Fully present

Thank you for your prayers and positive thoughts. I rebounded pretty well from chemo and am up and about! Thank you for being there for me.

This past weekend, I was scheduled to lector at church, meaning that, among other things, I would stand in front of the church and read two of the readings aloud. In the days beforehand, I practiced in front of the kids as they played with their iPads.

On Sunday morning, I told them that it was time to go to church and they gave their usual protests. Generally, I ignore these protests because they really have no choice but today I told them, “Hey, when you are doing something special, I do my best to be there. I would love for you to be there for me today.”

In truth, when they are doing something special, I am often physically present but don’t always pay full attention. I check my phone. I talk with other parents. I craft a grocery list in my head. I try to be there, but I wander.

And I understand how long a Mass can feel when you are a child. So I told the boys that they could bring paper and pencils to church to draw or write but they had to come along.

After a stop on the way for croissants, we arrived early enough to get seats in the front pew on the side of the church. Mass began and the boys alternated between drawing and fighting. I tuned them out.

When it was my turn, I walked to the front of the church and read. I alternated between looking down at the text and up at the faces in the pews. The church was packed so there were many faces to see.

I hesitated to look directly at my boys, for fear of getting distracted. But today, when I glanced at that section of the church, I was struck by my very blonde eight-year-old son in our front pew, standing on the kneeler to get a better view. He was clearly fully focused on me and I could feel him using all his senses to watch and listen.

He stood like this through both my readings, completely attentive. After the second reading, when I rejoined him in our seats, he said simply, “Good job, Mom.”

I had forgotten the positive power of receiving the full attention of one person supporting your efforts, especially from someone you love. When I took him to tennis later that day, I was fully present and watched him play from the window above. And from the court below, he looked up at me and smiled.

May you experience the honor of being fully present for someone else today, and the joy of knowing that someone is fully present for you.


The bigger picture

Thank you for all your prayers and good energy. This past week contained so many reminders of how you help me live this life and how amazingly blessed I get to be. For example, I could watch my son play tennis, attend a parenting class, chaperone a second grade field trip, help with homework, and host a large dinner party plus weekend guests. Each time, I felt happy and grateful to have the opportunity and the energy to do everything I could.

I am especially appreciative because, early last week, my friend Debbie Whitmore entered hospice, then died later in the week. She was married and together they have four boys (ages 11-19 or so). For each activity I did last week, I was acutely aware that Debbie would have given anything to be able to do any of that with her boys.

Last year at this time, four of us – all woman in our 40’s and 50’s, all with young children, all diagnosed with colorectal cancer, all who “should not” have had this disease, all seeing the same oncologist at Dana Farber – walked on this earth. Then Shira passed in February, Julie in August, and Debbie last week. Blessed to know these amazing women, I feel sad, sober, and reminded that each of us has a different path to walk. From the outside, each path may have looked like it had the same ending. But my up-close view of each one allowed me to see that they carried themselves through this in their own unique and fabulous way. I miss their physical presence though I still feel like they are with me.


As we raise our two sons, strangers and people I barely know offer “helpful advice” on our parenting. As you might suspect, the advice can feel like criticism. I have to remember that these folks don’t know the bigger picture.

For example…

  • I’m told that the boys should sit still. They don’t know that they just spent three days with me in bed, sitting quietly so that I could rest undisturbed.
  • I’m told that I should be more on top of their behavior. They don’t know that we all sorely needed an outing but it was all I could do to get us all to the playground or museum.
  • I’m told that they should know when to be quiet, but these strangers don’t know that my boys get so excited to be able to finally talk with me that they can’t stop.

These well-meaning folks notice that something is different about our family and they try to fit us into their picture of what our sons and our family could or should be.

I realize now that they just don’t see the whole picture. If they were willing to believe that there are elements they cannot see for themselves, they might view the situation differently.

I feel this way about faith. If there are parts of everyday life where I don’t see the whole picture, there must be parts of our existence that are outside my tangible frame of reference. So I try to go on faith that I can ask for help and that everything is working out the way it is supposed to, even if it doesn’t fit the picture I can see right now.

Thinking of Shira, Julie and Debbie…yes, I’m next. Of course I would be the next of us four – we all will pass from this life. But that would feel depressing if you only look at the four of us. The picture is so much bigger, there is much I do not know, and we all have so much more in store than we can imagine.

Blessings and love always,


Stepping into opportunities

Not only is forgiveness the work that is up for me lately, but one of my sons is preparing to make his First Reconciliation. (Rough definition for non-Catholics: A sacrament that provides the process through which you confess your sins and then are absolved of them, becoming reconciled with God and the church.)

Back in the dark ages, we called it Confession. The nuns gave us the image that each sin left a black mark on our souls, accumulating there until we confessed, at which point, our souls were wiped clean and shiny again.

I attended a Catholic grade school where we regularly did confession almost as a class project, marching to church with our classmates, then standing in a quiet, orderly line outside the confessionals.

