short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Little Boy's Explanation of God

Another gem from the Internet:

This was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista, CA. He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to "explain God." Could anyone have done as well?

One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

God's second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So, you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.

Atheists are people who don't believe in God. I don't think there are any in Chula Vista. At least, there aren't any who come to our church.

Jesus is God's Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn't want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn't know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.

His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn't have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.

You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.

You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God!

Don't skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn't come out at the beach until noon anyway.

If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He's around you when you're scared, in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids. shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

And...that's why I believe in God.

I wonder if an adult could have come up with a better explanation!

The picture above is available as an oil painting from this website: Mike Ivey.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! God Bless Everyone!

Since I do not blog on Sundays, I will post a Christmas message tonight, Christmas eve. Plans? With all the kids having flown from the nest a decade ago, Donnie and I will be having our Christmas eve dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, run by Korean, prior to midnight Mass, which is at 10:30 this evening. (It finishes at midnight, so the name is not entirely misleading.)

As he does every year, Finnegan, our priest's cat, has wandered from the cold into the warmth of the manger. Both he, and Sula, are parish cat, take turns sleeping in the manger. Sometimes they share it.

Sharing warm Christmas wishes with all! May God bless each one of you tomorrow and all days of this happy season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Poem

Below is a poem, written by a marine and shared with me through the Internet by a friend. I imagine some have seen it already, but just in case...






















The following is the author's request:

Would you do me the kind favor of sending this to as many
people as you can? Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is
due to our U.S. service men,women, and Canadian Forces for our being
able to celebrate these festivities.

Let's try in this small way to pay a tiny bit of what we
owe. Make people stop and think of our heroes, living and dead,
who sacrificed themselves for us. Please, do your small part to plant
this small seed.

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Look Beyond the Broken Fence

A popular magnet bears the inscription, "A friend is someone who looks beyond your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden." What the saying refers to is the separation of person (flowers) and problem (broken fence).

The separation of person and problem is the basis of unconditional love. Those who make love, friendship, or even collegiality conditional on specific behavior -- or the lack of specific behavior -- are destined to miss out on the wonderful experiences of real love. After all, the person is not the problem; the person's behavior is. Certainly, we can stop the behavior by killing the person, but then we are left with no future opportunities to receive the many blessings this person could have brought us.

Much unhappiness in this world results from people equating person and problem. Disliked behaviors are translated into dislike for the person exhibiting the behavior, and hurt feelings result from an unwillingness to overlook behaviors that offend. I know several people who say that they never forgive or forget and avoid all people who have ever offended them. Since no one is so perfect as to never offend anyone, it is not surprising that these people tend to have few friends and lead generally unhappy and difficult lives. They seem unaware that they have the power to bring love and happiness -- and blessings -- into their lives by looking beyond all the broken fences that they see, rather than telling their neighbors that they intend to move out of the neighborhood unless the neighbors get their act together immediately and repair their fences.

Couples who have been happily married 30, 40, and 50 years have learned this strategy. Without unconditional love, their marriages would have failed years earlier. They typically address the problem while supporting the person.

It has been one of my tasks in life to "fix" broken educational programs. Usually this means working with teachers who are afraid of "newfangled" ideas when the old ones have worked just fine, in their opinion, for years. However, obviously the old ones have not been working find in recent days, or I would not have been brought in as a consultant. If I were to treat each of these stonewallers (and sometimes worse -- I've been called names and had scathingly negative letters written about me, sometimes even before I have arrived on site) as a personal enemies, I would never have been able to get the programs in shape (and to date, I've had no failures -- knock on wood). In nearly all cases, there was a common enemy: fear of the unknown, i.e. fear to try new things because they might not work as well as the old things. By separating the problem (resistance due to fear of the unknown) from the person, I have been able not only to fix programs but also to build teams even in places where there previously had been enmity among colleagues. It begins with deliberately separating the person from the problem and ends with not even being able to see an equation between person and problem.

While it would be nice to have no broken fences or to see that all our neighbors are mending their fences, the fences are far less important than the flowers beyond them. If our neighbors have time to tend only to one of the other, let it be the flowers. They bring greater warmth and happiness into our lives.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Saying Grace at a Restaurant

Here is another one of those stories sent to me from the Internet that is too good not to share. I have no idea who the author is.
Last week, I took my grandchildren to a restaurant.

My six-year-old grandson asked if he could say grace.

As we bowed our heads he said, "God is good, God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if Nana gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen!"

Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, I heard a woman remark, "That's what's wrong with this country. Kids today don't even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!"

Hearing this, my grandson burst into tears and asked me, "Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?"

As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table.

He winked at my grandson and said, "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer."

"Really?" my grandson asked.

"Cross my heart," the man replied.

Then, in a theatrical whisper, he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my grandchildren ice cream at the end of the meal. My grandson stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life.

He picked up his sundae and, without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes, and my soul is good already."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Two Anti-Hunger Websites for the Holidays

As the holidays -- and all the yummy treats that most of us will be eating -- approach, I wanted to share with readers of my blogs two wonderful sites that help those who may not be feeling full during the holidays, or any time during the year for that matter.

The first site, No Kid Hungry, is fledgling group with a good objective: The leaders of the movement are asking visitors to their site to take a pledge to reach this goal by 2015.

The other site has been around for years (at least ten years) and does wonderful work:, and I posted about it on H2Helper a while back. This site can be visited every day, and just by spending 2-3 minutes at the site, without any investment other than time, you can help feed hungry children worldwide, contribute to saving the rain forests, help autism research, promote literacy, support veterans, and help abandoned animals -- it is an amazing site.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Learn Someone Else's Language

Learning someone else's language, even if only partially, can go far toward allowing one a more candid view of a society or toward establishing stronger interpersonal relations. Since English seems to becoming, if not already is, the international common language, speaking the local language can cultivate much good will. Speaking the local language implies that you consider the culture and the people worthy of effort and attention. Knowing another language has stood me in good stead on many occasions, one of which is described below.

In the spring of 1990, I went to Prague on business. One piece of business was to determine what books were being used in classrooms for Czech students so that my institute could import them for use with American students of Czech. Through a colleague, I was able to set up a meeting with senior members of the State Publishing House. Although several representatives of the State Publishing House, their assistants, and the interpreter that the State Publishing House provided, and I were seated formally around a large table, we were able to establish rapport. Soon, the State Publishing House had brought out its wares and was showing me its schoolbooks.

Then the interpreter was called away. Almost immediately a pall came over the room. It was apparent that no one there spoke English. Using Russian, which was clearly a lingua franca for all of us, would have been a cultural affront, given that I was an American, not a Russian, and given the history of Soviet domination of Czechoslovakia and its recently acquired freedom. My Czech was only a little better than survival level, but I made a gallant attempt to use it. The publishing house representatives were impressed. As a result, not only did I find out what books the students were using, but the publishing house donated one copy of every book on each subject of interest to my institute!

On that same visit, I stayed in a local hotel. The date was May 1, 1990, the 45th anniversary of the freeing of Czechoslovakia in WWII by the United States. There was no room in the hotels in town, and the contact who was supposed to have made my reservation had been so busy preparing for the formal celebrations of the political holiday that he forgot about me.

I quickly found out that trying to speak Czech bought me many brownie points with local hotel managers, and at one rather nice hotel, the manager found me a room for May 1 and promised to find me a room for each night I was in town. However, the room would change daily. She kept her promise, and even when she was off duty, she left instructions to her staff to find me a room.

This arrangement sent me room-hopping daily. While I was not overburdened with luggage, it was still a bit of a hassle to be always on the move. The maids, however, came to my rescue. I would pass the time of day with them in Czech, and they got to know me. They also got to know that I was room-hopping, and they began to help me move each day even without being asked.

I struggled with the kinds of language needed to communicate about topics that had never come up in a classroom. The maids, in turn, did an admirable job of understanding me.

On the last day there, I found the maids on the way to the elevator and gave them some herbal tea, at the time a new concept in the United States and not yet known in Prague. Straining the limits of my Czech, I explained what herbal tea was and then bid adieu to the maids. As the elevator doors closed, a British visitor entered the elevator.

"Cheerio," he called to the maids.

"Have a safe trip back home," one of them responded.

I leapt out of the elevator and confronted the maids. "You speak English?" I asked. Ironically, having become accustomed to speaking Czech with them, I instinctively asked even this question in Czech: "Vy mluvte anglicky?"

"Ano, mluvime (yes, we do)," they replied in Czech, "but we did not tell you that because it is so wonderful to hear an American speak our language. Most people, especially Americans, do not think Czech is important enough to learn."

