Archive for the ‘lessons’ Category


Farewell, Paul

Posted by Jennifer

A friend’s life will be celebrated today in a funeral Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church.

You wouldn’t have read about him in the paper, even in the obituaries. He didn’t have any relatives in Medina. In fact, only a few known relatives exist: a sister, and a younger brother, Joe, who lives two hours away. Joe didn’t think anyone would care that this 71-year-old man who lived alone and never married or had children, who had retired years ago and mostly kept to himself, was no longer walking the Earth. He wasn’t being unkind; it’s simply what it would appear from the outside.

But this friend is perhaps one of the best-known members of St. Francis Xavier Parish, and his death a week ago has stunned our church community and made everyone I know stop in their tracks while their faces soften and reflect for a moment on what he meant to us.

The funny thing is that most of us knew him only from an arm’s length. For many years, until his death, I only knew his first name: Paul.

He was the guy who was almost always in church. Every day. For hours at a time.

The same shabby, dark clothes hung from his thin shoulders day after day. He would go long periods without a haircut, so his wispy white hair hung over his ears at times. There were times, especially in the summer, when you didn’t want to sit too close or be downwind from him.

He walked with a cane that he kept hooked over the edge of the pew. Every morning, long after Mass had ended, he would shuffle from statue to painting to each Station of the Cross, pausing in silent conversation with the Lord. His light blue eyes stared earnestly at each image, and you could imagine the dialogue they were having.

He was simply always there, arriving as early as 6:15 a.m. and waiting in his car until the church was unlocked. He stayed for funerals and school Masses. One friend remembers Paul attending her sister’s wedding some 15 years ago. Probably lots of people assumed he was with the other side of the family.

He didn’t ask for anything. In fact, he only reluctantly accepted gifts. I learned after his death that some people brought him a bag lunch from time to time, and teachers at the school would bring plates of cookies. He carried only a water bottle, which together with his stack of holy cards sustained him through long hours of prayer.

Most of the time he kept his distance from people. I heard once that he couldn’t hear well. Perhaps that was only selective. He was known to occasionally get surly with people who would put down his rear windshield wiper, which protruded oddly from the back of his car like a tail.

A few years ago I felt compelled to reach out to this man who seemed friendless. I asked his name and he said only: “Paul.” I tried to be friendly, but couldn’t tell if he preferred to be left alone. I wanted to be kind but sensitive to this possibility. I never tried again.

Occasionally, though, he walked up with seeming randomness to individuals and the church echoed loudly with his blessing: “May Jesus always smile on you, may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep her eyes on you, may the Holy Spirit inspire you. Welcome to Church!”

I secretly longed that he would choose me someday. It never happened.

Still, many of us felt that this man was something special to our church, like Simeon in the Bible story of the infant Jesus being presented in the temple. Simeon, as you might recall, was described as righteous and devout, “and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” God had told him that he would not die before seeing the Christ, and when he saw the child in Mary’s arms, he proclaimed, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

One day, almost two weeks ago, he spent his customary long day in church, staying into the beginning of the monthly nocturnal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Catholics believe that the Lord is present in the consecrated Eucharist, and once a month at St. Francis Xavier we hold a prayer vigil before the Blessed Sacrament that lasts from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Mass the next day.

But when Paul didn’t return to church that next morning for Mass, people were concerned. That afternoon, one woman went to check on him, and found he had died, one month shy of his 72nd birthday.

The work began to find relatives. And slowly, the stories began to pour out, the bits and pieces known here and there that together begin to paint a picture of this man we all knew and yet didn’t know.

Until four years ago, Paul had never registered at the church. At least there is some record of him. Father Tony recalled Paul giving him a name and phone number for a brother at about that time. With some digging, a phone number was found. It had been disconnected.

Fortunately, one known fact was that Paul had worked some 32 years at Owens-Corning, 14 of them with one of our deacons. Eventually the brother was located, I assume through work records, and the story started to fill in.

