bring a big lovey fuzzy beautiful dog into my life only to give her cancer or kidney failure only 8 months later, then... count me out! To me, that sounds like God's plan for me is to suffer. Not to mention His plan for Callie... I get that good things come out of bad situations, I do. But it would be hard for me to worship a God whose plan for anyone involves pain to make a point or teach a lesson. I've been in countless situations with Catholics who say "I know God had a reason for my sister to die from painful cancer at 25..." or some version of that, and it  does make me cringe. What kind of a jerk God does that? 
But I do believe that God is love. And I love that dog, and I love the love that she's brought into our lives, and it's love that impels me to make sure she is okay, as okay as she can be, and it's love that reminds me of her first owner, who died of cancer and had to say goodbye to that fluffy face. I'm thankful for the love that has come to us through her presence in our lives and willing to suffer for that love, I guess, if that's what's gotta happen, and I'm willing to hope for the best, even when Google tells me not to. 
For some reason, Love makes so much more sense to me than Plan, even though it's an infinitely less definable word. Meanwhile, if you're the kind of person who prays for dogs, keep Callie in yours please! And if you're not, pray for Scott and me! I'll keep you posted. 

THAT'S NOT MY JOBBBBBBB!!!

When I was in high school, I went to one of our Varsity soccer games, in nearby Bath. Soccer was big in our school- taking Football's place as our anchor sport in the Fall. I remember that this game happened on a warm and sunny Saturday morning, and the team we were playing against was very good.
At one point, the ball went out of bounds- way out. In fact, it went out of the boundaries of the field, and down a little slope toward the parking lot. The other team's high scorer was standing at that corner of the field and watched it go. Soon his team mates yelled at him to go get the ball.
He yelled back (in my memory, in some kind of southern accent? It's unlikely, but that's how it sounds in my head 30+ years later) "THAT'S NOT MY JOBBBB!!!" He said it a few times, as his teammates urged him to go get the ball so the game could start again. "That's not my job!! That is NOT MY JOB!"
That phrase, in that accent, has been an inside (my head) joke that still makes me laugh. Something about this team star, muscly athlete yelling "THAT'S NOT MY JOB!" just cracks me up. I can't even remember what happened, or who ended up going to get the damned thing so they could start up again.
I was thinking about it today because this week in one of our trainings, I asked the staff members there, representing all four of our parishes, to commit to being a welcomer at any Mass they attended. Before or after, when seeing someone who needs a seat, when noticing a newcomer- to be the person who says hello to everyone coming in their churches. Most of them raised their hands to commit but some didn't, and I could almost hear them whispering "that's noooottttt myyyyyy jobbbbbb." But of course it is their job, and my job, and yours- not because we all work at churches, but because we are baptized and urged to be disciples who make disciples.
When the pastoral poop hit the fan around here in the 90s and our churches were struggling even to take a deep breath while we tried to stay afloat in the churning waters of scandal, and we all came to the realization that change needed to come to this Church, I saw people walk away, yelling with their actions: "THAT'S NOT MY JOB!" But of course it was their job, and my job, and yours- not because we are trying to keep the Church alive, but because we are baptized and urged to be disciples who make disciples.
I hope that the next time you walk into a church, for whatever reason, that someone will smile at you. If you're late and looking for a seat, I hope that someone will beckon you over to their pew and slide over to give you room. And I hope together we can make the Church a welcoming place for everyone. I'm willing to do what I can to make that happen- after all, it's my job.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Life Before and After Death


Recently I heard (yet another) fascinating episode of RadioLab that has kept me thinking for a couple of weeks now. The episode, Black Box, featured a story about butterflies, and specifically the transition of caterpillar-to-butterfly. I am no scientist, and can’t really explain it well (and definitely not in the fascinating way RL does) but the part that stuck with me was that someone had written in to the scientist in the story saying that the findings on butterflies had answered a question he had about The Afterlife. He said he’d always wondered if, in heaven, he’d remember his previous life.

That came as a surprise to me. I’d never considered that a person in the next life would have no memory of their life now. I’ve never even questioned it- I have a rosy image of people in heaven (as the Church teaches) watching over us and praying for us. But what if? Would that be a bad thing, to be in a whole new consciousness? A living person doesn’t remember their time in the womb- but it doesn’t mean that the time spent there was worthless or negative in any way- on the contrary, I imagine gestation is an overall pleasant time for a baby- floating, sleeping, growing to the beat of the mother’s heart. For whatever reason, it’s not important for a person to remember their life-before-life. Is it important for us to remember our life-before-death?

