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How best do we spend our moments?
A few years ago, we were on our way to church in Lubbock, a few blocks east of the Texas Tech campus. For whatever reason I cannot remember, we were running late, and as we approached one of the side streets down which we would drive to the church, we noticed that the line to get to that street from the left turn lane was backed up. Later it became obvious that the 12-14 car snag was due to a non-working turn signal. Drivers inched their cars across University Blvd. one, maybe two at a time. It seemed to be taking an eternity.
I grumbled and whined to myself and to Karen. Our son, in the car ahead of us with his girlfriend, didn’t hear my displeasure at his decision to take this route. Thank goodness.
Somehow, we made it to the church during the opening procession.
We searched the mostly-full sanctuary. Finding a place to sit is not easy in a college town. Thankfully.
We finally eyeballed a pew for four, and we settled in just in time for the opening prayer. A two-year-old girl in front of us began to cough and sneeze, blowing her germs on us like a mini sprinkler. We watched as something differently colored dribbled and bubbled from her nose.
And I grumbled some more while looking for a safer more hygienic place to worship. I wondered how long it would be before we would come down with whatever she was spreading.
The preacher rose to deliver his homily. He opened with a couple of gentle, corny jokes about the prior weekend’s Super Bowl and then
began in earnest. He quoted not from Scripture to open, but from the song “Everybody Hurts” by REM, a band once wildly popular among the college set, and for the song, “Losing My Religion.”
“As many of you know,” he continued, “I have been dealing with cancer which has, thankfully, been in remission.”
My attention was sufficiently grabbed. Slowly, the sick child and the defective turn light began stepped out of my periphery. I have always been a sucker for a good rebound story and messages about making one’s way back amid the worst of circumstances.
And then came the bombshell.
“This week,” he said, “the doctor told me that my cancer is back. It is in my lungs and in my brain.” I was struck not only by the man’s words and the honesty in his voice but by his countenance as he made his announcement. Since that day, I’ve been searching for the word that would best fit him as he delivered his news — “My cancer is back and it is in my lungs and my brain.”
Courageous. Fearless. Perhaps those two sum it up better than most others.
There was not a trace of distress in his appearance; no alarm in his eyes, no crack in his voice or waver in his delivery. His message
conveyed one of the bravest walks of faith I have heard. The man had accepted what lie ahead and it was clear that he would meet head on whatever the future brings, with the help of his faith and his Lord.
Certainly the other between-the-lines message that came through was to enjoy every moment. You know not the hour or the day ... A couple of weeks after the homily we heard in Lubbock, an unrelated post popped up on my church’s Facebook page. It asked for urgent prayers. There was a clear note of desperation.
The message was posted late the morning of Friday, February 13. It was written by a young woman whose husband had taken a
turn for the worse in a brief illness he had been fighting for the last several days.
The parish community quickly rallied around him and his family with prayers and visits, but by 7:30 that night, a man who had been a friend to scores in many different walks of life in Midland and elsewhere, was dead. He was a good, good man. A newlywed. A doting father. Thirty-two years old. He left a 9-yearold daughter from a previous marriage, a three-month-old son and a 26-year-old widow. The news of his passing was devastating to the community.
But his passing is not for naught. He taught while he was here. He spread a message of joy, of faith, of family and of love. In his death, he taught us one other thing. Like the preacher in Lubbock, the message of loving others every possible moment you have, of never taking one more day as if you have ten-thousand more is a message we should never forget.
Too often, our lives return to status quo before we even return to our work or our homes -- even after a friend’s funeral. News like the return of cancer to a total stranger and the reality of the death of a friend should make us all look at life with more respect — and not just during the time we mourn at a funeral. I am embarrassed for my impatience while driving to Mass that day in Lubbock, and for growing irritated at a sick, innocent child. I have yet to discover why sweating the small stuff is so easy. What am I missing? Am I so surface that it takes death or illness to show me the way? If so, I owe apologies to the deacon and to my friend.
I once listened to a TedTalk about happiness. In it, the presenter said that the best gifts God gives us are moments. If we have a bad moment, we’ll always have another one waiting just behind the present one. Moments, the speaker said, are free, and always there for us to make the most of.
Until one day they aren't.
How should we best spend the moments that remain? I know a cancer-stricken preacher who knows. And I had a wise young friend who made beautiful his every moment.
Lord, show me the way before it’s too late.
Karen and I were recently blessed to have our daughter and grand-daughter stay with us for an extended time. Having a 23-month old in the house
for a long time is like trying to quell a tornado and turn it into a nice sunny day.
