Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year

So I thought I'd say adieu to the old year with a bang today.... After getting some bloodwork done (as the first step towards an embryo transfer looming in the near future), I passed out.  And apparently fell to the ground, leaving a big oh colorful bump on my forehead and a cut by my eye from my glasses. In the aftermath of coming to, I realized today's date and joked to my hubby, thank goodness it's the LAST day of the year!  Let's get this sort of nonesense out of the way and make way for a fresh start in the new year.

I used to spend New Year's Eve doing various activities prompted by, well, superstition.  I called it tradition, but let's be honest.  Today, I realized that I'm not worried about any of it.  I don't believe anything magical is going to happen tonight at midnight, since it's been turning midnight for hours now around the world.  How can one part of the world already be in 2016 while other parts are still in last year?  I tell you how, time is a human construct.

As I was coming to from my little incident today, I felt exactly as if I were waking from a dream.  I actually remember the dream.  There were a lot of people, it was a sort of convention or something, there were some stairs and balconies, and an event with a ginormous whale was about to start.  It felt like a pretty long dream, though apparently I was only unconscious for a minute or two. During the chatter of the phlebotomist and nurse and hubby, I just marveled at how time essentially stood still as I mentally checked out of this reality on my way to the floor.  I marveled at how this time (not my first encounter with blacking out, I'm afraid), I knew I felt queasy, but I didn't see it coming.  One second, I'm sitting there confirming that I want a bit of water, the next second I'm in a parallel universe getting ready for some giant whale show?!

I smirked to myself a bit.  What we think of as reality, that's the real dream, isn't it? ;)

Today, as the sun set on the year 2015, I didn't even peak outside to bid it farewell, as I've done in years past.  (I've welcomed the first day after high school graduation by photographing that "first sunrise of freedom" as I called it.  I also photographed my last sunset on my way home after being discharged from the Army, another "freedom shot".)  I just thought to myself, hmm, I'm no longer superstitious, am I?  I'm not religious anymore.  I'm sure they're related.  Not terribly sentimental either, at least not as much as I once was.

Ever since my daughter was born, I've been trying to figure myself out.  I feel more grounded now, as a mother.  My life feels more real.  Looks like I got exactly what I had hoped to get by becoming a mother: a meaningful life.

And yet.  And yet I'm still here, ruminating about the ever mysterious spiritual things.  Part of it is that I don't want to teach my daughter things I now consider lies, or at best, fairy tales, but at the same time, I do want her to have a spiritual sense of self.  Part of it is that I realize my daughter will not be so little forever, and eventually I will have to be OK with whomever I am besides her mother.  So I should figure out what that is.

Interestingly, it seems just as a sense of a new normal finally descended on our home, and hubby and I have gotten into a rhythm as a family of three, we are now embarking on the journey of another embryo transfer.  This will be our last one.  This will finally conclude our long journey to parenthood.  Either we will remain a family of three, and continue raising our little girl as an only child - something we are both perfectly happy doing - or we will add to our brood and have to relearn all over again how to function with multiple kids on our hands.  But these last two embryos, they are genetically related to our daughter.  We owe her the attempt to have a genetic sibling for her.  If it doesn't work, c'est la vie.  But it is the only right thing to do.  And so we're doing it, and praying that whatever may come, God will walk us through it, just like God walked us through these last three years, since the last transfer, through the pregnancy and birth of our daughter, and these last two+ years with her.

It has been amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, stressful, joyful, difficult, yet second-nature.  Our daughter stretches us in new ways, pushes us to grow in ways we otherwise wouldn't have grown.  Every day we look at her and think (or say out loud) how amazing she is, and how lucky we are to have been blessed with the job of being her parents.  And to think, we might get another bundle of joy like this?  "We don't want to be greedy", my hubby says.  We are happy with one child, if one child is all we have.  But as difficult as having a newborn would be, especially with a toddler/preschooler, I think of how much joy the kids may bring to each other down the road, and I'm torn between hoping for a successful transfer, and hoping that we can just end this chapter of our lives and focus all our attention on our daughter.

In a way, we're both glad that it's not up to us.  It's in the hands of God.

Here's to the great unknown that is 2016.  We will be celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary, and 13 being my lucky number (our daughter was born in 2013!), whatever the future holds for us, I know it will be awesome, and rewarding, and worth the work.

Happy New Year, blogosphere!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Honing Down on a Spiritual Practice

How can I at once be drawn to the person of Jesus and simultaneously ambivalent (at best) to the religion I believe best represents the movement He supposedly started?  I've been looking for a spiritual practice where I can base my values on Jesus, because they're familiar and resonate with me as true.  Yet at the same time, I didn't feel comfortable in a spiritual practice drenched in the concepts of original sin, being hell-bound, human sacrifice to appease a vengeful god, and suffering as the new happiness.  You know, Christianity.

I knew Islam claims to respect Jesus, even Mary, but really, there is nothing in their practice based on Jesus as a central figure.  Obviously Judaism is either ambivalent or downright antagonistic towards the figure of Jesus.  Lots of comparisons can be found between Jesus and Buddha (Sidhrtha Gautama), but no Buddhist follows Jesus; rather, they take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.  Buddhists do not take refuge in the Christ.  Some of the newer movements sparked my interest too, but ever so briefly.  The Unitarian Universalists and the Baha'i in particular.  But there was something gnawing at me to put my faith in an ancient tradition.

In fact, while in high school, a Japanese exchange student once asked me why I was a Catholic (she was an atheist).  I remember giving her a very simplistic reason.  Catholicism was the original Christianity, which was born from the oldest religion, ie. Judaism, therefore must be true.  Something lame like that.  Never mind that I now know that Hinduism is actually the world's oldest religion.

Apparently there may be room for what I'm looking for, for someone like me, within the Hindu tradition.  Apparently, Jesus (as Ishu) is an actual prominent figure for some Hindus, who look to Him as their guru.  Could it be that I could follow the example and teachings of Jesus outside of Christianity after all?

I've always held a very childish idea of God.  Something like a cross between a genie and Santa Clause.  He's all-powerful, so he can grant any wish to anyone, if only he desires.  But he is also just in that if I've been bad, I will not get what's on my wishlist.  Even though I would mouth the words that God is all-powerful, having this very fantastical view of him automatically limited him to, well, the realm of fantasy.  I think this is why I struggled with the Trinity.  There was no need for the Son and the Spirit, if we already had the Santa-Genie God.  I just couldn't phathom their purpose in my worldview.

Lately, I've become more and more aware of the fact that my view of God has changed, has become less and less graspable, less personal and more transcendent.  God's physical body (that which occupied my mind) dissolved and enveloped the entire universe (or multiverse).  He is now barely detectable, yet still undeniably there.  But he doesn't sit down to converse with people anymore.  He doesn't engage in our petty human tit-for-tat.  He doesn't waste time (sic!) weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds, or lamenting the fact that His perfect plan for a utopian universe went to hell when He allowed us free will.

No, these are human traits, human stories, human explanations.  God simply is.  He is in the business of creating, sustaining, breathing life into living beings, transforming dying creatures into something strictly spiritual.  He sees the big picture and doesn't fret over disasters like we do.  He knows everything is temporary because that's the way He made it.  Only His eternal creativity is eternal.  We call it love, that God is love, because we all want to be loved, and what better boost to our self-confidence than to believe the Almighty loves us.  But love - the way I have understood and experienced it - automatically means favoring someone over someone else.  We marry the person we love, not everyone.  We prefer our own children to those of others because we love our children and only like other people's kids (if that!).  As with everything else, without a contrast, nothing stands on its own.  God loving me makes no sense if He equally loves everyone else.  Then it's not really love, is it?  It's something more mundane, less intense and passionate.  Again, God created everything to have an opposite.  Love is one of those wonderful gifts He created and gave us.  Love is how we can feel secure while in this earthly realm of ours.  We cannot imagine God not loving us, yet it's exactly what I think limits Him in our minds.

So, if God-the-Creator is not so much personal as the Universal Force, then it starts to make sense why Christians came up with the concept of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is the very breath we breathe, our inspiration, that which carries us from moment to moment until we are ready to be reunited with our Divine Source.  And Jesus is a way for us to have a God who loves us.  Jesus the historical figure, didn't tell people "God loves you".  He did say "love one another as I have loved you", but He didn't say "I love you because God loves me.  Pass it on."  He took the mysterious power of God and translated it into something we both longed for and could understand.  He loved us.  Even this is problematic, if we believe that Jesus is God and/or that Jesus loves everyone.  We're then back to the dilemma of no contrast to His love.  If He loves us, whom does He not love?  Aha! Enter Satan!  Jesus hates Satan.  Satan is our enemy.  We fight against Satan by siding with Jesus.

Only I've never really been on board with the whole Satan concept.  It implies a duality beyond the source.  Either the Divine Source had within it evil that split into Satan, or it was a separate entity all along, which begs the question, how can there be two sources?

On the one hand, I say that theology shouldn't matter so long as morality and ethics are there.  On the other hand, I cannot imagine a spiritual practice bringing me peace and joy if I am not convinced that it is based on, and leading me to, truth.  I've tried the whole "fake it till you make it" approach, which may work for some people, or in some circumstances, but a spiritual practice just seems to be too important for me to approach it willy-nilly.