Last night I served a vigil for hospice and as I watched my patient’s breaths grow ever shallower and shallower, I wondered what he was experiencing. Was he seeing a light? Was he being greeted by his loved ones? And, I wondered why he would hold on so strongly to this life- laboring to keep breathing, keep breathing, keep breathing.

I thought about how a youth group kid of mine had once told me that his religion teacher said that heaven is just staring at the face of God for eternity. He was upset by this description, asking “what if that’s not what I want to do??” But I remember Jesus saying in the Gospels that we have to love God more than our parents, our spouses… I remember Him saying that there is no marriage in heaven. Maybe this is true, transcendent faith- to only want to gaze on God’s face.

Still, last night, my patient breathed on for whatever reason, and as I crawled into bed I couldn’t help but think- what in heaven could be better than Scott’s toes touching my toes, a cat on my hip, a snoring dog nearby?

 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Non-Homily for Ash Wednesday

Today I led my first Ash-Wednesday prayer service at one of my new parishes, for a crowd of about a hundred people. They seemed surprised to see a lay female in the sanctuary but they rolled with it, and I got some really nice comments afterward. Here's the not-a-homily I gave:

Last year on Ash Wednesday, I was ready to roll. I was determined that that was going to be the Lent where I really did it right. I set my sights on three changes: I was going to cut back on carbohydrates, improve my posture, and stop playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.

I was actually excited for Lent to start! I wanted to make changes- to turn my life around. Cutting out carbs would be great for my health, cutting out Bejeweled Blitz would increase my productivity, and sitting up straight is a habit I never formed in my youth. This would be the year. I was going to dedicate my efforts to God and make every one of those 40 days count, and as a reward for my efforts I would wear a smaller dress and sit up straight at Mass on Easter Sunday.

Then, though, reality set in. My family went through a stressful time last Lent- my parents had entered that scary stage where they began to need more care than they can give, and the stress of that distracted me from my devotions.

So I pretty much abandoned my low-carb- deal; instead I was stress-eating Toblerone bars like they were vitamin pills. Ultimately, I abandoned that effort. That is, I would still try, every morning, to start again, but if it was too hard I would cut myself a break, and focus on the other two efforts. I did okay with cutting out Bejeweled Blitz… that turned out to be the easiest of the three efforts.

I was surprised to find that sitting up straight is actually a lot of hard work. I guess that’s why I’d never done it before. Not only is it awkward and not my usual comfortable position, but it takes a mindfulness that I had not expected. Not only did I have to sit up straight but I had to notice when I was slouching.
 
I tried not to give up on this effort, because I started, last year, to see these Lenten decisions in a whole new light. When researching about Lent in order to teach it to a parent group at my parish, I read something that said “giving up things for Lent is not a requirement. But the Church asks us to do something penitential during Lent.”

Somehow in my 40-some years of Catholicism, I had missed that detail! The changes I make during Lent are supposed to reflect not just my wanting to improve, or to get healthy, or even to demonstrate my devotion to God. They are meant to be signs that I am sorry for my sins.

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus reminding his new followers of this idea. He advises: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them… do not blow a trumpet before you… do not let your left hand know what your right is doing… do not look gloomy (when you fast)…”

He is reminding them, and us, that fasting and giving and praying are meant for a greater purpose than just to do something good or difficult, more than just having a list of things to check off or to work on. These are meant to be penitential, personal acts that bring our attention to our sinfulness.

In light of this, my physical slouching took on new meaning. Because, I realized how comfortable I have been in my sinfulness. That slouchy, thoughtless position that I slide back into, without even noticing sometimes- it’s similar to the state of my soul. It’s easier to be sinful than to be mindful. It’s easier to go on with my day, than to focus on God all the time.

So when I would catch myself slumping over, I tried to remind myself  that it’s not just my  physical posture that needs straightening up- it’s my spiritual posture.

Lent is more than a tune-up.  Lent is supposed to have a certain degree of gloom to it. On Ash Wednesday we step forward to join the ranks of the sorry. We wear a sign on our heads that shows the world (at the grocery store and the other parents picking their kids up at school) that we are aware of our sinfulness, and are sorry for it.

The author Parker Palmer says, “...there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck... But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created...”

All through Lent we do some degree of correcting ourselves for our imperfect postures. It would be so easy to just fast-forward over the mud and muck to Easter flowers…but that is not how we roll in the Catholic Church. We know that in order to have Easter, we must pass through Ash Wednesday, we must endure Good Friday. To experience the beauty, we must first face the ugliness- and to become holy, we must first face the ugliness that is within each of us.

