Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Samaritan Towel

Mama loved that towel. It sat in a place of glory along the back dash of her baby blue 61 Ford Fairlane and we were not allowed to touch it. Even on cool summer nights sitting in the back seat when she drove with all four windows down. We better not touch that beach towel.

It was all different shades of blue set in a mosaic pattern. Blue like her eyes and like her car. Her favorite color. For some reason, she thought it dressed up her car.

Mama was a waitress in a small, but popular diner in Spartanburg. In those days, waitresses wore starched white uniforms that made them look like nurses almost. Mama never left the house unless her uniform was bright and clean, her hair was all in place, and her make-up was immaculate. She looked like a million dollars when she left for work every day.

One day as she drove along Hwy 176, she was past Pacolet, and approaching Glendale when she noticed a figure lying on the opposite side of the road. People were passing him by and not stopping. Not being able to stop in time, she turned around and went back to see if he was ok. When she got there she realized why no one was stopping.

There was no blue on the man lying there. Only the brown of his chocolate colored skin and the red from the blood that had soaked through his clothes from the wounds. She knelt down and realized he was still alive. In a flash, she decided what to do. She ran to the car, grabbed the beloved towel and covered him with it. Telling him to hang on, she ran across the road to her cousin's roadside stand and called the police and ambulance. She called her boss and told her she'd be late. Then she went back to wait with the man. Her towel was no longer clean and blue, and her uniform no longer starched white.

Once the ambulance came, she turned back, went home changed clothes and went on back to work. As the months went by, she never worried about her towel anymore. We did wonder what happened to the man.

That could have been the end of this story, but it wasn't. A few months later, there was a knock at the back door. When I went to the door, there was a family standing there. The lady held a beautiful chocolate cake, and the man held a towel with all different shades of blue set in a mosaic pattern. The two kids looked scared to be there. I called for Mama to come.

The man started to thank her, and Mama stopped him short. "Our friends come to the front door," she said. When the man started to protest, she repeated her statement and closed the door. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the front door and there they stood. She invited them in, and made a pot of coffee for the adults to enjoy with their chocolate cake. The kids all had milk and cake.

I never knew the man's name. I never saw him again that I can remember. The only thing I remember is that my mama loved that towel, but not so much that she would not stop to help a stranger, no matter who he was.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My personal debt crisis

All this talk about the debt crisis got me to thinking: to whom do I owe a debt?

Of course, the first "person" to come to mind is God. Actually I owe a debt to the first, second and third person (of the Trinity). He has been so good to me. In addition to having parents, siblings, and an extended family who loved me, I ended up with a wonderful husband with whom I share the vocation of marriage, and two great kids. I am about to gain a lovely daughter-in-law that is a gift from God to our family. I have a network of loving friends who bring me joy every day. God has been so good to me. I owe him a debt of gratitude each and every hour of every day. Too many times we take the things He gives us for granted and we forget to thank Him for those things. We just end up taking them for granted.

The debt I owe that I find most important is the one I owe to Jesus. He gave Himself and gives Himself to me every day. He loves me enough to say, "Take and eat, LaJuan" even though I know in the bottom of my heart that I am certainly not worthy. Just in the last year have I fully began to realize the significance of the Eucharist and what it truly means to me. I guess it is better late than never. But that is how He rolls, isn't it? He loves us anyway, and gives Himself to us fully whether we appreciate it or not. I just love Him so, I cannot fully express it. But He knows my love is true.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The new missal changes or would you like some cheese with that whine?

This Advent, some changes are coming to the English speakers in the Catholic Church. We will begin using the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. In this edition, the English has been translated to be much closer to the original Latin, and we (and the celebrants) will be learning some new parts to the mass.

I will preface this by saying that I am no Catholic scholar or theologian. My understanding is that when they translated the Missal from Latin to the vernacular, we ended up with what I like to refer to as the "Kum by Yah" version. It's a wee bit soft, compared to the real translation. It's ok, but it's just not exactly right. I'm not saying that we have been saying something wrong, I just think we are going to be saying it better in relation to the Mother Tongue of the Church. So here we are saying things our way when the rest of the Church is saying it the right way? How is that Universal again?