When it was your turn, you entered the confessional – a tiny, closet-sized room dimly lit by a tiny light. You then knelt on the kneeler, which TURNED OFF THE LITTLE LIGHT. Honestly, I think that scared me more than confessing my sins. For the first year or so, every time I entered the confessional, I followed this cycle:

Kneel –> Room gets dark.
Stand –> Room gets lighter.
Kneel –> Room gets dark.
Stand –> Room gets lighter.

You get the idea.

There’s more. Each confessional had a light outside the door that went on when it was occupied and off when it was not, so that any random person (or worse, a classmate) wouldn’t come barging in while you were privately baring your soul. I didn’t realize that that “occupied” light outside the door was ALSO activated by the kneeler, so those waiting outside my door would see it going on and off, on and off.

At some point, during this cycle, the priest (who was in the adjacent, slightly larger closet-sized room) slid open the window connecting the two rooms. I couldn’t see through it but I always suspected that the priest could see me. Then, in dark anonymity, you confessed your sins. The priest gave you a penance (usually a list of prayers and an admonition to be nice to your siblings or whatever) and God (through the priest) would wipe your soul (and thus, the slate) clean.

Though the process felt scary, the outcome felt wonderful. I love a fresh start.

That was forever ago. Times have changed, the name of the sacrament has changed, the process of confessing has changed, so the way we prepare kids has also changed.

In these recent preparation classes with my son, the instructors generated the image of the prodigal son: We might wander away from God but when we decide to return, we are welcomed with open arms and granted full forgiveness. When we make the decision to return, reconciliation is the process through which we make the effort to reconnect.

In the process of the sacrament itself, where we once hid behind that little window in the dark, we now speak with the priest face-to-face, in the light. I believe that any shameful feelings and acts we hide actually gain an ugly power over us, so I theoretically like that we now bring them out into the light.

Have I practiced this? Rarely. The last time was when I was in Lourdes, France, roughly four years ago. Before that, it’s probably been decades. You can go as often as you like, but I have countless “reasons” why I don’t.

Of course, when I talk with my son about why he should do this, I sing a different tune. I become all about the virtue of saying you are sorry, how important this sacrament is and how it makes you feel, along with a dose of “you have to do this because you just do.”

Then, at the class this weekend, the church leaders encouraged the parents to do this on the same day as their child. What???? The thought alone still scares me. But I can’t deny that, not only will I be modeling something I value for my child, here is an opportunity to step into the forgiveness that I am called to be practicing.

Not that I have committed to stepping into this. Right now, it doesn’t feel easy. I have no clue how this will actually unfold though I suspect it will involve a dose of grace.

In the meantime, I wish you the strength and good humor to step into your own growth opportunities, today and always.


How to best spend time?

Thank you so very much for your prayers and positive thoughts. This round, I had an amazing string of days where I felt good and my energy was great.

When I was, years ago, first told that this was “stage 4,” I thought a lot about how to spend my time. Did I have a purpose in life that I needed to fulfill? What was the best way to spend my time? While I still don’t have an answer, I do notice and appreciate when I am able to do things that bring me joy.

Here is an example of something that I had energy for, that you enabled, and that brought me an insane amount of joy:

On Sunday morning I felt great. So I drove to church, parked, then bounded through the cold rain and up the steps to enter the building.

Just ahead of me was an older couple. He stood on the top step in front of the heavy wooden doors, tentatively reaching for the handle as he leaned on his cane. Behind him, she held tightly to the railing to steady herself as she climbed the last of the wet steps.

She saw me, but I didn’t want to startle him by rushing past, so just before I reached him, I warned him by saying, “I’ll open that for you.”

He slowly looked over at me and said, “Thank you.” The three of us walked inside together, then I headed a different direction to find a seat.

During communion, I saw them walking together. He wasn’t using his cane but grabbed and leaned into each pew as he went by.

And then, when I left, I saw them AGAIN. We were alone by the doors to exit and we spoke for a bit. They introduced themselves with their lovely Irish accents and told me that he has trouble getting around, but they don’t have a diagnosis yet.

“It’s hard getting old,” they joked.

Once outside, we noticed that the rain had turned to a wintry mix and the walk to the car was potentially slippery. So I walked alongside them until we reached their car, now covered in slushy mess.

“Let me clean the windows for you,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said appreciatively. “I will give you something to help.” They got into their car, then she handed me a bundle of tissues from her purse.

“I’ll be right back,” I told her, as if they were going to run off. And then, I was able to zip to my car, get my snow brush, and return to their car to clean the windows.

This whole event amazes and thrills me in so many ways. That I could NOT be preoccupied with pain, nausea, discomfort, etc. and be able to notice people around me. That I could notice what they might need. And that I could actually have the energy to help. I loved all that. And I appreciated they were gracious receivers, because that allowed me to have this whole experience.

I still have no idea of my grand purpose in life. But that experience was so incredibly fun, I’m hoping that is part of it all.

I hope that you can step into an opportunity that brings you joy, today and always. Thank you for all you do that enables me to spend my time this way.