Big Ideas


When I was a kid, my father once told me that I was too damn smart for my own damn good. It wasn’t a bad thing or a good thing really, more of a general observation. It was an observation I didn’t fully understand until my younger son Eugene was about three and gave me a detailed explanation of why God must be blue. God is in heaven. Heaven is in the sky. The sky is blue. We can’t see God, so God must be the same color as the sky. Ergo, God is blue.

I lectured the same child for acting up during Easter Mass when he was five. As I buckled him into his car seat, I gave him the standard lecture about how he was going to sit in his seat and think about what he’d done. He said nothing the whole time I was buckling him in but after I climbed into the driver’s seat, this very self-assured little voice piped up, “You can’t control my mind. Only I control my mind. I can sit back here and think about anything I want.”

At seven, he left me talking to a friend after Mass while he cornered one of the priests to debate of the existence and potential whereabouts of the Holy Grail for the next thirty minutes, much to the delight of a circle of adults who had gathered around to listen. I’ll never forget the seriousness of his little face as he challenged a Jesuit to “Define mythological.”

Over the years Eugene has been insulted that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter without asking him first. Maybe Simon was named after his grandfather and he really liked his name.  And then Eugene wanted to know what the apostles drank with dinner at the Last Supper because during Mass, the priest very clearly says “AFTER dinner he took the cup…” so what about during dinner? He insisted on having  “all of creation” on his First Communion stole because Noah’s ark was his favorite bible story. When I explained that a Jesus story would be more appropriate and that Jesus wasn’t on the ark, he stared me down and replied, “No, but God was and you can’t have one with the other two.” I gave up. I wasn’t debating Trinitarian doctrine with an eight year-old.

Too damn smart for your own damn good. Oh yeah, I get it now Dad. Boy, do I get it. I have no doubts that my father is on the other side watching this all unfold with a great deal of amusement.

Eugene is now fifteen and he’s as likely to challenge what I’m learning in my theology classes as my professors are. This past week, I was supposed to be reading parts of St. Augustine’s Confessions for homework. But at the same time, I was also reading Henri Nouwen’s Discernment just because it crossed my path and a page or two was enough to pull me in entirely.  Anyone who has ever been in my car can tell you getting into the passenger seat usually means waiting for me to move a notebook, a journal and a book or  maybe three. So my son wasn’t surprised to have to move Discernment out his way when we went out to run errands earlier this week, which resulted in the following conversation:

Eugene: It’s a God book isn’t it? No wait – don’t tell me – it’s a ‘find-yourself-but-in-a-spiritual-way” kind of book.

Me: Yeah kind of. Like who you are in relationship to God and understanding what God wants in your life.

Eugene: Soooo yeah it’s a ‘find-yourself-in-a-spiritual-way’ book. Why are all religion books like that?! I mean why can’t they just be – you know – straightforward. Like the Bible. That’s not a “find yourself” book. That’s more like a history book – but with … with… spice!

Me: Spice???

Eugene: He’s raising people from the dead! I’d call that some spice! And not that stupid Starbucks pumpkin spice stuff either.

This comes on the heels of a conversation earlier in the week on the Greek mythological themes in the new Wonder Woman movie. He told me he couldn’t understand the recent fascination with humans vs. gods movies when the humans always won. “Who wants to worship a god they can beat?”

Nouwen talks about hearing God in the people around us and cultivating spiritual friendships. I have been blessed all my life to have people around me who were comfortable with big questions about life, about truth, and about faith. Usually those people have been friends who are older and wiser than myself. But then, just to mess with me, God also dropped into my life this little bombshell of an old soul in a young body. Sometimes this kid, who is not so little anymore, with his big questions and his own very distinct ideas on God and the world, has more to teach me than anyone else. If nothing else, I have learned that there are times as a parent when my job is to simply shut up and let my son talk through his big ideas and questions and leave it to him and God to figure out the answers.

Milestones & Waterworks

Milestones & Waterworks

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Brothers walking to graduation – their last school event together

I always knew the day would come when my sons would step out into the world on their own. Everything I’ve done in life, I’ve done with their best interests at heart. These last few weeks, as my older son prepared for his high school graduation, I have frequently found myself a hopeless puddle of tears. In the space of six weeks, I watched him get his learner’s permit, buy and register a car, replace both taillight assemblies on said car, present a starter motor project with his team at the career showcase night at his school, win an award for most outstanding student in his career path, win a scholarship from a local repair shop to help him pursue his education as a mechanic, and finally graduate from high school. My role has been to step off to the side and cheer. And cry. A lot.

At first, I couldn’t understand why it hit me so hard. I mean we’ve been working toward this since he was just a little guy waving to me out the window of the preschool. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There were struggles behind closed doors that no one else got to see. But I saw and I know how hard he worked. Every time I look at him at lately, I realize how proud I am of this incredible young man.

And then it hit me that in some ways, I guess I’m proud of me too. That’s not an easy thing for me to admit. I second-guess myself all the time and I have to be reminded to cut myself a break. I’ve made some damn hard choices, especially the last ten years, and I rarely stop to take in what I’ve done. I’ve been slogging along, just trying to keep going and now suddenly, here I was sitting in the bleachers on warm early summer night with tears streaming down my face as both of my boys processed on to the field, one as an usher and the other to graduate. Long about the time I would get myself under control, something else would set me off. The choir singing Bridge Over Troubled Water brought on full-fledged sobs. My father loved that song and used to sing it to my mother when he was the hospital dying of cancer. I was so wishing he was there with me to watch his grandson graduate, knowing how proud he would be. That graduation fell just days before Father’s Day was only adding to the waterworks.

My younger son has his own ideas about what his next three years of high school will entail. And my own college graduation is sneaking up on me. We’re all moving into a new chapter in life. Maybe this emotional mess I find myself in lately is all a part of that process. But I wish I could find the water shut-off. Or afford stock in Kleenex.

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