So today we begin our journey together from a cold, dark Ash Wednesday through a plug-ugly muddy 40 days of Lent, toward a glorious and joyful Easter. Let’s pray each other through it. God bless you this Lent.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Week Three

Day 16, to be exact, and it seems that the days of crying all the way home are done. I mean, it may happen again at some point, but I feel less at sea, less homesick for my former parish, less in need of curling up against Scott for deep want of familiarity. Good things are starting to happen, and I'm meeting great people and starting to get my bearings. 
This week I went over to one of my parishes to attend the noon Mass. I got there about 5 minutes early, and found the chapel locked.  In the parking lot, a car (almost) full of older ladies in rain bonnets said "oh the priest is just late sometimes, get in our car, it's starting to rain!" I climbed in, and they all introduced themselves to me, saying "Oh I read about you in the bulletin!" Soon, I realized I had a key to the chapel and let us all in. Inside I met another older lady, and we all mused about who would have to say Mass if the priest didn't show up (he did, thankfully). 
At Mass that day, we were joined by a young mother and her two year old, who was wearing a St. Michael shield and new the last few words of every prayer of the Mass. They sat right in front of me, and he would whisper to his mom "what's he doing now, Mom? Is he gonna drink?" She taught him the word chalice and he used it: "Ohhhhh he touched the chalice!! Wow!!" The ladies (including me) were delighted by his presence. 
That afternoon, I had a full-on conversation with the spanish-speaking custodian at our rectory. Here it is, word for word: 
"Oh Margo! Como estas?" 
"Muy bien! Como estas?" 
"Bien!"
Pretty good for my first spanish conversation. Later that day, I downloaded this cool app (http://www.duolingo.com/) and I'm going to work on a few words a day. Unfortunately this app does not teach Polish, which would be really handy. Ah well, first things first. 
Today I spent the morning at one of my parishes meeting with the RE director there. She and her office mates were so gracious, generous, and warm, I felt so welcomed. I got a tour of the rectory (a HUGE old building, three floors and an attic! Huge!) and the school, also huge, which is used for religious ed now. They served me a deeeelicious lunch and invited me to move in. My former pastor (my first ministry boss!) is retired and living there, and it was wonderful to catch up with him. 
This afternoon, I met with my pastor and we traded some good feedback for each other. I'm feeling really hopeful about how we'll work together. I'm loving going to Mass during the week, and loving having appointments all over the city every day. The people are lovely, mostly, and the whole city seems poised on the edge of growth and depth. I think this is going to be good. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tender




Last Sunday I spent the day being "live waked" at my former parish- my last day there after 6 and a half years was spent hugging people, being given gifts, receiving good wishes, being blessed, and weeping. Over coffee and donuts, so many people came to say good bye and good luck to me as I left for a great new job in another town. Even my family showed up! It was an emotional and overwhelming day, and it was affirming that the work I'd done there had made a difference. 
This past Sunday was my first in the new job, where I'll be managing pastoral ministers and volunteers- a brand-new job in a brand-new collaborative of four historic churches. I'm excited about this job- the job description is one I'd have written myself, and supervising pastoral ministers is something I love to do. So far, the people have been lovely. And there are a taco place, a soup place AND a hot dog place (among many others!) within walking distance of my office. 
But change is hard, even good change, and after one full week I feel... tender. Hopeful, excited, proud- but homesick for my former parish and achy to not be working with Scott every day. Today he called to tell me that he misses me and I wanted to leap back in time and be in my comfy basement office where I know every nook and cranny of the church building, and everyone's name. First weeks are hard for everyone, and maybe especially so for introvert like m'self, and I've come home at the end of each (good, really! All good!) day exhausted and trying to resist the urge to crawl into bed (okay some nights, I haven't resisted. But to be fair, our landlord was having the living room painted so it was a mess... and there's an electric comforter on the bed! AN ELECTRIC COMFORTER! THOSE EXIST!!)
The other thing about this new job is that I'm working 9-5, like the regular folk do! I haven't worked 9-5 since I was a social worker, and I think it's going to be a different experience in a job I like, as opposed to... those days. I have a 12-or-so minute commute home and after a walk with Callie, I'm just... free. For hours. Time to cook dinner, do some chores, and... who knows what else? I think once it starts to get warmer and brighter, I'll be more productive. And, I think, once I get past the first week of crawly-to-bed-iness.
So how's it going at the new job? Great! And lonesome, and exciting and fun and sad. And thrilling! So, you know, so far so good. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

