Chapter Two

In our lives, there is love and death. Like some crazy movie script, these two realities are intertwined; woven like some twisted joke that gets played on everyone.

Most of us know love. We know the feeling that comes from falling in love and finding that special person. Sometimes, it takes us a few swings of the bat to get the home run, but ultimately it happens for us. But, when you put yourself out there for another person, you open yourself up to loss. Sometimes it happens when you are old and grey, other times it happens when you are just grey. Sometimes it happens after 50 years, others after 21.

At the ripe old age of 16 I met her. I thought it was pretty cool that she wanted to play football with the guys on Saturday. Years later I learned that was her way of trying to get my attention. There was something special about her, something magical.

We had our starts and stops, especially during the college years. But we found ourselves together, ready to take on he world and all the things that would come our way. We moved 6 times, to three different states. We found ourselves wrapping our head around infertility, the loss of a parent, the loss of an unborn child.

In our life, I learned so much from our time together. We grew up together, we learned how to be adults together. We learned how to parent an autistic child together. And yet, in her death, I learned so much more about life; so much more about what it means to give yourself up for another person.

Ours was not a perfect union, none-are. However, it was ours, the good and the bad. For 10 days shy of 21 years, she was my better half. We truly complimented each other. Where I was strong, she was weak. Where I was weak, she was strong. And 10 months after getting the intital diagnosis, the life was taken from her eyes.

Those who have gone through loss, gone through grief know that life is not replaceable. What was lost is forever lost. You can never replace one human being with another. What you had stays with you forever; what you lost stays with you for the remainder of your days. It is what it is and you are forever changed.

Reading all of that might drive some to the edge. I’m going to live with this for the rest of my life? Yes, but hope springs eternal. The human heart is made for love. There is an infinite ability to expand, to love. I remember a story my mom told when my brother John asked her which one of your kids do you love best? She told him that she loves each one equally, even though the real answer was child number 3.

When the time came to open myself up to a new life, I was willing to risk the pain, the loss, the grief, all in the name of unforseen happiness for an unknown amount of weeks, months or years.

There was the fear of being letdown, the fear of opening up and being shut-down, the fear of not having what I had with Theresa. I was going to have to risk all of that in order to move forward in life. And that was OK. What I had with Theresa was unique to Theresa and I. What eventually would come next would be unique to me and the woman lucky enough to share deep and unrelenting love of life, post loss.

They say that expectations are often our greatest hurdle to happiness. We expect perfection, we expect familiarity, we expect the happy ending. But happy endings are a lie, a giant pile of BS. For in every ending, there is sadness. It doesn’t matter if it happens when you are 95 or 45. Goodbye means an ending and in an ending there is always some sadness. In the mortal life, joy comes from the journey, not the destination.


It takes a unique person to love again after great loss and a special soul to accept such love. That love is ripe with complexity, rich hues and detailed tapestries. The grieving grasp the shortness of life and appreciating the beauty of the moment. Those who have lost know that nothing is guaranteed. To those whom who much is given, much is expected. I have been give many gifts through the process. We pray in our Divine Liturgy, “For every good gift, ever perfect gift is from above, coming down from You the Father of lights”. I’ve been blessed beyond all comprehension to have found my good gift, my perfect gift.


Jennie and I are both Chapter 2’s, coming to that place in life by vastly different paths. Things that she has to deal with are foreign to me. There is no shared custody for me, there is no having to put on a happy face in front of her kids with the guy who tossed their life into chaos. There is another woman in her kids life, someone she has to share 1/2 of the kids time with. All of these things are unique to spouses of divorce. I told Jennie one time that I think it is easier to deal with the death of a spouse than it is to deal with the death of a marriage through divorce. I’ve held her hand, talked her off the ledge when her ex-spouse changed his mind over custody and parental visitation. When he sat in her kitchen and lied to her face, saying he wasn’t changing his mind on custody when he had already visited with an attorney to begin the process of changing the arrangement.

In those differing paths, I see pain in our kids. For Ryan, it’s the sadness of never seeing his mom again, never hearing her voice, never having her attend the milestones in his life. In a strange twist of irony, the pain for Jennie’s girls comes from the pain of having both of their parents in their lives, just not at the same time; sharing their mom with a new man and his kid; sharing their dad with a new woman and her kids. Travelling to a new home every couple of days.

 

And yet, there is such great hope for all of us. The joy of hearing Ryan ask when we are going to see the girls again, the joy of hearing him tell her good night and love you. The joy of hearing him say he can’t wait until we are all in the same house. The joy of getting pictures from Jennie’s girls, the silly faces, the smiles, the overwhelming use of emojis. The crazy roadtrip to San Diego, the joy of seeing the first reconciliation. The joy of having in-laws who actually like me. The joy of #GUTI. Both of us are mending while we are blending.


We are born to love, wired to connect and long for companionship. I’ve been blessed with two great loves in this life. While they share many great qualities, they are not comparable. Each have a spot in my heart, each of them is unique and wonderful.

Jennie is my perfect complement.  In those areas where I’m weak, she is so strong.  In those areas where she is weak, I’m the strong one.  My girl is a feeler and that is rubbing off on me.  It is well with my soul.  They each have a place in my life, like independent chapters of a damn good book.

For those who face a similar fork in the road, quiet the crowd and listen to the voice of your own heart. You are not required to live your life within a box built by a stifled culture that is unwilling to accept growth, change and re-birth.  Learn the fine art of saying $#@% off.