I love the folks who like to complain about it. You know them. They are probably in your parish, among your friends, or even in your family. They are flapping their gums in Catholic Facebook groups and on blogs. They say things like, "This is not going to be easy," or "This doesn't make sense to me. Why do we have to go backwards?" (We're not going backwards, we're going back. Big difference.) They say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." (It is broke and they did fix it.)

How about those Irish Bishops who are just flatly refusing to comply. Really? So, when you guys went to Bishop School, you just missed the class on obedience? (Catechism 101, fellas). I'll just bet you expect your priests to be obedient to YOU, don't ya?

Then there are the folks who whine and ask, "Why do we have to learn something different?" Or, "I am comfortable with Mass the way it is. I don't like it." (You don't get a vote)

Hey, it's not like you are a member of the Church founded by Christ himself or anything. Oh yeah, and last week when you were at Mass, your priest (and mine) was in persona Christi and he offered you the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist.

Personally, I don't want to be "comfortable" at Mass. I want to jump for joy when I receive the Eucharist! I want to speak to the Lord using the same words as the rest of the Body. So, teach me 10,000 new words and I will learn them all gratefully.

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

And with your spirit.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The trouble with blogs and Justice for Caylee

When I started this blog, I had the idea that all I would write about was my experiences around losing my daughter and in the process, I would help grieving parents. I didn't think it was ok for me to write about anything else. I got to thinking about it long and hard, and mentioned it to my friend Matthew (a fellow Christian and Beatles fan), who also writes a blog. He reminded me that it was ok for me to write other things. Its a blog. I thought about what he said, and realized that no matter what I write about, I am still "wounded faithful" and still a grieving parent.
So I need to write as often as I can, and maybe some days I will just write about something else besides my experiences around losing Lauren. I think I can still achieve my goal yet exercise those writing muscles that have gone so long without being stretched.
What I wanted to talk about today is the Casey Anthony case. For me, and so many others, the death of that beautiful little girl at the hands of her mother, or someone else, is almost too much to take. The fact that the Anthony family waited 31 days to report the baby missing speaks volumes to me. The fact that the story of what happened to Caylee has changed several times speaks volumes to me, too. I think that all of the family is involved in this horrendous story in some way, and authorities should slap the cuffs on George, Cindy and Lee Anthony for, if nothing else, being accesories after the fact.
Here is what I think happened: I think probably Casey wanted to find a way to keep the baby quiet so she could do whatever it is that she does, and so she figured out how to make or buy cloroform so she could knock Caylee out and go out and have a good time. She overdosed Caylee (whether on purpose or accidentally is of no consequence to me) and then the family went into a panic. How do you explain that to the police, huh?
First she said the nanny took Caylee. Did Elizabeth Smart's parents wait 31 days to report Elizabeth missing? Then they said Caylee drowned accidentally? So you don't call 9-1-1 immediately to see if she can be revived? Wow, really? The Anthony family apparently thinks the people of the United States are as dumb and dysfunctional as they are.
The bottom line is this: this beautiful little girl is dead and deserves justice. Maybe Casey Anthony didn't mean to kill her, but I really believe she did it. I hope the forensics and everything else will prove that and she will be taken out of society. I am not advocating the death penalty, but I don't think she needs to live freely if she is guilty.
They suspended court on Saturday for a "legal matter" and who knows what that was? Let's see how this thing turns out.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

That empty feeling

One of the challenges I have found being a grieving parent is the profound emptiness I sometimes feel. My friend Mel put it best when she said, "We now all have a Lauren-shaped hole in our hearts that no one else can fill." I thought, "Yeah, that's right."

I mean I can be in a room full of people and still realize that empty feeling. I know Lauren is not there, whether I am with a room full of people I love, or a room full of people I barely know. I followed Ole Miss to back-to-back Cotton Bowls in 2009 and 2010 where there were literally thousands of people yet I felt that emptiness inside.