7 Quick Takes: New Year's Edition

Okay, it's Friday, right? Good. This week, between New Year's Eve and Day and the Snowstorm of the Year, I'm a little off-kilter. I was a little freaked out by all the work hours I was bumped out of by the snow, but it was also really nice to not be able to work. I have exactly 15 hours off between my old job that ends Sunday and my new job that starts Monday, and was wishing I could have grabbed a vacation day or two between, and BAM! 18 inches of snow later and I'm in my pajamas, snuggled up in bed watching a marathon of Dance Moms.  I still have work to do before I can call my current job done, so I'm going to sneak in tomorrow and crank it out without anyone knowing I'm there. Shhh. Now, on with my 7.
1)  I posted yet another cute picture of my dog on Facebook the other day and a friend said "you two are having so much fun!" and she is RIGHT. This dog is a dream, too old to get on the furniture (seriously, not even when you invite her- she makes a face like "pulleeease") and young enough to be peppy and fun. She loves the snow and hurls herself down to roll around in it.  She has been with us since early July and is really just now coming out of her shell with us- learning to look at us when we ask her to, and giving snuggles- when we first got her, she was kind of aloof. I really am having fun with this nearly-perfect and adorable dog.
2)  I have two new year's resolutions this year. First, I'm going to stop thinking so hard about what are the right socks to wear every day. I know this sounds weird, but I have lost precious minutes being paralyzed in front of my sock drawer in the morning, trying to remember the rules- are they supposed to match my shirt? Can I wear blue with brown? Pattern with a pattern? I don't know what's right, but I do know that giving this much energy to sock choices is wrong. So, I'm just going to pick some socks and go with it. I think it'll all work out.
3)  My other resolution is "use it or lose it-" which means, if I don't use it, I'm getting rid of it. Cleaning out my office has been a huge job, after 6 years of being at this parish. Some things were very easy to clean out, but some were tougher- a block of wood with affirmations scrawled on it from a retreat, a pillow signed by my last youth group, candle holders... so many candles. They were given in love from lovely people but do I really want to drag them to my new office? I look around my house and see SO MUCH STUFF. So much of it has a story or a meaning behind it, but it all just piles up. So I'm going to shed five things a day. So far it's been canned food (donating it), refrigerator magnets, and (ironically) socks. I know, I know, I'm threatening to shed over 1500 items but you know what? I can do it.
4)  www.conversiondiary.com, who hosts this blogging meme, is toying with the whole New Year's thing, and like her, I've gone "word for the year" instead of resolutions. I don't have a word yet for 2014, but she is asking what word would I retroactively assign to last year... and the word that pops into my mind is "CHANGE." This year so many changes came along that I did NOT see coming. They've been hard changes but I can see that they were important changes that moved me forward.
5)  I've been so concerned with leaving well, after having taken my current job from someone who left it a discombobulated mess. I'm probably over-doing the bow-tying, trying to make things perfect and easy for the person who's taking it from me, and I'm trying to strike a balance between making things good for her and trying to control how she takes it all on. I don't know what she knows and is expecting, and don't know what she's ready or not ready to do, but I do know that she'll have a GOF to lead a mere 4 days after starting, and I want that to be doable and go well for everyone involved. I don't want to undercut her, but don't want to leave her hanging.
6)  This week, while doing very little else, we've been bingeing on carbs. I know the tradition is to start one's diet on New Year's Day but I like to be a little renegade. Okay, that's not why we haven't started yet. It's more that we indulged in the spirit of these snow days, knowing that days of reckoning are coming. I don't regret one bite, except for the last bites of Chinese food I stuffed in my gullet tonight. I'm almost to the point of looking forward to getting my low-carb life back on track. It'll feel good to be healthy again. Whenever that happens.
7)  I am so excited for my new job, as much as I will miss my old job. I am in the curious position of having no vision for how it will go- I haven't seen my future office, don't know what my first days will entail... I wonder about how working in four parishes will be. Will they hand me a key ring on my first day with 24 keys on it? Should I be spending time in each building? Where should I be going to Mass? Where will I eat lunch every day? I can't wait to be on the other side of the wondering. I can't wait to get started.

Maybe with my new job and new schedule, I'll be able to blog more? Clear your schedules and set your bookmarks, people.  I have been reticent to blog for a couple of months while this new deal was being struck, but now I feel like I'll have a lot to tell. And I'll let you know if I get that word for 2014. LUNCH, maybe? KEYS? EXHAUSTION? NEW? Protein???