family, grief and loss, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Wisdom from a Christmas Stocking

Behold, a hand-knit depiction of a right jolly old elf. And just as it is written, his droll little mouth is drawn up like a bow, and the beard of his chin is as white as the snow.

This is my Christmas stocking and my oldest personal possession. Almost exactly 51 years ago, this stocking was my traveling companion on the journey to meet my parents for the very first time.

These days, it is referred to as Gotcha Day or Homecoming Day; the day on which a person joins a family through adoption. But in 1967, it was simply thought of by my adoptive parents as the day their prayers were answered.

For the first time, they held in their arms the baby girl they had said “yes” to, the baby girl who had spent the first six months of her life in a foster home because she was born with a congenital deformity that labeled her handicapped and ineligible for immediate placement in a forever home.

I remember my mother telling me that the adoption agency would only tell her and my father that they had a baby for them, but the baby was handicapped. They would not reveal the nature or severity of the disability. My mom told me they didn’t even have to think twice about their answer. God had sent them this baby, and they were prepared to welcome her home.

And so they did. On a Wednesday afternoon in December, the little girl they would name Kathleen Mary first unreservedly offered a toothless smile in their arms as the social worker explained the very simple care of her “handicap” which was ultimately disclosed as a dislocated hip that would be guided into place within a few months time.

The precious Christmas stocking that accompanied the baby was filled with teething toys and rattles that had become comfort items during their little girl’s first six months of life. The stocking was handmade by her foster mother as her foster father, almost certainly, offered his loving praise over her handiwork.

My mother was told that this foster family had recently petitioned to adopt the baby girl but had been denied because their ages fell above the agency’s maximum allowable for adoption. During my first six months of life, this foster couple’s loving care included having me baptized at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

The social worker smiled when my mom told her they would give me the name Kathleen Mary, saying only that it was incredibly close to that which the foster family had me baptized.

A strange truth to many, I have never had the desire to seek my birth parents, but I have thought of this foster family every Christmas; throughout my childhood as my Christmas Stocking was hung with care in our living room and filled by Santa with treats galore and throughout adulthood as each year it holds a place of honor near our Christmas tree. When I learned a few years back that St. Agnes Parish was closing, I called to inquire about baptismal records with the hope to identify these foster parents who tenderly cared for me the first six months of my life.

I wanted them to know how blessed I had been to be placed in my forever home with a family whose faith life was the foundation of who they were and all they did. I wanted them to know that I had a remarkable journey through Catholic schools and the finest Jesuit university in all the land; a journey that led me to a lifetime of friendships and the love of my life. I wanted them to know I was a mom to two beautiful daughters of my own whom, unreservedly, have offered me their smiles for decades. I wanted them to know I still have that Christmas stocking and it means the world to me. I wanted to say thank you.

My call to the Parish Office was placed just days before it was set to close. In fact, the voice on the other end of the phone quickly led me to believe that the elderly pastor was personally manning the phones…and that I caught him in the middle of his lunch.   Between my inability to offer a concise summary of my request and his really loud chewing, I offered to call him back. Well, life interrupted, and I never did.

Not the dramatic ending you were hoping for, I bet.

I most likely will never know the identity of that foster family. In addition, those wonderful adoptive parents, my Mom and Dad, are now both deceased. But I have that stocking to console me–on their combined behalf– over the delicate and often paradoxical emotions of a season that almost demands one to be “merry and bright.”

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I envision foster parents handing over a baby they had nurtured over six months time and had petitioned to adopt. My heart hurts at the thought.

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I have a much clearer vision of the adoptive parents first holding a still bald, toothless baby because that joyous story is detailed in a memory narrated by my Mom. My heart bursts at the thought.

The wisdom offered by this Christmas stocking is not unique to my life story. In fact, it should offer a universal consolation.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are feelings beyond our control that impact our lives everyday and are often exacerbated during the holidays for a variety of reasons.

The holiday season may pose painful struggles; certainly for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, but also for people who yearn for the Christmases they had, but have since lost, or perhaps desired but never even had. Some may crave that family closeness…past or present, imagined or real. Others may mourn unfulfilled childhood desires…realizing your life didn’t travel the path you had hoped.