No wonder they had gone out of their way to help me each day! They were proud that someone thought them important enough to talk to them in their own language even if it was painful or maybe precisely because it was painful.

learning someone else's language does not necessarily refer only to a foreign language. Although it may be non-PC to say so, the reality of any society is that it is broken into layers (some folks might call them classes). Sociolects (language used by a particular layer of society) differ among classes. Thus, people who work in factories tend to speak somewhat differently from people who work on farms, and they speak differently from college professors -- all of whom speak differently from politicians. There is great room for miscommunication when we do not understand or even know anything about the life experiences that form the basis of sociolects used by people with whom we need to interact. Time spent learning about these differences can determine how effectively we will be able to cultivate good relationships in general.

Also, dialects (the words and accent used in a particular geographic location) differ from region to region. Given differences in dialects, there is a great opportunity for miscommunication and for estrangement between any two individuals. We cannot create friendships if we do not know what our words mean in the dialect of the person with whom we are interacting. Nor can we expect friendship from people who do not understand us.

Having grown up on a farm, studied at the university, and lived in every major region of the United States, I have found myself using different dialects and sociolects, depending upon the person with whom I am speaking, just I change language when I hop from country to country. Changing sociolect or dialect to match the communicative situation is equivalent to changing clothes to match the social occasion. It results in being called "one of us. "One of us" is good. "One of us" is much more likely than an "outsider" or "one of them" to get a wish granted from or to establish a true friendship with from another "one of us."


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Lewis Lapham (Lapham's Rules of Influence) advises the profuse use of flattery. He writes that "flattery is comparable to suntan lotion or ski wax. It cannot be too often or too recklessly applied."

My two handicapped children, Noelle and Doah, know this. As children and adults, unlike what one might expect, they have been quite popular, among others reasons, because they routinely use flattery.

For exmaple, Doah, when needing help, will often address a nearby woman, "Excuse me, pretty lady. You help me, please?" What woman does not like to be called pretty?

And who would not feel good about helping someone clearly disabled who shows appreciation through more flattery by saying, for example, "Thank you. You're a nice person. I like you."

Likewise, Noelle once got me out of a traffic ticket when I accidentally drove through a stop sign. A four-year-old at the time, she was clearly thrilled at the sight of the police officer who pulled me over. While I searched for the car registration, she gushed flattery at him, telling him how wonderful she thought policemen were, how kind, and how helpful. He told me to forget the registration, that he would give me only a warning because he did not want my daughter not to like policemen.

Although she became more sophisticated about how she words things, Noelle has continued to use flattery and to be treated with warmth by people with whom she interacts. For example, she had a series of negative experiences at what I shall call Hospital A in Washington and ultimately we transferred her to Georgetown University Hospital, where she had a series of positive experiences. Near the beginning of her treatment there, she had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, no beds were immediately available, so the staff spread out a blanket on the floor of her room. The clinic director, embarrassed by this situation, stayed with Noelle two hours until a bed was found. She apologized to Noelle several times.

Noelle's response was, "Hey, I'd rather be on the floor here than in the softest bed at Hospital A." Obviously, that piece of flattery made Noelle a favorite patient for the entire time she was at Georgetown University Hospital.

We all like to hear other people say good things about us. They, too, like to hear good things said about them. Flattery often works where other means of motivation fail.

My sister, Danielle, points out that when flattery is sincere, there are many ways to get the good intentions to multiply. She cites the example of her husband, Bill, who has often elicited support and astounding service by first complimenting the employee sincerely with supporting details and then going on to report the employee's exceptional service and performance to the employee's supervisor, attributing the employee's attitude and performance to the supervisor's skill in management.

"By the end of the conversation," she wrote to me, "the supervisor and supervisee are dancing around Bill to see that everything goes smoothly."

So, slather the flattery wherever it is deserved!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Look for Common Ground

I frequently travel with only a couple of dollars (literally) in my pocket, usually because I run out of time to get to the bank before departure. I can nearly always find an ATM or use a credit card for any needs that crop up or forego needs satisfaction temporarily.

One Saturday, however, I was a little more disorganized than usual and ended up in Reno with nearly no money and only a rarely used ATM card -- the PIN for which I had forgotten. Oops! I called my bank's 800 number and reached a customer service agent named Beth.

I reacted with pleased surprise. "Oh, what wonderful news! My name is Beth, too. That must mean you are going to help me!"

Most people with respond with assent to such a statement. Few, if any, will say, "No, I don't plan to help you."

So, my comment set up the expectation that she would do whatever it took to get me out of my dilemma -- and she did. Although she could not give out the PIN on the phone -- and I would not want her to be allowed to do that -- with some creative thinking and several minutes of searching, she was able to track down a branch of my bank in nearby Sparks that was open all day Saturday. I thanked profusely. My problem was solved, and that other Beth was left with a very good feeling for the day.

Further, when I took a cab to the bank, I got to know a very talkative elderly man, a longtime resident of Sparks. From him, I learned much about the history of Sparks that I would not otherwise have known. I think the cab driver liked having an out-of-towner to tell his stories to because he waited for me at the bank at no charge.

The weatherman reported a chill in the air that day, bit I didn't feel it. It seemed pretty warm to me.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have no intention of spending Thanksgiving Day at a computer. In fact, I have all kinds of other plans, but I did want to wish all readers a happy -- and tasty -- day. As for me, I have a guest (friend) from Washington, DC, who has been here all week with me. Doah and I intend to attend the Thanksgiving Mass in the morning, then our whole family will go over to the community dinner that is sponsored by our parish. I think it is a bit unique. Every year the entire community (our town has only a little over 1000 people, including children) is invited to a free Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant-like building that our parish owns. Those who have cooking talent provide the food. Others serve or clean up. Since I have absolutely no cooking talent, my family and I serve on the clean-up crew. Every year hundreds eat for free -- rich and poor alike (and together). It is a great way to spend Thanksgiving!

However you spend your Thanksgiving, I hope it will be a day to remember and a day for which you find yourself grateful!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If God Loves Me, Why Can't I Cook?

The following excerpt from my latest book, Believer in Waiting, seems quite appropriate on the day before Thanksgiving (when I will not be cooking but helping to clean up after a community dinner where my family and I will receive the benefits of those who can cook -- this is an event that takes place every year and is sponsored by our parish; it is for everyone, whether rich or poor, alone or endowed with many local family members and friends; it is a community event that all look forward to and to which each contributes in his or her own way by cooking, serving, or cleaning up).

Everyone knows that I cannot cook a decent meal. As for the rest of my homemaking skills, let us just say that my passing grade in Home Economics as a child was a gift from a teacher who liked me but not necessarily a reflection of my homemaking ability. I think she just did not want to ruin my straight-A average. Maybe she gave me the grade for effort rather than result.

When my kids were growing up, if I wanted to get them to do something, I would just have to threaten to cook dinner myself rather than their dad. Even as youngsters, they knew how to cook well. (Their spouses love that.) As an adult, Doah wrote a book with my help, an exercise in understanding and developing literacy. The topic of all the tales in the book is my sad lack of homemaking skills and the horrendous outcome of my attempts to use them. The stories are as true as they are hilarious. Why I got missed in the distribution of talents that most women have, I may never know.

Every once in a while, though, I try to remedy the situation—to no avail. On Donnie’s birthday recently, I decided to make him dinner, freeing him from that daily task. He protested, but then realized that this was going to be my gift to him so he let me try. I had purchased some fresh squid; they are easy to cook. A salad and some vegetables, rolls, desserts—voila! a great dinner! Except it was, following historic patterns, not edible. Donnie made himself a toasted cheese sandwich, and, as happens in such cases, I ate the inedible meal just to prove something. (Just what I am trying to prove in these cases, I am not sure.)
So, I ask, if God loves me, why can’t I cook? This question parallels the kinds of questions that my catechism kids ask: if God loves me, why can’t I do something I want to do, why don’t I get an A grade on my project or test, why can’t I have a specific gift or opportunity, i.e. why is life so tough sometimes? I love the book by Lorraine Peterson that attempts to answer this question: If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open? I recommend it to all parents, catechists, and teenagers.

In thinking about this question, a possible answer begins forming in my mind. I cannot do things perfectly because I am human, ordinary. Not everything I want will go my way because it should not go my way because I am human, ordinary, and need to grow and learn. I need to walk in the path of the cross because it is that path that brings a different kind of life, one that leads to resurrection, one that is pleasing to God.

And then the life of Jesus comes to mind. He did not choose to live an extraordinary life but an ordinary one although the way he lived it was extraordinary. If he had not lived an ordinary life, we would not have the wonderful example of how we, as ordinary, human beings, can and should live. He gave us the example of how to live the way God would have us live, how to be servants to those around us, how to improve life for others, and how to bear our cross, whatever that may be, with grace and trust. He gave us the answer to the question that my catechism kids ask.

