All posts by Kathie Amidei

View From the Back Pew

Often I sit in the back pew. I like it there. Between me and the altar are the people I know and love. From this vantage point, I remember to pray for all those I know who bear burdens, are hurting, are wounded. As I look out and see all the people who have been kind to me, helped me, and loved me, I more often remember to be grateful.

There is a space, in the row in front of me, that looks very empty right now. Elaine’s spot is empty since she recently passed away. My friends, Dave and Ann, had brought Dave’s mom, Elaine, to our church regularly since she moved to an assisted living facility in our area. I would watch them get her out of the car, into her wheelchair. I wondered how much earlier they had to leave home to get her and bring her to church. Carefully, they would wheel her into “their pew”, with Elaine at the end of the row in her wheelchair. For the most part she sat there, but when we all rose at the Eucharistic prayer, Elaine, grasping the pew in front of her, pulled herself up and stood reverently.

When she did, her son, imperceptibly, but carefully, ever so slightly, rearranged her chair so when she sat down it would be positioned perfectly. I had come to look for this sweet dance; Elaine’s life force still there, Dave’s slight glance checking on her, and the tiny movement, re-positioning of her chair. As I watched Dave, I thought about this small gesture of care and love for his elderly mom. In fact, I looked for it every week, so touching I found it. She didn’t know he was doing this for her, anymore than I imagine Dave knew the thousand, maybe million, little gestures of care and love his mom had done for him, even before he was old enough to be aware of them. His mom did this long before he had any clue to say thank you. Somehow, the love story told on the altar, was made more real in the little story that unfolded as I watched it from the back pew.

And I wonder is this how we learn to love, by being part of the circle of many indiscernible unremarkable caring gestures shown to us and then passed on?

Godincidences

This story will only have meaning if you know something about me. It is this. I don’t remember dates. Even dates I should know. I have to practice my husband’s and children’s birthdates. I review them in my mind like multiplication tables. These simple facts just don’t stay in any accessible place in my brain.

If you do know me you may remember I lost my beloved sister unexpectedly in the fall. I have tried to keep in touch with my brother-in-law as best I can. But by most standards my attentiveness has been less than stellar. We text and email occasionally and have gathered at family events. I have wanted to take the time to visit just with him but between the hour drive and an especially busy schedule I have postponed arranging a time to meet over and over again.

This week I realized I had a meeting scheduled near his work. Finally, I got in touch and we arranged to meet this afternoon. We had a lovely visit. Shortly before we parted Tim said to me, “I am so happy you asked to meet me today. Today would have been our 25th wedding anniversary.” I was speechless. The fact that this overdue visit happened today amazed me. I felt we had been given a gift in our care for each other. I wonder if that is how the love of God is made incarnate in our world. We try to love each other in our imperfect way and God’s Spirit works with the little love we manage and blesses it with meaning.

You may think that today being Mary and Tim’s 25th wedding anniversary is a coincidence. I am sitting here, honestly, a little sad remembering their beautiful wedding and the love they pledged to each other that day. This was not the anniversary Tim wanted but I knew that in being able to share a meal together was consolation, not a coincidence but a Godincidence, the Holy Spirit guiding ordinary events into occasions of grace.

The Journey

When I was younger, I thought there would be a time when I would be grown-up. I thought at a certain point I would be a “completed grown-up” where I was pretty much finished growing, learning, becoming. I had no idea I would be here decades later still maturing.
Just this past week I was very upset with two interactions with others. I told my husband these people are pushing the same button in me…and it wasn’t a good button! He noted a similarity in both cases that reflected a negative relationship in my past. Somehow just figuring that out allowed me to grow up just a little more and find a bit more peace in my heart and compassion for them. Self-knowledge can have a huge impact in the quality of our life and I have come to believe we never get to that “finished” place I previously thought existed. We all are “works in progress” and that makes life interesting. Through that lens I see how God still is working on me and in my life every day. I more clearly see God must love me to have not given up on me.
This is what Dr. Doug Meske and I wrote about in the book, The Journey. For years we each had worked, not only on our own life journey, but also accompanied many other folks along the way. We decided to write down and share what we learned about the emotional and spiritual lessons we had discovered over the years.
For each of us- our life is an adventure, a challenge, a miracle, an opportunity, a responsibility, a gift. It is a journey we will only take once.

Prayer Corner

I was listening to a discussion on Relevant Radio today and someone said “Don’t just give up or do something for Lent. Let whatever you do or don’t do be something that brings you closer to God.” One way we probably can’t go wrong this Lent is to incorporate some prayer practice, perhaps a new one, the Examen or the Labyrinth or just dust off one we already know, the Rosary or maybe just saying the Our Father slowing at the beginning and end of the day.

Lisa, mom of Nate and Maria, told me, that after being at the Prayer Fair her children came home and each made a “prayer corner” in their living room. Not a traditional devotional space with candles, a Bible, and religious pictures, but a cozy space complete with soft blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals; a comfy spot to curl up and enjoy some personal quiet time with God. Later she sent this picture and message. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says “The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God’s works, is the master of prayer.”

