Donna sat on the opposite side of the church. Her golden hair streamed over the black shirt she wore at the 9:30 AM service. “Yes, I’ll tell my story about me and Jesus. Let’s do breakfast after Mass.”
Grasping the water glass with both hands, she sipped saying, “Not many people know my new husband has colon cancer. We found out nine months after we were married. One third of his colon was removed, and he agreed to nine chemo cocktails. A month after the last chemo treatment, he was checked for more tumors. God, I wish it had been a good report because it revealed #88 when #5 or below is best. So, the cancer has spread to his liver, and the doctors can’t treat the liver. The source is still the colon. He’s in trouble, and I believe it’s stage 4.” The server stood an extra 30 seconds waiting patiently for Donna to order. Her tears blurred the menu and she quickly decided on French toast.
“I am grateful that I have Jesus to help me. A new marriage with cancer isn’t a builder of a nice future. I think I would be going crazy if I didn’t have the Lord. I believe Jesus knows what he is doing and that his plan for me includes this scary situation with my husband’s health. Is Jesus proposing a new role for me? A role I already do well and feel comfortable in? I like to please people and definitely thrive on their gratitude. If he wants me to be a caretaker, I can accept that. It seems like I am always giving, giving, giving.”
The interview was going well. Donna needed little prompting. After the food arrived, I encouraged her to pause and take a bite of the plump, hot, French toast. And, I directed the conversation to talk about herself.
It was an October night, and I was supposed to be asleep. As a 7-year old, I was excited to see my grandparents, who were in from Michigan. They were using my room, so I had to sleep on the floor in my brother’s room. I could hear unfamiliar voices and lots of movement in the hall and my parents’ bedroom. I knew something was wrong but didn’t realize what exactly or how it would change my life forever.Mom was 32 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia and also pregnant with my brother. My grandparents were there to be with her and say goodbye. I had absolutely no idea her life was ending. When my parents were told their options, my dad wanted her to do whatever it took to survive, even if it meant losing the baby. She was unwilling—selfless. She decided on the least evasive treatments, even though her outcome could be devastating. There was no guarantee that she would survive. She could lose the baby, or he could be born with birth defects. She told my father that the baby could have multiple heads and she would love him.
Mike and I met at his favorite breakfast hangout. After thanking the Lord, we ate large chunks of melon and pineapple, scrambled eggs and wheat toast, and we sipped four cups of decaf. Watching Mike with the pepper shaker, I knew he was the seasoning I needed for this delicious story. What looked like a reserved man on the outside was jalapeno peppers on the inside.
“Honor and fairness are my watchwords, my checkpoints and my conversation topics with Jesus,” said Mike. “The Lord knows I have not always been honorable or fair, so I ask Jesus every day for wisdom and grace to discern any chance to practice what I preach.”
Mike was raised in the Missouri Synod Church in the original Lutheran German faith. His mother served as the religious ambassador for the household—two brothers and one sister. He was confirmed in the 8th grade and began teaching Sunday school at 14. He did this until he was 19. With a large smile, Mike boasted, “God called me early.”
“Come back later.” These words resonate clear as a bell when I recall what happened to me two days before Thanksgiving 2010. Sitting in my favorite chair, listening to the radio in late afternoon, I turned my head to check the time. Instantly, a bright white place appeared and I heard multiple languages that sounded like jibberish to me. “Jesus are you there?” I asked. I heard a gentle, peaceful voice say, “Come back later.”
The following day I recalled my state of mind and the circumstances. Had I taken too much medicine? Was I sleeping? I recognized that this white place and tender voice came late in the day when I am usually at my best. It was the same restful feeling I have sharing a cup of tea with a friend.
Catholic geek, Catholic hippy, Catholic freak; call me what you want. I know my reputation. Call me Catholic friend. With Jesus as my best friend, others follow. Hey, if Jesus was called a geek, hippy and freak, it’s cool having an affiliation with him in this way.
My mother, a spiritually weak Lutheran, was widowed three months after my birth. She remarried a great man whom I call Dad. After Jesus, I know he is the best example of a good Catholic.
My geeky, hippy, freaky me started at a Catholic grade school with daily Mass. With other kids tickling, teasing and fooling around in church, I avoided them to feel the holiness surrounding me. Doesn’t it seem a little sophisticated for a third grader asking if he is worthy to receive Communion? I couldn’t sleep; I didn’t want to mess up. A scared, little kid? No, that wasn’t me. Curious and obeying God’s plan was me.
I worked at Glenbard South High School, Glen Ellyn. From Elmhurst, I took the cloverleaf off Route 83 to head West on Roosevelt Road. I always had to slow down and remind myself, “this is a tricky turn”. Over 30 years ago I was driving a Camaro that had zero traction in the snow. I always placed a 40-pound bag of dog food in the trunk to provide enough traction. Don’t you know, I started to skid. I was on the edge and out of control. I yelled, “Oh God. Help!” My car straightened out, I regained control and 30 years later I can’t go by that spot without saying, “Thank you, Jesus.” I imagined that He provided the 40 pounds of traction because the bag of dog food was nowhere in sight.