My priest likes to ask the question how many books are there in the bible. When someone rightly answers 73, he says no, there are 74. The 73 the church included and the last one you are writing. With all due respect to Father, there are 75 in my book. This is your life to live. This is your story to write. Your loss did not end your ability to write new chapters in your book of life. After all, the chapters you still have to write might well be the best part of your story.

I so love my chapter 2 and I believe it will be the best damn story written by man. Every good gift, every perfect gift is from above coming down from You the Father of lights. Jennie Stine, you are my good and perfect gift.

 

I Have Prepared A Place For You

“Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared.  Give heed to him and listen to his voice”  Ex. 23:20-21

Today is the 5th anniversary of Angela Faddis being born into eternity.  I was reminded of this from posts on Facebook to the Support Angela Faddis page.  I have briefly touched on how our paths crossed, but I want to go a little deeper with that story and how I believe it was a preparation for what was to come.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, after communion has been given, the priest folds the eiliton while quietly saying a prayer of thanksgiving.  In part the priest prays, “We give thanks to You, O Master, Lover of Mankind, benefactor of our souls, that this day You have made us worthy of Your heavenly and immortal Mysteries.  Make straight our path, confirm us in our fear of You, guard our life, make firm our steps…  When I hear this prayer, I am frequently reminded of an event that took place 5/20/12 in Stafford, VA.  I know the date because I was able to look back at my travel vouchers that we all keep and I was in training from 5/13 – 5/25.

I was attending a 2 week training for computer forensics and found a post that linked to the Support Angela Faddis blog on Facebook.  I started to read the posts, going all the way back to the first post and how this young, vibrant Mother of 2 was battling for her life after receiving a stage 4 cancer diagnosis.  I remember staying up until almost 3:30AM reading and wondering how people handled something so devastating in their life.  I emailed the link to Theresa, who read it the next day, and she responded back to me, “I would hope to have a fraction of the faith of Angela if I were to be put into that same situation.”

Like many people, I read the updates that Chris posted leading up to September 21, 2012.  Angela was born on October 1, my birthday, and died on September 21, one day before Theresa’s birthday.  There were so many similarities, that is almost seemed creepy.  I read the posts that Chris and others made, watched to video eulogy and felt a genuine sadness for her family, but a genuine happiness that she had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.

Fast forward three years.  The last day of third grade was 5/21/15 and Theresa volunteered to be an adult observer at the Copper View Elementary water play day on 5/20/15.  After being assigned to the bounce house for most of the day, Theresa complained about her side hurting and took a hot shower.  It was after that shower that she said, “I think I found my first lump”.  That set into motion all the things that would unfold, leading up to her being born into eternity on 4/18.

One 4/17, my parish priest Fr. Robert Rankin had come over to anoint Theresa, give her communion and pray with us.  Afterwards we were sitting outside on the patio and he said he had just seen a series on EWTN about a young family from Phoenix and it made him think of Theresa and I.  I told him that I knew their story well and how I read about it almost 4 years ago.  It wasn’t until I started to piece things together that I realized just how intertwined that story was with the key dates in our journey.

Every now and then I think of the words that Theresa said, “I would hope to have a fraction of the faith of Angela if I were to be put in that same situation.”  Looking back at how gracefully and faithfully Theresa walked her journey, there can be no doubt she had more than a fraction of the faith, she had it all.

I also looked back at the first time I read Angela’s story, about how I thought of her family and wondered how I would react in a similar situation.  There was no way to know that just 3 years later I would be walking my own path and the answer to how I would react would unfold in rapid succession.  I say this often, there are no coincidences in life.  I believe the path that I was going to have to walk was already being prepared and laid before me, well before I knew it was happening.

Symbolism of The Tapestry

At the funeral Divine Liturgy, Fr. Rankin used a tapestry of the Last Supper to drive home this point.  When we are born into eternity, we will see the beautiful image of our life, with all the interweaving of people, places and things that make up our life.  We will see how it all came together and what things we learned along the way that prepared us for milestones and events in our life.  Much like looking at a tapestry.  From one side, it is blurry and we can’t clearly see the image.  But from the right side, it is a beautiful image laid out for us.  I know for me, looking back on 4 hours of reading in May 2012, this was being done to prepare my heart for the journey I walked.  Someday, Lord have mercy, I will see all of the things that were given to me to prepare me for my journey towards the Royal Doors and my being born into eternity.


“In the depth of your wisdom, O only Creator, you govern all with love and supply the needs of each.  Now give rest to the souls of your servants, for they have placed their hope in you, our Creator, Maker and God.”    Eternal memory to Theresa and Angela, on the Day of Angela’s Dormition and the Vigil of Theresa’s Birthday.

 

Discernment – Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Discernment is a word in the English language that does not get used much in our modern world.  In a Christian context, it is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

In 2013, I started discerning a call to the ordained ministry in the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church.  Through prayer, spiritual direction and encouragement I applied and was accepted to the 2015-2019 Deacon Formation Class at St. Cyril & Methodius Seminary.  And ever since that acceptance, I have been in a constant state of discernment.

One of my favorite prayers contains the words, “make straight our path, confirm us in the holy fear of you”…My path of study, formation and discernment was anything but straight.  During the application phase, I was dealing with an aging mother diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer.  As we all started to settle into a routine and I was about to leave for my first summer session at the seminary, Theresa was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer.  Everything I had in me told me to withdraw from the program and take care of things at home.  However, I was made to promise that I would get on the airplane and make my first trip to Pittsburgh.