I cannot imagine going through the rest of my life without spirituality playing a central role, but I have to embrace something that brings me peace and joy and motivates me to live like Jesus taught.

I know this means I have to start spending daily time in silence, preferably in nature but not necessarily, in order to just allow myself to decompress from the constant noise in my mind.  With time, I'll want to increase the length of this silence until I give myself enough time to not just quiet my mind, but allow inspiration to enter.  I may need to chant or count breaths or lean on some other crutch at first in order to keep busy thoughts at bay.  I've found in the past that yoga is a great way for me to focus on the present moment.  I need to start doing yoga regularly, ending with a period of silent sitting, having given myself a chance to detox from the noise of the every day.

I also need to choose a few of my all-time favorite spiritual songs and listen to them and/or sing them, again, on a daily basis.  This will give me something positive and uplifting to focus on, especially when I am drowning in worry or negativity.  Perhaps a few songs before yoga, followed by meditation?

One thing I know is that I cannot allow myself to think that reading or writing can take the place of my spiritual practice.  I've tried spiritual journaling and Lectio Divina, and while they are both good resources, I think they can at best be supplements to the spiritual practice I've outlined above.

So I will begin this week with five minutes of singing/listening to music, five minutes of yoga, and five minutes of meditation  (Quakers would call it waiting worship).  I will squeeze these in whenever I can, by next week shooting for combining them into a single 15-minute stretch of time.  Then I'll revisit the practice after a week.

Perhaps if I click "publish", I will feel obligated to really give it a go...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Personal or Impersonal God?

At the core of my spiritual quest over the years, there had always been one constant: a personal God. But with my recent reversion to Cultural Catholicism, I'm trying to make sense of the role spirituality ought to play in my life now that I'm essentially nonreligious.

My beliefs in terms of the big questions are simple and straightforward, with little explanation.  With every fiber of my being, I believe, nay, I KNOW, that everything that exists was created.  At some point, some laws of physics and other mysterious forces we may not yet know about (as was the case until recently with quantum mechanics, quarks and all), were placed into motion, and from there the world that we now know evolved.  Somehow, for some reason.  I do not speculate as to when that was, or why.  But I do not doubt for one second that there was an act of will on the part of an intelligent source thanks to which we have our being.

The second point of my minimalist belief system is that death is merely a transition, like all other things in the known universe.  I cannot think of a single experience, single even, that has a definitive ending and beginning.  Rather, I see everything is in a constant state of transition.  We are both dying and being reborn simultaneously and continuously.  We fall asleep and for all intents of our personal consciousness, cease to exist (with the rare exception of lucid dreaming).  Then we awake and reflect back on the fact that we were asleep and carry on in our wakeful state as if nothing happened.  We do not dwell on having temporarily died, nor do we agonize over having our conscience die yet again the following night.

I find it interesting that people claim to only believe what they can see, what they can understand.  I know I'm not in the minority when I say that I actually do not fully grasp how radio waves, much less television, works.  All I know is that there's electricity involved, and some computer coding, software and hardware, all of which must be working in perfect alignment for me to be able to watch my favorite show.  I don't understand it.  But because I can experience watching my favorite show, I know there is an explanation, and that's actually enough for me.  I don't need to be a physicist, computer programmer, electrician, before I can enjoy my show.  So why do people insist - like I have done for years - that they must first grasp who God is and by extension what that means for us and our lives before we can start living, enjoying life, and doing the right thing?

I do not know if we reincarnate as lesser or greater beings based on our karma, or if we remain humans in our next life, or if we reincarnate at all.  I do not know if we fall into a deep unconscious slumber until some designated "Judgment Day", or if we are immediately judged to be worthy of heaven or not at the moment of our death.  I do not know if our bodies will by physically resurrected, and if so, will I get my 37 year old body or a younger or older version?

To be honest, I find all of these hypotheses (for that is all I see them as) to be a bit far-fetched and too literal.  I think what makes spirituality and the divine mysterious is precisely that we cannot explain it in terms of our everyday experiences.  We can approximate, but nothing more.  I think most religious adherents are simply too literal in their understanding of their faith.

What I actually do think happens after death, and this is a work in progress, always open to adjustments as new information makes itself known, is based on who I think "I" am at my core.  I don't think my body is what makes me who I am, eternally speaking.  My body has changed drastically since the time I was still in the womb.  We shed our cells regularly, and I read that every seven years or so, the cells in our entire body have been replaced with new ones.  If this is true (from science), then how can I think that my body is what makes me who I am?  There is something else that maintains my sense of self through all of those bodily changes.

I don't think it's our personality either.  As we mature, as we have different experiences, as we learn and grow, we see the world in a different light.  Some aspects of our personality may remain, like introversion or extroversion, but I cannot say that I am the same "person" that I was twenty years ago.  At age 17, I was graduating high school and learning to toe my way into the "real world" (whatever that is) with my best friend Rachel as my guide.  I was in a chaotic state of figuring out how to make my life meaningful.  I went from wanting to pursue religious life (being quickly discouraged from this endeavor by my family) to joining AmeriCorp (my application missed the deadline) to shipping off for the Army's Basic Training Course.

Twenty years later, my best friend Rachel has crossed over to the other side (of death, that is).  I ended up hating the Army and spent a little over one year there.  Rather than finding my independence, as I had intended, I found my life's partner instead.  We married, enjoyed life as a couple for a while, struggled with infertility for many years, and finally welcomed our daughter two years ago. And instead of religious life, I'm now nonreligious.  No, my personality is not what makes me who I am either.

There is something mysterious, something that cannot be grasped with the intellectual faculties, that holds us together and carries us through life.  It is something so nuanced that the moment you start to define it, you get it wrong.  It's something that intersects who we are as physical beings, emotional beings, and intellectual beings.  Many people call this something a "soul", though usually it is thought to be very non-physical in nature.  I actually think it is absolutely rooted in the most minuscule particles of existence.

Quantum physics absolutely intrigues me, as it describes concepts such as bilocation and time travel as real, except on the level of quarks.  How can we begin to conceptualize God or our true nature as it comes from God, if time is a construct with no basis in reality?  Time-space, actually, is seen as a single phenomenon, interdependent.  We experience time and space because we live in it.  But after death (and for argument's sake, before conception), we are not bound by either. We can be anywhere, do anything.  We are not God per se.  We are God's fingers, toes, etc.

Teresa of Avila said it beautifully when she said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

And to continue a bit with the Catholic tradition, in spite of calling myself a "revert to Cultural Catholicism", I actually do currently believe in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the essence of Jesus Christ.  And it's not because the church says so, actually!  It's because of quantum physics and what I've learned about quarks being able to exist simultaneously in two "time-space" places at the same time.  God is outside of time, right?  During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we have an opportunity to attune ourselves to a time warp of sorts, where we are given a front row seat at Calvary.

Now, that said, just because I believe this doesn't mean it's not disturbing, or that the rest of Christian theology makes any sense to me.  My immediate question is, why would I want to be present at an execution?  A torturous one at that, of an innocent man!  I'm not some sort of sadist who gets his kicks from watching others suffer.  So what I actually think is the point of that part of our religious service is a reminder of innocent suffering (so that we are moved to act to lessen it) and a reminder of the possibility to transcend one's own suffering.  I think the same role is played by the image of the crucified Christ at the altar, and the stations of the cross in every Catholic church.  No, it's not feel-good religion.  It's difficult, but it's real.  It can truly lead us to something beyond our mundane everyday experiences, if only we let it.

While we're on the subject of Catholic belief, I also believe in the Virgin Birth.  That said, I am not committed to it being unique to Jesus.  Because early embryonic cells have the potential to grow into any of the necessary cells that a human needs (hence the interest in embryonic stem cell research), it doesn't sound like a stretch at all for a single cell, Mary's ovum, to somehow have carried the necessary y chromosome in order to grow baby Jesus in her womb.  Of course, this isn't something she could've willed into being.  This is where the hand of God comes in, and it is best if we leave it at that, because once we start to guess why God may have done such a thing, we end up with religion (aka theories and hypotheses about the unknowable will of God).

I don't think Jesus's conception needed to be miraculous (which only means "unexplained by current scientific knowledge") in order for Him to teach what He taught.  Yes, I realize that the Christian religion states that it is not so much what Jesus taught that is important, but what He did (namely "take our place on the cross").  Not being Christian, I do not subscribe to this notion.  I do not believe in so-called original sin or the wrath of God.  Instead, I believe that Jesus's crucifixion was inevitable as far as the natural consequences of being a rebel of thought in his society.  The value of his sacrifice (to me) comes in the fact that he was perfectly aware of the consequences of what he taught publicly, but he refused to stay silent.  He provided an example that has been followed since, not only in the church-sanctioned saints of the faith, but also in the secular heroes and heroines who have fought for social justice and civil rights, all too often paying the ultimate price for the courage of their convictions.  This is not blasphemy. After all, we are told to "be Christ to others".

Finally, we have the Resurrection, another teaching that I do not see any reason for discarding. Countless people "saw Jesus" after his death.  What they saw is really moot, other than to say that it was real to them and changed their lives.  It doesn't matter if they saw his literal physical body, the one that was nailed to a cross.  It doesn't matter if it was some new, transcendent yet still physical body that is now held up as a promise for anyone willing to follow him.  It could just as well have been a vision, a hallucination, a dream, a hologram.  Why do we assign greater worth to that which can be clearly discerned with our five basic senses, yet ignore the truth that can be known through intuition or discernment?