There are no tools for a human to perform such a feat and even if there were, it would be altering God’s plan that calls for children to be children.
Which can make for long days, short nights, tired bones and shaky psyches at day’s end. It’shard to explain what motivates our grand-daughter (outside of her
unending insatiable knowledge for whatever is in front of her at a particular moment). In spite of the adjustments to the daily empty nest routine that Karen and I have grown quite comfortable with, thank you, we ended up being just fine with the temporary changes in our life during their visit.
A couple of evenings after our grand-daughter had gone to bed, Karen, our daughter and I stayed up and talked about family memories, namely, my mom and dad, and Karen’s mom and dad, and their impact on us and on our kids.
We talked about my mom a lot, and her serious devotion to loved ones. She made a life out of her love of family, and it is obvious that what she lived she also handed down. My dad has clearly been a driving force in our children’s memories and lives in so many ways.
Our daughter will no doubt hand down what they have been taught by not only their parents, but by their grandparents. And that puts a smile on my face.
When our kids were young and would spend time during their summers at my mom and dad’s in Irving, in the house where I grew up, my dad would sometimes sneak out of the family room unnoticed. Moments later, the kids would hear what sounded like a train whistle. Without fail, the kids looked in all directions, wondering why they heard a train in the house. It mystified them, and delighted their mom and me, and no doubt their grandparents, for years.
Late last year, when our daughter and her family visited us in Midland, she gave me a gift unexpectedly. I opened it and inside found the same kind of train whistle that my dad had when our kids were young.
Later that evening I excused myself, went into my office undetected, and blew the whistle. What a wonderful sound it made. Reports from the living room indicated the mystification gene had been successfully passed from our daughter to our daughter’s daughter. Our grand-daughter will of course figure it all out one day, but for now, the look on her face will be a memory that won’t soon fade.
With her gift of that balsa wood train whistle, our family has what now amounts to a three-generation tradition. Our daughter’s simple gesture, filled with love, really amounts to something so much more: something has been handed down.
In his provocative book, “The Benedict Option,” author Rod Dreher writes, “All it takes is the failure of a single generation to hand down a tradition for that tradition to disappear from the life of a family.”
Keeping positive, Christian traditions alive keeps families alive. For the sake of the future of the family, such a practice cannot be overemphasized.
I know someone who doesn’t make resolutions, believing firmly that doing so sets a person up to fail. I certainly understand. Studies have shown most New Year’s Day promises don’t last long. People often enter with the right attitude but just as often reality sneaks back into the picture before January is even over. With Ash Wednesday and Lent often within 6-8 weeks of each other, we tell ourselves, if my New Year’s resolution fails … there’s always that second chance to “give something up” for Lent.
Resolving to make ourselves better people should be ongoing, occurring more than just at benchmark calendar dates.
Maybe you're just coming out of a spiritual journey or retreat. Or maybe you’re picking this up on New Year’s Day. Many of us like new beginnings. They can often give us a chance to make our lives new and to draw closer to Christ.
Blessed John Henry Newman was known for his brilliance as an educator.
A prayer attributed to Newman works really well as a list of New Year’s resolutions and may make you think about setting yourself up to succeed when it it’s time to begin your life anew:
Teach me, my Lord, to be sweet and gentle in all the events of life -- in disappointments, in the thoughtlessness of others, in the insincerity of those whom I trusted, in the unfaithfulness of those on whom I relied.
Let me put myself aside to think of the happiness of others, to hide my little pains and heartaches, so that I may be the only one to suffer from them.
Teach me to profit by the suffering that comes across my path. Let me so use it that it may mellow me, not harden and embitter me; that it may make me patient, not irritable; that it may make me broad in my forgiveness, not haughty and overbearing.
May no one be less good for having come within my influence, no one less pure, less kind, less noble for having been a fellow traveler in our journey toward Eternal Life.
As I go my rounds from one distraction to another, let me whisper from time to time a word of love to Thee.
May my life be spent in the supernatural full of power for good, strong in its purpose of sanctity.
Some people like their resolutions in list form. Here's a good list to go by to ensure your upcoomiing year has a chance of being as good as or better than your last year:
Finish your meals
Make time for others
Choose the ‘more humble’ purchase
Meet the poor ‘in the flesh’
Stop judging others
Befriend those who disagree
Make commitments, such as marriage
Make it a habit to ‘ask the Lord’
-- Jorge Bergoglio