No one could have predicted that before I finished my first year of formation and distance learning I would encounter one of the largest bumps in the road: the death of my spouse and my child’s mother.  Yet, through all of that, I got on the plane again, made my way to Pittsburgh and completed the second year of in-residence classes.

The second year of distance learning and formation was anything but straight.  There were so many distractions and peaks/valleys, several that I brought on myself, others that just go with the job description of single parent to a special needs child.  Through all of this, I managed to rock the academic portion of my formation.  My grades in year 2 were better than year 1 and year 1 was pretty damn good.  The other parts of formation: Spiritual, Human, Pastoral…not so much.  Although I would argue that I have been through an aspect of pastoral formation that no celibate priest has ever been through and never will go through…walking yourself and your 10 year old child through the death of a spouse.

To be perfectly clear, there were mistakes that I made along the way. There were many missteps that I made along the way.  We learn from those mistakes/missteps and we move on. And to be unequivocally clear, as Keith Urban says, “I’ve forgiven myself for the mistakes I’ve made”.  If you want to question me, criticize me, you better have walked a similar path to me.  You say that you have lost your parent(s)?  Yep, me too in 2003, right before I made a giant career change and moved to Quantico, VA to begin training as an FBI agent.  I can tell you, with zero hesitancy or uncertainty, that losing a parent is low in the stress department compared to losing your child’s mother.  That statement is not to trivialize the loss of a parent, but until you have walked my path, you don’t know what you would do in the same situation. And speaking  frankly, I don’t care what you think you would do.  It’s all speculative on your part.

All of that background brings me where I am at today.  When I went back to Pittsburgh, I thought that maybe I was over the hump and year 3 and 4 would be good to me. As it turns out, the discernment phase was about to hit a critical mass.  Any candidate for holy orders, diaconate or presbyterate, live in a fishbowl.  A big, giant, fishbowl that all people look in on.  At any step of the process, anyone involved in formation, to include the candidate, can say this is not a good fit at this time.  Truly I was at a fork in the road and needed to make a decision.  I spent several hours, sitting in the seminary chapel, with only candlelight in front of the icons.  My prayer, as it has been so many times, was simple….Lord, make straight my path and let me know if the path I’m on is the right one.  I woke up the next morning with a feeling that my primary vocation was to family, and not the parish family at this time.  I am called to be a husband and father first, and maybe an ordained deacon at some future time.  This path was made clearer to me when I found out that my Eparchy would require me to wait approximately 5 years after remarriage to apply for formation.  In order to make sure that no feelings are hurt or bridges are burned, I completely understand that decision and know that it is founded in the best interest of everyone involved.

I wanted to know what that meant for my intellectual formation. Much of year 3 and 4 is focused on the mechanics and specifics of being a deacon. If I continued with my studies, would my eparchy accept that when the time came or would I be dragging my sorry butt back to Pittsburgh to start anew. Sadly, no one seemed to know that answer and I made the decision to withdraw from the entire formation program at that time.  There is a financial and time commitment that I don’t see a positive ROI at this time.  The decision came to me driving to work and it came relatively easy. I am going to miss the 15 guys that remain in the program.  They are good, holy men, and I am not sure I am at their level right now.  I see some road trips in our future when they are ordained to the Diaconate.  I won’t be surprised if there are a few presbyteral ordinations in their future as well.  I can see my long bearded friend, AG, as my future spiritual director!

One thing I know is that Ryan needs a loving family more than he needs a Fr. Deacon Patrick.  And I need a loving family more than I need a murmuring mass of humanity at this point in my journey. I have found that, and that vocation deserves my undivided attention. I can still be of service to my current parish, my new parish – wherever that may be-  and to the people I will meet along the way.  Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.

“  Lord, blessing those who bless you and sanctifying those who trust in you, save your people and bless your inheritance….Grant peace to yourd world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people.  For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages.”

 

 

Welcome To The Big House…Big Glass House That Is

 

Welcome to the craziest, crappiest journey you may ever have to go through. Walking through loss, be it through divorce or death, is difficult. But I’m going to talk about what it is like to live in a big glass house; to live in a world where everyone has an opinion, even though most have never had to endure the journey you are on; To hear people, who one day claimed they would do anything for you, turn and be the ones doing anything to make themselves look better.

There are obvious issues at play: sadness, exhaustion, being a single parent with no one to fall back on. These are the things that most people talk about. But I want to talk about a very frustrating factor, that being the social norm and the expected.

I am going to talk about the least talked about part of losing a spouse to death. I’m here to let you know that you now live in a glass house of grief.
You will be judged for how you grieve, many times by people who days after your loss told you they would do anything for you. Regardless of your kind of loss, people are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong, that you should be doing it differently and that they know the way better than you. You will be inundated with useless comments, coming from some people who themselves are not competent to drive a car, let alone give advice. You will hear from people whose world falls apart at the death of a pet, that they know better than you.