Turns out there were 13 siblings born to a poor family. When Paul was 7 and this brother 6, their parents died and all the children were adopted out; they were scattered like seeds. Paul and this brother remained together in Akron, the only remnant of family they knew all these years.

Paul grew up and attended college. I heard he’d earned five science-related degrees from the University of Akron, and yet his job — at least some of the time — at Owens Corning was on the assembly line. His rocking motion in the pew mirrored his repetitive movement on the line.

These last number of years, he found consolation at church. But as he grew older, he found it harder to distinguish his car from two others that were identical in the lot. So he intentionally extended the wiper to make it obvious which one was his. There really was method to the madness. I regret my presumption that I knew better when I once put it down.

His absence is palpable; he is missed. Even by my children, who knew him. I learned later that Paul once had complimented my 6-year-old on his enthusiastic singing. I will be curious to see how many people show up for his funeral Mass today. I suspect the church may be quite a bit more full than his brother expects.

But while we mourn his passing, not a single one of us can question where he is now. If there was anyone who had pursued and enjoyed a personal relationship with the Savior, it was Paul.

We only ask now that he will pray for us.


Agreeing to Disagree: Navigating the Facebook waters in times of controversy

Posted by Jennifer

It’s happened again.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday that certain employers can’t be forced to pay for their employees’ contraception, I’m treading very carefully around Facebook. Clicking on that familiar blue square icon makes my stomach hurt momentarily, as I hold my breath and wonder what angry sentiment I’m bound to encounter.

It’s difficult, because I want to know and share the latest about my family and friends — that my cousin and his wife are finally becoming parents, that my friends are safe and having a great time in Florida despite the approaching hurricane, that my son was interviewed by WEWS after riding a new attraction at Cedar Point with his dad.

But I get a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach when I read about my friends’ varied takes on this latest news — or any other controversial subjects, like same-sex “marriage,” abortion and politics.

I know that, for some of them, commenting on these subjects is pure sport. They want to raise the ire of others on Facebook and poke fun. Others simply want to rally their friends to their point of view.

The problem is, though, that not all “friends” agree. There are plenty of people with whom I am “friends” that take a different point of view than I do. And I’ve learned, through my own mistakes, that Facebook is not the place to try to persuade others on such divisive topics.

So here are five things to consider when tempted to comment on a controversial subject:

1. Space is short. Issues are complex. Volumes are written to debate points of view. Quite often, there are deeply personal experiences and sharp emotions tied to these issues. Facebook doesn’t offer the space you need to make your case, and you can’t gauge a person’s reactions in a status update. Would you say it to someone’s face? If you must comment, be gentle and considerate. Remember life is short too.

2. Understand what Facebook is — and isnt. Facebook is a great tool for connecting with family and friends about what’s going on in their lives. It’s a wonderful place to share pictures and funny stories, or to send an alert and ask for prayers when a loved one is ill or has died. I feel much more connected to distant relatives and friends who have moved — heck, even friends who are close by — when I can learn about these little, incremental happenings in addition to the big things. I’m not saying I don’t want to have deep conversations with them about important subjects . . . just not HERE.

3. Don’t assume that your “friends” agree with you. If you must comment, do so in your own status, not by disagreeing on someone else’s. I used to think that this was my opportunity to witness to my friends that there is an opposing point of view that deserves consideration. But after some very troubling exchanges over the years with friends and relatives, I have come to appreciate the axiom that “silence is golden.” I won’t dispute their commentary, because I’ve learned I generally don’t have the stomach for protracted, emotional debate in this setting. (However, I have been known to “like” those comments by like-minded others who dare to venture into the waters.)

4. Avoidance is not being weak. Throughout the animal kingdom, “flight” is an entirely appropriate response to stress. It doesn’t always have to be “fight.” Sometimes, it’s best to stay off Facebook for a few days and let the controversy simmer down. You might like your friends and family a little more.