So for me, Jesus taught very important lessons.  He was willing to die for them, because he believed his lessons had the power to transform lives.  And they do.  And the fact that people experienced (and continue to experience) his presence in some way is only confirmation of the fact that he can continue to teach us these lessons, if we only listen.

I think the reason we are taught to focus on the person of Jesus (rather than his teachings) is simply a way to remind us to do what he said - empty ourselves and deny ourselves and put ourselves last.  We cannot go though life polishing our many virtues and patting ourselves on the back and expect to live a transformed life.  Jesus called us to go beyond the basic golden rule.  Jesus called us to try to see the big picture.  I think we are entering an age when that will be more and more possible, with the insights gleaned from quantum physics!

Why do most religions preach helping others?  There must be something in the deepest part of who we are that remembers that we are all interconnected, that we are not merely individuals living together on this planet.  Where I end and you begin.... there's a transition there that isn't quite as clear-cut as we like to think.

Ok, so is God personal or impersonal? I think that as far as we are persons having a personal experience in this lifetime, God is likewise personal.  God encompasses whatever experiences we can imagine, because God is the source of them all.  But to say that God is "a person", as in just like us, is to make God in our own image, idolatry!  God is beyond simply an elder Father-King sitting in the clouds looking down at us.  And this is what I believe was the intention of putting forth the belief in God as a Trinity, this "both-and-neither" answer that simply doesn't satisfy our meager human intellect, when we try to limit our understanding only to what our brains can do!  I don't think the point is that God is literally a Spirit-Man (Father), Savior-Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit (like a very important angel maybe?).  The point was precisely to stop our incessant philosophizing over the nature of God, as if we have any right to understand God or grasp God's vastness or greatness, as if we have a right to qualify our worship based on our understanding.  The Trinity is a western koan!  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  What does the color red taste like?  What is the nature of God?

I actually think we will know everything we need to know once we cross from this life.  I think children are still very close to our source and can better intuit God than adults can.  I think some of us, probably through mere openness to the Spirit, can indeed experience God's presence without the limitations of human language, either in dreams, or visions, or just through quiet reflection.  Sadly, most of us spend too much time paying lip service to how great God is and too little time acting as though we actually believe what has been taught about God by some of the greatest religious-philosophical thinkers of all time (Jesus included).  Do we really treat others the way we would want to be treated?  Or do we only treat those that aren't too different from us with kindness?  Do we look for excuses to ignore people's struggles, or do we look for opportunities to help?  That is how we really worship God; not in ritual and lip service, but in spirit and in truth.

Quick Aside on Homeschooling

I sometimes question weather I'm really a teacher at heart, as I like to think of myself.  Because once I learn something important, I internalize it, and I forget that not everyone knows what I only recently came to know myself.  And then I get exacerbated trying to explain something I think "everyone should know".  Or even when I do engage, I'm not always good about starting at the beginning, and instead use arguments that already take for granted that we have the same common knowledge on the subject.

Currently, I'm thinking about homeschooling.  I can easily say why I am personally choosing to educate my daughter at home, but when it comes to convincing arguments that I've read regarding the deficiencies of the public school system, I retreat a bit.  So I wanted to leave a little record here of one little nugget I just read that may provide a little backup to my next conversation on the subject.

In David H. Albert's "Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery", he cites Dan Greenberg, founder of the Sudbury Valley School (essentially an "unschooling"/child-led institution of learning located in Massachusetts. Greenberg notes seven "essential features of an education that would meet the needs of society in the 21st Century", something that business leaders, government officials, and educators all agree on.  Below I list my three favorites.

"As society rapidly changes, individuals will have to be able to function comfortably in a world that is always in flux.  Knowledge will continue to increase at a dizzying rate.  This means that a content-based curriculum, with a set body of information to be imparted to students, is entirely inappropriate as a means of preparing children for their adult roles."

"People will be faced with greater individual responsibility to direct their own lives.  Children must grow up in an environment that stresses self-motivation and self-assessment.  Schools that focus on external motivating factors, such as rewards and punishments for meeting goals set by others, are denying children the tools they need most to survive."

"Technology now makes it possible for individuals to learn whatever they wish, whenever they wish, and in the manner they wish.  Students should be empowered with both the technology and the responsibility for their own learning an educational timetable."

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Conversion to NonConversion

Four months ago, I returned to the Catholic church as an act of will.  I was given the external validation I needed from a priest at a retreat, who said God would meet me where I was.  Alex and I attended a seven week Discovering Christ series and will be joining small groups and the Following Christ follow-up series this spring.  Yet I feel no closer to the Catholic God.

I know better than to start running away again.  Basically, I've made my peace with being Catholic-light, if you will.  I won't split hairs and get into discussions with devout Catholics who would try to challenge me to question my religious identity.  No, I'm happy to be where I am.  Culturally, I'm Catholic.  That won't change.  Theologically, I'm probably some sort of Deist.  Spiritually, I believe that I am a mom.

Yup, I think that motherhood has become my spirituality, if not my religion.  I don't mean that I worship my daughter.  I mean that I worship God through parenting my daughter.  I see God in her.  I see God's will for both her and my potential in our mother-daughter relationship.  I see the best chance of me becoming a better version of myself coming not through religious rhetoric but through being cognizant of the best interest of my daughter.

It is said that we need to look at what's important to us, what we dedicate our time to, to see where our faith is.  So let's see...

Holistic living, even if I'm not very good at it, is important to me.  I value the perspective of those going against the grain.  I see they have a lot to offer me on my parenting journey and life journey as a whole.  Thanks to holistic literature, I've taken on attachment parenting, gentle discipline, and home education.  Environmental concerns have always been dear to my heart, and they fit nicely with an aspiring holistic lifestyle.

Social identity issues are important to me.  I'm learning a ton in a transracial adoption facebook group I'm in, both about race issues and the perspective of adoptees.  My daughter has a unique background, and so I don't simply get answers handed to me prepackaged.  I have to wrestle with what I learn in order to find the relevance to our situation sometimes.  But overall, I'm finding that I need to get off my white privilege high horse and consider the lived experiences of others.  This isn't all that hard for me to do, as I've long thought of myself as an empath.  I've always rooted for the underdog.  Now I'm learning the tools to use and the issues to stand up for, rather than just being vaguely in favor of justice.

That pretty much covers it for me.  I read and learn about race, identity, adoption, social justice, green living, attachment parenting, and homeschooling.  These topics have taken over whatever time I previously dedicated to religious pursuits.  These topics seem more real, more relevant, than philosophizing about God.  These topics help me to live my life, rather than just think about its meaning.  

My challenge now is to consciously find God in the midst of what interests me.  Even though I'm not religious anymore, I do still believe in some sort of Creator-God to whom I owe everything.  I believe that gratitude is the one way I can worship God "in spirit and in truth".  It's more challenging without the benefit of a religious tradition.  I certainly try to lean on the Catholic tradition when I can, but at times I feel a bit boxed in and distracted by the dogmatic rhetoric and have to take a step back to regroup.

Probably the most valuable lesson I'm (still) learning is to stop assigning labels to everything.  I like labels.  Labels make things clear.  I like to know what's what.  The problem is that this isn't actually the way the world works.  Objects and facts may generally be placed under certain labels, but living people cannot.  Religion, race, gender, sexuality - I am finding that all of these are continua, not mere black-or-white concepts.  Labels are limiting.  Labels say you must choose one over another, when real life has taught me that most times, it's both or neither, not this or that.

I think I need to start by considering what role religion has played in my life, and why that approach no longer serves me.  Religion was equated with God.  To question religion was to question God, an obvious no-no in my mind.  But I'm slowly realizing that this is not at all the case.  God does not belong in a labeled box any more than human beings do.  If God isn't Christian, why should I think I must be a Christian in order to be a child of God?  I am a child of God by virtue of having been made by *Him*.  Period.  Grace, a free gift.  Undeserved.  My reaction to being alive needs to be a life of gratitude.  Christianity has somehow shifted the focus from this basic idea that only the most staunch materialist atheists can argue, to the exclusionary theory of salvation via Jesus's cross.

I don't need to be made to feel guilty for my shortcomings in order to come around to a life of gratitude.  I don't need to feel guilty before I can be compassionate.  I don't need to be afraid of God in order to abide by God's will.  God is the air that I breathe.  We sang this recently at a Discovering Christ talk.  How moving it was to sing those words while breathing, to actually inhale the Divine and exhale back words of glorifying *Him*!  This is the God I know to be true at the core of my being.  It is a God without a name, *He* is simply "the I am". 

I was sure I'd be a spiritual seeker for the rest of my life.  Perhaps after my daughter is all grown up, I will revisit religious and spiritual pursuits, but at this point I think they'd be a hobby.  They wouldn't gnaw at me to hurry up and figure out the truth so that I can start living right with God.  I am already where I need to be.  I just need to wake up.  God is already here.  Already guiding my steps.