You should not be judged on how you work your way through uncharted territory, but you will be. There are many things that people turn to in traumatic situations, things that people rely on to cope with trauma. In my defense, I didn’t do these things:

• I didn’t turn to drugs
• I didn’t turn to drinking
• I didn’t go out and party
• My son was well taken care of
• My home was safe
• Our routine was as normal as it could be under the circumstance

Now, with those things out of the way, I will tell you some of the nonsense that I have had to endure. Due to certain things going on in my life and that I had put myself into the public eye, I had to hold my tongue for most of these ridiculous comments. Most notable among these were:

I heard that I must not have loved my late wife because of how I was living. – This one is a personal favorite of mine. I have heard it from several people, none of whom knew of the conversations that we had in the days of her sickness. I don’t care to revisit this one as I have written about it before, but suffice it to say, she wanted nothing less than for Ryan and I to be happy in this life.

I was told that I should have spent more time lying in bed, caught up in grief – This is my second favorite. Some have said they would spend weeks lying in bed, unable to get up and function in the world and that in not doing this I was not being a good person. One of the constants in life is that the world still turns and life goes on. There are bills to pay and people to feed. Being a single parent of a 10 year old autistic child doesn’t give you the luxury of being a self-serving, narcissistic jack-ass. What good would that have served my son? Seeing his only remaining parent unable to function in life. What kind of example would that be to him?

I heard that I should talk more about her, less about her and just about every point on the continuum between those two extremes. – I didn’t write anything about my new journey until some 7 months of time had passed. I chose to continue blogging partly to give Ryan something tangible to read and remember his mom by when times got tough for him. I had one person, someone I have known for some time, pull me aside one Sunday and suggest that I not put things of such an emotional nature for the world to see. It was not appropriate for me, someone studying for religious studies, to be saying these things. Things that make you go hmm. I guess they would have been happier had I turned to drinking.

I’ve heard of people, quietly behind my back, making all sorts of judgements about me. – Those who know me know that I am an in your face, get it out and move forward kind of guy. I have zero use for people who like to, shall we say, murmur (a phrase I heard today) and not have the courage to say it directly to me. If you’re reading this and you have something to say to me, bring it to me. If I disagree I will tell you why you are wrong and that you can take your opinion and stuff it down your big mouth. If you persist, I may help you get it all the way down your throat first. If I learn of your quiet murmuring to other people, expect to be invited outside for a little talk.

There are other things I could write about, but quite frankly, they aren’t worth the effort it would take to type them out. Regardless of what you do and how you do it, you will be judged. You live in a great big glass house.
Every move you make will be questioned, analyzed and stones will be thrown. People don’t expect you to be well, people don’t expect you to be okay and they will look for any reason to say that you are not. Is this fair? No. Is this your reality? Yes. You will get this behavior from nearly everyone who has never walked your path. They are not you and they will never be able to understand how you can function in your life.

There is nothing you can to about the reality that you will be judged. It is very important to remember that people’s perception of you, and about you is not your reality. You do not have to accept their judgment and it does not have to make you bitter or angry at life. We are called to forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us, and we are called to do the same. I will freely admit that I struggle with this one.

However, trying to be forgiving does not mean that you need to accept their behavior. Up until today, I had put myself into the situation of having to hold my tongue, keep my thoughts to myself about these kinds of things. I made a decision today, with the help of others, to take myself out of the spotlight for a while and with that, the proverbial handcuffs have been removed. I’m going to keep a comfortable distance from people who have said things to me in the past, but in the likely event that people continue to murmur or judge me, they will see that my default position is to be on the offensive, not the defensive.


Judgement is a part of human nature and when you accept that often peoples own insecurities play a large roll in the judgement of others.
You define You. This was a road that I started to walk, alone and in a way that took me forward. There is no rulebook to fit all scenarios in life. There is no right or wrong direction for you. There is no correct time frame. You get to decide who you let in and who you kick out. If people don’t like the decisions you have made or make, they can Sod Off as the British would say.

Own your glass house. Reinforce your walls for the stones that will come your way. Do not let anyone’s opinion shape who you are, where you are going and how you are getting there.

The Final Battle: The Family

The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and family. Don’t be afraid, she added, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue…”. Sister Lucia of Fatima.

The first modern no-fault divorce law was enacted in Russia in December 1917 during the October revolution. Looking at marriage as a bourgeois institution, the Russians transferred divorce from the Orthodox Church to the state courts. In the United States, no-fault divorce became the law in California, the first state to permit it. By 2010, all fifty states offer some version of no-fault divorce.

wedding ring and broken red heart – divorce concept

Calling it no-fault divorce is really a misnomer. The no-fault language was taken from automobile insurance. These new divorce laws did not really remove fault from the context of divorce, but they “did create unilateral and involuntary divorce, so that one spouse may end a marriage without any agreement or fault by the other.” Moreover, the spouse whose actions are at the root of the divorce causing an abrogation of the marriage contract, incurs no liability for the cost or consequences creating a unique and unprecedented legal anomaly.

In her book “The Divorce Culture”, researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead points to the therapeutic seduction of the culture as a contributing factor. According to therapeutic precepts, the fault for marital breakup must be shared, even when one spouse unilaterally, through breaking the marital promises, causes the divorce. In essence, no-fault divorce laws assume both parties are equally at fault, since no party could be innocent. The perverse assumption inherent in this argument is that if any individual is unhappy, someone else must necessarily be at fault. Because the assumption is the fault is shared, the newly imposed financial burdens on the grieved party are not of concern to the courts.

With more than forty years of data, researchers have compiled some statistics on the children of divorce. Children of divorce are:
• 3x more likely to be expelled from school
• 3x more likely to conceive a child out of wedlock
• 5x more likely to live in poverty

Consequences of divorce on women:
• 24% of divorced women live below the poverty line, while only 1% of married women are in poverty
• $112 billion is the annual cost of supporting divorced women and her children at the federal and state levels.

