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Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Four years ago we lost Mary Gehr, lover and giver of life. I was blessed to have her as a mother-in-law. My husband, Joe, said in her eulogy, “We were taught the meaning of selflessness, caring, patience and compassion for humankind. We were taught to see people for who they were, not for who the world tells us they are.

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My mother’s arms were always open and welcoming to anyone, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from or what you wanted, for my mom, it was about what she could do to help…Whenever you saw Mary, you would see a big smile on her face. It never mattered what kind of mood she was in; she was always happy to see you. If you didn’t want a hug, you were going to get one anyway.

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Sometimes I think she should have gone into politics. I think if she was the Secretary of State, a lot of countries would end their conflicts and hug each other instead. If you only met Mary for a few minutes, she would make an impression on you that would last a lifetime. Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?”

Mary Gehr, my mother-in-law, was a lover of life and laughing, parties and planning them.  She loved going to Las Vegas, playing video poker, Bridge, and Words with Friends. She loved Budweiser, murder mysteries, giving hugs, eating great food, cooking for others, Thanksgiving Day, and being with family.

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Mary Gehr was a strong woman, an amazing mother, the rock of her family, a giver of life, the epitome of hospitality,  a peacekeeper, devoted wife, and bad-ass grandma.  She was spirited, full of joy, selfless, generous beyond measure, supportive, spontaneous, positive and funny. She welcomed everyone as family, would talk to anyone, was so darn lucky in video poker and keno and never worried about what others thought of her. She had dimples and a smile that lit up every room she entered.

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Mary made friends wherever she went. Here, she’s getting to know some bikers in a restroom line at Branched Oak restaurant.

We never know how long we have, life can change or end in a minute, but Mary Gehr was just as shocked as her friends and family that life took a turn for her on July 24, 2015, the day before her 78th birthday and the day of our daughter, Jessica’s 21st birthday. The last words she said before having surgery to repair a perforated colon were, “I don’t want to die on Jessica’s birthday. I don’t want to die on my birthday.” She didn’t.  The few weeks she was kept alive on life support, she couldn’t talk, but she could nod her head and she could smile. When my husband asked Mary if she wanted to keep fighting, she nodded yes. She gave the fight of her life to stay with us. 

Mary had just started to live a new life of independence, finding her voice and making her own choices. It’s not that she didn’t have that with her husband, Marv, but she came into her own in a different sort of way after Marv passed. She was just as happy, even though she was sad. She was just as strong, even though she was lonely. She loved being around people, even though she could be alone. She got to know herself better and we got to know her in just a Mary-way, without Marv. She was a feisty lady and so proud of the name “bad-ass grandma” she earned from Jessica. 217477_10201067686839796_754692611_n

Jessica’s birthday party was Grandma’s idea. She loves a party–loves to host, loves to go, loves to have fun. But instead, she is lying in a hospital bed getting life support from a ventilator. After an eight-week stay alternating between the hospital and rehabilitation center, Mary’s colon perforated, poisoning her from the inside. Without emergency surgery, she would have died within hours. But surgery to remove most of her colon and repair damages left her weakened even more than before, fighting infections, kidney impairment, and many other critical issues.  Because Grandma Gehr loves to have fun, we went forward with the birthday party…and we had a blast. Our friends and family are so supportive, praying for Mary’s recovery but also celebrating with Jessica. *Written the weekend after Mary’s surgery and Jessica’s party.

Mary lived long enough to smile again, to hold a hand, to hear our good-byes. Mary died on August 10, 2015.IMG_8620

My husband, Joe, summed up his mom’s zest for life in her eulogy: “One of our good friends offered sympathy at Marv’s funeral, gave Mary a hug and said, “You will be with Marv again.” Mary’s response: “I hope not too soon!” Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she took what life gave her and began to live every day like it was her last. She had so much fun and joy these last couple of years. Of course, she missed my dad, we all have. I think she cried a tear every day for him and every conversation we had, we talked about him in some way.”

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Yes, indeed, the world could use a lot more Marys, but we were pretty darn happy to have had our Mary. She was a one-of-a-kind-lover-of-life and it is with great joy we remember her today and always.