There is nowhere for me to go, no other religion for me to convert to or out of.  Religion is simply there for my benefit, to peruse what I find meaningful at any given time, and let others take advantage of whatever tickles their fancy.  I don't need to find everything about Catholicism meaningful.  Not everything has to resonate with me.  It's not a religion custom-made for me.  That's what I've been looking for.  Instead, I need to stop looking for religion period, and start looking around at all the places where I see God, hear God, smell God, taste God, touch God.  God is.  I am.  Everything else is interpretation, opinion, and commentary.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How I Know I'm Catholic

It has been three months since my women's retreat and (second) return to Catholicism.  I have been dutifully reading Scripture, attending church events, actively participating in Mass, and praying (though this last one leaves much to be desired).  I know that having been away for 18 months, I may need another 15 months of actively being religious in order to feel religious, but as it stands, I'm not convinced.

I wrestled so much with self-labeling during my last time away.  What makes a person Catholic?  I now have the answer.  Two things: the reception of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), and self-identifying as Catholic.  Both of these must be present for a person to be Catholic.  Now, they may be practicing, devout, or schismatic or heretical, but Catholic they are nonetheless.

Without the sacraments, a person is at best an aspiring Catholic, someone perhaps going through RCIA in the conversion process.  Or perhaps they are merely aligned spiritually and theologically with Catholicism but do not desire official membership in the church.  On the other hand, someone who has received all the necessary sacraments who no longer self-identifies as Catholic, either because they have switched membership to another faith or abandoned faith all together, cannot be said to be Catholic either.

With this in mind, I do not intend to leave Catholicism again.  That said, I am finding my way - spiritually, morally, and theologically - within the tradition of Catholicism.  I am no longer concerned about what other mortal and sinful Catholics think about my self-identity as Catholic.  I am interested in finding meaning for my life, which I am most comfortable doing from the narrative of Catholicism.  Where I am currently with that is the transition from a literal to a figurative understanding of Catholic teaching, in particular theology.

I learned during my last hiatus that I need religion.  I need a religious identity.  I need a religious community.  I need that guidance, that framework, that foundation.  But I am not interested in checking my reason at the door.  I do believe I must abandon my will in order for Christ to live in me, but this is only done in the minute details of daily discernment, not across the board.  The latter would simply replace my own interpretation of the faith with that of others.  I believe God is more nuanced than that.  God meets us where we are, I keep hearing.  God does not offer mere off-the-rack uniform answers to everyone's questions.  God customizes His plan for each of us.

Moving forward, this is what I have to say about my Catholic identity:  I may question the virgin birth, the literalness of the resurrection and ascension into heaven.  I may take with a grain of salt various miracle stories, both from the time of Jesus and the age of the Church.  I may disagree with some of the social teachings of the Church to varying degrees.  And yet, I am Catholic.

This is what a common, every-day, imperfect yet hopeful Catholic looks like.  Take it or leave it, but if everyone who wastes their breath on condemning my self-labeling as false would instead spend that effort on bettering themselves, they'd be that much closer to the kingdom of God.  Don't worry about the speck in my eye - first remove the plank from your own eye, people!  (Mathew 7:5)  I can't believe I've allowed others to keep me from walking hand in hand with my Maker, on our own terms. This is what works for our relationship.  Be happy that I am still seeking God.  Many others are run straight into the ground with the naysayers and holier-than-thous who miss the entire point of Jesus's ministry.

I think the best thing I can do is start from the beginning.  I'm a newbie.  I'm no theologian, no saint, no biblical scholar.  I'm just a person looking for meaning in my life, hoping to leave the world a bit better than how I found it, and I want to do so with the help of Catholic tradition, ritual, and scholarship.  I'm no better - and no worse - than any other Catholic.

With this statement, I stand convicted of the times I have indeed judged fellow Catholics as not living up to the Catholic ideal, whatever that may be.  I had the certainty of literal faith for a time, but I let it elevate my self-importance.  Now I am reminded that faith is a gift from God, and I am grateful for whatever kind of faith I am given.

Thank you Lord for meeting me where I am.  Always.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Transcendent Interpretation of the Resurrection

When considering Judaism around this time last year, I attended a series of talks at a synagogue. There, I learned about how Jews approach the Torah from various levels of interpretation.  Literal is but one level, and the least important.  It has been hard to try to wean myself off the very literal evangelical interpretation of Christianity.  I so wish my Catholic formation had been more thorough and complete.  But I digress.

I have been stumbling around to find some teaching, some class, some workshop, some video, someone other than me who considers themselves to be Catholic, yet looks at our faith through the eyes of a more spiritual (and hence less literal) lens.

The resurrection, for instance.  I've struggled with this, as many people do.  It seems that on the surface, to call myself a Christian, I must accept this one cornerstone of the faith of Jesus.  That He literally died, and then on the third day, He literally came back to life.  And yet, even the New Testament alludes to the fact that while His old body was gone from the tomb, the new body that witnesses came in contact with was somehow different.  Transformed.

In last week's Discovering Christ small group, I offered that I thought the resurrection is important because it provides proof for what Jesus taught about Himself and the Kingdom of God.  But I'm not actually sure I buy it myself.  I'm perfectly happy to accept Jesus's teachings without a literal, physical resurrection.  What's much more resonant with me is a more figurative interpretation instead.

Jesus pre-resurrection lived as we normally do, albeit without sin.  His body was identical to ours in terms of the bodily functions, internal organs, sensations, etc.  Through His crucifixion, He humbled Himself before God to the point of death.  He literally emptied Himself of any remnants of wanting justice, fairness, appreciation, or even just the escape from physical and mental torment.  He distanced Himself from all that was happening to Him, uniting Himself instead with God's ideals of mercy, forgiveness, hope, transcendence.

As the story goes, His old body was never found.  Instead, His followers saw Him again, yet in a new body.  They recognized His personality, something that reminded them so intimately of the Jesus they broke bread with, yet He was not in the same body.  The body He was in did indeed bare the markings of His crucifixion, proof of His having overcome the old.  But his new body did not need to have been the same crucified body in order to have these markings. (Think the stigmata.)

When we dream, we likewise are convinced of having come in contact with some specific person, often seeing them do what we would normally expect a person to do (like eating).... but we often also see them doing things we know are not of this world (like flying). I'm of the opinion that our deceased loved ones do visit us in our dreams, and having had these experiences myself, I find it just as real as any other encounter, just not tied to my physical presence.

Perhaps Jesus's post-resurrection body was/is a sort of hologram.  We know from emerging quantum physics that solid objects that appear perfectly still are actually made up of constantly moving molecules.  We know this as fact from science, and yet our day to day experience insists that the table doesn't move, that there is a definite beginning and end to it.  But on the quantum level, things aren't as black and white at all.

So Jesus appearing to His followers post-resurrection in a dream-like state is something I can actually relate to. Why does this have to make the importance of His resurrection any less than if it were literal?  I am perfectly content knowing and believing that after this life, I will continue on in some form.  I am not at all attached to the idea that I want eternal life in this body.

What's important about the resurrection is that there is life - a transformed life - possible after even the most dire, hopeless, wretched experiences.  Death itself is no barricade to the life that is possible for those who fix their sights on the Divine.

When we get down to it, the resurrection is about hope.  Jesus's entire ministry was about bringing hope to those who felt lost and abandoned by the social system of the day.  Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost, that it was the sick who needed a doctor.  It is the sick - spiritually sick - who needed to hear that they too had hope for a better future.  They are the ones who need to be reassured that no matter what lies they've been fed over the years, they are not destined to be tied to their mistakes.  They are not one and the same with their wrongdoing.  They are more than the mere experiences and actions that have shaped their personality.  They can leave all of that behind and start anew.

This is a free gift, one that God offers to anyone who wants it.  All we have to do is acknowledge that indeed, we are not who we have thought that we are.  That we are children of the light, and that we want to walk in the light of Christ.  Christ, our example, who didn't just teach us this truth through His parables, but Who taught us through His very actions, living out what is important, utterly despising and ignoring that which isn't.  To the death.  Because death is no big deal to one who is enlightened and inspired by the Source of the Universe.  Death is a mere sleep.  Death is simply a passage way.  Death is a birth to eternal life.

Those of us who fear death are attached to this current life.  No matter what we may say, deep down, we aren't convinced of an ongoing consciousness on the other side, so we hold on to the only thing we do know.  But Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down.  The first will be last and the last will be first.  The sorrowful will be comforted, and the meek shall inherit the Earth.  In a word, life - true life, at its deepest meaning - is not the way the world sees it.

So yes the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith, because when understood correctly, it gives us what nothing else on Earth can - it gives us hope.  And with hope, all things are possible.  With hope, we can stop living "up to" human expectations, and take our rightful place at the feet of Jesus, our mentor and savior, the one who took onto Himself all of our garbage and dirty laundry, so that He could reveal what was underneath.  He wants us to be like Him.  He wants us to be united with Him the way He is united with the Father.  And He showed us that it is possible, no matter what the naysayers may say.  He is the way to the Father.  He is the truth of freedom and peace and joy. He is the life of hope.

There is need of only one thing, Jesus told Martha when she complained about her sister who wasn't helping her around the house.  Mary was at the feet of Jesus, learning from Him how to live a life of hope, how to abandon the cares of this world, how to fix her gaze on her savior.