Impact on grieved spouse and family

I live in a strict no-fault state. Based on the legal assumption that both parties have fault in the breakdown of the marriage, the dissolving of the marriage becomes a business transaction. One party can be the primary or sole cause of the breakdown, yet the grieved spouse is judged guilty as well. Let’s look at an example of how nonsensical this is.

A couple have been married for more than ten years and have several children that came out of the marriage. The wife, a stay at home mom, discovers that the husband has been engaging in adulterous affairs. Initially, the husband minimizes his role and promises to change. The couple seeks counseling and continues to work on the marriage. Several years go by and new evidence comes to light that the adultery is continuing. Upon further investigation, it is determined that the conduct is still ongoing and has become more flagrant with multiple partners outside the marriage. The wife decides that due to the ongoing adultery to seek a divorce. We now enter into a strange legal situation. Despite promises that were made upon contracting the marriage and those promises being broken repeatedly, the wife is assumed to be equally responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. It doesn’t matter that she stayed home to take care of the children, the law, at least in Arizona, reduces the obligation of the adulterous father to a simple child-support calculation.

 

Imagine if contract law was this way. You contract with a builder to build your new home. They agree to build the home to your specifications, you agree to pay them 25% up-front, with periodic payments throughout. They start building the home, you pay the 25% deposit and they suddenly make unauthorized changes to the home. Eventually, you grow tired of their lies and substandard workmanship and seek legal remedies to get out of the contract. Using the logic from no-fault divorce, you are equally responsible for their issues and you still owe them money for the work they did and there is no liability for them to compensate you for your future losses.

Now, back to the hypothetical example above. The guilty husband, focusing on his career over the needs of his family, agrees to a divorce and very limited custody arrangement due to work obligations. The legal transaction is completed and both parties begin to build new, separate lives. After a few years, the husband decides that it is time to step up and ask for equal parenting time. Throughout the history of the marriage and the ensuing separate lives, this husband has never shown an interest in equal co-parenting. Yet, in my no-fault state, if he asks for the time, he gets the time. His prior actions, breaking of marital promises, plunging his family into chaos and disorder, have no bearing on the courts actions. We try and teach our children that actions have consequences. However, they look to this breakdown of their family and see that Actions have no consequences, at least in the eyes of the family court. And because the parenting time percentage has no changed, the grieved party suffers further grievance by seeing their child-support shrinking by more than 50%. The guilty party, who plunged the entire family into chaos, further causes distress to his children by putting their mother in danger of not being able to provide housing due to this. It’s the bad gift, that keeps of giving grief.

We cannot force people to remain married and should not try. Fact: It is not a matter of forcing you to remain married. The issue is taking responsibility for one’s actions in abrogating an agreement. No-fault divorce means the spouse who breaks the marriage agreement, incurs no onus of responsibility. Indeed, that spouse gains advantages. Courts therefore do not dispense justice against a legal wrong. Imagine what might happen if the contract breaking party were held responsible for damages. Taking my previous example into account, the grieving party repeatedly broke the marriage contract through adulterous behavior. Even when confronted and afforded chances to put that behavior behind him, he chose to continue and accelerate that behavior. This behavior imposed a severe burden on the wife and children by forcing a duplication of resources: home, car, utilities, food, child care…the list goes on and on, not to mention the psychological impact on the children. Where is the justice in this? You get to repeatedly break a contract and the cost to you is nowhere near the cost imposed on the party you grieved. It is truly a sad situation and comes from the pit of hell.

Prophecy of Fatima

There were three secrets of the apparitions at Fatima. The second secret was a statement that World War 1 would end, along with a prediction of another war should men continue offending God and should Russia not convert. The second half requested that Russia be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. If Russia was not converted, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. It is an interesting thing to note the second secret and the focus on Russia. No-fault divorce originated in Russia during the revolution. Now, one hundred years later, the error of no-fault divorce, originating from Russia, has spread to the world. Fatima was only one of the later prophecies of the attack on marriage. In the 1600’s, Our Lady of Good Success in Quito Ecuador prophesied:

Thus I make it known to you that from The End of the 19th century and shortly after the middle of the 20th century…the passions will erupt and there will be a total corruption of morals…As for the Sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes the union of Christ with His Church, it will be attacked and deeply profaned. Iniquitous laws will be enacted with the aim of doing away with this Sacrament, making it easy for everyone to live in sin…In this supreme moment of need for the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.

Let us, the Church Militant, fight to keep marriage holy and to put more focus on our family, and much less on ourself. Marriage is not a 50/50 partnership. You give 100%, and expect 0% in return. In actuality, we get back more than we give. Let us also recognize that there are many people around us in need of help as they deal with the fallout of the attack on the family. As Jesus said, “You shall love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.

 

 

St. Paul wrote, Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Put on the armor of Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

Turn The Page

4,589 days.  That is the number of days from 9/20/2004 to 4/14/2017. That is also the number of days that I owned the house at 7W Calle Mantilla.  In those 4,589 days there we so many good memories in Sahuarita and a few not so good ones.