I think the Holy Spirit is at work in a church that encourages prayer, in the home that found room for unconventional prayer corners and in the creativity of children who want to pray. John Roberto said the walls of his Italian grandmother’s home breathed Catholicism. May our homes breath with the beauty of prayer this Lent.

Christmas Homecoming

I love the holiday song, “Celebrate Me Home.” (Kenny Loggins) It touches some tender place in my heart making me think of my first Christmas home from college. When I left for college my family moved from New York to Racine Wisconsin. So when I came “home” for that first break it was to somewhere I had never been, into a house, in a city I had never seen. And yet when I think about experiencing “coming home” it is the memory deep, in my bones, of being with my family that Christmas break.

Coming into a home I had never been in, hung a painting I had done as a child and the house smelled of my mother’s Italian meatballs and sauce, and my beloved younger six brothers and sisters surrounded me with their laughter and love. It is a sweet memory that felt magical after the loneliest few months I had ever known.

We are home to each other. The purpose of our lives is to create that home for each other in family, the one we are born into, and the ones we make with each other in the circle of our shared kindness and goodness.

God left the bliss of heaven to bless the earth by becoming one of us, becoming human. In the Incarnation we celebrate, Emanuel, God with us. Our good and almighty God must have wanted something like I found on that college Christmas break- home- a home with humanity, with all of our flaws and potential.

Jesus gave up so much to become a lasting home to us. I wish that Christ’s merciful love be where you find “home.” May we become a home to each other! I am so grateful for all the ways you have been that to me.

What I have learned from Patrick

My nephew, Patrick, is special. Sometimes we say Patrick has special needs. I think it is more accurate to say Patrick is just plain special.

His mom, my sister, passed away recently, you may remember. Last week we had a final memorial service where I invited our family members, to bless the small crypt where her remains were laid to rest. Each person, taking holy water was invited bless the space and to share a memory or offer a silent prayer of gratitude for the gift of Mary in their lives. Everyone did share beautiful thoughts of gratitude or treasured memories. I had asked Patrick to hold the pewter bowl containing the holy water that everyone dipped their hand in and made the sign of the cross on the glass of her final resting place. When everyone had done so, I took the bowl from Patrick, and without any direction, he the dipped his hand into the bowl and walked to the columbaria. He dropped to his knees, blessed the space with the holy water, then placed both of his hands on the glass and began to talk to his mom. He told her how much he missed her and loved her. He said, “We were a great team. You helped me with so many things. I don’t know how I am going to do everything without you. But I am 21 years old and I am going to try my best.” His heartfelt expression was true, sincere and touching. Those of us who witnessed it knew we were being blessed with his unaffected soulful expression of how many of us feel when faced with our toughest moments.

What I learned from Patrick’s childlike goodness and nature is:
Think less. Love more.
Speak from your heart.
Lead with gratitude.
Do your best even if what you face seems daunting.
And remember what a great team we are together.

The Priest and the Imam

The dad who came up to me in the soda aisle of Sentry probably doesn’t know he made my day. As I pondered the kind of seltzer water I was supposed to buy, smiling, he approached me and said, “Did you see the Amazon commercial?” I knew exactly what he meant… “Yes, the knee pads and the priest and the imam?” “Yes!” he said, “I couldn’t believe I saw it right after Family Program!” “I know isn’t it great that we are on the same page, the same message from Family Program and Amazon” And inside I am cheering, “Yeah, when Church is relevant!”

A little background… the adults in Family Program just had a Parent Café discussion on the question,

How do you raise children who are strong in their Catholic identity but also can relate to those of other faiths? A challenging question, don’t you think?

The commercial the dad was referring to depicts a visit between two old friends, a priest and a Muslim imam.

As they each get up for their discussion, they privately (they think…) note their aching knees. In the next scene, you see the priest and the imam each are visited by an Amazon delivery, having each sent the other, knee pads. In the last scene, each of them is using the gift as a cushion kneeling in prayer.

Of course, I loved the commercial. But beyond that good will message sent into the world, my heart was lifted to witness a dad in our community integrating faith and life. Isn’t that what we all hope for? That our faith, our deepest beliefs and longings, are integrated into our everyday lives and that the messages from our Christian faith community are relevant to the myriad of issues that fill our days?

And I wonder what would happen if we more often took a page from that playbook of that commercial? We all hurt in some ways, often in more similar ways that we realize. And despite our differences if we choose the small acts of care can we change the world, one knee pad at a time?

Watch the commercial:

Dear Mom

I have wondered a thousand times if I have done the right thing as a mom, a wife, a friend. Did I say things in a way that encouraged and lifted up those I love or discouraged them? Did I anticipate their needs and respond adequately? Was I warm, welcoming and kind?

Sometimes I forget to give myself credit for the small, simple things that I do for those I love. But even more often, I am not mindful of the things others do that remind me they love and care for me. I forget to say thank you. If I stop, for even a minute, I see how full of love my life is and it changes my perspective on most everything.

My husband emptied the dishwasher before I got home from work. (Actually he also turned it on before he left for work so the dishes got cleaned in the first place!) My son sent me a text yesterday just to ask how I was doing. My colleague understood when I was late on a deadline. My days are full of benedictions I walk past in a fog because I am thinking of the next thing on my agenda.