I struggle with this a lot. I wonder if the Lord understands my feeling of emptiness, when I am supposed to be filled up with Him. Is He angry at me for not recognizing that He is my all and for still feeling sad? I don't think so. I think He knows why I feel that way. I think He understands. He wept for his friend Lazarus like we weep for our lost loved ones. Yet, Christ raising Lazarus from the dead brings us the hope of resurrection and reconciliation with our loved ones.

The closest I come to complete fulfillment is during the Eucharistic celebration. At that moment of awe, I feel a sense of completeness that eludes me almost all the rest of the time. I am happiest at that moment, I think.

I will add one caveat to this post: In no way am I shortchanging the happiness I feel spending time with my husband, son and future daughter-in-law. I probably did not have to say that, but I will say it anyway. I love them with all my heart. But I loved Lauren too, and our separation is painful for me.

I know now that I can give this suffering to Jesus. He shares it with me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Give me your number

Lauren loved when the digital clock would read 2:22, 3:33 and so on. She said it was good luck. She would always tell me that. I really did not pay full attention. I just thought it was a kid’s thing. She’d say, “Oh, Mom! It’s good luck! Try to make a wish when it happens.”
After she died, it seemed to happen all the time. I would look at the clock and it would be 5:55. I would look at my computer clock at work and it would be 1:11. It was weird. I never told anyone about that. It just happened. My nephew (and godson) Christopher was born July of the same year Lauren died. He was in his mother’s womb when we lost Lauren. His mother is my husband’s only sister, so we are very close.
We went to visit them when Chris was an infant, and stricken with grief, we found joy in the little guy. Liz and I were talking when I began to share about the clock and how I would see the three matching numbers all the time. Liz’s eyes filled with tears. She had been experiencing the same thing. She said everytime she would feed Chris, she would glance at the clock, and it seemed to always be on matching numbers. After a good cry, I chalked it up to the same reason that I had seen so many butterflies that summer. It was the Holy Spirit and He was comforting us. It still happens to me, but not as often. Usually now I look at the clock and it always seems to be 11:29. That is her birthday. When those things happen, I stare at the clock until the time changes, always thinking of Lauren and remembering something about her. Maybe my body clock is programmed to glance at the clock at those opportune times, but I really do attribute it to God and his infinite power to comfort us in our times of need.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly

This past week and a half has been a roller coaster. Both emotional and physical. We left home to fly to Calif. for our niece's college graduation and visit with family. It was great to be there visiting, shopping and celebrating. Our niece is a beautiful young woman both inside and out. She has grown and matured in a way that makes us so proud. It is bittersweet for us- she really makes us wonder what Lauren would have been like on the cusp of her college graduation. I know that she would have become an accomplished young adult.

Mother's Day was particularly tough for me this year. Although the actual 7th anniversary of her death was not until Monday, May 9, that year it fell on Mother's Day. As someone I was talking to once reminded me, "Oh! If it doesn't fall on Mother's Day, you get to remember it twice." I stopped short of telling this insensitive person that I remember it EVERY day. Anyhow, I think it was being away from home, and our church that made it hard. The good part was I had my son with me. That made it all better. The three of us went to mass at a lovely church where they bought me a rose. The donation for the rose went to pro-life agencies in the area. That seemed appropriate in so many ways. A couple of my good friends told me that they had placed flowers on her grave for me. That touched my heart.

We came home on Monday and I spent a miserable day traveling as I had already gotten sick the night before. We got back into our routine and received some good news during the week. Our Northwest scholarship recipient has been named and she has a tie to our family. Her sister was in our son Aaron's class and her brother was in Lauren's class. I remember her being a little girl running around at the high school ball games as we worked the band's concession stand with her parents. It does me good to know her siblings will tell her about Lauren. The band directors at the high school also let me know that they are now giving a band award in her honor to a student who exemplifies her qualities. We were so honored to hear that! Also, the local Rotary Club gave the scholarship they named in her honor! Lots of people have been remembering our Lauren this week!