Oh, yes, now I know the answer. Why can’t I get the locker open, cook a meal for my husband, receive only accolades, have no financial worries, birth only healthy children, etc.? I cannot do those things precisely because God does love me! Just like God loved Job. Just like God loved Jesus!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Great Beginning

On the way to work last Friday morning, I stopped off at the local 7-11 store to pick up some flowers for employees to celebrate their recent accomplishment. As I was looking at the flowers, I saw a mother and her young son (perhaps age 7) walking out of the store and overheard their conversation.

Son: "I really don't like this breakfast sandwich."
Mother: "I know you don't, but it was the cheapest one, and you need something."
Son: "OK. I really wanted the other one."
Mother: "The other one costs 71 cents more, and I only have another quarter."
Son: "It's okay, Mom. I can eat this one."

The store owner/manager overheard the conversation, too, and called out to the couple, "Ma'am, please come back. I will sell you the other sandwich for 25 cents."

The mother and son came back. The exchange was made, with smiles all around. Then, saying good-bye, the mother and son left the store.

As the door swung shut, the little boy put his foot in it, turning around, and called out to the owner/manager in a loud voice, "THANK YOU!"

I think everyone in the store that morning experienced a great beginning to their day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Believer in Waiting

My second spiritual book is out! The title, as you can see, is A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God. I will try to post some excerpts here from time to time. (Actually, I have already posted some excerpts from the draft on my Modern Mysticism blog.) The first set of books will be going to reviewers who signed up with Library Thing, but I notice that Amazon has been quick off the start and already has it available for ordering. I hope that anyone who reads either the book or the excerpts will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. It was one of those books that seems to write itself. I do hope to have copies of my own in about a week, at which time I will host a book coming out party for local friends who read the prepublication manuscript and provided feedback. If you read it, I would love to hear your feedback!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Nice Discount

While waiting for my plane to leave the San Jose airport recently, I arrived earlier than usual and found myself with an hour to spare and the need to acquire some small gift to take to the staff at our San Antonio branch, to which I was traveling. So, I dropped into the Discover store at the new and improved Terminal A. (It really is improved: wi-fi is available for free throughout the airport, and every seat has a plug. You can tell you are in Silicon Valley. I like it!)

At the Discover store, I found products from an interesting new firm: Tom Ranch. At least, it is new to me, and I am fairly familiar with companies that sell California souvenirs since I am always needing souvenirs for our distant branch personnel. There were some suitable gifts: chocolate-covered cherries, chocolate pistachios, and wine-infused chocolates in pill-box-shaped containers. Intriguing. I settled for tea chocolates in an eyeglass-holder-shaped tin.

As I was browsing, the sales clerk, who had recently transferred to this store, struck up a conversation. I had time, and there were no other customers. So, we chatted a bit. When I had selected the gifts I wanted, he asked if I were military. I told him that I am no longer a member of the Armed Forces but do work with the military and shared that I was actually on my way to an air base, which housed our organization's local branch.

When he rang up my order, he proudly announced that he was giving me a 33% discount, which made the cost of my few gifts very affordable.

"Do you want to see my government I.D.?" I asked him.

"No," he answered. "I am not giving you a military discount. I am giving you a higher discount -- for being nice."


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two Wolves

From the Internet -- I have heard this one before but don't think I have shared it before. So here you go, for some reading pleasure.

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

I wanted to include a beautiful image, drawn by another blogger, but I have not yet heard whether she is willing for me to put it here, so I will send you to her site and her rendition of the two wolves in story and picture.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Act on the Basis of Knowledge

All too frequently, we react, rather than act, and reacting rarely gets us what we want, let alone what we need. Doing the research, finding out what the possibilities are, listening rather than talking, learning what the other person knows--these actions provide us with the basis of acting in ways that are more likely to lead us to positive ends.

If one truly wants an upper hand, one might take a page out of the book of an American diplomat in the 1980s (a student of mine, in fact). At the negotiation table in Stockholm, formal interpretation was provided to the US and USSR negotiators by expert conference interpreters although most of the American delegation did speak Russian, including one very American-looking, young, female diplomat who Russian skills were near native, departing from the common perception of Americans as tongue-tied in foreign languages.

During one break, Samantha (not her real name for obvious reasons) remained in the room, sorting her notes. Therefore, she overheard the Soviet delegation, who thought she knew no Russian, discuss the positions to be taken, their negotiation strategies, and what they would settle for. Following the break, she was able to get the Russians to play the cards the Americans wanted because she knew what cards they held!

Fisher and Ury (Getting to Yes!) suggest that the very best way to negotiate the deal that we want is to set up a win-win situation. We get what we want, and our antagonists get what they want. However, one must first figure out what they want.

Knowing what the other person wants sometimes means understanding the other person's culture. Some cultures do not want to get right down to business but to build a relationship before conducting business. This is characteristic for Japanese, Russian, and some other cultures. In American culture, swift action is valued over relationship, and American businessmen and politicians have often failed to conclude deals simply because they failed to develop a relationship with their foreign counterparts and partners.

Other values, too, can be important. If, for example, the Western world had understood the value of "face" and "saving face" to the Soviet government, the Soviet war in Afghanistan might well have been prevented or at least shortened. When the Soviet leaders claimed that they were there just for a temporary intervention, had the Western world asked for an estimated timeline for withdrawal, the Soviet leaders might well have felt the need to give one -- and then to honor it -- in order not to lose face.

Knowing what the other person wants sometimes means understanding the other person's personality. The famous psychologist, Jung, who wrote about the concept of personality archetypes, talks in one instance about two opposing types: thinkers and feelers. As a thinker and young administrator, I once had a middle manager who worked for me call me at home to complain about the problems in her department. They were legitimate problems, and as a thinker, I am quick to try to solve problems. I gave her some off-the-top-of-my-head advice. She became angry and hung up. I did not understand why she did that, but her reaction caused me to spend some time thinking about her problems. Thus, when she called back an hour later, I had better solutions to suggest. This time, she became even angrier and hung up abruptly. When she called again later, she began by telling me what a bad boss I was. I was by then quite confused.

"What is it that you expected from me?" I asked.

"Sympathy," she answered.

As a thinker, I wanted to fix things. As a feeler, she wanted to know that people, and especially her boss, appreciated her efforts and problems and cared about her.

It was a good lesson: don't assume that we know the other person's wants and needs. Rather, know who the other person is and act accordingly.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Think Challenge, Not Impossibility

"Where there's a will, there's a way" is the line written under the picture of a mouse pulling an elephant up a hill. That picture has hung on my wall for a very long time. My friend and former roommate, Katie, gave it to me years ago because she thought it exemplified my attitude toward life. She's right. It does.

When my daughter, Noelle, was very small, she would occasionally say, "I can't." That, to me, was not the appropriate response to a difficult situation even though she was paraplegic and coping with a few other problems, such as epilepsy and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

"No," I would tell her. "Can't is not the word you are searching for. You want the word, how, and the question, how can this be done? Think challenge, not impossibility. Where there's a will, there's a way."

As a young child, she learned this lesson very quickly, perhaps partly because it fits her own instinctive philosophy of life. Slides of preschool Noelle feeding the cows on her grandmother's farm, slopping the pigs, riding the tractor with her Uncle Will, and swinging on gliders with her very young aunts, Sharon and Victoria, were used in a multi-conference presentation by her neurosurgeon on the topic, "What Spina Bifida Children Can Do."

Noelle was lucky. She met other people who thought challenge, not impossibility. When she wanted to learn to roller skate because her kindergarten class went roller skating once a week at the next-door roller rink, Andi Kush, her physical therapist, did not say, "Paraplegic children cannot roller skate."

She said instead, "Well, we have to figure out a way to do it safely. Crutches and roller skates are not compatible." She recommended a walker with rollers on the front and rubber tips on the back, and that worked just fine.

The guard at the roller rink also thought that a mouse could pull an elephant up a hill. When Noelle became discouraged from multiple falls, he did not say, "Roller skating with braces and a walker is probably too hard; don't worry about it."

Instead, he come up to her outside the rink and sat down beside her. "I've been watching you," he said. "If you keep up that hard work, one day you'll be a champion."

Reinvigorated, Noelle pulled herself back up from the bench. Pushing her walker ahead of her, she skated back into the rink.

Many students who might have failed have graduated from programs I have directed because teachers thought challenge, not impossibility. "Can't is a word that I don't understand," I would tell any who claimed that a student could not learn and needed to be disenrolled. "Figure out how the student learns and teach him or her that way."