5. It’s OK to “unfriend.” I am Facebook “friends” with a lot of people who are more like acquaintances than genuine friends. Some are former co-workers with whom, as a freelancer, I could reasonably work again one day. Some are relatives I will see the rest of my life. I’ve tried hard to ignore their provocative diatribes. But some have been persistent, and it’s harder to avoid them. I’ve finally given myself permission to “unfollow” some of them. I don’t need to see their rants, or to see them argue with my posts. Ultimately remaining Facebook “friends” does more harm to our relationship than good.

So, there you have it: my unsolicited words of wisdom. I’m bound to continue to make my mistakes, in this medium and others, and I owe an apology — an actual, in-person one — to one friend I unintentionally hurt by thinking too little about the consequences of a quick post I made recently. When it comes to real relationships, Facebook is no substitute for face time.


Widow proves she has a hero’s courage and strength

Posted by Jennifer


After reading a long Facebook post today shared openly by Michelle Klubnik Radke, I’m speechless.

Michelle is the wife of Peter Radke, the Medina man who died Saturday while saving the life of a young girl who was struggling in the waters off Huntington Beach in Bay Village. The girl, who appeared about 12 or 14, survived, but Peter, 43, did not return to shore. His body was found in the lake later that night. In addition to his wife, Peter leaves behind four young children.

The story is heartbreaking in its simplicity. A child needed help, and he dove in to save her, sacrificing his life in the process. No hesitation, never any doubt.

Michelle is left to raise their four children without him, and no one would blame her for feeling sorry for herself and bitter about her situation. And yet, three days after the tragedy, she is precisely the opposite:

“While I am coherent enough to “speak,” I want you all to know that you are being God with skin on for me and I could never in a lifetime be able to express my gratefulness for each and every one of you. To say I am devastated to lose my best friend, my rock and my lover does not enough come close to the pain that is part of me every second of the day.

“I am living a nightmare that I know I will not wake up from and it’s terrifying. The days ahead of me, especially this week, will be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But I know with all the thousands of people sharing my grief, I will be able to stand and honor my husband. He was a hero to me before his final act, but knowing that he died to save another makes me so much prouder of the man he was.

“Please know that you coming to see me is not imposing in any way. Pete LOVED when people just stopped by to chat — even when the house was a wreck and I would rather have not answered the door. He taught me to “lower my expectations” about what other people thought and to just love them.

“My husband always questioned what success really was for a man, and came to the conclusion that significance is what counted. He proved that to so many that day on the beach. He loved God, he loved family, he was always, always so confident in his faith and where he would spend eternity. He never fretted over his death and that always kept me strong and confident when fear would show its ugly head in my life.

‘Thou art my hiding place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance.’ He is still God and He is still good. Even though I will never understand His ways, I WILL TRUST HIM.

“Don’t let me falter, friends. Hold me up. I loved you more than my own life Pete Radke – I will never stop missing you. Until we meet again.”

I am amazed not only by the incredible heroism of Peter, but of his wife’s strength and deep faith as well.

I have a “but for the grace of God” feeling about all of this, because I know my husband, Craig, would have done the same thing. In a heartbeat. And he’s not a strong swimmer. Could I be as noble and faithful as Michelle if I were in her shoes?

After reading more about Peter since his death, my sense is that, as much as he loved his family, and even knowing the outcome, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. He felt a deep moral responsibility to make a difference in this world, and I’m certain that he would have had a great deal of trouble living with himself had the girl drowned and he had done nothing to help.

For the last few days, all over Northeast Ohio and even as far as the United Kingdom, where news appeared in the Daily Mail, people are talking about a man who selflessly gave everything he had to save the life of another, whose faith compelled him to trust God enough to give his all. Peter elevated our thoughts from the mundane musings about the end of school, the heat of the early summer, and whether the Indians could eke out a win for once, and gave us pause while we contemplated what’s truly important. Perhaps there are people who will use his example to crack open their Bible or hug their children or quietly pledge to use their lives to make a difference.

And I’m convinced that, as people learn more about Michelle’s heartfelt response, they will see that there is more than one hero in the Radke family.

Friends of the Radke family have set up a memorial fund that has raised $15,205 toward a goal that first was set at $15,000 then raised to $20,000. You may learn more about how to donate to that fund here.