 

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Flood the World with Love: An Antidote to Darkness

Flood the world with love. These words came to me this morning after I woke up anxious and fearful. I had a disturbing dream, but it was more about what is happening in this country— a foreboding sense of hopelessness for the future, so much political tension, blatant racism and xenophobia, and strained relationships with, even aggressiveness from, those who don’t see what is so very wrong with the words and actions coming from the White House.

Flood the world with love. I remembered that several months ago I had written a blog post titled, Flood The World With Love, but I didn’t remember exactly what I had written, or why. As I read it again, I realized that my own words had come at just the moment I needed them.

Flood the world with love. Inspired by the lyrics of a Carrie Newcomer song, what I wrote gave me enough light to start my day with the hope that if I just flood the world with love, I am doing something.

Flood the world with love. I had written about practicing lectio divina with both song (“I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer, and spiritual teacher) and scripture.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
Those are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

(Carrie Newcomer, The Gathering of Spirits, 2001)

My heart is heavy with the darkness of the world, of “the evil people do” in the name of our own opinion, religion, political party, racial or economic privilege. Our collective anxiety, fear, anger, and hostility have led to so much division and violence—in our spirits and in relationships. We must

Flood the world with love.

The words are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must

Flood the world with love.

With so much darkness, “the best of what we all can be” is to

Flood the world with love.

 I want to “fiercely love,” to build others up, to “treat each other tenderly,” to ease another’s suffering, to remind others of their divine spark, to err on the side of compassion, to

Flood the world with love.

I want to be a light in this world. We are creators, too—with our thoughts, actions, and energy. We can either live in love or live in fear. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

Flood the world with love.

St. Benedict instructs, “Let peace be your quest and aim.” (RB, Prologue 18) We cannot accept hate as the new normal. It can feel overwhelming at times—“I am only one person,” but we must, at least, try. We must “light every candle” that we can. We must

Flood the world with love.

The only word is “Courage”/ And the only answer “Love.” I pray for the courage to bring more light and less darkness in the world. And as I wait for the ultimate display of love that “The arms of God will gather in / Every sparrow that falls / And makes no separation / Just fiercely loves us all”, I choose, in all my imperfection, to 

Flood the world with love.

Read the original post in its entirety HERE.
And if you haven’t listened to I Heard an Owl, you must.

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Missionary Benedictines of Tutzing, chapel artwork, “The Living Water” 

St. Scholastica: A Woman of Great Love

“From the little known of Scholastica, it is clear that she was a strong woman who was deeply devoted to her religious life. She is celebrated by Benedictine women’s religious communities around the world as a woman who could “do more because she loved more” (Gregory the Great). She was a witness to the truth that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:7-8).”-Benedictine Sisters of Erie

In celebration of St. Scholastica’s Feast Day, February 10, I share an edited previous post about St. Scholastica, St. Benedict and the value of spiritual friendships.

I received the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was nine years old. It took many months of catechism class to prepare to receive the sacrament of Holy Confirmation in the Catholic Church. There were dozens of questions about doctrine and faith to study, like:

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward sign made by Christ to give grace.
What is grace? Grace is any gift from God.
How many persons are there in God? There are three Persons in God. Continue reading “St. Scholastica: A Woman of Great Love”

In Praise of Words and Less Words

Sometimes I just don’t know when to shut up. Words, words, and more words.

I love words—to write them and to read them. I have been considering how I use words after reading The Power of Words by Joe Kay at Living Gracefully. It ­shined a light on the word wars often waged in my head, in conversation, in writing—either on social media or my personal journaling.

In some ways, I give words too much power. I think if I keep talking I might find just the right words to communicate my point better. Maybe my words weren’t effective, or they weren’t heard the way I intended, or my words were rejected—so I try again with more words, thinking “this time” I will be understood or be able to help another understand. Maybe “this time” we will come to an agreement or reach a hoped-for reconciliation.

But words do have power, Kay writes “Martin Luther King, Jr., understood the power of words. He spoke so beautifully and prophetically about his dream of a world in which everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.