Figuring out how students learn has led to drastically reduced attrition rates in my educational programs. That attitude led to the graduation of proud students who might otherwise have left or been disenrolled and demoralized. What the teachers and I learned in that process has led to articles, book chapters, and books, sharing that information with colleagues around the world. It has also led to my conducting seminars on that topic in many countries, often team-teaching with some of those teachers who made the discoveries with me years ago.

The most recent example was with Doah a decade ago. Due to his mental retardation and very low IQ, our local public schools refused to teach him to read anything but highly functional words, such as exit and toilet. Teachers and administrators told me routinely that reading was an inappropriate goal for him. After he graduated from high school, he began regular tutoring sessions with a former elementary school teacher, Julie, who had a different attitude. As a result, he began to read real books, ultimately writing one with my help that was featured by the press at the National Book Exhibit in Los Angeles in 2003, where he spent some time as an author, signing books for visitors.

"After I gave up trying to teach him the standard way and my way," Julie told me, "I paid attention to how he learns, and I began to teach him his way. That worked." Of course, it worked. It worked because she was thinking how, not can't. It worked because she was thinking challenge, not impossibility.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Make a Statement with a Question

Questions are wonderful tools. They can be used not only for gathering information but also to get what you want. They control behavior far better than do statements.

A case in point is the conversation I had with the doctor of an elderly friend. I had accompanied her to the doctor to discuss a medical condition that occurs frequently in elderly patients. Before going there with her, however, I had tracked down the latest information on my friend's condition in the library and from the Internet. It was neither a curable problem nor a life-threatening one, but there were some remedies to alleviate the worst of the symptoms.

The doctor, surprisingly, allowed me to come into the examination room with my friend. (That turned out to be his biggest mistake.) I was surprised at the manner in which he treated my friend. He acted as if she were a child. Then he told her she would just have to get used to her condition.

I was not about to accept this answer although my friend told me that this doctor's behavior was typical of others in her experience. Most of the doctors whom she had seen felt that she was so old that she should be thankful that she was alive and forget about seeking a better quality life.

This doctor sealed his own fate when he turned to me, whispering, "You know how it is with older folks," implying that my friend was imagining her problems. I knew the problems to be real.

Moreover, I wanted him to make recommendations along the lines of some of the things I had read about in the medical journals. So, I responded to his comment with a simple question, asked in a deliberately naive tone, as if I were requesting information, "Oh, does that mean that you do not wish to prescribe any of the specific remedies that other doctors are using (I mentioned a couple remedies by name) or that you are unaware of them?"

His tone changed immediately, and so did his tune. Of course, he was aware of them. He could recommend a couple as being rather effective, and he spent ten minutes or so working out the best combination of recommendations. How much information and assistance that simple question brought forth! Only it was not a question at all. It was a command: Treat my friend well.

I got what I wanted. My friend got what she wanted (respect) and needed (treatment). The doctor got a lesson about how to treat elderly patients. I hope he has since applied the lesson learned to many, many others.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Find a Way to Express the Situation Humorously

Raising two multiple-handicapped children has had its moments of stress. At times, it has been very natural to wish for a traditional family and "normal" (if one can define "normal") children. That was not to be, of course. Dealing with problem situations humorously has been the easiest way to ease the stress.

Whenever I would have trouble finding the humor in a situation, I would think of the experience of my friend, Susan (not her real name), and her consultation with a very wise psychiatrist. Remember his words always brought forth laughter -- for both of us.

Susan was in an even worse situation than I was. At one point, her daughter had been diagnosed with childhood diabetes -- a false alarm -- and her son had a very real, very rare, and very life-threatening immune system deficiency (previously colloquially referred to as "bubble baby" syndrome) that required daily doctor visits for years. Yet, she continued to work, and together with her husband, they managed all their problems.

Then, her husband developed cancer. The local Pittsburgh doctors could not help. They gave her husband six months to live. Susan decided to take him to an oncologist in Philadelphia. Taking their children with them, they locked up their home and left, not knowing when they would return. The oncologist in Philadelphia was quite talented, and after several weeks of treatment, it appeared that Susan's husband might have a shot at a somewhat longer life than previously predicted. Although months of cancer treatment would still be needed, further treatment could be carried out at home in Pittsburgh.

With some relief but also with some continuing concerns, Susan, her husband, and children returned home. There they found that someone had broken into their house, and nearly everything they owned was gone. When and how it had happened, no one seemed to know.

Considering this the final straw, Susan did some research to determine who was considered the best psychologist in the area. She made an urgent appointment with him.

The next day she found herself in the psychiatrist's office, explaining her situation. With no deliberation, he looked at her and said, "I don't know how to help you, and I'm not going to charge you. If I were in your shoes, I would go out and have myself a well earned nervous breakdown."

Whether or not his words were meant to be a joke does not matter. She took them that way and had a very long laugh. Whenever life's complications seemed overwhelming, she thought about that well earned nervous breakdown to which she had a right, would decide not to exercise her right at the moment, and the stress would sneak away.

She shared this experience with me. When the stress of raising several "special" children threatened to overwhelm, I, too, would think about the well earned nervous breakdown which I had the right to choose or not choose, and I each time I chose the laughter.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Accept the Blame Even When the Fault Is Not Yours

One of the hardest things to do is accept blame. It is hard enough to do when it is one's own fault. It is even harder to do when someone else causes the problem. The more typical reaction is to blame the other person and expect some changed behavior from that person. Instead, one often meets denial, defense, and anger, and a bad situation has turned into an impossible one.

The movie, Sommersby, with Jodie Foster and Richard Gere tells the story of Jack Sommersby, who returns home after spending time in prison -- only the returnee is not jack Sommersby but a schoolteacher from another county who looks just like him and has taken on his identity. For those who do not know the story, the new Jack Sommersby turned out to be a kind and humane man, unlike the real Jack Sommersby. One of his kindest acts is to help slave laborers who Sommersby's land to earn their own lots. Unfortunately, he is brought to trial as the real Jack Sommersby for a crime that warrants the death penalty. If he admits he is not the real Jack Sommersby, he will live, but the laborers will lose their land. He makes the decision to accept the blame for a crime that he did not commit. Like the true hero of A Tale of Two Cities, he expects that "it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

We may never be called upon to show the courage required to accept a level of blame that demands the payment of our lives. We do, however, often run into situations where accepting blame and not insisting that we are right (when we really, truly are right) is the better part of valor, better for those we are dealing with and better for ourselves, too.

I have a friend, a self-effacing immigrant with less than perfect English skills, who personifies the idea of accepting blame even when she is not at fault. When something goes wrong -- she is given an incorrect order, she gets the wrong change, or someone ignores her in line -- she apologizes.

At first, when I heard her do it, I thought that her English was deficient and she had not understand. Then, when I realized that this was not the case, I thought that she did not have the courage to stand up for her own rights. After watching her for a number of months and in a number of instances, I learned that she had greater courage. She had the courage to subordinate her need for being right (and feeling virtuous) to someone else's need to save face. As a result, she almost always gets what she is after, and both she and the other person feel good about what has transpired.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Act and React within a Broad Perspective

I have not posted anything from my vignettes book for a while. Figured it might be time!

Far too often, we consider the impact of the moment only. How things affect us right now tends to be more important than how they fit into the bigger scheme of things. In fact, when one is irritated, angry, disappointed, or threatened, it is very difficult to see the larger picture. Yet, that is precisely when it is most important to keep things in perspective.

My younger daughter, Noelle, copes with spina bifida, a neurological defect that, among other things, has left her with full paralysis below the waist. However, she has nearly always kept matters in perspective. Taking a broad perspective has allowed her to lead a fairly normal life -- attend local schools, go to college, work part-time, play (including roller-skating), and the like. In fact, her ability to take a broader view of things has at times quite surprised the medical profession.

A few years ago, she was sitting in a wheelchair, not paying much attention to her feet. First, she was not used to a wheelchair, having used long-leg braces for ambulation up until that time, and second, she does not feel her feet. As a result, when she accidentally caught her small toe in the spokes of the chair's wheel, she did not notice and ended up tearing the toe nearly off. Amputation was the only resolution of the problem.

Clearly, the doctor who amputated felt sorry for Noelle and wanted to help her through her feelings of loss. However, Noelle had no feelings of loss.

"Are you missing your toe?" asked the doctor. What she meant to ask was whether Noelle was feeling bad that the toe had to be amputated.

Noelle, already looking at the situation from the broader perspective, took the doctor's words literally. "Yep," she replied. "It's all gone."

Somewhat taken aback, the doctor clarified. "No, I meant, do you miss having a toe there?"

To that Noelle replied, "I have never felt that toe. How can I miss something I never knew I had?"

