Wednesday, July 30, 2014

You Can Always Make A Difference

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again:  Every life is important. 
You can make a difference in this world with YOUR important life --- no matter who you are, no matter what your resources, no matter where you are.  God has a calling for you, if you’ll just stop talking and listen to Him.
And there’s another thing I’ve said before: WHEN we make a difference with our life, with our actions or with our words, probably about 90% of the time we will never realize the good we have done.  We sow seeds as we walk through our life; the results of our actions are behind us, and we likely won’t see them.  So stop saying: “God isn’t listening to my prayers; nothing is happening.”  Or: “It doesn’t seem like what I do matters.”  It DOES matter, but God isn’t going to stop doing the good He does --- with your help, sure --- to explain to you the results of your life’s work, to stroke your ego that whines: “But I need to know that I’m important.” 
You are important.  He died for you!  What more do you want Him to do?
But still, I understand that we all, at some times, need to hear His consolations, the little voice that says to us:  “Yes, my child, you did make a difference.”  We all need a pat on the back, sometimes.   
And so, as an instrument of His peace, that is what I set out to do last week, as I drove nearly 1,900 miles to tell some people who I had never before met: “Yes, your life made a difference in mine.  By your words, thoughts, and prayers, you were a true God-send to me.  And I wanted to tell you personally, and thank you, and tell you how important you are.”  And so I did.
I started with an all-day drive from Michigan to the outskirts of Nashville, to Franklin Tennessee.  That first night, the people at the LaQuinta Inn where I stayed gave me directions to nearby St. Phillip’s Church, where I went to say my night prayers --- and was given a tour and history of the church by the locals, and invited to 7AM mass the next morning.  The small old church there, which connects to the very large new church there, provided me a wonderful start to my visit, an initial meeting with caring people, who I was destined to meet throughout my stay.
After morning mass, I headed into Nashville to see Julie Cragon, (Hand Me Down Heaven) at St. Mary’s Catholic Bookstore, which has been in her family for over 30 years.  What a beautiful 3-story building, and what a beautiful woman Julie is.  I knew from her encouraging comments on my blog that she was a caring woman, but St. Mary’s just glows with Julie’s love of God.  She introduced me to her daughter, Sarah, who is pictured with the two of us outside the store.  The store itself displays books (many of which I’ve reviewed here --- Julie has good taste), statues, priestly garb and liturgical needs, and beautiful pictures in enticing arrays --- and I was surprised to see prominently displayed a book she had written herself!  But, as Julie explained to me, that was just one of three she has written (I am so humbled, especially in that I now notice how her books are so prominently displayed on her blog site!  Duh --- he can read, but he can’t see).   And then she gave me copies of all three to read --- so more reviews will be forthcoming here!
When I mentioned that I was from the Ann Arbor Michigan area, the conversation quickly got around to the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist based there.  Showing off my smarts, I said: “Yes, they are amazing.  Started only 15 years ago, four sisters were brought from New York by Tom Monaghan, and the order has grown to well over one hundred, teaching in a number of states.”  Then, showing off my stupidity, Julie said: “Oh New York was just a stop; they originally came from the Dominican order here in Nashville.  Oh, I remember Mother Assumpta and Sister Mary Joseph and ….”  And the stories went on and on.  I support and know some things about the sisters here, but Julie KNOWS the sisters here.  And then one of the Dominicans sisters from Nashville entered the store, and more stories were told.
What a wonderful place, and wonderful people, and I told them --- as if they couldn’t so readily see and believe --- that they are making a great difference with their lives, and they made a great difference in my life and that of my mom’s.  And then we hugged, as old friends might.  And, although we had only met this once, we truly were friends.
But I had to too quickly move on.  I had promised Maryellen Jones (Grandma’s Musings) that I would visit her, and her husband Clinton, for lunch at the Spring Hills assisted living facility where they resided. 
Maryellen was a much more beautiful person than the pictures on her blog could display.  Physically and spiritually, she radiated a confidence that so many of us lack.  She knew that where she was, and at this stage of her life, this is where God meant her to be, and it was here that she was making a difference.  I told her, and her daughter Kathy that at the Caregiver’s Support Group I coordinate I often share some of the notes Maryellen sent me, describing how she lovingly cares for Clinton, who has Alzheimer’s.  The descriptions of how she patiently communicates with him, overcoming the limitations of his illness, are an inspiration to others caring for their loved ones.  I gave Kathy a laminated copy of what I considered one of the best advice pieces Maryellen had written, so Kathy could see the daily love which her mother gives her father, and how much her mother’s actions remain important to others in this world.