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Words have the power to inspire us, touch us, and transform us for better or worse, depending upon which words we choose to allow inside of us. They can bring us more peace, love and justice, or they can increase our levels of division, fear and hatred. In the last few months, we’ve been reminded how easy it is to get sucked into the pool of hateful words. Continue reading “In Praise of Words and Less Words”

Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love. Continue reading “Flood the World with Love”

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?­
Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
Or drivin’ on some cold interstate?

We remember when the world stopped turning because, for most of us, it felt as if it did. Time stood still. We remember where we were, who we were with, and how we felt. And, since then, we feel compelled to share our experience with others. I don’t think it’s about reliving tragedy, working through stages of grief or some kind of talk therapy, I think it’s more about remembering the connectedness we felt with the people we were with. We felt something together, a soul experience that goes beyond words—perhaps fear and despair, likely sadness and shock, but also a collective yearning for faith, hope, and love.

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Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
As a high school teacher, I sometimes forget that my students are really children, but there was never a day when I felt that more than September 11, 2001. Together, we witnessed the second hijacked airplane fly into the World Trade Center, watching both buildings crumble to the ground. The day the world stopped turning, I was profoundly aware that I was the adult and responsible for the children in my classroom. I felt an obligation to hold it together, to remain calm, to comfort, to help them process difficult feelings and to find a reflective, intelligent way to answer their questions with as much of a knowing “I don’t know” that I could muster. Continue reading “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?”

Foolish Fears of The Night Before The First Day of School

It’s the night before the first day of school and it is debatable who might be more nervous—my freshman students beginning their high school experience tomorrow or me, a 21-year veteran teacher.

I love starting a school year for lots of reasons—“Every day is an opportunity to embrace “newness”—new technology, new family and social dynamics, new attitudes, new behaviors, new teaching strategies, new curriculum. I am a teacher with experience, and yet I still have so much to learn. I dance between both realms.” (excerpt from “Why I Teach”)

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SoulCollage® card: My vision of what teaching would be like, in my idealistic naiveté, is represented by the black and white, old-fashioned image—students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn; happy, compliant, and respectful, mesmerized by every word I said.
The reality is that teaching is a more “colorful” role than I had expected.

It’s the “so much to learn” part that makes me anxious. Each school year, there is the nervousness that goes with meeting new students. But this school year, I move into a new classroom with brand-spanking new computers to teach a new Digital Design class. I will need to learn Adobe software programs throughout the semester, often just a day or two before I teach my students. I am also cooperating with a new student teacher as she begins a career in education.

“Embracing newness” feels a little scary right now and, truth be told, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to answer student questions, that there will be problems I cannot solve, that I won’t be knowledgeable enough, that I won’t look and feel like a good teacher. Continue reading “Foolish Fears of The Night Before The First Day of School”

Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow

May 2018 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Community

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“Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.” (RB:72)

Learning to live well in community is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality and the topic of Chapter 72 in the Rule of St. Benedict.  “A person living in solitary retirement will not readily discern his own defects, since he has no one to admonish and correct him with mildness and compassion.” (Beil, Study Guide) Continue reading “Living in Community: Where we are is Where we grow”

2018 Word of the Year….drumroll, please

You know how spiritual gurus encourage you to pick a word of the year, something profound and inspirational to help you navigate a new year? Well, I found mine the other day. I had contemplated some lofty sounding words, but I don’t even remember them now because when this word fell on me, I knew it was the one.

My word for the year is going to be cushion.

When I have a lot of activity then I need to cushion it with some non-activity, some silence and solitude. When I have a lot of sitting, I need to cushion it with more standing and walking around (this I’ve learned from my back injury.) I love the “vorfreude”, the anticipation of travel, but my adventures need to be cushioned with the feeling of contentment when arriving home, sweet home. And the times when I think I can pour just a bit more information into my brain by reading one more article or one more chapter, I shall give myself a cushion, the needed space for new thoughts and ideas to bubble up. Continue reading “2018 Word of the Year….drumroll, please”

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