I learned the lesson of acting within a broad perspective even more dramatically from Dr. John Blanco, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia Hospital (referred to in some of my writings, those that are pseudonymized, as Virginia State Hospital). At the time, I was the American guardian for Shura Ivanovich, who illustrated my vignettes book. I had brought him to the United States from Siberia, where he was not being adequately treated for spina bifida. Like my daughter's, his legs were also paralyzed but not as extensively. He was able to ambulate with crutches alone. However, as a result of inadequate care, both of his legs had become gangrenous, and the flesh on his feet had been eaten away.

Bringing Shura to the United States took nearly a year. The American Embassy in Moscow required incredible amounts of paperwork -- notes from the doctors in Siberia and notes and faxes from American doctors. Even then, the visa was denied, and I went to Moscow personally to intercede. Some of the embassy personnel were former students of mine, and they vouched for my sincerity and honesty to the consular officers. Finally, we had the visa, but Shura's condition had worsened. He was in the hospital. It took another couple of months before he was stable enough to move, during which time the gangrene worsened.

Once in the United States, Shura's first need was orthopedic care, which Dr. Blanco donated. What was needed was unfortunately very clear: a double amputation. The gangrene by then had taken over both legs, requiring amputation at the knee for one leg and amputation at the calf for the other. Shura took it in stride and readily gave permission. I, however, was devastated. I had to know the impact of the delay in getting the visa on the need for amputation.

"Could you have saved Shura's legs if we had brought him here a year earlier?" I asked. I thought I knew the answer. However, Dr. Blanco understood what was behind the question and gave me both an honest answer and a broader perspective.

"Perhaps I could have saved one of the legs," he replied. "The other leg was probably in poor shape even a year ago although I might have been able to save more of it. The important thing, however, is not whether getting him here earlier would have saved his legs. Rather, getting him here now saved his life."

A leg or a life -- that is a rather vivid way to describe what a broader perspective means.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bear Witness to the Light

One of the blogs on my blogroll has disappeared. Well, disappeared may be the wrong word. The blog is still there, but no posts have been posted in nearly two months. Fr. John Sullivan, Springfield, Massachusetts, posted regularly on his blog, Bear Witness to the Light. He was a kindly priest as I found out in his responses to my occasional comments. After a full month of seeing nothing posted, I became concerned. It did not seem that someone who had posted regularly for seven years would close down a blog without a word. One would expect to at least a final, good-bye post, but Fr. John's last blog was simply a routine post in keeping with his other posts. Something seemed wrong. No matter how I added two and two, I was not getting close to four.

So, I did a little research. After all, in a former life (uh, career), I was a pretty good academic. Therefore, I know how to research. So, off I went in search of one missing priest. And I found him, well, sort of. It turns out that Fr. John was injured by the tornado that flattened Springfield in June. He suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and required surgery. He will be in a rehabilitation facility for a while.

In addition, St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence, where Fr. John was living, was damaged by the tornado. In fact, a good part of it was reduced to rubble. So, even when Fr. John is released to another residence, there is a likelihood that he will not have a computer for a while. (Of course, this is quite secondary to his health.)

I also tracked down an address where cards can be sent:

Fr. John Sullivan
St Michaels Cathedral Rectory
86 Wendover Rd
Springfield, MA 01118

So, if you happen to also be a reader of Fr. John's blog, you might want to send a card to him! I am going to try to send this information to all his followers -- if I can track down there email addresses. I ask you to pass along the information to any of his blog followers you might know.

Whether or not you know Fr. John, have interacted with him in the blogosphere or not, I would ask you to pray for him. I am sure he can use our prayers!

posted on all Mahlou blogs

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Another goodie from the Internet from my sister --

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected . . . . . in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part.

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

3. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

4. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

5. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

6. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit . . . . Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

7. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening', and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

8. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

9. How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

10. Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

11. I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

12. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says "In an emergency, notify:" I put "Doctor".

13. I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

15. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

16. Hospitality: Making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.

17. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

18. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

19. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

20. Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out in the Field...

Sometimes people tell me that I am not only out in the field (not sur, I was brought up on the farm) but that I am often out in left field. Mainly, it is because I miss details. Doah called me detail-oblivious in his book. You have read some of those (unfortunately quite true) stories on Mahlou Musings: Stories from Doah's Book.

Recently, I came across an anecdote, not sure where but perhaps from Reader's Digest, that describes me to a T. (Think of me as the lieutenant -- which I really was, and thank God for sergeants and warrant officers who took care of me and trained me.) The anecdote goes like this:

A sergeant and a lieutenant are sleeping out in the field when the sergeant woke up. He nudged the lieutenant awake and asked, "Sir, look at all those stars in the sky. What does it tell you?"

The lieutenant cogitated a moment, then replied, "It tells me how small we really are, no matter what we think of ourselves, how infinitesimal we and all are affairs are in a grand, capacious universe.

"Well, sir," answered the sergeant. "It tells me that someone stole our tent!"

(I am very grateful that God protects lieutenants. I would never have made it this far without that kind of help!)

Wishing you a blessed weekend; it's a special one for sure!

Friday, June 17, 2011

God's Credit Card

I have posted periodically on various blogs about God's credit card. In my forthcoming book, I have organized the stories into chronological order in order to make a consistent story. Here it is:

As I have grown in faith, metanoia affected not only my overtly spiritual life, i.e. those events and activities associated with the church, but also it permeated all of my life. One area involved how I began to deal with panhandlers and others in need. For years, I have had queasy feelings about giving money to panhandlers, except in those cases where I had the time, cash in hand, and opportunity to walk with them to a nearby fast-food joint or restaurant to buy them food. I disliked the thought of giving to people who did not really need the money or to people who were going to use it to make their condition worse, e.g., buying alcohol with it. Over time, I came to the conclusion that true giving is separated from dictating what a person does with the gift. So, that dilemma for me was resolved.

There arose another dilemma, though. I do not carry money with me very often because I have so often been mugged. I do not need to carry money because we are a plastic society, pretty much worldwide these days. So, whenever a panhandler or a person clearly in need crossed my path, I was rarely able to help. Then, I would ask God to give me another chance to help—and would blow it again because I would have only plastic with me and, as usual, it was nearly maxed out. Then, I would ask for another chance and blow that one and so on and so forth.

On one of those occasions when I was apologizing for missing yet another opportunity to help one of God's people in need into my head popped the concept that God can use plastic, too. And so I got God a credit card.

It was one of those card offers for a small credit line: $250. One can, with time, increase it as the bank and the customer build a relationship, but $250 seemed to be quite an appropriate limit. I reasoned that I would never end up putting that much on the card and that with that limit I could not possibly get in over my head. From then on, I reserved this particular card for God’s purposes. Whenever God put someone in need in my path, I would pay with God’s credit card.

People in Need
At first, the opportunities to use God’s credit card matched my expectations. A couple of examples come to mind:
(1) I met a man in the parking lot of our local grocery store. He was on his way from Ohio to southern California to move in with his daughter, his luck having run out in Ohio. He had run out of food money the day before and was hungry. He asked for a couple of dollars for a doughnut and coffee. He thought that would carry him through the remaining six hours of his trip. I told him I had no cash but did have a "special" credit card. If he would pick out what he wanted for lunch and for the road, I would pay for it. So, he did, very judiciously. At the same time, I picked up some strawberries for dessert for dinner for Donnie and me. They were on sale: buy one, get one free. (This kind of surprising sale, just at the right moment, happens so regularly now that I would be surprised if it did not happen.) So, I gave the free strawberries to the hungry man; obviously, the sale was intended for him. As for paying off the credit card bill, the amount was so minor that it was no problem at all; I was able to include it in our food budget for the month without crimping our style, simple as our style tends to be.

(2) A couple of nights ago, about the time that the town was rolling up its sidewalks, I dashed to the grocery store to pick up some supper, our food supplies having become somewhat depleted while I was traveling. There, a young couple came up to me, the girl crying, saying that they were completely out of gas, no one would help them out, and that they were only two hours away from their destination. They looked younger than my kids, and it turns out that they were only 19, traveling across country for the first time to see some childhood friends. They begged for just one gallon of gas, enough to get to a town with more people where they might be able to get more help. I told them that I had no cash and explained about my special credit card. Asking them to follow me to our only gas station, I used the credit card to fill up their tank. They were very grateful and extremely relieved. The cost? $36. The next day, one of our church members saw me at daily Mass. This church member told me that she really needed some copies of my Blest Atheist book immediately. (I keep 8-10 books on hand at all times, just in case, and I get them at author's discount.) Once she had paid me for the books and I had ordered the replacements at author's discount, my "profit" was exactly $36, just enough to pay the credit card bill.
The Limit Increases
I have no doubt that God likes to use that credit card. Credit limit is no problem, but I was a bit worried when the bank automatically raised the limit to $4500. Yikes! What might God have in mind, I wondered? I have not been presented with situations requiring that high an infusion of cash, but I have had situations where the card funded hundreds of dollars, and in one case, $1300, all of which was paid off within a month. How that happens is one of those mysteries I may never figure out.