Kathy didn’t stay for lunch with us --- which was her loss:  the Polish sausage and sauerkraut were outstanding!  The staff had set up place settings for Maryellen, Clinton and I in the private dining room, so we could talk undisturbed, but after a glance around, Maryellen would have none of that.  One of the other women from the facility was sitting at a table alone, and Maryellen said: “No, we’ll sit at the table with her, to keep her company” --- and she proceeded to pick up the place settings and move them to the table in the main dining room.  Maryellen, at 86, just seems to fit so naturally in her role of being God’s loving presence to her neighbor.  I am so glad I took the time to come and meet her.  And it really was a pleasure meeting Clinton, also.  He has such a wonderful smile, and a peaceful and calm demeanor, even when he sometimes loses his train of thought.  I never saw him express frustration at his limitations, which I’ve often seen in others with Alzheimer’s.  I very much enjoyed my time with Maryellen and Clinton and their daughter and hearing stories of their life, but with them also, I too soon had to bid adeau.  I had promised to be in Chattanooga for dinner!
And so I took the 2-hour drive south to meet Barb (Pewspective) and Steve Golder, in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I screwed up in making hotel reservations this time, and I had to call Barb to say: “I’m here, but: Help!”  And she quickly came and helped me find a nice hotel near their home.  After I registered there she said: “Get in; I’ll drive us to the house to pick up Steve, and then we can go out to dinner. ….. and if you’re going to get carsick, roll down the window!”
Lookout Mountain, where they live, IS a mountain, and Barb drove the road which wound this way and that (and I think it may have done a loop-di-loop or two also) at a furious pace, as I stared at the floor of the car.  Yikes!  She said driving the winding roads, once you got used to them, was no problem, “except on some of the foggy or rainy nights, when it is a two-reflector drive,” referring to the fact that all you could see were (perhaps) two of the reflectors which dot the centerline of the road ---- and which were the only things that kept you from driving off the cliff, should you lose sight of them.  (I didn’t talk about it at the time, but I wondered if I should suggest we not have drinks with dinner later that night --- or perhaps have a designated driver.)
I met Steve, who is a wonderful man, and a perfect match for Barb.  (He’s got a nice beard, and participates in the local civil war re-enactments each year ---- and brews and bottles beer together with the local priest.)  Their large 5-bedroom home overlooks Chattanooga from about 2,000 feet up, and from their large deck you can see the city lights far below.  You also can see the people who jump off the cliff, from the hand gliding launch pad which is just down the road.  (No, I didn’t volunteer to try that.)   Most every room in their house has walls covered with bookcases.  I felt right at home!  And I swear, they could have put up a sign outside and given Julie’s bookstore competition with all the paintings and statues and books they had everywhere.  I loved it!    
Having dinner with them was like eating with a sister and brother; we had so much to talk about at the restaurant where everyone knew them.  We stopped on the way back to photograph the beautiful sunset over the mountains.  The next morning, Barb made sausage and biscuits for us --- and the four evangelists staying at their house.  They were in town from Alabama to teach the summer Vacation Bible School kids at the cathedral downtown.  They were four very nice young people, and one is studying in the seminary to become a priest.  After they left, Barb took me for a quick stop at the church down the road, where I said morning prayers, as she did ----- while she also changed out all the burned out glass vigil candles for new ones.  Then we toured some civil war parks (there were cannons everywhere), the neighborhoods of Chattanooga, and then we went to the cathedral, where we went to mid-day mass, and again saw the evangelists, along with their young charges --- and Barb did the mass readings.  She seemed to know everyone in the town!
But then this had to end also, and we hugged and talked about when and how we will get together again, soon.  Family can’t stay apart, and I felt as if I had found a new extension of my family. 
I’m not sure I ever got around to telling Barb and Steve how important I thought their lives were --- they were too busy helping others to accept any thanks.  But I did get a hug from both before I left.
On this quick trip through Tennessee, I met three families, in three very different stages of life and responsibilities.  And while I went there to tell them how much a difference they had made in my life, to encourage them in living their lives well, I found they all were making a great difference to many more people than just me, and I was awestruck by the example I saw in each of them. 
No matter what, no matter where, no matter when: we all can find many ways to love our neighbor, and make a difference in this world.  I saw it in action in these towns of Tennessee, and I shall never forget these wonderful people.
But then I had to move on, again, to Steubenville, Ohio this time, and the Defending The Faith Conference at Franciscan University ---- but that will have to be another post.
Oh, and if I haven’t told you lately, you also are making a difference with your life, a great difference ---- whether you realize it or not.  And I wish I could give you a hug also. 
Thank you for being you.                       