I thought of this because at my sister’s memorial last week, my nephew, Patrick, who has special needs, had his big brother read a note from him. It read:
Dear Mom,
I love you.
I miss you.
Thanks for making my lunches.
Love,
Patrick

Thanks, Patrick, for reminding me to say thank you for the little things that make life rich. Thanks for reminding me to appreciate the million simple ways we say “I love you” transforming common acts into the blessings they are.

Answer to Prayer

nateandmasonI witnessed a sweet conversation between two of my grandsons. They were seated at our high island stools sharing a snack. It looked something like a scene out of Cheers except instead of sharing a beer they were drinking water out of Ninja Turtle cups. I heard Mason, age 4 ½, ask his cousin, Natey, age 6, if Maria was his sister. Natey affirmed, “Yes, she is.” Mason said, a bit wistfully, “God gives you sisters.”

Mason knew this because he had requested one from his mom earlier in the week. She responded to him that indeed, it is God who “gives” sisters. She explained it was not a request she could honor on her own.  But she added, “You can pray for one.” Upon hearing this Mason folded his hands, bowed his head and respectfully requested, “God, please give me a sister.” He then immediately turned to his mom and asked, “What did He say?”

This is why I listen so intently to the conversations of children. Children get some things as adults we grow out of, like knowing our complete dependence on God and living each moment in trust that God has the answers. How often do I converse with God and expect a clear direct answer? I pray and wait, but what I really want is an answer, a solution, preferably straightway.

I ask God directly and confess I turn as quickly as a child to God and expect to get what I ask for. Though I may have decades of time and experience beyond that of a child, when it comes to the real mysteries in life we seem to be in a similar boat.

Maybe, like Mason, I have to learn to wait in watchful trust. The answers will unfold, maybe not right away, but in God’s time. But in the meantime, I might mention the sister idea to God myself.

 

Children of Divorce
Part 1

This summer I was part of a national panel on the topic of “Children at Risk.” Other panelists covered issues, such as, children with special needs and children who were abused or exploited.

I was asked to address the topic of children who are at risk because of coming from families of divorce. As a parent who had experienced divorce and as a pastoral minister who has facilitated numerous divorced parent support groups I had some thoughts on the topic. As a parent I was always focused on creating the optimal situation for my children in spite of the divorce. In ministry my focus is helping people find the hope in their suffering as well as spiritual and emotional recovery. But the responsibility to represent children of divorce compelled me to think more deeply and broadly about this issue. And, in fact, research shows there are particular risks for children of divorce. Hopefully awareness of them gives us the opportunity to minimize those risks and offer meaningful support.

As I explored the topic I began to think of this as an invisible way a child could be at risk. We do not always know a child in our midst is a child of divorce. In our churches, sports teams, schools, extracurricular activities, a child of divorce may not be immediately identifiable. Yet, the statistics show a challenge. A significant percentage of children will experience the divorce of their parents. Since the 1980’s the divorce rate in the United States is about 50%. The Pew Center, in “Parenting in America” (Fall 2015), Parents with Minor Children, reported 45% of children live with two married parents in their first marriage. In 1960 that statistic was 73%. Divorce is a significant and growing issue that affects many children.

In spite of the personal and pastoral experience I have had with divorce I don’t know that I initially thought about how children of divorce are inherently at risk. But the more I researched the topic the more I wondered if this might not be an important conversation to have with parents, and in our schools and our churches.

Parents of divorce are often struggling with many things from finances to faith. They often feel like they failed and can carry burdens of shame, guilt and can deal with many emotional challenges like anger, betrayal, and abandonment. Divorce has been described as a loss on multiple levels: physical, financial, emotional and spiritual. And this might pose the greatest risk. Children of divorce have parents that may be incredibly stressed in multiple ways at the same time their sense of self and support system erodes. I am convinced that the most important gift a parent can give a child through the experience of divorce is to work through these issues and challenges with other adults. Parents, the foundation of love and trust for a child, may be experiencing unstable circumstances. The most stable force in a child’s life, parents, may be moving, literally and figuratively. In talking with parents going through divorce I described this time of their life by saying, “your world is shaking.” And I saw heads go up and down as if to say… someone knows my world. The worst thing a parent can do is to put a child in the role of “helping” the parent through this experience. Extended family, a support group of other caring adults, competent therapists and spiritual guides can give parents the opportunity to heal and be better parents to their child.

I have heard experts say, “Divorce is never good for children.” The research about divorce and children can be overwhelmingly pessimistic. While that may be true it seems critical to ask, “How can we make this better for children?”

Over this summer, in subsequent posts, I will explore this topic of, Children of Divorce, an issue which we may not pay enough attention to. We know the statistics of divorce. But what are the strategies that optimize their childhood and long term healing? What makes the difference between a child at risk and a resilient child? How can parents, teachers and church help families though this experience? Let’s begin by never using the phrase broken families. Let’s look for a better term that does not label them with the judgmental phrase “broken.” Maybe we can simply call them families.