The wisdom of my Christmas stocking reminds me that in the midst of the darkest winter, the path to an amazing spring is waiting for me…in my own heart.

Maybe the universal message is one of accepting and loving who you are right now, especially if you are sad or angry or feeling empty or lost. Whatever the case may be, you must accept where you are in order to usher in the day when the light returns to your soul and your spirit.

Because I’ve experienced the darkness, I can savor the light in my life.

This past weekend, the candle of joy was lit on Advent wreaths in countless churches and homes around the world. It is that call to joy that led me to consider the wisdom of my Christmas stocking and pray for everyone in my life for whom joy is a really, really tough sell this year…be it because of disappointment or regret, an unfulfilled dream or a broken heart represented by an empty chair at this year’s holiday table.

I pray for strength and for peace in the hearts of those who are hurting.

And I thank God for the perspective my faith provides me, for the strength the Advent season instills within me, and for the belief that an Easter Sunday will follow every Good Friday in my life, until that day when God reunites me with those I loved and have lost– and those I have loved and never even met.

Hoping your Christmas stockings are filled with light, I wish Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.








The Working Title Is…Hope Does Not Disappoint

I like being Catholic.

Just yesterday, a friend who inspires me through his deep faith asked if I ever study the day’s scriptures before going to mass. My answer came quickly, “Nope. I like to be surprised.”

In retrospect, my answer was pretty juvenile. But it’s true. I genuinely approach my faith and life in the church thinking, “Okey dokey, God, what nugget have you got for me today? Because I could really use something.”

Invariably, the message is received.

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day, a holy day set aside for honoring the dead.

With the rain falling on this gloomy Michigan day, I found myself very, very sad. I know far too many dead people. And I miss them terribly. And, almost as much, I miss who I was when I was with them.

People speak of feeling a “hole in your heart” that comes from suffering the loss of a loved one. On this All Souls Day, the hole can feel cavernous.

Cue the nugget.

Today’s scripture readings offer us the greatest solace in referring to those who have died by saying ”they are in peace.” (Wisdom 3:3)

What more could we ask for those we love?

And then those of us who remain are offered comfort and inspiration; “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.” (Romans 5:5)

Peace. Hope. Love.

What more could we ask for our world today? They each seem in short supply.

Disturbing reports of violence continue. Political attacks, by candidates and their supporters, reach epic levels of ignorance. And ripped from this morning’s headline, “Washington parents accused of injecting children with heroin.”

Sure makes living life with a cup half-full almost impossible.

A rabbi recently defined the difference between optimism and hope for me by saying, “Optimism is thinking everything will work out fine; whereas hope is believing we have the capacity to change for the better.” Couple that with “hope does not disappoint,” and I think we have the blueprint we need to inspire us moving forward.

We need to seek out reasons to have hope. We need to make an individual effort toward building peace around us. We need to share the love of God that has been poured into our hearts.

And I know this as the far, far, far from perfect Catholic that I am. And when I say far…I mean far. I can swear like a sailor, and I secretly delight in the bible story where Noah got super drunk after the flood. It’s nice to know even biblical people rise to the occasion, survive a challenge and then feel compelled to order another round.

Hope is not static. The capacity to change for the better is fed by those around us.

My sense of hope…my renewed sense of faith in humanity…was ignited late this summer. I decided I needed a change of scenery from my newly emptied nest, and took my book to sit and read at our club’s pool. After walking through the gate, my eyes were drawn to a little girl of about three giggling and bobbing in the shallow-end, buoyed by puffy arm floaties.

At just about the time I became aware that my staring was coming dangerously close to stalking, an ambulance came roaring down the four-lane street that runs adjacent to the pool.

I watched as this little brunette bathing beauty…. bowed her head toward the water and made the Sign of the Cross.

Upon hearing the siren, she paused to pray.

I have hope. I know love. We need peace.

We have the capacity to change our world for the better. Let’s keep searching for the things that renew our faith in humanity, comforted by the belief that hope does not disappoint.