In one case, where someone needed a ticket for evangelical work in Texas, using my frequent flier miles, I was able to get him a first class roundtrip ticket for just $35, the cost being for the telephonic, last-minute transaction. I used God's credit card to pay for it. Then I settled down to work on bills since it was payday. As I worked through the budget, I found a $35 bill that I had planned to pay that day that I had already paid! I think it is fair to count those found dollars as payment for the $35 I owed on God's credit card.

In another case, I had charges of nearly $300 on the card and no particular income in sight. That was before lunch at a local restaurant with a visiting team of scholars from the University of California at Berkeley. The head of the team had wanted to get my input on a grant project about which I do have some unique expertise. Free lunch with great company at my favorite upscale restaurant constituted excellent payment for an afternoon of idea sharing, I thought. However, as the team was preparing to leave, the admin assistant asked me for my mailing address in order to send me my $500 honorarium!

"Go dancing tonight," the doctor told me at the end of my appointment. Yes, he wanted some more tests, but in general he agrees with me that I have been blessed with better health than my attention to taking care of myself deserves. So, I went dancing. Well, not literally dancing, but the effect was the same.

Donnie and I decided to grab a Subway sandwich and take it back home to San Ignatio (which has no fast food joints). We had some new movies from Netflix that had arrived in the mail and decided that after a hard week we deserved a relaxing evening at home. But first, we were to be given a chance to take care of one of God's children.

When we arrived at Subway, we encountered a girl in her early twenties who asked us for a dollar. Well, being a mother, I have to know some things from kids in their twenties.

"What do you need it for?" I asked.

"Food," she replied.

Ah, in that case, I had a better solution than a dollar bill. I handed her one of my $10 McDonald cards that I carry around for panhandlers asking for a meal when I do not have time to accompany them somewhere where we can use God’s credit card. She could buy a couple meals with that. She thanked me and seemed sincere about it.
As Donnie and I stood in line, we had second thoughts. McDonald's was on the other side of town, and here we were at a place selling food. For heaven's sake, we could buy her a meal on the spot and not make her trek somewhere else. Then she would have the McDonald’s card for a meal the next day.

So, I went back outside to talk to the young lady. She had started to walk off, ostensibly to go to McDonald's. "Excuse me," I called after her. "What's your name?"
She approached me. "Mary," she answered. Now there's a name that makes you think twice!

"Well, Mary, would you let us buy you a meal?" I asked.

She agreed with a wide smile, and in we went. We talked about the kinds of sandwiches we wanted while waiting in line, and she seemed a little awkward. That made sense, I thought. She did not know us. However, the real reason soon came to light.

"I don't know how to ask this," she started, then continued. "I feel guilty about accepting a meal for myself and then going home to my hungry family. I was trying to collect money to buy food for them all. Could I get something for them, too?"

"Of course. How many of them are there?" I asked.

"Six," she responded. "Two children, my mother, my sister, and my brother-in-law, besides me."

"Okay," I told her. "We can manage that." Of course, we could manage that. I had God's credit card with me.

Mary excused herself briefly to use the bathroom. The lady in front of us in line had overheard everything and suggested that we save money by getting three footlongs that were cut in half. That way it would only be $15 and would still be enough for six people. I considered it briefly and decided to leave that decision to God. It was, after all, God’s credit card.

Mary came back just in time to order. She immediately asked for four footlongs and two children's meals. As she darted back and forth between the person handling the bread and meat and the person handling the toppings, I remembered so many times doing the same thing with our kids. Sometimes, I had ordered as many as ten, depending upon who was home at the time. It was always quite an experience for the sandwich makers when my family came to dinner or I stopped by to bring them home. I got involved in the information passing to the sandwich makers, helping Mary. What joy! What fun! It was just like the old days, and for a brief few minutes, through Mary, it was like being back with my kids in younger years and reminded me of what Meister Eckhart said in Sermon Six: “People ought to give joy to the angels and the saints . . . Every saint has such great delight and such unspeakable joy from every good work . . . no tongue can tell, no heart can think how great is the joy they have from this.” Watching Mary, I began to understand just a little Meister Eckhart’s words.

Finally done, we packed up all the sandwiches, chips, drinks, and headed out the door. "How far do you have to walk?" I asked Mary, eyeing her multiple bags.

"Oh, I live nearby," she said. "Near the dollar store."

"That's more than a mile away!" I protested. "We will drive you."

So, we drove her there, talking along the way about her family, current situation, boyfriend—and the, yikes, fact that she might be pregnant.

"Okay," Donnie, now the dad again, brought up. "How are you going to feed the baby?"

"Well, if I am pregnant, my boyfriend has agreed to pay for the baby and get married. He has a job."

That seems like a backward way to do things, but I guess modern days are different from the days in which we grew up. Nonetheless, both Donnie and I slipped right back into the parent role, discussing the implications of these kinds of things. She accepted our words even though we were not her parents. Somehow, it just all seemed natural.

All too soon, we arrived and let her out. She started to walk away, then set down her bags and came back to me as I was about to get back into the car after helping her with the bags. She reached out and gave me a big hug and smile. "Thanks," she said. And that was it. Indeed, I had followed the doctor's orders. I went dancing—but not in the literal sense.

God’s Bank Account
I love having God’s credit card. It has given me many opportunities to help people that I could not otherwise have done! In addition to the examples above and the people who stray onto my path from time to time, we have used the credit card in our prayer group as a way of providing larger amounts of help to individuals who come to our attention than any one of us individually would be able to do. Always, the card gets paid off within the month. I get some unexpected royalties; another member receives an unexpected monetary gift from a relative; a third earns extra money on a one-time job that comes along. We don’t hesitate to use the card because we know it will get paid off.

Recently, we have started talking about several of us together opening a bank account for God. That way, if people get some unexpected funds that they want to use for credit card payment, they can put it into the bank upfront where it can earn interest until we need to make a purchase with the card, at which time the funds will be ready to pay off the card. Of course, if it is not enough, we can still trust God to find the funds to keep the card paid. Now, I wonder how the teller will react when we tell her whose account we want to open.


Excerpted from A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God (forthcoming), copyright 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Children of Chernobyl

One of the first pieces I posted on Mahlou Musings was about Peter Volkovich from Belarus. I have repeated it below since links sometimes break. I was reminded about it recently when I came across a site, Children of Chernobyl, sponsored by a non-profit agency, founded after the Cold War to help the children Peter, I, and others were struggling to help during the end of the Soviet Union days. The work, begun by Peter, who, I fear, is no longer among the living since that would make him more than 100 years old now, has been taken over by a group of people, led by a Catholic priest, Louis Vuitton, who has become well known for his social activism. I found it thrilling to learn that more people are now involved and more children are now being helped.

Here is the original post:

I met Pyotr Volkovich, the vice-president of the Peace Committee of the former Soviet Republic of Belarus in Minsk, in 1989. He was clearly a man with a mission: to improve his community, that community being the greater part of Belarus, which had suffered severely from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in nearby Ukraine.

While I was there, he gave me a description and history of the problem in the area and a list of medical supplies and equipment needed to care for the ill children, nearly 25% of whom had died from cancer after the reactor accident, many more of whom are now ill, and all of whom remain at risk from the irradiated soil and the food grown in it. I published that article in an international journal I edited, hoping that perhaps something would come of it. However, I did not follow up.

I met Peter again a year later when he was the keynote speaker at an International Rotary Convention in Portland, Oregon. Although I was only there by incidental invitation related to establishing a school exchange program, Pyotr said that from the moment he reached American soil at Kennedy Airport, even though he did not see me anywhere along the way, including upon arrival in Portland, he nonetheless knew that I would be there. I am convinced that this kind of confidence alone was enough to influence the events in his life.

I probably paid more attention to his speech than I otherwise might have because when he was introduced to the audience, instead of turning to his official interpreter, he asked me to do the interpretation from Russian into English for him. He gave one of the most brilliant speeches about the need for peace that I have ever heard. At what appeared to be the end of the speech, he presented the Rotary Foundation with the serial plate (framed in plastic) of the last surface-to-surface missile disassembled under the SALT Treaty. After hefty applause had died down, instead of leaving the stage, he continued with a very disconcerting phrase, "vokrug mira est' kolyakola..." (all around the world are bells). Bells was the only meaning I knew for the world, kolyakola, but I was hesitant to interpret it that way since the concept of bells made no sense in the given context, but I had no choice. Pyotr then continued, and everything made beautiful sense and left me and others with a lasting emotional response to his words: "They are big bells, warning of pending nuclear disaster. I did not, however, bring you a big bell. I brought you a small bell. [Here he took a tiny bell from his pocket and jingled it.] To hear this bell, you need the silence of peace."