I used to ask, what did Jesus save me from?  I mean, sin, I get it.  But I just always believed that if God is all-merciful, He loves me even in my sin.  Not that He is OK with me continuing down that path of resistance, but I honestly never feared hell.  I never thought of myself as a saint, but I didn't think that was necessary.  As long as I believed I wasn't going to hell, I had no real reason for religion.

Except that now I understand.  God wants so much more for me and my life than what I have given myself credit for!  It's not enough for God to simply keep me out of the proverbial hell.  He wants me at His side!  He wants to share His wisdom with me!  He wants to give me His peace!  He wants me to have true freedom and real joy, both in this life and forevermore!  And the only reason I know that is because Jesus came to show me that this was the case.  Therefore, my potential transcendence from mediocrity to spiritual greatness, to a life of peace and joy, is only available thanks to Jesus.  In this sense, Jesus saved me from myself.  He saves me from my negativity, from my complacency, from my despair.  He saved me in order for me to put my gifts to good use.  He wants me to work with Him to build up His Kingdom.

There is a John Lennon song, Imagine, that says, "imagine all the people living life in peace".  I've always loved that song.  I did get tripped up by the lyrics, "imagine there's no heaven.... and no religion too".  But now I see that religion is a mere social convention, a human tool to help us navigate the spiritual world.  It's actually not necessary.  Union with God is possible without rites and rituals, dogmas and creeds.  But most people do need those, and so I wouldn't necessarily throw out religion.  But as John Lennon says, "imagine" - a world where people are living a Christ-like life even without religion.

Jesus didn't hold fast to His own religion; He transcended it!  My goal in life should not be to be a good Catholic, or even a good Christian.  My goal should be a life patterned on the life of Jesus.  And that means attention to detail, an ongoing examination of every thought and word and deed and omission.  This purpose-driven life cannot be replaced with mere creeds or rites.  Following Jesus means discerning God's purpose for our lives, every single day.  This is praying without ceasing. This is the one thing that is necessary.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lectio Divina Gospel of Luke

Below are the verses that jumped out at me over the past month or so of time spent with the Word of God in the Gospel of Luke.  Underneath, I list the parts of these verses that resonated with me in particular, and then I try to make sense of the conversation that is unfolding between God and me.

Luke 1:4 "So that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received."
Luke 2:35 "So that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
Luke 3:8 "Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance."
Luke 4:36 "They were all amazed and said to one another, 'What is there about his word?  For with authority and power [Jesus] commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."
Luke 5:5 "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command, I will lower the nets."
Luke 6:40 "No disciple is superior to the teacher, but when fully trained, every disciple will be like [the] teacher."
Luke 7:24 "What did you go out to the desert to see?"
Luke 8:10 "[Jesus] answered, 'Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.'"
Luke 9:23 "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
Luke 10:41-42 "You are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing."
Luke 11:33 "No one who lights a lamp hides it or places it under a bushel basket, but on a lamp stand so that those who enter might see the light."
Luke 12:8 "Everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God."
Luke 13:24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough."
Luke 14:11 "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Luke 15:7 "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance."
Luke 16:13 "No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."
Luke 17:5 "And the Apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith'."
Luke 18:1 "Then [Jesus] told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary."
Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
Luke 19:46 [Jesus said] to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer.'"
Luke 20:36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; ad they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early each morning to listen to Him in the temple area.
Luke 22:41 After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, He prayed.
Luke 23:42 "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Luke 24:45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Certainty of the teachings
thoughts of many hearts
evidence of your repentance
with authority and power [Jesus] commands
but at your command, I will
when fully trained, every disciple will be like [the] teacher
What did you go [...] to see
Knowledge [...] has been granted to you
deny himself and take up his cross daily
There is need of only one thing
so that those who enter might see the light
acknowledges me before others
strive to enter through the narrow gate
one who humbles himself will be exalted
joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
no servant can serve two masters [...] You cannot serve God and mammon.
Increase our faith.
pray always without becoming weary
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save
My house shall be a house of prayer
hey are the ones who will rise
Get up early each morning to listen to Him
Kneeling, He prayed
Jesus, remember me
He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

Luke's gospel hasn't been as clear to me as was Mark's.  I do see the Lord trying to offer me the wisdom and understanding that I am seeking in terms of the spiritual life, and hinting at how to receive it.  To show proof of my repentance, I am to do what Jesus commands, seek Him in the desert (retreat), deny myself and take up my cross daily, acknowledge Him before others, strive to enter through the narrow gate, humble myself, choose between God and whatever else is taking the focus away from Him, and pray a lot!

In return, the Lord is offering me the certainty that His teachings are true and will reveal the thoughts of many hearts, that He has the authority and power to command unclean spirits even, that He is willing to train me as His disciple, that I can receive the knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, that I can be an instrument of His grace for others to see the light, that I can be assured of the joy in heaven over my repentance, that my faith can and will increase, because Jesus came to seek and to save me from the lost state I am in.

It seems to me that for now, I am being told to stay the course and trust God to reveal Himself and His ongoing plan for me in His own time.  I am not to make demands on God before agreeing to commit to Him.  I have to sit in my discomfort and await God's next move.

There was a beautiful prayer in a little red book, Hearts Ablaze-Praying with Jesuits, that talked about just this.  But in my minimalist fervor coupled with my time away from the Church, I gave away that book.  I guess life is full of regrets, big and small, but God - Jesus covers it all.  As He says in Luke 10:42, "There is need of only one thing."  Curiously, He says this to Martha, who was complaining to the Lord about her sister Mary.  This was the theme on my women's retreat that brought me back into the fold.

There is need of only one thing.

What is that one thing?

Faith?  Prayer?  Repentance?

That is what I hope will be revealed to me in the second half of Luke's gospel.  All three are needed, I know, but which is the foundation?

I initially divided this post into two parts (hence two quotes from Luke 19), because the second part started with the Passion Narrative.  My questions from above were immediately answered as I began to take notes for the remaining verses.  The one thing needed is prayer!  Everything else flows from a life of prayer.  Faith comes from a life of prayer.  Repentance is the result of a prayerful attitude towards God. Virtues come from daily prayer.  Joy and peace come from prayer.  How does one have faith without prayer?!  Who repents for their wrongdoings without first spending time in prayer, where they are convicted of their sin?  At least prayer makes it easier and more obvious to repent.

And so I am convicted to spend more time in prayer.  I honestly don't really think of my time in Lectio Divina as prayer.  Or maybe prayer-lite.  It's reading, so it's enjoyable to me, and it easily becomes an intellect activity.  But at a recent church talk I also realized I wasn't incorporating an aspect of Lectio Divina that I should've.  Namely, I haven't been using my time with Scriptures as an opportunity to enter into the story in a contemplative manner.  So as I begin with the next gospel, I shall do so.

For every problem I have, I should turn to prayer.  For every frustration, prayer.  For every disappointment, prayer.  For every doubt, prayer.  For every sorrow, prayer.  For every pain, prayer.
But also, for every reminder of grace, I should turn to God in thanksgiving prayer.  For every day, prayer.  For every encounter with a kind person, prayer.  For every moment spent with my daughter, prayer.  For every conversation had with my husband, prayer.  For every time I find a redeeming quality in someone, myself included, prayer.  Pray without ceasing - St. Paul said that for a reason, eh?  It's the narrow gate that Jesus spoke of, isn't it?

Let us pray...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Idealism and Regret

We anguished over whom to choose as Maya's godparents for a long time.  We hurt my mother's feelings by not choosing her or any other family members.  We chose a long time friend who had proven to love Catholicism and was happy to discuss her faith - something we wanted for Maya, someone to go to for faith questions as she grew up.  We also chose a new friend from church, a secular Franciscan.  He was super Catholic, involved in all the causes we cared about.  He was also ethnically Latino, and it was important for me that Maya have a non-White godparent.

And yet, soon after her baptism, I began to doubt and regret our decision.  I had consulted various people and researched how people choose their kids' godparents.  I didn't want it to be an honor.  I wanted someone who we felt was qualified to provide a strong faith foundation and to hold us accountable for raising our daughter Catholic.  And yet, the first thing to go was contact with the godfather.  Once we moved out of state, in spite of repeat attempts to contact him, send photos, remember him on father's day, getting a text back was a toss up.  He did manage to attend Maya's first birthday party, which was held near all of our old friends and relatives.  I thought there was hope yet.  But there's been no contact with him since.  He's assured us of his daily prayers for his goddaughter, and as a secular Franciscan, I believe him.  But I was hoping for their relationship to be more practical, more earthly than just spiritual remembrance.

Maya's godmother also turned out to have a different view of her role than we did.  Her goddaughter was not invited to her wedding.  Both Alex and I were in the wedding - I as a bridesmaid and Alex as an usher, but Maya just wasn't supposed to show up.  Only family kids, she said.  Two issues with that - one, I assumed being her goddaughter, she counted as family, but apparently not.  And two, she was only 8 months old, so wouldn't be running around or eating any of their food.  I was forced to pry myself away from my daughter for the first time and leave her with my sister-in-law in the hotel as I attended the wedding.  And now that Maya's godmother had a baby of her own, we were looking forward to being at said baby's baptism.  Only we just got word that it may be "family only".  