A second fund was established by family members and can be accessed here.


We won the championship — without playing the games

Posted by Jennifer

Our 8-year-old son Ethan — whose dream is to be a Major League baseball player — was thrilled to play this year for a Hot Stove team. He was even more excited to be on a team that lost just one game all season, then went on to win the division championship on Sunday.

What we didn’t realize until after that final game was just how many maneuvers are made by some of the adults running this little boys’ league in an effort to secure a win. I am forever grateful to our coaches that they did not sink to their level.

We are new to this level of baseball. Our daughters played recreational softball, along with a number of different sports. Our older son played rec baseball, basketball, cross country, track. They didn’t zero in on a single sport, and we didn’t encourage them to do so. They were young, and we wanted them to try everything that interested them. Besides, we have been suspicious of year-round intensity in one sport: is that really good for their young bodies? We know a handful of friends whose children had knee surgery before they could drive. Will they be able even to walk without pain when they’re my age?

But Ethan is passionate about baseball. At every opportunity, he’s in the front yard, whacking a wiffle ball across the neighbors’ rooftops. If we parents were more athletically minded, we would be pitching a baseball to him in the fields at Greenwood when they’re not in use, but it’s one of those things that gets shoved to the back burner as a good idea while the rest of life sweeps us along.

We were blessed when our friend Tim asked us if Ethan might be interested in playing on a new Hot Stove team he was putting together. We knew he would get better coaching and more practice than he could get in Rec, and we weren’t sure how else to help him pursue his dream.

It turned out he wasn’t one of the best players, but he certainly was a contributor. A solid ballplayer in the making. Most of his friends on the team could throw longer and harder, some were better at fielding the ball, and he found it harder to hit the hardball than the plastic wiffle ball we tossed in the yard.

But he’s learning, and got better through the season. Sure, he was among the handful of kids on his team who took a turn on the bench, but he never spent more than two innings there. He played catcher or outfield most games, but got rotated in to the infield when we were significantly ahead.

In short, he got to play. His coaches were firm but always encouraging and they worked with him to get better. He had a great experience.

After Sunday’s win, we started hearing that some league officials would not have included a kid like Ethan on the team. Apparently a Medina baseball official advised our coach to only take nine players, and he would lend three of his players — from a team for which you must try out — to “help.” It didn’t seem right to bring in “ringers” so they could win, especially when those kids already play on another team. Our coach declined the offer.

We also noticed that the team we played in the championship had two boys who received medals as teammates who weren’t suited up to play. Were they were told to sit this game out — less-accomplished players who didn’t have to be rotated in to the game? That strategy nearly bit the coaches in the hind end when at least three times the game was stopped because their players got hurt. With no bench, what would they do if players couldn’t continue?

It struck us, then, how fortunate we were to play on a team with integrity. All of the boys played. They all got a chance to learn and grow — and have fun. None of them were told they weren’t good enough to play in the championship game.

What lessons are we teaching these boys when — at 8 years old — they are deemed inadequate after having worked hard all season? What lessons are we teaching those who are deemed “better” than those who had been considered part of the team? Or that you have to bring in ringers in order to win?

I assert those coaches set up a class system within their “team” that divides the boys and inappropriately leads to feelings of superiority and inadequacy.

It also frightens me that children who want to excel in a sport had better be good at it by the time they’re the ripe old age of 6 or 7 — or they’ll be closed out, passed over, and miss their chance to learn a skill among other kids their age.

The adults should be there to encourage and support the children — and if they win, then that’s great. These are real children with real feelings, not some fantasy team where you trade and bench fictional players.

It’s time for the adults in these leagues to quit playing games.


How you can help in a ‘casserole ministry’

Posted by Jennifer

I’ve benefited from lots of meals made by my friends and neighbors this past week and a half while I have recovered from surgery. It’s made me appreciate how much such a gesture really helps a person in need, whether it’s a death or an illness in the family — both by providing for a basic human need, and by making that person feel surrounded by love and concern.

I’ve had lots of time to think about how I want and need to return the favor, paying it forward in some cases and back in others.