The initial closing date was supposed to be 4/21/2017, but that was moved up at the request of the buyers.  Anxious to stop paying two mortgages, I was happy to accelerate the closing date.  The packing & boxing of everything started in earnest on Friday 4/7/2017 and that brought some sadness to Ryan.  On Sunday he was pretty ramped up and when I finally got him to talk about what was going on, he said that the process of getting things ready to move made it all real.  He said that he now knows this isn’t a dream that he was having, hoping that he would wake up and his life would be the same as it was BC (before cancer).  We talked a lot about that and he ended up in a much better place at the end of the talk than he was at the beginning of it. We talked alot about how we were writing the ending of the first book, while we have already started writing the beginning of the second book.  That seemed to resonate with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The movers were scheduled for 4/11/2017 and within a couple of hours they had substantially everything removed from the house.  We ended up carting some stuff away in the cars, making several trips.  Stopping by one last time on Thursday 4/13/2017, I stood in the empty house that was about to no longer be mine.  Wow, there was a flood of memories that came to mind.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are thousands of words to those memories.


SAMSUNG CSC

 

12 Months, 12 Lessons Learned

It has been a crazy year and there are many things that I’ve learned about myself, my son, my life, other people.  You name, I’ve experienced it.  Here are twelve life lessons that I’ve learned that have made me a better person.

  1. Everything that happens to you is a life lesson – The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. All these things force you to grow, move outside your comfort zone and move forward.  As humans, we only have one path and that is to go forward.
  2. Live each day for the gift that it is – It is so easy for us to get caught up in thinking about tomorrow. We put off until tomorrow things we can do today.  Don’t delay, for tomorrow is never guaranteed.
  3. Do not sweat the small stuff – For the same reason listed at the end of #2, let things go verbally and emotionally. I was blessed to have time to prepare for Theresa’s death.  Not everyone is that fortunate.  Do not be the person harboring sadness for life because of one foolish thing said.
  4. Grief changes you, forever – I should have known this already. I lost my dad in 2003 and the first time I had the Divine Liturgy said for him in 2010, the wave of emotion caught me by surprise.  The reality is we will never stop loving those who we have lost.  Don’t feel guilty for that or try and change it.  The human heart has a tremendous capacity to love and there is room for many people in it.  People are not replaceable, and love is not mutually exclusive.
  5. Get life insurance – Oh, the stupidity of me on this issue. We had life insurance that was not being paid via an automated withdrawal.  With all the chaos in my life I missed paying it, missed the letter that it was lapsed and they cancelled it.  When Theresa was diagnosed, she asked how much insurance we had and I realized the answer was $0.
  6. Don’t waste time on things that don’t better your or make you happy – Life is too short to not be happy.  If there are things or people in your life that do not make you a better person, eliminate those things.
  7. Take pictures and video – The greatest thing that Ryan and I have done over the past year is watch home videos, look at pictures and remember all the memories they represent.
  8. Don’t try to win over the haters – I have a picture taped above my desk at work that says “Don’t try to win over the haters – You’re not the Jackass whisperer” Walk the path you choose and don’t let anyone tell it’s not the right one.  Remember, you aren’t the Jackass whisperer.
  9. We are stronger than we imagine – I remember when Theresa was first diagnosed and it became a terminal condition. I thought, how in the hell am I going to juggle a demanding career and an Asperger child alone?  Well, I can tell you that not only did I juggle it, I crushed it.  We are thriving and living life.
  10. Do not try and numb the pain – One of the smartest things I did was to swear off alcohol in the months after Theresa’s being born into eternity. I read this advice once and can say, it is priceless.
  11. Write letters to those you love – How our world has changed. We used to write cards and letters to those we love.  Now, it’s text messages, phone calls.  Why not write these down so someone can print them and keep them forever?  These things are priceless gifts to those who receive them.
  12. We are not made for this world – in John 15:19, Jesus said “If you were of the word, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” This life, this world, is not our ultimate destination.  We are destined for life in the Kingdom.  Whatever you do, whatever you strive for, keep that destination in mind.

Life Ain’t Always Beautiful, But It’s A Beautiful Ride

“No, life ain’t always beautiful, tears will fall sometimes.  Life ain’t always beautiful, but its a beautiful ride…”

 

Those of you who use Facebook are familiar with the On This Day (memories) feature.  They will bring up pictures that you previously posted.  Today, Facebook brought up a picture of an event that took place 365 days ago.  On 3/21/16, Ryan’s life was turned completely upside down when he asked me “Is Mom going to die”.  With those five words, and my one word answer of “Yes”, things got complicated really fast.  I had already known this was happening some 6 months prior, but we decided to keep that from Ryan until it was getting closer.

As I was driving to work after that reminder, I thought of the five words that I finally prayed in October 2015, “If It Be Your Will”.  There are those who have written that the number 5 in the Bible symbolizes God’s Grace.  There is no doubt in my mind that the 5 words chanted by me in 2015 and the 5 words asked by Ryan one year ago unleashed a flood of grace on our lives.

It has been 365 days of crazy, exhaustion, sometimes emotional chaos, a total reordering of priorities and healing.  For two years my life was chaotic.  My mom was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer in 2014.  I was running her around town to various appointments, surgeries and treatments.  On top of that, I was working full-time, applying to the Diaconate program, parenting an Asperger child and keeping everything moving forward.  In 2015, Theresa was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, mom’s ovarian cancer returned and the chaos intensified.  There weren’t enough hours in the day to get things done and I let myself go.