As for accountability - Alex and I must hold each other accountable.  Neither of the godparents were there when I left the church during my postpartum period.  One was too absent to even know I was suffering a crisis of faith, and the other - in spite of knowing - did not do or say anything to help ensure that her goddaughter was still being raised in the faith.

I am pissed at myself for trying to idealize what the godparent role is supposed to be.  I wanted better godparents than Alex and I had.  I wanted involved godparents, additional people who would be "like family".  I wanted to extend Maya's circle of love and influence, especially when it comes to faith.  But instead, I ended up building an awkward wall between me and my mother, and having dashed expectations with both of Maya's godparents.

My godparents were my maternal grandfather, on whose behalf my grandmother always bought gifts and remembered special occasions, and my mom's sister.  My grandfather/godfather happened to be visiting us in the US when I was confirmed, and so I chose him as my sponsor.  But it was a matter of convenience, since we didn't know other Catholics.  My aunt/godmother told me after my wedding that her job as godmother was now done.  As if she had done anything in regards to my faith formation.  She didn't even attend my wedding.

I wanted better for Maya.  But it looks like it was a pipe dream.  I meant well, yet sometimes the best of intentions do not make up for the rotten impact of a decision.

As we consider the possibility of adding another child to our family, my number one concern is having to choose godparents yet again!  I'm pretty much at a point where I will just leave the decision up to Alex and hope for the best.  No matter what I decide, I no longer believe that I can ensure that my kids have certain relationships with certain people.  I suppose we can call it a lesson learned and move on.  I suppose that's the only thing we can do.  Dwelling on regret isn't going to change what is. 

What's important is that Maya was baptized and is being raised in Christ's one, holy, and apostolic catholic church, something that always was and always will be the sole right and responsibility of her parents.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Meeting His Maker

(Please go here to read Part One of Henry's Crossing Over:

This week has been spent in a slow burn.  My father-in-law Henry has not been with us in any real sense of the word since Monday, when he was taken to the hospital and Oscar received a distraught call from his sister, after which he made his way over there.  We assumed Henry would cross over by the next day, but it didn't happen that way.  He was switched over to comfort care and sedation on Tuesday, and on Wednesday got moved to a nursing home near Yoli's house.

Oscar had said his goodbyes before leaving on Tuesday.  He had spent the day carrying his dad on a couple of occasions - like a baby, he said - since Henry would get disoriented and want to move around, his frailty however not allowing him to do so.  Oscar prayed over his dad, said whatever else he needed to say to him, thanked him once again for raising him.  There was no sense - Oscar said - to stick around and watch his dad essentially sleeping, yet really just waiting for his body to die.

I've noticed that I've been quite particular about my choice of euphemism regarding Henry's passing. It's not so much on purpose as it is based on what feels natural.  The phrase "crossing over" has stuck with me very strongly.  I really see it that way - that upon death, our soul (that which in essence is what we call "I") merely leaves this body behind and continues on in the spiritual realm.  The details may not be clear, but the fact is unquestionable in my mind.

Henry's youngest son, Elliott, was able to spend the day with his non-responsive father before he passed.  I was glad to hear it, though I'm not sure how big of a consolation it was for Elliott, unable to get a response from his dad anymore.  Still, Henry knew he was there, and Elliott can feel reassured by that.

Elliott's wife came by as Oscar was leaving.  Oscar's mom didn't want to see her - and who could blame her - but Yoli agreed to let her see Henry.  Apparently she had played a part in convincing Henry to let Oscar bring him up to Virginia, where he would spend the last year of his life among his children.  That had to count for something.

Last night - Thursday - Elliott called to tell Oscar that the medical personnel were saying the time is soon upon us.  Of course, that is a vague and relative term, for we had been waiting in one sense since Monday, and in another sense for a couple of months.  Still, Oscar and I decided to make plans to spend the weekend near family, anticipating Henry's imminent passing.

I thought about how strange it was that a nursing home would have visiting hours.  After all, this automatically took the choice away from the family and the person preparing to cross over, regarding whether or not he would want to be surrounded by loved ones.  So often I hear people regret not being able to make it to the hospital where their loved one passes on before they get there. Here though, the family is left to anticipate a call each morning, should their loved one pass during the night.

I thought about my great-grandmother, the first whose death I somewhat witnessed.  I technically missed the actual moment of her crossing over, but I was with her just minutes before and again just minutes later.  She crossed over in her own home, with her daughter by her side.  There was comfort in that - not just for us, but I imagine for her as well.  It seems that everyone should be allowed the privilege of crossing over in their own home, surrounded by loved ones, if at all possible.

We weren't sure if we'd still see Henry alive or not.  Either way, Oscar had made his peace and said his goodbyes.  As for me, I still regretted that Natalia hadn't been able to show more affection for her Abuelo, but at this point, it didn't really matter much anyway, except maybe to me.

This morning, before the sun was up, I awoke to Natalia sleep nursing on my left, and Oscar kneeling by the bed on my right, whispering that "it's time".  I slowly remembered the gravity of the day and fought hard with my sleep idol in order to get out of bed.  I assumed Oscar just wanted to get an early start on the day, but after I got up, I realized that Henry was gone.  "He's gone.  My dad is gone."  We hugged quietly, and I remembered the other times we hugged this way.  When my dad had his accident and was in an induced coma.  When we learned of our severe infertility.  When my best friend took her own life.

Oscar pointed out in that moment, that this is why married people live longer, because they have someone to comfort them in times of need.  I felt strangely closer to him, closer than I have since Natalia became my primary occupation.  And over these past few months and especially the last week, I didn't feel so much as a stranger in my in-law family.  I was grieving right along with them.  I knew Henry, I liked Henry, and I had so wished for Natalia to grow up knowing him.  This last point was probably the loss I'm grieving the most. After my dad’s accident, his brain injury resulted in aphasia, an inability to express himself properly with words.  As Natalia began to say her first words, I became self-conscious about how this may make my dad feel.  And I thought of her other grandfather, how she would be able to have regular conversations with him.  And now, that possibility is gone.

We packed our two dogs, booked a hotel for the weekend, and headed out - earlier than Natalia and I usually wake up for the day.  We drove straight to the funeral home, where they were holding Henry's body.  Apparently, they were just waiting for us to come by and see him one last time and say goodbye.

He didn't look much different from the last time I saw him, five days earlier.  He was on a stretcher, covered to his neck with a dark green blanket, wearing a navy blue knit hat.  His eyes and his mouth were closed.  In that regard, he actually looked more peaceful and less scary than the last time I saw him sleeping in his hotel room in Virginia Beach.  That day, his mouth had been ajar, and it looked like he had exactly every other of his teeth.

I brought Natalia in on my arm, trying to make sense of the situation for a child too young to even remember what's happening.  Oscar and Yoli had a few moments of saying goodbye.  Natalia and I gave Yoli a hug, then I caught myself saying that Abuelo was asleep and quickly searching for a way to qualify that so that she didn't associate regular sleep with such finality.  Luckily at her age, she isn't going to make that leap.  But I added that Abuelo went to be with Jesus.  Yoli and Oscar exchanged a few words, to which Natalia shushed them, putting her index finger to her lips.  "Abuelo sleep" she said.  They smiled and Oscar repeated what I had just told her - that Abuelo is now with Jesus.

Strange as it may sound, I swear it appeared that Natalia teared up and started wiping her eyes.  It was a quiet kind of crying that a sad adult would do, not the tantrum-style wailing I was used to hearing from her.  I did notice an eyelash coming out of her right eye, so perhaps that was the culprit.  But the timing was nonetheless ominous.

Natalia and I circled around the large room where Henry lay on his stretcher.  She knocked on the door we came in, trying to leave.  We went back one final time to see him, and as I held her up, she repeated after me, "bye Abuelo" (waving her left hand).  Then, putting both hands to her chest per the ASL sign for love she whispered after me, "I love" (dropping the "you" as is her habit).

A little later, in the car, she recalled the events of the morning.  "Abuelo nie placze. Abuelo cama sleep" (Grandpa not crying.  Grandpa bed sleep).  And she added, "Jesus" (pronounced the Spanish way, with an initial "h" sound and the accent on the "u".)

It's strange to be here.  There will be no funeral.  Henry requested that he be cremated, and his ashes will be available to the family in about a week.  We are planning on taking a trip down to Florida around February/March, so that we can spread his ashes at the park where he and his kids hung out growing up, per his request.

I'm used to there being some official ceremony surrounding death, and perhaps the spreading of his ashes will feel that way to me.  But for now, it's as if his death has been a sad but natural part of life. It's strangely comforting, actually, since the last funeral I went to - one of two in my life - was of my best friend, who had taken her own life.  Rachel's death was unexpected and tragic and it angered me. I was upset with her for leaving me on purpose, and all the religious speak that I not only bought into but perpetrated by way of my eulogy ignored the fact that if she truly trusted God's plan for her life, she wouldn't have taken matters into her own hands the way she did.

But Henry's death... has been different.  We all knew it was coming.  He was at peace about it, but he didn't seek it out.  He was simply content with the life that was given him, and was happy to be going home to his Maker.  I guess it makes no sense to call one death tragic and not another death.  All death is tragic.  But Henry's death hasn't angered me.  Saddened, of course, but not angered.  Perhaps others are angry not so much with Henry as with God, but this is a normal human reaction to any death, any event period, that doesn't live up to our expectations.  We acknowledge that death is inevitable, but we have an idea of when that inevitability is the most tolerable (at a very old age, in one's sleep) and are quick to blame God for not letting everyone die this kind of death.