Here are some ideas:

1. It doesn’t matter if they “need” it. Food is always good for the stomach and soul.

2. It doesn’t matter what you make. Even if they’ve had macaroni and cheese two nights in a row, they will appreciate it.

3. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal. When my mom died, one friend dropped off a big bowl of Chex Mix, which we picked at and devoured while we sat around and reminisced. Perfect.

4. While it doesn’t really matter what you make, think comfort food. Gentle on the spices, nothing too exotic, unless you know the recipient likes exotic! If someone in the family isn’t well, mild food will be easiest to tolerate.

5. While it doesn’t have to be a whole meal, if you’re on a “meal chain,” a main dish and a side or two would make sure the recipients don’t have to come up with anything extra on their own. Having a sick person in the house makes for an even more chaotic pace for those who are well, and sometimes it’s hard for them to get to the grocery while playing nurse, tending to children and working full time. A bag of frozen vegetables, a jar of applesauce or bagged salad and a loaf of garlic (or bakery) bread easily round out a meal.

6. Dessert is an unnecessary but much appreciated extra touch! Sure made my family feel very loved.

7. Try to use dishes that do not have to be returned. But if you live next door it is not a hardship to return a few dishes.

8. If you have a couple of choices on meals you might make, consider calling the family you are cooking for and asking their preference. While it does not matter if you get two nights in a row of lasagna, why do that if you can avoid it?

9. If you don’t know what to make, or you don’t have the time or talent for that, consider ordering pizza or another meal to be delivered to their door. No, it’s not homemade, but it’s equally thoughtful and appreciated.

10. Consider picking up fresh fruit or vegetables, bread, juices or milk for the family instead of a meal. Fruit is easy to tolerate when you’re not feeling well, and sometimes it’s hard to get to the store to buy these things.

11. Offer to pick up sundries at the grocery or drug store if you’re headed out, or to help run children to their activities. Some people have a hard time asking for that kind of help. And they also have a hard time accepting it. But when they need something, it’s easier to say yes than to pick up the phone to ask.

12. Consider making something for the freezer for the family to enjoy later. It makes me feel good to know I have two lasagnas, meatballs and sauce, and a tuna-noodle casserole in the freezer for the days ahead when I am not up to the challenge of making dinner.

The meals we enjoyed over the past week and a half have helped us feel much more secure in what otherwise has been a vulnerable state. And so very much loved!

My 17-year-old daughter, who usually eats very healthy things and has turned vegetarian since Jan. 1, found herself especially enjoying the chocolate chip cookies and brownies our friends brought.

“Mom,” she says, “you should have surgery more often.”


Casserole ministry: Food from friends feeds body and soul

Posted by Jennifer

Some time ago I read a piece about the “ministry” of the casserole — that is, the bringing of a meal to comfort someone going through a difficult time.

For the last week and a half, I’ve had another opportunity to witness the healing effects of such a “ministry.”

As I have written here previously, I had surgery more than a week ago, and needed to stay overnight in Summa Wadsworth Hospital. Granted, it wasn’t major surgery (however you define that) but it has required me to do next to nothing — including driving or lifting even a milk jug — for at least two weeks.

Doing “next to nothing” is hard for me. I am accustomed to being the cruise director of this family ship, organizing who goes where and when and with what and whom, running errands, picking up and dropping off children at their various activities, cleaning the house and planning meals. Of course that’s on top of my freelance writing and editing work that helps pay the bills, and my own volunteer efforts.

So here I was, scared by the prospects of my first surgery and uncertain how any of the above was going to happen, when my dear friend Germaine says, “We’ll bring you food.”

She contacted some of our friends at St. Francis Xavier Parish and asked each one to prepare a meal and bring it to us. She lined up more than a week’s worth of meals that were planned and delivered to my hungry and appreciative family.

In addition to Germaine, numerous other friends and neighbors offered to bring food — some of it came warm to eat that day, some was ready to be popped into the oven when we were hungry, and some came frozen to be stored for that day when the meals stop coming. One friend anonymously ordered and paid for two pizzas, salad and Pepsi from our favorite pizza shop, Romeo’s, which delivered it to our door at what happened to be a perfect time. (He later revealed he was the one who sent it.)