The beginning of Pyotr's speech had focused on the serious medical needs of the Belarusan children, so our second meeting resulted in my sending information about the situation to medical circles in various places. Again, bad Samaritan that I was, I did not follow up but simply hoped that there would be interested parties who would contact Pyotr, and apparently some did.

Three years later when I again met Pyotr in Minsk, he had managed to arrange for the children from Gomel and other affected regions in Belarus to go to Germany for the summer, away from the radiation that daily accumulated to ever higher concentrations in their bodies. Although I was there for very different reasons (as a consultant to the Academy of Science textbook writers on the development of new K-12 and university textbooks in a variety of disciplines), he greeted me as if I were a long-time friend and fellow activist and excitedly told me about the medical equipment that the Peace Committee had received in the last 3-4 years from many different countries, saying "We consider this a result of your actions."

I was one of the few outsiders at that time to whom Pyotr had had access. However, I had never followed up on anything, so I could not honestly take credit for anything. Nonetheless, Pyotr pressed his gratitude on me.

That time I did help a little more actively. I gave the Peace Committee a monetary donation from my institutions, a rather hefty one, in fact, that we should not have been able to afford, but miraculously we ended up with a sum of money from our Russian operations that we had to somehow leave in Russia/Belarus. What better recipient could we have had than the Belarus Peace Committee?!

Like one person alone, one donation alone was not enough to make much difference. However, Pyotr knew that monetary contributions grow geometrically when they are combined, just as the combined results of people's efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. He put our contribution together with a contribution from an organization in Germany, and that allowed the Peace Committee to move 52 families from a highly irradiated area around Gomel to a newly built and relatively safe village not far from Minsk.

Pyotr knew all about getting anyone to do anything for him and be happy about it. I am sure that each individual was treated in similar ways. My ability to help was limited, but there were others who could and did help more. Pyotr treated all of us as if we were miracle makers when it was he who made the miracles happen.

I have not seen Pyotr since. In 1995, he retired from the Peace Committee, but he continued to work very hard behind the scenes for some years.

If you were to meet Pyotr, he would surprise you. Barely five feet tall and well past seventy when I first met him, he seemed seven feet tall and 30 years old as he talked about saving his land and his people. His eyes sparkled with the energy of someone much younger. His intensity and enthusiasm would move anyone to help him save his beloved Belarus.

The Pyotrs of this world can get anyone to do anything because they have a clear and altruistic goal and undauntedly tread toward it, regardless of obstacles. In such cases, everyone wants to help, and everyone feels good about helping. As for God, in addition to obviously facilitating some of those miracles, such as the inflow of medical equipment and the sudden appearance of hundreds of dollars in my institute's coffers that had to be used in Belarus, I think that Pyotr must have been one of His favorite instruments. After all, Pyotr proved that he could spread the good just as quickly as God could deliver it!


Excerpted and adapted from a story I published in a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Laugh Off the Humiliating Events

One can worry about one's dignity and have dark days and dark spots in one's life, or one can laugh at oneself along with everyone else. The latter attitude usually results in a smoother ride through life.

My oldest daughter, Lizzie, learned this lesson well not long ago when she found the "Oy!" in Illinois. All dressed up pretty for a very important interview at the University of Illinois, the graduate school she wanted to attend, she arrived on campus early, found the building where she was to attend a meeting, then promptly fell down a concrete staircase, ending up with scratches, bruises, a dirty suit, and a very swollen nose.

being the pragmatic type, instead of running away in disgrace, she decided to skip the attempt to wow folks with the first impression and continue on with life as normal (which, admittedly, for her, with trouble hanging over her shoulder most of the time, is not quite the same as it is for most people).

For those who are wondering, she did get admitted to the program. She continues to be nipped by trouble and to laugh off what she cannot change--and thus garners sympathy and friends.

Lizzie may come naturally by this tendency to have embarrassing things just happen to her. My grandmother once related to me the story of how, in the days when women's panties were held together by safety pins, she walked out of a theatre onto a public street, where suddenly the pin broke and her panties fell to the ground. With nary a worry, she stepped over them as if they belonged to someone else and kept on walking!

Similarly, when my children were small and I was working in the nation's capital while my husband was still living and working in Pittsburgh, I was often overwhelmed with the heaping mound of details that I had to manage on any given work day. Usually, I accomplished everything just in the nick of time. One morning, however, I was a bit ahead of the curve. With all four children bathed, dressed, fed, homework checked, and standing in line with lunch boxes in hand, waiting for the school buses a full ten minutes early, I leisurely dressed myself for work. Pleased with my unharried moment, I set off for the bus stop. There, a woman who often rode the same bus with me looked at me a little peculiarly and asked, "Didn't you forget something today?"

On such a well organized morning, I could not imagine what that might have been. I did a mental check: purse, briefcase, umbrella. What else could it be?

"What about your skirt?" she asked.

That incident could have become buried in the annals of moments one would rather not relive. However, I found it as amusing as others did and have used it in books and lectures about people with certain learning styles who tend not to pay attention to details--and about harried mothers in a working world.

My propensity for such absent-mindedness has not changed with age. More recently, I was walking across the NASA campus at Johnson Space Center en route to work when it started to rain. I was used to the fact that in Houston rain begins without warning and can be quite heavy, so I was prepared. Although I was lost in thought at the time, I automatically reached for my umbrella and whipped it open. I was brought out of my reverie when out of the corner of my eye I noticed all the other pedestrians standing still and staring at me. I was walking through a sprinkler. With a little chagrin, I stepped out of the way of the sprinkler and put away my umbrella, smiling and waving at the onlookers.

From that event, a number of people I would not otherwise have met or remembered certainly remembered me, including one of the guards. He began to talk to me each time I came on post, and when I took a business trip to Russia, I brought a Russian chocolate bar back for him. He was so delighted, you would have thought I had given him a bar of gold. I suppose in some senses of the word, I had.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Another goodie from the Internet, passed along by a friend:


If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment ,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

...Then You Are Probably .........

The Family Dog!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Turn Anger into Positive Action

Anger is one of the most difficult emotions to deal with. Too often, our anger leads us to take an accusatory attitude or in other ways to offend the very people who help and support us and whom we really need. Rather than getting angry, it is more helpful to take an action that will prevent other people from going through the same negative that we have gone through.

For example, after I stole my son, Doah, from Renboro Hospital (name changed for obvious reasons), I was quite angry with the doctors there. It turned out that those doctors had misdiagnosed the cause of Doah's subglottic stenosis. As a result, we had lived through a year of trauma associated in those days with a tracheotomy: five serious episodes of apnea requiring hospitalization, three cardiac arrests, one collapsed lung, and a life-threatening case of tracheitis (inflammation of the trachea).

In addition to the surgery issues, I was angry because Doah had a tracheotomy and the only help the doctors planned to give me at home for monitoring his breathing was to tie bells to his shoe laces. That year, most of the trached children at the hospital died after they were sent home. Obviously, they forgot to kick their feet and ring their bells when they stopped breathing. I talked to the doctors at Children's Hospital in Massachusetts, to which I had taken Doah after leaving Renboro Hospital, and they helped me track down an apnea monitor rental company in a city four hours away from where we lived. Doah survived his first winter, thanks to his pediatrician, the Massachusetts doctors, his parents, and the monitor.

Perhaps we could have sued Arrogant Hospital or its doctors, or perhaps we could have raised another kind of ruckus. I'm not sure what good either would have done. Instead, we decided to change that hospital's practices. In lieu of a lawsuit, we insisted that the hospital bring onto its staff a tracheotomy care expert and that all parents of trached children be provided an apnea monitor when their children were released. The administrator hedged and called in the financial officer, who offered to cancel our bill. We insisted: not money, but action. The administrator promised to think about it.

He did. Two months later our apnea monitor rental company opened a branch in our city. We asked why. The answer was that since the time we had talked to the administrator there had been so many requests for apnea monitors from Renboro Hospital that it was worth the company's investment to open a local office.

More was to come. A short while later, the mother of a child who had been trached for ten years called me in excitement. There was a new tracehotomy specialist in staff, and he thought he would be able to remove her son's tracheotomy and get him breathing normally.