 

In the chaos that was my life from 2014-2016, I shot up from 185 to 220 pounds and had let my fitness level get to an abysmal level.  I remember my FBI physical that listed my BMI at 31.6, labeling me as obese.  My blood sugar was elevated, my cholesterol was off the charts high.  I was an absolute mess.  In the month leading up to the death of Theresa, I managed to drop 5 pound due to the chaos that was my life.  Shortly after Theresa died, Ryan told me that he was worried about losing me too and that was the moment I knew I had to make some changes.

I had already decided to swear off alcohol as I didn’t want that to become the crutch to lean on which could spiral out of control.  I started an exercise program called Insanity and looked forward to the ass-kicking that it gave me every night.  Exercise for me was cathartic.  When I was in the zone, nothing else mattered or concerned me.  The results were quick and energized me.  I wanted to be healthy; to be around for Ryan for another 50 years.

It felt great to focus on me.  When things got confusing, when things started to pile up, I would lace up my shoes and run.  Exercise was the single greatest thing for me in dealing with the giant mess that had been made of our lives.

Strength in Mending

Ryan and I had a long talk a few weeks ago about mending.  He told me he was feeling anxious about the upcoming anniversary of Theresa’s being born into eternity.  We talked a while about all of the hard things we’ve been through and how much stronger those things made us.  As I’ve written about before, dates mean something to me and we wrote those dates down:  Our anniversary (4/28, +10 days); Mothers Day (5/8, +20 days); Fathers Day(6/19, +62 days); First day of school (8/8, + 112 days);  My birthday (10/1, +166 days); Nana moving to Kansas (10/8, +173 days Nana’s birthday (10/23, +188 days); Thanksgiving (11/24, +220 days); St. Nicholas Day (12/6, +232 days); Christmas (12/25, +251 days); Ryan’s Birthday (1/24, +281 days); Valentines day (2/14, +302 days).  There is something very visceral, something very therapeutic about looking back on the road you’ve travelled.

 

I shared with him an article on a blog entitled “Don’t Get On The Anniversary Train”.  This article was forwarded to me by Jennie, who had read it and thought it was a great article.  http://www.secondfirsts.com/2014/05/dont-get-on-the-anniversary-train/  I asked him to read it and talk through what it meant to him.  The crux of the article is that we do not honor our loved one by getting sucked into sadness and focusing on the end. Life is difficult regardless of your road, but you won’t ever make it better if you become bitter or angry. Instead, we remember all the good times we had, all the good memories that we made, enjoy telling people about Theresa and what a wonderful person she was.  We agreed to focus on the memories, the celebration and the journey.

 

As it turns out, Pascha falls very late this year, April 16th.  Jennie and I talked about what we were going to do and the idea came to spend Easter weekend in Phoenix.  We are going to celebrate the hope of the Resurrection: Jennie, Patrick, Ryan and Irene, spending time with Kathleen, Art, Briana, Gabe and Emmy.  We will attend the Divine Liturgy at St. Stephens Cathedral, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and remembering this gift by visiting the St. Nicholas Columbarium to celebrate Theresa’s being born into eternity.  We can honor our past, remember our good times, all the while making new memories on our journey forward.

 

We have been blessed abundantly in the last 365 days.  Out of the pain of sitting on the cold tile floor with my sobbing 10 year old, one year ago, has come a wonderful vision and path that we are walking.  Into our life came a beautiful soul, Jennie, along with 3 wonderful kids who have captured my heart and soul.  All the kids met for the first time on February 25 and it was such a wonderful time.  Watching them interact, talk, play; was like they were biological siblings, not strangers who just met for the first time.  Two families, each who have walked very different, painful paths, intersected and started walking forward together.  When I look at our journey forward, I know the depths of the love that God has for Ryan and I.

 

 

 

 

 

δόξα στον Ιησού Χριστό

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today Is A Good Day

Back in February, Ryan and I went to the clubhouse. I was going to the gym and Ryan was going to play at the teen room.  As we were leaving, he pointed at the advertisement below and asked if we could do this.  It looked like fun and since he asked I said lets do it.

The story behind this walk centers on the builder and designer of the Rancho Sahuarita community.  His name is Bob Sharpe.  He was diagnosed in 2016 with a terminal brain cancer, but chose to actively live out his remaining days.  He said “I realized I had everything to gain by spending the remaining days of my life having an optimistic, positive and grateful attitude.”  “Waiting for the other shoe to drop can be stressful, but only if I allow myself to waste the precious time that I may have left by worrying and postponing doing the things that make me happy.”

One day, Sharpe’s son called him and asked how he was doing.  He responded by saying, “Today is a good day.”  That simple phrase became the rally cry for his family and the theme of the walk.  They had T-shirts, bracelets and other items with that phrase.  Everyone got a water bottle and bracelet that had that phrase written on them.

Before the 5k began, Ryan ran over to the craft table and created a sign to carry during the walk.  As we were walking, several people asked him about his sign and he was quick to tell them why he was walking and all about his Mom.  Those were great moments.  He has moved so far from the little boy who didn’t want to stay in our house, ride in our car or have anything to do with past memories to one who chooses to thrive and seize life every day.

We started walking and Ryan thought we should stop after 2 laps as that was good enough.  We talked about the people who gave us money and that we owed it to them to finish the race.  As we were walking around for lap 2, we talked about how hard Theresa fought the fight even when she was tired, sore and didn’t want to continue.  As we rounded the top of the lake, Ryan asked if we could run the last mile.  I figured this would last for about one minute so I said let’s do it.  To my surprise, he ran all of the last mile, only stopping to walk for 30 seconds.  We ran that last mile in just under 9 minutes.  That’s pretty good for an old man and a 11 year old Minecraft gamer!