The generosity of friends — some of whom I had not anticipated — absolutely stunned us. And let me tell you, there were many nights over the last week or so when I was not hungry or downright nauseous when it was dinnertime, but my five children still needed to eat. I was relieved to know they were cared for when I would have been unable to get it for them. Usually I tried to eat a little with them, or when I finally was hungry as late as 10 p.m.

This isn’t to say that my teenage children — or my husband, for that matter — aren’t capable of making a few meals for the family. But there still is the significant issue of needing groceries to make those meals, and even though my daughter is driving now, I am not sure she’s ready for that whole responsibility. Plus, there are at least two nights a week when my daughters aren’t home till 5:30 p.m. — and we all know it can be awfully late then to be starting dinner.

On top of my own fragile state, two nights after I came home from the hospital my father-in-law suffered a heart attack and what they thought was a stroke (thankfully it was not) at his home two hours away. He was rushed to University Hospitals in Cleveland, and my poor husband spent the next week dividing his time between me, his father and working two jobs.

My sister-in-law also spent two nights with us while Papa was in the hospital, so the nearly magical arrival of food was a comfort to her as well.

Despite all this going on, I found I didn’t worry so much about the fact that I couldn’t drive: I didn’t really need anything.

Without having to worry about food, we only needed a few basics, like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and sandwich bread, to keep everyone happy through the week.

A few friends offered to pick up things for me at the store and, after refusing a few times, I did finally accept one friend’s offer. She declined my attempt to pay for those things (as I had feared), and that’s partly why I kept the list short. But the truth is, I didn’t need much.

All of their efforts reminded us anew of how truly blessed we are to have such caring and genuine friends here. Most of the friends who helped us live here in Medina, but some are friends from high school and college days. One lived too far to bring food herself, so she generously ordered a complete dinner from Giant Eagle, which delivered it to our door.

It also has cemented this reminder in our hearts — to do unto others. The next time a friend or fellow parishioner is ill or facing some difficulty, we will be there with food. Even if it’s not “necessary.”

The gesture is so much more than simply covering a basic human need. We felt so loved and protected, like we were the center of that person’s universe for a time, and we were astonished and humbled by the generosity bestowed on us.

Prayers, good wishes, love and concern were baked right into each meal. And that is some of the best medicine there is.


Smile and the world smiles with you

Posted by Jennifer

Too often we forget how we can make a big impact on those around us.

Even the smallest of gestures, things we take for granted or seem inconsequential, can change the world.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I stopped to buy gas. I had picked up my daughter and her friend after school at Our Lady of the Elms High School, and we stopped at the Speedway station at the busy intersection of Route 18 and Cleveland-Massillon Road enroute to Medina.

We went in to buy drinks — they’re 79 cents for any size right now, and we love a good frozen Coke — in addition to the gasoline.

At the register in front of me stood this small, hunched, older man, with his tan pants pulled up too high in front, and a sand-colored fedora on his head. He stood not much taller than the counter itself, and he fumbled with a gift card and (to my surprise – he can navigate the rewards system?) his Speedy Rewards card.

The clerk greeted him with a smile and asked if she could help him. He looked up, seemingly a little startled. “Oh, your smile!” he exclaimed. “You’re the first person who’s smiled at me all day. Thank you. I really needed that.”

He seemed genuinely appreciative of such a simple gesture, something she’s probably done for every customer she’s encountered, without thinking about it. I was as touched by his gratitude for that smile and his ability to verbalize that as I was by the thought of how many people that clerk probably had greeted the same way that day.

I wondered about how and where this man lives that he had no one to smile for him before 3:15 p.m. Monday, and I was grateful, on his behalf, for the clerk’s kindness.

Have you taken the time to smile at anyone today?

It needn’t be a stranger. Sometimes the hardest people to smile for are your family. I wager, though, that my husband and children would appreciate a smile from me as much as the man at the gas station.