Going forward, I hope to see us all, especially Henry's family, rally around God the way they rallied around Henry in these last days and weeks and months of his life.  Priorities were rearranged.  Pennies were not counted.  Grudges were laid aside.  Time was spent on what matters most.  What a beautiful reminder for every day of our lives!  What a privilege it has been, albeit a sad and difficult one to bare, to receive advanced notice of Henry's passing.  I've often thought that anticipation is the worst, but really, it just means you can start the grieving process earlier, when you still have a chance to make amends, so that when your loved one crosses over, you don't have regrets and shock piled on top of your grief.

Perhaps this is what it means to be a witness to God's love even in death.  Not through some heroic action or profound words of wisdom, but simply by being present, and allowing the will of God to create the circumstances that have the best chance of bringing our loved ones closer to the One we will all meet one day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Henry's Crossing Over

rieved several times in my life.  It's generally been after a loss.  This time, it's different.  This time it feels like I'm mourning in advance.  Maybe it's better this way?

My father-in-law is dying.  I don't mean in the sense that we are all dying from the moment of birth. I don't even mean in the sense of having been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Though both of these are true.  I mean he is actively in the process of dying.  His organs have started to shut down.  He is no longer lucid.  Essentially, we are waiting for him to breathe his last.

I'm not very close with him.  Then again, I'm not very close with many people period - relatives or otherwise.  But I was always fond of him.  When I met him 16 years ago, I immediately liked him.  I didn't worry about being judged by him.  I was new in my relationship with Alex, and very self-conscious about how I came across to his mom and sister in particular.  Latinas, let's just say, intimidated me.

But when I met Henry, he was this short little Central American Indian man with long, black, wavy hair down half his back. Always smiling.  He had a bit of a goofy demeanor about him.  He moved a bit like a little kid that couldn't sit still.  He always seemed happy and excited.

The first conversation I had with him, he explained to me that in spite of having never formally adopted Alex and his sister, he always thought of them as his own.  He came into the picture before Alex and Marilena reunited with their mother in the United States.  He and Alex's mom had a son together, Ritchie.  They were still seemingly in love and happily married when I met my in-laws.  Sadly, by the time Alex and I got married four years later, his parents had split up.

On one of our visits back to Florida, home base for my in-law clan, Henry insisted on introducing Alex and Marilena to some buddies of his.  I remember staying in the car and waiting - we were en route somewhere, and I generally get traumatized by meeting strangers.  Henry was practically bursting with energy and jumping rather than walking as he corralled his two grown kids into the friends' house.

Over the years, Marilena moved up closer to us, followed by their mom, and finally Ritchie.  It seemed strange that the issue of Henry's homelessness just sort of crept into my consciousness as one of those things that is a sad reality but not really something I could do anything about.  A few years ago, Alex and Marilena split the cost of sending Henry back to their native country of El Salvador, where he got to visit his mom.  He had a falling out with his brother since I met him, and apparently he wasn't close to his sister either.

Last year, Henry finally agreed to leave Florida.  Alex made the road trip to get him, and Henry moved in with Marilena.  I remember seeing him for the first time in many years - and having Maya meet him for the first time ever - at a cousin's baby shower.  He was like I remembered him, for the most part, though clearly much less enthused than before.  Perhaps he was ashamed of having spent a decade living on the streets?  Perhaps he was just nervous about trying to fit back into the family again?

Then Maya turned one, and Henry was there.  In fact, Maya has a cute photo of herself on Alex's lap, with both her grandfathers - my dad and Henry.  Soon after that, Alex's brother got married - this January, actually.  I insisted on getting a photo of Maya with both her paternal grandparents, even though they weren't on speaking terms.  Thankfully, both agreed.  The photo shows Alex holding Maya, and his mom decked out on one side, while Henry - in the usual style I remember, stepped up behind Alex and leaned onto his shoulder in a sort of peak-a-boo pose.

At the wedding reception, Maya and I sat with Henry for a bit and had one of our awkward yet friendly conversations.  I - trying to speak Spanish yet ever self-conscious about it, Henry responding in English to ease my stress.  At one point, he told me that he was very sick.  He put his index finger to his lips and shushed as he asked me not to tell his kids.  I didn't really make much out of it.  After living on the streets for a decade, struggling with alcoholism and isolation from family, and the resulting lack of regular medical care, it was no secret that he needed some medical attention.  Alex had already told me as much.  But it seemed that he was talking about something much more dire. He seemed to have a keen awareness of where he was on his life's journey.

Soon, Henry was working again, his son-in-law bought him a car.  He got a taste of normalcy again, it seemed.  But none of this lasted very long.  A few months ago, on Marilena's birthday no less, Henry was diagnosed with throat cancer.  Apparently, it had been weeks since he was able to comfortably eat anything.

At first, the conversations Alex and I had centered on trying to stay positive.  "Let's not jump to conclusions" we would take turns saying.  Nonetheless, Alex wanted to "prepare for the worst but hope for the best", as he researched funeral arrangements.

It didn't take long - maybe a week, maybe two - to find out that Henry's cancer had spread.  First to his back, then to his brain.  He had his first chemo therapy by then, so we kept thinking that as long as there's treatment, there's hope.  But once the cancer spread to his brain, we had to face the reality of Henry's situation being terminal.

We didn't know how much time he had.  It could be six months, maybe more, maybe less.  I remember asking Alex to remind me when Henry's birthday was.  When he said it was April, my thoughts rushed around trying to figure out if he might live to his next birthday or not.  Part of me hoped so, yet part of me was doubtful.

Marilena took on full responsibility for caring for him.  He of course quit working and driving. The first time we visited after his diagnosis, when we came in and he approached the door to greet us, I was struck with how much he had changed.  He had lost a lot of weight, and it showed very drastically in his face.  He wasn't oblivious to it either.  Seeing Maya's resistance in greeting him, he noted that it must be because he's so skinny in the face, that she doesn't recognize him.

I knew Alex would be back and forth between our state and where his dad was living, taking his turn escorting him to doctor visits.  But I didn't anticipate many more visits for myself and Maya.  I saw that visit as a goodbye visit, although we would actually see him several more times.

I managed to get a photo of Henry with just his two granddaughters.  There was a kickboxing bag on the patio, so I hid behind it and held Maya sitting on top.  Then her cousin and Henry stood next to it.  He wore a hat hiding a big bump on the top of his head.  It wasn't clear to me if this was a visible sign of the brain cancer, or something else entirely.

Shortly before we left, I reheated Maya's mac-n-cheese to feed her on the way back.  Henry followed me into the kitchen, asking what I was making.  Having forgotten that he hasn't eaten over a month by this time, I just brushed it off as nothing much.  But he persisted, looking around my shoulder to see for himself.  I told him macaroni, and then realized what Alex later told me - that he was living vicariously through us by his interest in what we ate.

I knew that every time I asked Alex where he learned to be so kind, so laid-back, so flexible, so generous, he would always say "my dad".  Now that it became increasingly clear that Henry's time on earth was limited, I thought this was something he should know.  I was terrified of broaching the subject myself.  It was already an emotional topic, the circumstances of it were dire, and I wanted to relay the information in Spanish.  As Henry walked me and Maya out that day, when we were getting ready to go home, I got a burst of courage and I started.

I stopped once or twice to collect myself, as Henry patiently waited for me to get to my point.  He may have teared up a little, but it was clear that he had made peace with the fact that his time was coming to an end.  He smiled, pointing and looking up to heaven, referencing God, and said that he's ready.  I said that I didn't know if Alex had every shared this with him or not, but that I wanted to make sure he knew what a role model he had been for him.  His facial expression when I said this told me that I had done the right thing in braving through.

I quickly commented on his earring, which I hadn't noticed before.  He had just gotten his long hair cut, in anticipation of going bald from chemo, and gave it to his son Ritchie.  So I also tried to show Maya his short hair, trying to point out how Abuelo may look different than she remembers him but he's still the same Abuelo.

I suggested that on his next visit to see his dad, Alex would tell Henry himself what I had told him.  He did, and he later texted me that his dad just lit up upon hearing it.  I'm sure hearing it from his own son was much more meaningful than hearing it second-hand from his daughter-in-law.  Now he had heard it twice, so I was confident that he knew he had made a positive impact on the world.  Not that he doubted that.  I don't know, I don't think so.  After all, he seemed at peace.  But when I put myself in his shoes, I thought that this was exactly the kind of reassurance I would have liked and needed to hear.

The next time we visited, Henry not only looked weaker but seemed to be weaker.  Henry only got up to go use the restroom.  To do so, he needed to turn off and unhook his feeding tube.  Alex helped him so that it would stop leaking. He spent most of the time of our visit on the sofa, watching Univision.  He and his ex-wife (my mother-in-law) had recently made some sort of peace.  He agreed to let her care for him, which was a big step.  Earlier, he only consented to speaking to her on the phone.  He must have not wanted her to see him in his frail condition.  Yet here they were, in the same room, exchanging normal friendly conversation.  She looked at the show he was watching and asked if he preferred it to the other Spanish-language channel, Telemundo.  He said yes, that there were only telenovelas (soap operas) on the other channel.  Perhaps something got lost in translation, as the show he was watching on Univision seemed like a telenovela to me!

