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


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.

About Me

My photo
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.