When you are having a rough day and wonder what difference you can make in a world as troubled as ours, I hope you will remember how one simple smile made this little old man’s day.

And it didn’t cost a thing.


Harvesting goodness in the garden

Posted by Jennifer

My dad’s been gone for the last week, just as the bulk of his harvest is ready to be picked. Despite the drought, it’s proving to be a bountiful harvest — and not just an edible one.

Since he moved to Medina about four years ago, my retired father converted a large expanse of lawn into an enormous garden with just about every imaginable fruit and vegetable. He uses most of the fruit for his jams and jellies, which he sells at the Medina Farmers Market almost every Saturday.

So, with him out of town, it fell to us to check in on the house, feed the fish and pick the blackberries, butternut squash, summer squash and tomatoes that were ripening.

It reminded me more than once of being made to pick the red currants that my parents used to grow at the back of their large (but much smaller) garden at our home in Painesville Township.

It was a job I loathed, I have to admit. It was always hot, the berries were extremely tart, and the job was tedious. My dad would turn the little red berries into currant jelly, which I will admit tasted good on toast, but as a child I secretly longed for the same Welch’s grape jelly that our friends had on their PB&J sandwiches. I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort. (And of course by that I mean MY effort, which no doubt was the shortest and easiest part of the process.)

However, blackberries are little sweet gems that we all love. So we weren’t about to let those go to waste.

My little boys and I went every couple of days to pick as many blackberries as we could find. We were amazed at how many there were, and just when you thought you’d picked all that were ready, you’d spy a big black juicy morsel under a leaf.

My 7-year-old made up a song about how you have to look up, down, and side to side to see all the berries. I think it was actually another song he had heard on the radio, but I wasn’t going to burst his bubble.

I cautioned the boys not to step on the vines and branches, else the nutrients and water couldn’t flow from the plant to the berries.

“Just like we have to stay connected to God,” my 7-year-old mused. “If we don’t stay connected to God, then we won’t grow either.”

Wow. Did he really just say that?

“Yes, that’s right,” I affirmed, trying to suppress my pride in him. “There’s even a Bible verse about how He is the vine, and we are the branches.” Ethan nodded, and said he remembered that.

I wanted to do a cartwheel, if only I knew how to do one. Yes! Some of what we try to teach them is, in fact, sinking in! The expense of Catholic education for daily religion classes, the random (but becoming more frequent) skirmishes about going to Mass each week, and our family’s active membership and participation in various ministries at St. Francis Xavier. It’s all bearing fruit.

After filling four quart-size baskets of berries, we prowled among the squashes and tomatoes, collecting as many as we thought should be harvested now. It’s an educational process for me, as I don’t really know the best time — or way — to pick some of these things.

And, as I learned from my son, sometimes you don’t know the fruits of your labors until they show up, unexpectedly, like those berries hidden beneath a leaf. But those little gems are some of the tastiest you’ll ever find.


Invisible ‘fences’ protect us, too

Posted by Jennifer

In what may have been a fit of temporary insanity, we adopted a 1-year-old yellow Labrador-mix puppy last month.

We did this after coming through the fog of having to euthanize the only other dog we’ve ever owned, Lucy, who also happened to be a yellow Lab. It was gut-wrenching and I swore that we’d never have another pet, unless it was a pet rock. For all the joy and endearment she fostered, the end was just too painful.

But the kids worked on me, and the house was awfully quiet. Eventually we heard about this dog who was in need of a home.

Ever the suckers for a sob story, my husband and I agreed to take her in.

We learned a few lessons from our years with Lucy, one of them being the desirability of a fence. We never had one with her, and she wandered off our property more than a few times…which put us at uncomfortable odds with our neighbors.

We didn’t want to invest in a fence — too expensive, and I like the openness of our back yards, which allows the kids to run back and forth with ease. So when Bailey’s previous owners offered to throw in her invisible fence collar and transmitter for free, we decided we would be responsible pet owners and install the wire. My husband bought the wire ($24.95 at Home Depot), and he and my dad installed it a few weeks ago in just a couple of hours.