  1. Welcome home, Tom from your whirlwind trip. You sure do know how to pack a lot of living in a short period of time. Seeing the ease with which you managed so much activity, I realize that you pack every day with zest and service to others. You did well to tend to your blog so soon after your arrived home.

    Clinton and I enjoyed your visit immensely, and I got such a kick out of his enthusiasm when he was saying goodbye. I could tell he was delighted that you came, and obviously enjoyed your company. He was definitely energized by your presence. We both felt at ease. You are comfortable to be with.

    In your post about your trip/visits you covered all the bases, telling enough but not too much. I would have found the task daunting, but you were successful in creating a pleasing and clear word-picture. I was anticipating your post and I was not disappointed.

    I'll look forward to hearing about your conference in Steubenville. I would love to be able to effectively defend the Faith - now in our present times more than ever.

    God bless you. We keep you In our prayers daily, and know that you uphold us in daily prayer also.

    1. Words don't really convey all that I felt about our visit together. Meeting you and Clinton made the spiritual, real. I know that's why I chose to travel, to make my thanks real to you, but I had not really thought about or expected the new reality I felt from meeting and talking with you.

      I shall never forget our time together, and who knows the will of God. Perhaps there will be another time. I'd love to hear more of Clinton's stories. I enjoyed time with him immensely.

  2. I really loved reading this overview of your trip. Sounds like you really had a wonderful time, and met many new (old) friends. And they seem to be true friends; people you really connected with. I bet it was nice to get away from routine and see new people, places and things.
    I was wondering if you could provide a link to the article by Maryellen you referred to. I would be interested in reading it. I always am open to good advice!
    By the way, I wonder if you could remember my aunt in your prayers. She passed away at age 95 yesterday, (July 30th) of natural causes. When she began to have trouble taking care of herself she began to stay with her daughter and son-in-law, and ended up just living there full time.
    God bless. ~ Fran

    1. It truly was a life-enhancing trip, as I discussed with the Bible-study guys this morning. We were talking about the trials of life, and how you bear them. One of our conclusions was that you bear them as part of Christ's body, His Church family. He loved, an unconditional love, not demanding anything in return --- the return love is our choice. But that's how we are to love also. And so if we DO get something in return, it is a great blessing. I got much in return from my trip, even if it was a bit of a pain to drive 2000 miles in a week.

      Relative to Maryellen's words, the ones I referred to (and regularly provide to others in my Caregiver's Support Group meetings) were in an email Maryellen sent to me, and Fran, I don't know your email address.

      My email is: If you would send me a note, I would respond by forwarding you Maryellen's email which I referenced --- maybe. I mean, Fran, Maryellen provided me lunch when I visited, and Julie gave me books, and Barb and her husband took me out to dinner. What are you offering for those words?

      (Just kidding! Perhaps on my next trip through the Chicago area, my home stomping grounds, we can meet and share some time together. That would be payback aplenty.)

  3. Tom, just got back from a week in Chicago at the Catholic Marketing Network Conference. I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed your visit to the bookstore! Sounds like the rest of your trip went well and you got to spend it with wonderful people like yourself. Thank you again for the beautiful flowers and for helping the Nashville Dominicans. I thoroughly enjoyed our short time together.

    1. Glad your travels were safe also. It was wonderful to meet you and your daughter. You have so much to be proud of, and to give thanks for. You are a wonderful witness to His love in this world, and I was privileged to meet you. Thank you so much, for being who you are.