 

 

 

 

 

After the walk was over, we drove up to our Oro Valley house to take some items and setup some equipment. As we were driving, the song It Is Well came up on random play.  I could hear Ryan singing the song as he was playing on his phone.  “Far be it for me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see.  And this mountain thats in front of me, will be throw into the midst of the sea.  Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.  Through it all, through it all it is well.” Yes, Ryan, it is well.

To everyone who gave money to this cause, thank you from both of us.  The event raised over 360K for cancer research.  Factoring out the family members of Bob Sharpe,  Ryan was the 7th highest fund raiser for this event.  Today is a good day!

 

Letter to Ryan

One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking the time to record videos of Theresa for Ryan.  Every big event, holiday, birthday or milestone would be a great moment to have recorded words to Ryan.  We talked about doing that, but there always seemed to be more time and to be candid, the thought of doing that seemed quite taboo.  Once we realized that time was short, it was too late to do this.  I’ve decided to not make that mistake going forward.  I’m going to document things for Ryan so he can look at, read, touch and share with his wife and children for many years to come.  I started with a little letter to him.

Dear Ryan:

On May 20, 2005, your Mom woke up very early and spent some time in the bathroom. She came out of the bathroom, flipped on the bedroom lights and started saying to me “Wake up, wake up, wake up Daddy”.  I was always the better morning person, but it took me a few seconds to realize what she was saying.  Yes, after so many years of trying we finally were going to have our first child.  I got out of bed, looked at the pregnancy test, three in total, and realized that it was real.  I remember wrapping my arms around her, dancing around the bedroom and both of us laughing.

We had a trip planned to Omaha for Memorial Day and were leaving later in the day.  When we walked up the exit ramp in Omaha, Nana was waiting to pick us up.  Your Mom gave her a hug and said, guess what, you’re going to be a grandma again.  I wish you could have seen that exchange between the two of them.  It was a wonderful moment with tears of joy flowing all around.  Everyone had been waiting for you to come for many years.

You caused quite a bit of distress to Mom’s body during her pregnancy.  She started having migraine headaches, dehydration and nausea.  Yet, through all of this, her first worry was you.  She wouldn’t take any medicine for fear of hurting you who were growing inside of her.  Eventually, things got better and the time came for you to be born.  You were a planned delivery on January 24, 2006.  The schedule kept getting moved back and finally, you came into our life at 4:51PM.  You were a 19.5”, 7.4 pound bundle of joy.  And in that single instant, at 4:51PM, our lives were forever changed for the better.

I’m happy to tell you that your first word was “Gaga”, a name you called me for a couple of years.  It took you more than one year to say “Mama”.  You took your first steps alone on November 28, 2006.  First, with Mom holding your hand and finally, all by yourself.  Since that time, you’ve been constantly on the move.

You took your first plane ride on December 1, 2006 to visit Mom’s relatives in Bethalto.  When we got there they had snow on the ground and you got your first taste of it.  Since that first plane ride, you’ve become quite the world traveler in your short life.  You’ve been to: Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Marteen, Barbados, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, St. Kitt, Honduras and Belize.  You love to travel, you love the sea.  Both things that you got from Mom and me.  There are so many more places that I want to go with you and look forward to the adventures that await all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are the perfect blend of Mom and me.  You are quick to tell everyone that most of the things about you came from Mom.  To be sure, there are many good qualities that you got from her.  You have an incredible mind, you love reading books that are years above you, you like to draw, you like science…All things that you got from her.  Looking into your brown eyes is like looking into your Mom’s eyes.  To be sure, you got your good looks from her.  One of my favorite moments was turning your light on early in the morning to get you up for school.  You looked over at me and said, “Just 9 more minutes Dad”.  To be sure, you got that from Mom. From me, you’re learning to become a good man and patiently enduring all the trials that life has put on you.               

You have grown so much in your 11 years.  I’ve watched you grow from a little boy who was so shy and kept to himself in the early part of his life, to one who can engage anyone in conversation and isn’t afraid to do so.  Just that one part of your growth is amazing.  You’ve had to endure trials that not many kids your age have to endure.  You’ve done so with a grace that can only come from above.  Time after time you amaze me with your understanding of life, love and the communion of the saints.  And yet, you are still an 11 year old boy trying to walk to path that has been placed in front of you.  I remember you asking me last summer if I still do dangerous things at work.  I told you that my job involves an element of danger but that I was doing all I could to cut back on it.  I no longer want to be the first person at the door on a search warrant, instead I let the newer agents take care of that.  I know how hard that question was for you to ask and I hope that my answer put your mind at ease.

You were the best thing that Mom and I ever did in our life.  You continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.  I know you grow tired of hearing me say this, but you are the only living part of your Mom on this planet.  That’s a big burden for you to bear and a lot to ask of you.  But every time I’ve brought it up, you have responded like a champion.

Not that long ago, I read the following scripture to you: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  You have asked me many times if Mom can see what we’re doing and what she would be thinking.  I believe with all my being that loves transcends death.  We sing every Pascha, “By death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs he granted life”. I read this quote just the other day, “They that love beyond the world cannot be separate by it.  Death cannot kill what never dies”.

Ryan, you inspire me to do and be more every day.  Every time I look at you, listen to you laugh, hear you play, I’m reminded of all the good that is left in this world.