Maya didn't want to give her Abuelo a hug or a kiss, not even a high-five.  It broke my heart, though I understood that she wasn't trying to be rude.  She was genuinely shy of the strange-looking guy who didn't resemble the Abuelo she had met the year before.  She wasn't even two years old yet, after all.  It was a lot to ask her to be extra nice to her Abuelo.  She did go get some ice for him when I tried to convince her to show some sort of interest in him because he was sad.  She took that to mean that he had a boo-boo.  She led me to the fridge, had me open the freezer and take out the ice stick, and she brought it ever so tentatively and pointed it in the direction of Henry.  I suppose I should count that as a success.

It was during this visit that Alex started to formulate a plan to show Henry the ocean one more time. He had loved the ocean, and Alex saw an opportunity to bring the family together again, the way they were before their parents split up, before the kids each went their separate ways.

In spite of sensing the urgency of the situation, it still took two weeks for the weekend trip to take place.  Henry was getting his second chemo treatment the morning before his daughter drove him to meet the rest of us at Virginia Beach.  It had been delayed because of various problems in the interim - an infection and the need to replace his feeding tube, a fall that resulted in stitches on his eyebrow, a fever that had to be controlled before he'd be cleared for chemo.

Alex, Maya, and I were the first to arrive Friday evening.  Alex booked four rooms on the beach, with ocean-views.  Thank God he did.  Henry was very frail and weak post-chemo and due to the meds he was on to control his nausea.  He no longer walked on his own; his daughter rented a wheelchair from the Walgreens across the street.

It was no surprise that Alex's brother had another falling-out with his bride. The point of this weekend trip seemed to have been completely lost on her.  She wanted Ritchie to go to work instead of coming on the trip.  I remember saying to Alex, "doesn't she understand the gravity of the situation?  The point of this trip?"  I was very upset, assuming that Ritchie would do what his wife wanted instead of being there for his dad, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Marilena picked him up straight from work and he came as he was.  He watched his dad both nights and during the days as well, giving Marilena a little break.  Considering that he was facing losing his dad and possibly his marriage all at once, he held up pretty well.

Friday evening was the last time I exchanged a greeting with Henry. We had adjoining rooms, so when he and his two other kids were sitting on the balcony with him, I came out with Maya and we waved and said "hola Abuelo".  He looked at us and I'm pretty sure I saw a faint smile across his face. During Maya's two hour nap, Henry was taken for a nice walk with the family.  Alex texted me a photo of them on the boardwalk.  But later when we brought him a strawberry slurpie to the room, he was asleep, and his ex-wife was caring for him.  She had brought her boyfriend, who was relaxing on the other bed, watching TV.  I was struck by the strangeness of the situation.  I don't know if I was projecting my apprehensions onto Henry, or if he actually felt the way I imagined he did, having his ex-wife there with her boyfriend.  Maybe it's a cultural thing.

At any rate, Maya and I sat down for a quick second upon Abuela's insistence.  I was worried that Maya had sucked all the flavor from the slurpie on our way back to the hotel.  She wouldn't let up until we let her hold it, and in the elevator we noticed the ice was more pink than the original red.  I looked over at Henry, sleeping with his knit hat on, under the covers, mouth slightly ajar and the spaces between his teeth reminiscent of tiny caverns.  He looked familiar in an eerie way. He didn't look like himself.  He looked like what I imagine everyone looks like when approaching death.  He had aged tremendously in the past few months.  No one would guess he was only 55.

I left the room keenly aware that something had changed on this weekend.  I wasn't sure how much it was discernible to the rest of the family, but I knew that Henry was dying.  I thought about the timing of this trip, and how it came not a moment too soon.  I thought about how this was probably his last week on earth.

That evening, after Alex, Maya, and I went to mass, the family - minus Henry and Ritchie - went out to eat.  It was my birthday.  I got gifts, I was sang to, I got dessert. What a strange juxtaposition, I thought.  On one hand, I was sad that Henry wasn't with us.  On the other hand, I was relieved he didn't have to be tempted by all the food he couldn't eat.  He hadn't been able to eat not because of some dietary restrictions.  He physically couldn't eat.  Food would inadvertently go down his esophagus and into his lungs instead of his stomach.  The cancer was blocking the correct tube - hence the need for his feeding tube.

The next morning, we took family photos.  I'm pretty sure everyone knew this was the last time we would be taking a family photo of everyone together like this.  All three siblings, both parents.  I tried again to convince Maya to say hello to Abuelo.  Give him a kiss.  Give him a hug.  Give him a high five.  Sit on his lap on the wheelchair.  Nothing.  She recoiled and buried her face into my shoulder. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have even tried to push her past her comfort level.  Since birth, Alex and I agreed that we would respect her boundaries regarding whom she wanted to greet and how.  At least while she was a baby.  But these weren't normal circumstances, and I couldn't help but feel badly on account of Henry.  It must have felt like a rejection for his little granddaughter not to want to sit on his lap.

Technically, in Maya's defense, she did do her little "dinosaurio growl" that she started doing that week as a way to break the ice.  She didn't feel too shy to say "dinosaurio" and put up her hands like a little T-rex while growling and laughing at perfect strangers.  Generally, the adults responded in kind, and everyone got a good laugh out of it.  But this time, she said it so softly, that only I heard her, by virtue of holding her up and having just suggested it to her and therefore watching to see if she'd comply.  It didn't seem that Abuelo heard her.  Or maybe he did but not having the benefit of the context, didn't get what she was doing.  She wouldn't do it a second time.

We all left the hotel in our separate cars at roughly the same time, with the intention of stopping on the way home to have lunch together.  So it didn't even cross my mind to say goodbye to anyone.  In the car, Alex told me that his dad had said he's waiting for Maya to come around and give him a hug.  I didn't know if this meant he had hope of being around until she did, or if he had just said that for Alex's benefit.  To be honest, the very first thing that came to mind was an image of Maya wrapping her little arms around an urn with Henry's ashes in it.  After all, once on the other side, Henry won't be bothered by her toddler slights.  He won't remember any of the suffering or sadness from his earthly life.  He'll be in the presence of his Maker, and no joy or peace that we know could compare to that. But for now, I worried about how he felt.

A few hours into our journey, my mother-in-law notified us that they'd wait until they were home to eat, in order to have Salvadoran food.  It was completely out of the way for us, as we had an additional hour and a half traffic-free and on the highway once we passed their exit.  And so no goodbye joint lunch took place.

Alex was planning on taking his dad to a doctor's appointment on Tuesday, but Monday he got a frantic call from his sister.  Somehow, it came to her awareness that the doctor's office "tried to contact" Henry with the results of his pre-chemo bloodwork.  His calcium levels were very high, and he was urged to go to the emergency room.  This was apparently a voice mail left on Henry's cell phone Friday.  At first, I joined in the grumbling about how idiotic it was for them to leave a message with such urgent information and not bother looking in his chart to see that they were supposed to be contacting Marilena directly.  But then it occurred to me - had they done that, this beach trip wouldn't have happened. Not this past weekend, and not ever.

As it turns out, excess calcium in the bloodstream is related to one's bodily organs beginning to shut down.  And upon Monday's examination, that is precisely what started to happen.  Marilena was overwhelmed with grief and shock and exhaustion from trying to care for her dad while also working and parenting her daughter.  Henry started to separate himself from reality.  He stripped down to his birthday suit at home, and again later at the hospital, that time also pulling out his IV.  When Alex arrived there close to midnight, he confirmed that Henry was no longer lucid.

Over the weekend, Henry was already showing confusion as to where they were going and the like.  I had assumed it was the brain tumor affecting his memory.  And maybe it was.  But just two days later, he was simply not Henry anymore.

As it stands now, Henry is expected to be moved to a hospice tomorrow, to spend his last days there. His doctor doesn't expect him to live past Friday.  And while I normally try to take doctors' life expectancy guesses as that - guesses, under the dire circumstances, I don't doubt it.  And considering Henry's poor quality of life right now, I don't think it's a bad thing either.

Essentially, Henry's mind has already checked out.  He's been ready to cross over for a while, and he was at peace about it.  Really, these last few days of waiting for Henry's body to completely shut down are a strange transition period for his family, time for us to slowly come to terms with the immediate inevitability of Henry's death.

Last night, before Alex left to go be with his family, I texted a bunch of people requesting prayers.  I was vague except with the few people who responded asking for specifics.  Within an hour or so, over a dozen people had confirmed that they were praying.  Some didn't know what they were praying for, a few did.  It gave me a strange sense of spiritual awareness as I envisioned their prayers being lifted up, united with each other, traveling to surround Henry, Alex, and his siblings and mom.

I don't know how intercessory prayer works, but I do know that it is helping me - a mere bystander really, as the non-native Spanish speaking distant daughter-in-law - to make MY peace with the coming death of my father-in-law.  What I also hope it will do is turn Henry's death into something positive in terms of Alex's family.  I hope it will bring them closer together again.  But I also hope it will bring each of them closer to God.  Perhaps once Henry crosses over, he can start working on that himself :)

(Go here for Part Two of Henry's Crossing Over: