Raising Canes

Use the gifts you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. –St. Therese of Lisieux

Marvin Dykhuizen

Uncle Marv is 99 years old. He likes to walk to breakfast from his modest home on Tulip Ln, on the north side of my hometown. He’s WWII veteran and remarkably sharp, despite his age. The problem with Uncle Marv is that he’s mostly lost his eyesight and his hearing isn’t good. He’s remarkably spry, and has always been fit. Unfortunately, the daily walk to breakfast entails crossing the fairly busy Elmood Avenue on the northside of Lafayette. My great uncle is a true Dykhuizen, meaning he’s a talker. He still calls my 75 year old Dad, “Jimmy” and it makes me laugh.

Dad quizzed Uncle Marv about his daily walk, mostly with safety concerns for our family patriarch. The answer he got makes me giggle and shake my head.

“Well, Jimmy, I say a little prayer to the Lord for my safety before I leave the house,” he shared. “Then, when I get to Elmwood, I look both ways, and if I don’t see headlights, then I raise both my canes in the air and start waving them like crazy and I step out into the street and just hope for the best. When I get to the other side, I say a prayer of Thanksgiving that I made it safely.”

My first instinct upon hearing this story is to giggle. I mean, I can just picture the cars slamming on their brakes hoping to not be the person that runs over the crazy, old, blind guy with the canes. Perhaps family members should intercede? Then again, the man has survived the Great Depression, served his country in WWII, raised a family, had an enduring marriage, and is mentally astute and prayerful at the age of 99!! Who the heck are we to tell him what to do, ha?!!

Trusting in providence is Uncle Marv’s street crossing strategy. My guess is it’s the same simple, but strong faith in the Lord that helped him survive a century of mayhem that you and I can only begin to fathom– and with his good humor in tact.

I’m a BIG fan of the early Christmas card. You see, if I send one first, most folks will tend to include us in their own mailing when they get around to it. It’s a joyful thing when my mailbox starts to fill up with all those adorable family photos and clever letters. I mail one to Uncle Marv right after Thanksgiving every year. He always calls me shortly after it arrives to give me his “oral” Christmas greeting and asks about the boys and Tom. It’s a 30 minute piece of sunshine in my year for which I can rely. It’s a call that seeks nothing and it brings something reliably bright.

These tiny little sparks in our lives are really not small at all, I’ve decided. So today, inspired by Uncle Marv, I suppose I just want to acknowledge my gratefulness to the Lord for all the people who bring something bright. Your small acts make me believe in goodness. In 2020, I’m all about every single act which confounds the toxicity, brings love, and spreads a little holiness.

Just for fun, I’d like to name a few of the things that have made me smile lately.

  1. My normally tidy husband had a series of food mishaps this week, soiling four t-shirts in 2 days. The spills got to be so ridiculous that he presented himself shirtless on the back porch after the last episode and declared open season on the stain stick. Instead of choosing anger, Tom went with laughter, and the self-deprecating humor gave us all a big belly laugh. #TakeThat2020
  2. My parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, inspired by the citizens of our pastor’s hometown of Pendleton, has posted hopeful signs along 146th St and Oak Ridge Road. “You are not alone”, “You are Enough”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You”, and “You are Worthy of Love”….among others. #TakeThat2020
  3. A particularly holy young man, John Tiplick, was playing a recent tennis match as my son’s doubles partner. After a couple of errant shots, a coach I adore raised his voice in John’s direction asking him “What in the world are you doing, John!!?” John turned to his coach with a very earnest smile and replied, “Playing tennis, Coach!” Anger instantly diffused. #TakeThat2020
  4. Covid snatched from us many events of the year, including Zach’s confirmation mass. The parish responded by holding a very small alternate mass for Z and another young person in similar circumstances. Two children were confirmed, two families were present. Do you know who else was there? Our pastor, a brand new deacon, the music director, two additional musicians…and a parish staff member who had actually retired the previous week. All those folks were there loving up these two teenagers. This particular momma was nearly moved to tears by the extraordinary kindness. #TakeThat2020
  5. A kind local tennis guru took a few minutes he didn’t have to teach me how to wrap a tennis racquet with overgrip today. Nice matters. #TakeThat2020
  6. Laine Schwegman climbed on my couch to re-take and “fix” a “chubby” photo of me with her mother, Renee. She’s a talented, very good human and being around her makes me have great hope for the future. #TakeThat2020
  7. Nick Fred texted me “I love you Mom.” #TakeThat2020
  8. Coach Chris Sciaudone of Guerin Catholic Boys Tennis has somehow kept the ball bouncing in nearly impossible circumstances this tennis season. The young men whose season (and mental health) he has saved will always remember his hard work, compassion, and incredible example of strength in adversity. So will their parents. #TakeThat2020
  9. Kristy Murphy shared her volleyball ticket with me at Covenant Christian High School last weekend. This made it possible for me to use an actual bathroom (and not the port-a-potty designated for tennis families) during the boys tennis tourney being held at the same location. I am a princess who likes indoor plumbing and sinks to wash my hands. It wasn’t a small matter to me. #TakeThat2020
  10. Todd Metzger went out of his way (and fronted the cash) to get Z’s only tennis racquet re-strung in record time so that he would have it for the GC tennis match this weekend. He didn’t have to, it was pure and altruistic act. #TakeThat2020
Hopeful messages on 146th St.

To those who make my life and those around me even an itsy-bitsy little amount better, THANK YOU. That thing which felt insignificant to you? It wasn’t miniscule at all. When it’s dark out like it has been during 2020, those who journey alongside? YOU MATTER.

My handsome, messy husband and I BEFORE the chocolate attacked his t-shirt!

A lot of people are struggling right now. I’ve had my days for sure. You guys…? Let’s take Uncle Marv’s lead. I say we raise our canes too, trust in Providence and let the Lord handle the hard stuff. After that, we’ll ask for the grace to do our little part. Even if all we can do is be present for someone, it’s a beautiful gift. Make the call. Donate your time. Write the note. Buy the cup of coffee. Send the text. GET BUSY DOING GOOD. It’s much more contagious than COVID-19!

P.S. I really WANTED to run this with the shirtless photo of my husband. But, I want to remain married a little more, ha?

If you’re experiencing stress or tension give it to Jesus. Tell Him, ‘I feel like crawling the wall, but I love You and I want to give this to You.’ Do you think our Lord wasn’t tense living with those twelve screwball apostles?” –Mother Angelica

Five Syllable Phrase

“Let us love, since that is all our hearts were made for.” –St. Therese of Lisieux

Mom and I on a recent trip to Michigan.

Disparaging people I adore is an action I try to avoid in general, but especially in writing. Therefore, it’s with some amount of trepidation that I submit to you a summary of some of the highlights of my last few days. However, I deeply value authenticity, and perhaps a little messiness keeps it real. Actually, I pretty much think that being invited into the weird, vulnerable and rusty parts by someone else is the greatest gift that friendship and family has to offer. I humbly submit to you, therefore, some of the unpolished moments of the last few days.

My mom is a tough bird. The word choice is intentional here. She literally spent part of her childhood living in a chicken coop. That is not a joke. She complains…NEVER. Right now, she’s a little hunched over. Her long overdue hip replacement isn’t happening until October, and there’s been some discussion about rods being placed in her spine after that. I plan to continue to appeal to Our Blessed Mother on behalf of Grandma Kate and see what we can get done about that lousy plan. My point is, when Mom complains of pain and vastly alters her normal active lifestyle, one knows she’s in significant agony. She was here this week, quietly but obviously enduring that torture and cheering on Z in his recent tennis matches. Dad came too but didn’t stay because he had to get back to Lafayette for a little minor surgery. Of course he did. It’s 2020. UGH! The massive dose of naproxen that Mom’s doc prescribed to get her through until her surgery was making her sick to her stomach, so she stopped taking it. Now, Mom has been known to enjoy a glass of chardonnay from time to time, but on her visit this week, it was her choice analgesic. Because he’s a giver and didn’t want her to drink alone, my thoughtful husband sat beside her in the kitchen sipping bourbon. Frick and frack were quite the entertaining combo that evening after the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team had a bad loss up at Westfield High School.

After their (several beverages into the) evening, Drew came bounding through the back door, home unexpectedly from Purdue. The Covid-19 mayhem and stress involved in attempting to understand the clear as mud rules were taking a toll. Drew wondered how they will be applied in his fraternity setting by the university and it simply was too much for my 4.0 college senior to navigate as he takes on his last semester as an undegrad. That’s fairly revealing. So, he came home for guidance and a break from the mask. Not much laughter and smiling is happening for these young folks on campus right now, I can tell you that. We don’t know what’s happening or how long he’ll be here. Drew’s been on a college campus with the throngs, so, to be safe, I sent Drew upstairs and put overserved Mom downstairs. I sent Zach to Nick’s old room. Now, we were up 2 bodies since morning at this point, and down several ounces of alcohol, but no one here was sharing a bathroom with anyone… except for me! That was as much Covid-19 saavy as I had in me. So, I decided to call it a day and went to brush my teeth.

Tom began hollering at me from the family room. He suggested that I might want to check on Mom because she had been yelling my name from the basement. I think I mumbled a two syllable phrase and it closely resembled “Well, crap” but it wasn’t quite that appropriate. Ha? You see, unexpected calls from parents of late have been things like chemotherapy side effects, heart attacks, and hospital visits. Given the way the night was going, it didn’t seem like this was headed anywhere positive.

But do you know what she wanted? She wanted to give me a pair of her underwear. Yep. Her underwear was gifted to me late Monday night because they are the most comfortable panties she’s ever owned. Also, they are one size fits all. How innovative. That seems normal? I can keep them she says. Lucky me, right? Because, you guys, EVERYONE wants to wear their moms underwear. If only sarcasm burned calories….

I showed them to Tom when I came upstairs. And then I started to cry and fan my face because I was laughing so hard. Tom said if I start wearing Mom’s underwear we will have to get a divorce. Sorry for outing you, Mom, but thank you, God, for the best laugh I’ve had in a month!

We’ve all got a story to tell about our journey through 2020. Mine’s quite a bit bigger than the messiness I’ve described above, but a glimpse at my more vulnerable (and grateful) than before heart reveals something. I’ve grown spiritually, and I’ve learned some things this year. I hope you have too. One of the great lessons for me is about vulnerability. It’s a holy and good thing when we gift it to one another and to the Lord. I mean, Jesus knows a thing or two about being vulnerable, am I right? If you’re not tracking with me, Google “Sorrowful Mysteries.” God has a pattern of redeeming us when we are broken open. We simply have to go to Him. Prayer can change that which seems impossible. I invite you to try it.

I can’t fix Dad’s heart, or Mom’s hip, or Grandpa Tom’s colon cancer. I can’t rescue the friends who are struggling with broken marriages, addiction, or mental health crises. However, I can walk beside them, making sure they know they are not alone on the journey. I can love (and find the humor) and so can you. We can’t listen or hear or enter into the heartaches and hurt of others to love them along unless we are willing to be available and vulnerable. We can’t be the face of Christ during the not-too-pretty parts of life when we are bitter or angry or selfish.

Sometimes, I don’t get invited to “the” party. Do you know what I do get though? The honor of holding onto the secret hurts, and the SOS text in the middle of the night. If you’ve experienced it too, you’ll understand why I’ll take it over almost anything. Nothing feels quite like trying to spend a moment loving like Jesus. Those are moments I guard, reverence, and hold dear. I don’t want anyone to feel alone, overcome by suffering. The way we bring light into darkness is through the fire of our faith and the light of our smile. When God is at the heart of our lives, we shine and our tiny corner of the world is transformed.

We need to hold one another in high esteem, and we need to laugh and love in each moment as it comes along. That’s how I think we survive 2020 as Christians.

I’ll leave you with this little grin. My 16-year-old, Zach, asked me in the midst of the eLearning this week to help him come up with a five syllable phrase for his now online GCHS ukelele class. I was annoyed by virtual school and too much screen time and was not in a particularly inspiring mood and my reply was “I hate Zoom meetings.”

Later, when I asked him what he went with, he began to giggle, looked up and me and said, “Five Syllable Phrase”. HAHAHA! Yep. He’s definitely my kid, and his snarky little sense of humor remains in tact. Well played, Z! We’ve got to keep smiling.

Here’s the little prayer I’m saying lately. It feels like our country and our world can use all the love and cheerfulness available right now. I hope you’ll join and pray along with me!

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully ito my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” –St. Augustine

Here’s hoping you get a chance to spread a little love and laughter in your day. PEACE, OUT!