Since Bailey was accustomed to an invisible fence, she required very little training to recognize the telltale beeps that signal as she gets close to the line. She’s burst through the line once, to chase a bird, but otherwise it’s worked out very well.

As I was telling her one day recently (yes, I was talking to the dog), the fence really is for her own protection. Yes, it stinks that she has to limit where she may walk (because of the pie-shape of our lot, the wire really doesn’t let her walk from the back yard to the front, and vice versa). And seeing the kids (and squirrels) run through the neighborhood, she must be awfully tempted to brace herself and bolt through the line.

However, even though you can’t see the fence and I’m sure she would rather it didn’t exist, it protects her from getting hit by a car and from skirmishing with neighboring dogs (or people). It keeps her from getting lost and ensures she stays home where she is loved and nourished. With the fence, we expect Bailey to live a long, healthy and happy life in which all her needs are met and she wants for nothing more than a good belly rub.

As I was saying the words, the thought occurred to me how God’s rules are like that invisible fence. We might think we would manage just fine without them, but in reality the limitations they impose protect us from things we can’t even imagine. When we live inside those rules, we stay close to Him, where we are loved and nourished and protected.

Sure, life outside those parameters could be exciting. Who knows what adventures we might encounter!

But they come at a price, a cost that could include our very lives, both here and in heaven. And I want desperately to spend eternity with everyone I know and love!

I have discovered contentment and exceeding joy in exploring the microcosm that is life in my own “backyard,” and I pray my sons and daughters will as well.

To paraphrase Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house (and dog), we shall serve the Lord.”


Take responsibility for your children and ignore school closings list

Posted by Jennifer

A Facebook posting today got me thinking. The posting was by a Medina mom who, despite the absence of a school closing today, decided NOT to drive her children to school in Cleveland because she deemed the slick roads unsafe.

I thought: Good for you.

I imagine the school principal would have agreed. Still, it’s hard to make a judgment call that’s contrary to those made by people in authority. And yet, as parents, sometimes that’s just what we have to do.

School superintendents, coaches, instrument instructors and others have a tough job deciding when it’s appropriate to cancel in inclement weather. They do the best they can trying to balance safety with a desire to stay on schedule. It can wreak havoc on a teacher’s lesson plans if one group of students fall behind because of a snow day. It’s inconvenient. I get it.

And of course superintendents catch their share of grief if they cancel school on a day that turns out to be sunny enough to melt whatever snow had covered the roads at 5 a.m. A lot of parents have to take a day off of work when there’s a snow day.

If they don’t cancel, it’s up to parents to decide if it’s safe. That can mean your kid misses school assignments and lessons and could fall behind their classmates. Oh well.

We had a similar situation one summer when our oldest played girls’ softball. A thunderstorm was approaching, and the rumble of thunder and even the sighting of lightning in the distance did not dissuade her coaches from their game. They reasoned we still had time to finish the game. They even had a lightning meter they trusted to help make the call.

We were uneasy, but the other coach warned that if our team left, we would forfeit the game. (And now, how many years later, that seems even more ridiculous than it did at the time. I mean, they’re in elementary school.)

Eventually, a number of us parents summoned the courage to take our daughters and leave. As we were loading chairs and bats into the back of the van in the far-off parking lot, a bolt of lightning struck extremely close behind us and I screamed at my little ones to get into the car. I have never been so terrified of lightning as I was that day.

Since then, I have been a believer in following parental instinct — and not that of zealous coaches — when there’s a question about safety. The coaches who don’t cancel basketball practice, even though school was canceled that day and the weather hasn’t improved dramatically, are putting their win-loss ratio ahead of my child’s safety.

You’d like to think these people in authority, who have the power to bench (and humiliate) your child if she doesn’t show up for practice, would exercise caution, but that doesn’t always happen.

It’s up to us parents to just say no, and take responsibility for our children’s safety. If they are excluded from games or miss a day of lessons, so be it. They will recover.

If they were in an accident en route to school or practice, however, that might not be true.