We were coming home to Mississippi for the weekend when a song came on the radio. It was "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys. It was one of the last songs she played for me as we were riding along in her car. It was as if someone had punched me right in the gut. I had to turn it down. As always, I was amazed that something that simple could throw me for a loop. It doesn't seem possible that after this much time has passed , a song or a photo or a trip to her room could just about do me in. I think it is to remind me to cling to my Saviour and to the ones I love the most. To take pleasure in the memories I hold of her in my heart. It jolts me into remembering that even though I am wounded, I am still faithful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I will remember you

I have said before that one of the grieving parent’s worst fears is that their child will be forgotten. I never knew that fear first hand until after Lauren died. That first week was overwhelming and surreal, yet somehow I knew I needed to do something to memorialize her. It was almost instinctive. We sat around my dining room table planning the funeral mass.  
As our beloved priest, Fr. Dermot, my friend John, who was minister of music at our church, and my husband and I began talking, I suddenly said, “I want to set up a band scholarship at Northwest Mississippi Community College for Lauren. I want it to be for a band student from her high school.”
The folks around that table understood my request. We are band people. Both of my children had been in band since 5th  grade. My son had gone to school at Northwest on a Fine Arts Scholarship for band. My husband and I were active band parents at their high school. We were both in our high school bands. I was in my junior college band. Band nerds, the lot of us.
 Our friend John, who is the band director at Northwest, immediately began to cry. His son is our godson. It seemed natural and right to me that this would be how we memorialized our daughter.
The response from the community, our friends and our family was tremendous. In a short amount of time, we had almost raised the $5,000 required for the endowment. Just before we reached the mark, a work colleague/friend of my husband’s sent a check for $5,000 from his office and the scholarship was endowed! Since that time, four students have attended Northwest using the interest earned on the endowment. It is a great feeling to know that we are helping students get their education, and they are remembering our Lauren every year! Meeting these young people and watching them perform with the Northwest band has been a blessing to us in so many ways.
So my advice to those parents who are grieving is to do something to memorialize your child. It won’t bring them back, but it will guarantee that they won’t be forgotten, and it might just make you feel better.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My summer of butterflies

Lauren loved this song by Deborah Cox called “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here.” She had the CD single and played it every time we were in the car together. First the slow ballad, then the dance mix.

One line said, “Knowing these tears I’ve cried, This lovely black butterfly must take a chance and spread my wings. Love can make you do some crazy things.” Almost every time, she would ask the same question. “Mama, have you ever seen a black butterfly?” I would say that I had seen them with blue and white tipped wings, but just rarely. Now, Lauren loved black. She always wanted to buy black shirts, pants, skirts, shoes, purses and anything else she could get her hands on. We almost had to force her to wear any other color. I think that is why she was mystified by the prospect of a black butterfly.

The week she died, it seemed as though hundreds of people came to our house to pay their respects, offer support, bring food and just grieve with us. I often think how hard it must have been to have to come and visit us, shell-shocked as we were.

We were walking someone out one of those horrible days, and this person happened to live nearby the place where her accident happened. They started to tell us about what had happened from their perspective that morning. It was something I did not care to hear, so I began to “tune it out.” I said a silent prayer, and just at that moment, I saw a black butterfly with blue-tipped wings come from the woods next door. It fluttered above our heads and lit right under Lauren’s window. My heart was so full, I began to smile and cry at the same time. I excused myself and went inside.

Thoroughly confused and amazed by what I had seen, I began to wonder if Lauren had sent the butterfly to comfort me. No one knew about the butterflies except Lauren and me. My husband came in and innocently asked, “Did you see that butterfly?” I began to cry again, of course. I told him about the butterfly and Lauren. He could not believe it.

Then I remembered: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. “ (John 14:16-18). In some translations, the word “Comforter” is used. I knew then that I was being comforted by my Lord.

That summer I saw what seemed like legions of black butterflies wherever I went.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

We are the walking wounded

Some people don’t like it when I talk about Lauren. Guess what? I don’t care. People talk about their children easily, so why shouldn’t I? It makes no difference to me that she is not physically here anymore. That almost seven years ago she went home to be with the Lord. It doesn’t matter to me. I had her for 18 wonderful years here and will spend the rest of eternity with her one day. This is only a temporary separation.

On May 9, 2004, I joined the club that nobody wants to belong to. The club of parents who have lost children through no fault of their own. I clarify that, because there are evil people out there who have lost children through their own fault or wrongdoing. They do not belong in our club. They are not welcome.