The epitome of turning anger into action, I think, is John Walsh, the host of the popular television show, "America's Most Wanted." The disappearance of his young son, Adam, later determined to have been murdered, drove him to see criminals brought to justice. Somewhat by chance and more a result of determination evolved the television show that has put hundreds of criminals behind bars who would otherwise still be on the streets today. Talk about turning anger into good!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bad Things and Good People

Note: This piece was published in Blest Atheist in part and excerpted here a couple of years ago in part. Since then, I have given much more thought to the question why bad things happen to good people, mainly because the question is raised so often by the high school kids in my catechism class. The fuller analysis of my demand to God upon coming to faith to know why my children were born with birth defects if there were a God who could have prevented but chose not to is provided below and will appear in my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God.

Read the Book of Job! More than a thought but less than a voice, the words slammed into my consciousness in a manner I found four years later described in Jeremiah: “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, like a hammer shattering rocks?” (Jer 23:29). I accepted these quiet but compelling words at face value and then surprised myself by following them instinctively, without examination.

While the response to my question came immediately, the answer took days to understand. I knew that Job was somewhere in the Old Testament. I found a Bible on line and read the pages.

On first reading, the meaning of Job escaped me. Well, there is the expression, the “patience of Job,” but I did not think that the message I was supposed to be getting had anything to do with patience. After all, how does lack of patience explain why children might be born with handicaps?

So, I read the Book of Job again. I read about all the torments and testing, about how Job remained faithful through all the tests. I did not think that was the message I was supposed to be getting, either. That, too, did not explain why my children would be born with handicaps. My children are not torments. They are delights.

So, I read the Book of Job a third time, paying attention to how Job’s friends exhorted him to turn his back on God, but instead he turned his back on their advice. This, too, did not seem to be the message I was supposed to be getting for I had neither blamed God nor believed in God at the time of my children’s births. It seemed I would need the proverbial patience of Job to ferret out whatever message I was supposed to be getting.

So, I read the Book of Job a fourth time and began to feel much empathy for him, especially in the loss of his children. I noted well that I had been spared such pain even in the case of Doah, whose first two years took the form of a dance between life and death and life again. An understanding was beginning to emerge but not one that I could articulate. Just one more time and perhaps I would understand!

I read the Book of Job a fifth time, and then I finally got it. It was not the concept of patience that I needed to understand, nor was it a test whose requirements I needed to meet. No, it was the concept of agape (unconditional love) that I needed to develop. No matter what was taken from Job or what he had to endure, he continued to love God. What the message of Job said to me at that time is that God's presence in our lives and what happens to us and those we care about are separate things. God has promised to be with us if we allow it. What happens to us, on the other hand, is often a result of free will with which God does not usually interfere. My children’s birth defects, in a parallel way, were an unfortunate combination of genes, resulting from the free will of two people who chose each other as marital partners. Even with the animal kingdom, God allows genetics free play. God could have chosen to intervene but did not do so. There likely are reasons for every bad thing that befalls us where God does not intervene, and there likely are reasons for my children’s birth defects. Certainly, my being unaware of the reasons does not mean that they do not exist. Just as likely, were I aware of them, I might not understand them. Scripture tells us that God’s thinking is as far above ours as the sky is from the earth. The reasons, in any case, are irrelevant. Our love of God must be as unconditional as is God’s love for us. What happens in life—the bad things and the good things—cannot be conditions for whether or not we love God. They are tangential. I understood that God was not to blame for any of the bad things that happened to Job or to me, but God has been omnipotent at turning the bad, once it happened, into good.

The reading of Job began to answer my question as to why God could exist and not intervene or why it might even be better to allow the birth defects to occur, as counterintuitive as the latter may sound. My children’s value is not defined by their birth defects but by what they do with their lives, how they help others, what they contribute to the world, i.e., not by what they cannot do but rather but what they can do and do do.

There was one more thing. God protected Job. It did not seem that way to Job because Job was not in on the agreement that God had made with Satan. Satan could take things away from Job and then, later, God even allowed Satan to torment Job physically. Job, however, was never in danger of dying. His life was always in God’s hands as so many times have been my life and the lives of my children when I, like Job, could not see what was transpiring.

As I came to know God better, I began to understand the story of Job in new ways. One important thing that I now understand that would have made no sense in the beginning of my walk with God is that God does not owe us anything. God does not owe us a life without trouble. God does not owe us peace and tranquility. God does not owe us intervention at any particular point in our lives or at all. God sometimes assuages our pain because God wants to. That assuaging is an act of grace, not an entitlement.

C. S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain) points out that we would not ever expect pain to be assuaged were we not to believe in a loving God. It is the concept of a loving God that creates the “problem of pain” for us because we assume that a loving God would not want us ever to feel any pain. I now understand, however, that any assumption that it is God’s will that our lives be free of hassle, pain, and even death is a wrong assumption. When we assume that a loving God would want to heal us of all our illnesses, prevent the loss of our relatives at too early an age, or destroy all our enemies, we fail to understand that every intervention, every assistance, every gift is a grace. Our God-given compassion for our fellow man tells us that human intervention is good. Perhaps that is our basis for assuming that God’s intervention would be good, but we are not privy to the kinds of knowledge that God has. Nor are we capable of seeing and understanding the human condition in the way that God does. We are told in the New Testament that the way of the cross is both necessary and good, and St. Pio specifically points to this way as essential to our spiritual development: “In order to grow, we need hard bread: the cross, humiliation, trials, and denials.” Yet, it is the way of the cross that we attempt to avoid when we demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Might it not be arrogant to believe that any one of us should be exempt from the pain and suffering that comprises the human condition? I would posit that we don’t deserve children without birth defects. We have not earned a right to no pain. Rather, as St. Paul told the Ephesians, “we are all by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Some may experience little pain, thanks to God’s mercy. Others may experience much pain, also thanks to God’s mercy. I did not come to understand this continuum of mercy until I had passed through a series of metanoias.

Further, simply by asking the question why God would allow us to experience pain, we separate ourselves from God — another understanding that took a long time to settle in among my logic-driven neurons. Bonaventure suggests that God does not observe our suffering from afar but rather suffers with us from within, that out of an abundance of love, God is drawn to those who suffer. In one of my favorite books, The Humility of God, Ilia Delio beautifully provides a touching description of this co-suffering:
Suffering is . . . the place of transformation. It is a door by which God can enter in and love us where we are. . . As Clare of Assisi realized, God bends down in the cross to share our tears out of a heart full of mercy and love . . .

The power of God is the powerlessness of God’s unconditional love shown to us in the cross. God is the beggar who will not force his way into our homes unless we open the door. . . . God shares in the brokenness of the world out of the abundance of divine love.
Suffering, then, perhaps should be welcomed. “Tribulation is a gift God gives us,” St. Thomas More tells us, “one that he especially gives his special friends.” St. Rose of Lima concurs, “Without the burden of afflictions, it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.”

Was my question answered? Not completely. I still did not know for certain why God intervened to save my children’s lives but not to prevent their birth defects. I have come, however, to understand that knowing is not important; trusting without knowing is paramount. Knowing can be detrimental to a relationship with God. One could take the Israelites as an archetype in this respect. When God let them know things more fully, they turned away from God. Likewise, when Adam and Eve began to know, they strayed. So, I accept not knowing as an inherent condition for real trust, a strong relationship, and deep conversion.

In his homily recently, a visiting priest told the story of three people who went to learn from a guru. The guru asked them why they had come to him. One replied that he had heard of the guru through local people and wanted to learn from such an august man. The guru sent him away. The second replied that she had looked around to see who could teach her what she wanted to learn and in this way had discovered the existence of the guru. He sent her away. The third stammered out that he really did not know how he had heard about the guru or what he really wanted to learn. The guru replied, “You’ll do.”

Clearly, to the guru, not knowing was not only acceptable but also desirable. Some day, if I continue to accept the not-knowing part of my relationship with God, perhaps I, too, will hear the words, “You’ll do.”

I like to think that perhaps this is what happened in the case of my children. Perhaps God looked for parents who would love them just the way they are and fight for them to be everything they could be without questioning the reason for their infelicitous combination of genes and said, “they’ll do.” I like to think that even though I was an atheist and Donnie an agnostic, God thought that we just might do.

God entrusted some very special people to us: children with wide smiles, great love for people, and needs that have allowed people with whom they have come into contact to help them in ways that have been mutually rewarding. Because of their ability to bring smiles to others, I call our children God’s rainbow makers. Just like a broken sprinkler gushes more water onto a parched field, God’s rainbow makers sprinkle more water onto parched souls. The thought that God blessed and entrusted me with these rainbow makers entered my head only after a very long pondering of the experience of Job. Realizing the extent of God’s trust in me has engendered within me a reciprocal trust in God.


Excerpted from A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God (forthcoming), copyright 2011.

Blog Archive

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.