There are all kinds of people in this club - it knows no color, no income level, no gender, no religion. John Travolta and Eric Clapton are in this club. Lou Costello was in this club. Millions of famous and non-famous people have been and are in this club. I would not wish it on my worst enemy if I had one. It is a horrible place to be. I really feel sorry for the ones who have no faith, no hope. The ones who don’t know what I know - This is only a temporary separation.

For those of you who are NOT in this club - there are a few things you need to know. The grieving parent’s worst nightmare is that their child will be forgotten. That no one will remember his or her name, their talents, their accomplishments, their personalities, their being. So when we talk about our children, it is because it is important to us.

I understand why it makes you nervous. It makes you think about your worst fear- that you could be the next member of this club. You worry about your own child. That is a valid fear for any parent. I understand how you feel. It is an awful place to be - a nightmare that never goes away.

I have said that the stigma of losing a child is like having a ball and chain around your ankle all the time - some days it is pretty light and easy to carry, and other days it is so heavy you have to drag it along... But it is ALWAYS there. It never goes away. We are the “Walking Wounded” and we drag our ball and chain everywhere we go.

Don’t ignore us when we try to talk about our child- listen to us and respect that we need to share. Remember that child is as real to us as your child who lives at home with you, or who comes home from college, or who is married and bringing you grandchildren.

We are sorry that you lost your 98-year old grandmother- we sympathize. But it is not the same thing. Not at all.

Why did He take her? I don’t know. How did it happen? I am not sure. When I do know the answers to those questions - I will be with her, and I will not care.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

She's No Angel

“Heaven needed another angel.” I don’t know how many times I heard that in the weeks following Lauren’s death. My first thought was, “Well, why did they have to pick my kid?” That was my raw response - the one coming from pain. But I smiled on the outside, thanking them for their kind words and moved on.

The truth is, Lauren is not an angel. She never will be. She is Lauren, the child I carried in my womb for nine months.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that angels are “A spiritual, personal, and immortal creature, with intelligence and free will, who glorifies God without ceasing and who serves God as a messenger of his saving plan. (329-331).

In a recent edition of the magazine “Our Sunday Visitor” Fr. Reginald Martin explains, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes several paragraphs to a discussion of angels. The text notes an important essay by St. Augustine, in which he remarks that the word “angel” describes a ministry or office, not a nature. “If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit,’ from what they do, ‘angel’” (No. 329).

Genesis does not mention angels among the works of creation, so theologians have long pondered the question of their creation. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that only God is uncreated, and cites Psalm 148 to prove God as the angels’ creator, “Praise him, all his angels…he commanded and they were created” (vv. 2-5). He adds, only God is eternal, so angels did not always exist.

St. Jerome and others believed God created angels before the physical universe. Aquinas admits this possibility, but argues that because angels are part of creation — not a universe in themselves — God probably created them when he made the heavens and earth, “because the mutual relationship of creatures makes up the good of the universe [and] no part is perfect if it is separate from the whole.”

What is our fascination with angels? How did we get the idea that when we die, we become angels? There are countless television shows and movies that illustrate this idea, probably the most famous of which is the beautiful story of Clarence, the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” who works hard to earn his wings by helping George Bailey recognize that his is a life of worth.

According to I Believe in Angels.com, “Perhaps the confusion exists because angels appeared throughout the Bible in human form and were often mistaken for men. In fact in the letter to the Hebrew Christians the writer states that many entertain angels unaware that they are doing so. Another reason the confusion might exist is Jesus' own teachings. He said in Matthew 22:30, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." And in Mark 12:25, "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." People who believe we become angels after death refer to these scriptures but they are taking the passages out of context. Jesus is not talking about the nature of angels; rather he is dealing with the subject of marriage.”

I know that people were only trying to make me feel better and I really did appreciate all of their kind words of support and consolation, but I would like to remember Lauren as the beautiful daughter I raised, not a winged creature. I believe that she will know me and the moment I see her, she and I will be reunited forever. Together we will spend eternity in the light of His love.