About Me

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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Points North: Bethel, Anchorage and Fairbanks

On  September 25, Charles and I flew to Bethel, Alaska to facilitate a retreat for the Yup’ik deacons and their wives. Bethel is a really different place from any other place in Alaska where I’ve traveled. Nine years ago Charles and I went to St. Mary’s, Alaska to facilitate a retreat for this same group. 

The diocese of Fairbanks has a program where they train and ordain Yup’ik deacons to serve in the villages in Western Alaska. These men are dedicated to providing pastoral counseling, the sacraments of Baptism and Marriage and Services of the Word and Eucharist to the the Catholic people in their villages.  Bethel is located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (the delta at the mouth of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers) so therefore it’s a very flat and interlaced with ponds, lakes and tributaries. There used to be very little vegetation and no trees in Bethel in the past, so much so that the one tree had a sign next to it that said “Bethel National Forest”! However we found that a lot of willow and alder have grown up quite a bit, which has really changed the the area. It has affected the permafrost and actually is starting to attract more caribou and larger animals to the area. 

The retreat that we facilitated was a study using Lectio Divina, a meditation on the words and rituals of the rites of marriage, baptism and the funeral rites and prayers for the dying and Viaticum (Eucharist before dying). 

Charles and I took turns reflecting all these various rites and rituals with the deacons and their wives and asked
them to share their own personal experiences of serving 
in their individual villages. 

I had the opportunity to get together with the wives separately at the end of the retreat and we were able to discuss the difficulties and challenges of being the wife of a deacon in a small Western Alaska village, where everybody knows your family, your history, and your children. We talked about how difficult it is to to be such a public person in such a small place and that everyone in the village knows your business. We also talked about the joys in being the wife of a deacon and being part of a couple that is so public and that ministers to the people and participating in the lives of the people of the village and in both their joys and sorrows. We had an opportunity to sit together and to work on a craft while we talked.  We made wire beaded barrettes for them to take home with them.  We all found that it’s easier to talk about difficult 
subjects when you are you sitting around the kitchen table with other women working with your hands. 

While we didn’t have time to see much of the town,  we did meet some wonderful people! Jesuit Fr. Mark lives in Bethel and ministers to the villages in the Delta, and his housemate Fr. Rich is the pastor of the parish in Bethel. Sister Kathy  flew in from Saint Mary’s along with her assistant Marian to help coordinate and to provide meals.

We had a wonderful time and I really enjoyed getting to know the retreatants!

On the evening of September 29th we flew to Anchorage, spent the night, and spent Monday visiting with friends in Anchorage. That evening we flew to Fairbanks to visit Phoebe and Odin. We were very fortunate to be able to stay at Odin’s mom’s house and to borrow her car, since she was out of town.

Phoebe was working on Tuesday, Wednesday and 
Thursday, so we had the opportunity to drive around 
Fairbanks and get more of a sense of the area, which is 
VERY spread out! Phoebe and Odin live in a dry cabin 
(no bathroom or laundry), except they do have running 
water in the kitchen.  On Friday, Phoebe had the day off, so we drove (and drove, and drove) way far away to the farm of her friends Anni and Justin to pick up nine (!) bags of baby clothes for Phoebe and Odin’s baby, which is due November 27!  The farm is up a very long, very steep, very dark, very muddy road, and my heart was in my throat the whole time driving up (and down), especially because the car we were in was missing a headlight. But we had a lovely visit and a great dinner of ground pork sliders (from their own pigs), carrot slaw and stir fried vegetables. On the way back, we encountered dense fog (not fun with only one headlight!) for which you can’t use your high beams. Needless to 
say, by the time we got back to town I was an anxious wreck (the problem with having an anxiety disorder and 
a being a control freak is that I can’t control everything, 
including the weather)!

The next evening we had dinner with Phoebe and Odin
 and their (and our) lovely friends Dave and Norma. Salmon, halibut, chicken, pasta and salad made a great meal! We also feasted on dried smoked salmon from Bethel, given to us by Helena, one of the deacon’s wives.
 
The next morning we left for home, sad to say goodbye to Phoebe and Odin, but looking forward to our next trip to meet our new grandchild!

Here are some photos from our trip.


The parish church in Bethel



Me and Jane
Me and Winnie
Bethel
Beautiful Downtown Fairbanks
 
Phoebe showed us the work of her artists at the FRA

Several of her artists won awards at a juried show that weekend!
De-icing the wings before we depart

Friday, May 17, 2019

Screen Time

Facebook has been both a blessing and a curse for me. The downside is that I spend an inordinate amount of time on my phone, reading others’ post and comments on their posts and comments on their comments, etc, ad nauseum.  So much so that I will find myself, hours later, still on the couch, dog draped around me, surrounded by empty coffee cups and Diet Coke cans, blinkingly awakening as from some sort of self created vegetative state with the dishes undone, pansies still unplanted, walks untaken, and real life unlived.

On the upside, Facebook has also brought me new friends, renewed relationships, new ideas, new resources and lots of laughter.

For example: I now have two new in-real-life friends, heart sisters that I never would have known otherwise if it hadn’t been for social media. 

One, Allison, came to visit me, sight unseen, with her son Lucas a couple of summers ago. We immediately clicked. She returned last summer with her family to attend my son’s wedding. Another, Fran, came up at my invitation to facilitate a retreat for our parish women’s group. Again, as with Allison, there was an instant rapport and a feeling that we had known each other for years.

That being said, however, I know that I need to find a balance between my on-line life and the life around me.

I plan to attempt to accomplish this by limiting my screen time and increasing my here and now time, in small but increasing increments, one hour at a time. Before checking Facebook, I’ll take a walk around the block, for example. Before looking at Instagram, I’ll do the dishes, etc.

Those who know me are aware that self-discipline is not one of my strengths, but I can only try.

By the way: If you do see me on social media, please don’t reprimand me. It only makes me cranky (like when I’m trying to watch my carb intake and someone asks me if I really NEED that donut). 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Humility

I used to have a beautiful singing voice. I performed at the Alaska Folk Festival many times, with different bands, and as a solo act. Over the years I was in the chorus of several musical theatre productions, and have participated in many choral performances. I led the music at Mass for over twenty-five years at the Cathedral and at other parishes before I moved to Juneau.

I was proud of my voice, proud of my talent. I could hit the high notes and really belt out a song in my youth and up until a few years ago, thought that I would never lose my ability to sing.

But, then, it became more difficult to hit even moderately high pitches. My voice began to give out and I now find myself dropping an octave when singing in the congregation at Mass.

This week, I have been participating in a Gospel workshop (as an alto, not a soprano!) where the choir, led the the amazing Rev. Bobby Lewis,  learns several beautiful songs in preparation for a concert this weekend. Rev. Bobby held auditions for solos in the performance tonight. We sat and listened to many singers, some nervous, some self assured, sing a variety of songs, some well, some not so good, but all of them were applauded for trying. I decided to try. I sang the chorus of a song I must have sung at least 100 times: “Alleluia, Give The Glory”. I remember singing that song at a Diocesan Institute many years ago and blowing the roof off the place. Tonight, while it wasn’t exactly horrible, it wasn’t very good, either.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

The last time I sang at a big Diocesan event was at our current Bishop’s ordination. Later, when I watched the video, and listened to my brief solo, I was horrified. I was off-key and strained and it sounded terrible. That’s when I decided that I would never lead the music at Mass again. Then, our regular guitarist/cantor left for awhile to go to school and I was needed to fill in at Mass. I reluctantly agreed, crossing my fingers.  It was really hard. I couldn’t sing well enough to lead, and sometimes was the only cantor. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my voice was so bad.

But our song leader came back and I was again off the hook. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I went back to being a part of the congregation.

Now, I find myself needing to fill in again during Lent. Again, I am finding myself reluctant to do so, knowing that my voice is not good. However, I have decided to turn this into a Lenten observance. I’m going to try to be prayerful about choosing the music and leading the assembly during Lent.

Because, I have discovered that it can be just as distracting to the assembly to be too good a singer as it can be to be too bad of one.

Because all those years of singing so beautifully gave me a bit of a big head.

Because it’s not supposed to be about me.

It never was.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Always With Us

For the past year, our parish has been participating in a ministry that provides temporary housing to homeless families.  Through this program, 13 Juneau families have found permanent housing and employment. The families stay in our parish center three times a year for a week. Volunteer parishioners provide meals and host in the evenings and also provide overnight supervision. Recently Charles and I volunteered to prepare a meal of hot soup, bread and cookies.

We showed up with the food at 5:30. Charles had to preach at Mass, so I set up the tables with the dishes and the serving area, put the soup in the stove to heat up, sliced the bread and got ready for the family to arrive.  When they saw what we had made, they didn’t like it and asked for something else instead.  

This hurt my feelings and made me a little angry because we had prepared this meal especially for them.  

I have to admit this was not the most fulfilling experience of volunteering that I had ever had.

On the way home, Charles  noticed that I was out of sorts. I told him it just really hadn’t gone like I thought it was supposed to. The first couple of times that we had participated in cooking for families, while they weren’t effusive in their thanks, they did seem to appreciate what we had done in cooking a meal for them. 

I told him that  it was frustrating to have prepared this  meal and have my offering looked as “second skimmings”  and to have them turn up their noses at this good food that we are prepared. 

Charles said  that Dorothy Day, famous advocate of the poor (and soon to be a saint) had written about this.  She said that often times, the poor, being powerless will, when confronted with a choice will sometimes exercise their small amount of power by choosing not to accept what is offered with gratitude.  She also said that often times being with the people that she was helping in her House of Hospitality, where she lived with the poor, serving them meals, cleaning up after them and helping them in any way that she could, all the while trying to preserve their dignity, was very difficult. They were dirty, sometimes they were rude, sometimes  they were exhibiting symptoms of mental illness or alcohol addiction or drug abuse. And sometimes they just were people with unpleasant personalities. In my previous job working at a homeless clinic, I dealt with the homeless poor (mostly men) every single day and they were (with a few exceptions) always very grateful for everything that we did for them and were often effusive in their thanks. And of course that made me feel good knowing that I was doing something to help them. 

Jesus taught us that the poor will always be with us and that our job is to help them. Dorothy Day said that we must see the poor as Christ, in his most distressing disguise. Jesus didn’t say when you do something for the poor they will be grateful for your help. Sometimes they will be smelly,  dirty, obstreperous and obnoxious. But as we were instructed by Mother Teresa, we are to love them anyway. 

This was a difficult lesson for me to hear from Charles, Dorothy Day and  Mother Teresa,  and come to think of it, Jesus. But someone once said that we don’t help the poor because they are Christians, we help the poor because WE are Christians. And we should do it unconditionally without expectation of any thanks, acknowledgement or gratitude. This was  Very Hard Lesson indeed.  

Poverty is ugly, but my attitude was uglier.

“It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.”

St. Vincent de Paul



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Rebuild My Church



"Neither the civil law nor the divine law can be maintained to any degree without holy justice.  The one who isn't corrected becomes like a limb that rots, infecting the whole body.  And the leader who doesn't correct him is like an incompetent physician who covers the would with salve without first cauterizing it, even though it is infected."
Catherine of Siena

The Church has a raging systemic infection. It is septic. From cardinals, bishops and priests who sexually assaulted children and young people to cardinals, bishops and priests who knew and looked the other way or transferred offenders to other dioceses or sent them to treatment and then returned them to active ministry, it is corrupt.

Catherine of Siena was right: it’s time to lance the boil, drain the putrescence from the wound and #rebuildmychurch.

I’m sickened by Cardinal Wuerl’s slick PR move: a website telling the world what a great job he’s done (per the Archdiocese of Washington, the website has been taken down due to outraged reactions).

I’m furious that the bishops are trying to brazen it out yet again.

Did the bishops not hear me when I told my story to them in Dallas in 2002?  When I eviscerated myself in front of them in that ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel on international television?

“We’ve done so much!” they cry. Well, what they DIDN’T do was create a mechanism to make bishops accountable for their actions.

Yes, it is now, and always has been, about the bishops. It’s about bishops who have their own secrets, and about the fellow bishops who knew those secrets, and the priest offenders who could blow the whistle on them.

It’s about the bishops who transferred offenders or sent them to Jemez Springs or St. Luke’s and brought them back to reoffend.

In my case it’s about the Abbott who refused to state publicly that my abuser had been credibly accused of sexual assaulting me at the age of 11. The same Abbott who sent members of his review board to intimidate and threaten me.

I am beyond angry, beyond anguished.

Regardless, I will not leave my Church in this condition. Why should I deprive myself of the sacraments? No, they are going to have to throw me out.

Rebuild my church.




Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dorothy , Teresa and Frank



From 2015 - 2017 I had the good fortune (and later, the misfortune) to work at a downtown agency that serves individuals who experience homelessness. 

During that time, I met many men and women who lived on the street. My favorite, who I came to love, was Frank.

Frank, when he was sober, was charming, funny and intelligent. When he was drunk, he was obstreperous, disagreeable and stubborn.

I had many dealings with Frank during the two years that I worked at the agency. My least favorite was the time he walked in drunk and threw up on me.

At any rate, suffice to say that on his worst days, Frank was difficult to like, never mind love. But despite the bad days, I did love him. I loved that he could have surprisingly eloquent discussions about his life (when he was sober). I loved that he once kissed my hand when I put it out to shake his. I loved that he told me that I made a difference in his life after he kissed that hand. I loved that, one time in Foodland, he dragged me over to the frozen food aisle to introduce me to his mother, who was visiting from Hoonah. I didn’t do much for him, except listen to him, greet him on the street and tell him I’d pray for him. Many times he’d stagger in drunk and demand to be seen without an appointment, and I’d have to ask him to leave. He stand there swaying and tell me: “You’re no better than they are”, (“They” being Bartlett Hospital, SEARHC, or the Glory Hole, or whoever he was currently fighting with that day).

I worried about Frank, especially two winters ago, when the temperatures were in the ‘10s and the winds were blowing 70 mph. The city had instituted a “no camping” ordinance, which meant that the street people could not seek shelter in doorways without being cited and moved along.

Several agencies and individuals begged the city not to adopt this ordinance, and when they did, begged them to set up a warming shelter, which they (eventually) did.

Frank’s was the face I saw when I testified at the City Assembly meetings. I was sure he would not survive that winter. But miraculously, he did.

An organization called Housing First built a housing development that shelters chronic inebriates. Frank finally got housing in one of the apartments there. A few months after he found housing, I ran into him and asked how he liked his new place. He said in a wondering tone: “I have a closet! I got my clothes out of storage and I have a place to put my stuff!” He was delighted. I was so happy for him. I still occasionally saw him on the street. Sometimes he was drunk, but even so, he looked much happier.

Frank died in his own bed, in his warm room, some time in the night of July 9.

He was 56 years old. Here’s a link to an article about his death. http://juneauempire.com/local/news/2018-07-10/man-dies-housing-first

At my desk at the clinic, I taped up pictures of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, to remind me of why I worked there, and to remind myself that Frank, and all of the homeless folks we served, were Christ, in His most distressing disguise, and that offering a kind word even while being yelled at by an unruly drunk person was doing a small thing with great love.

If you would like to remember Frank, and honor his memory, please give a donation to the Juneau Community Foundation for Housing First. http://juneaucf.org/index.php/special-projects-juneau-housing-first/

Please pray for Frank, and for his family. 


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lesson Learned

Image result for lesson learned tough stuff gif


I had an unfortunate email encounter this past week.  It all started with a face-to-face conversation over a week ago in which my feelings were hurt.  Then the other person said something via email that made me mad, and I responded via email and then the other person responded to my response and it escalated.

Now, I am not a person who backs down easily, especially if I think I am right.  When I am pushed, I shove.  However, in this instance, I shoved a bit too hard and ended up creating hard feelings on the other person's part.  They were all: "Fine!" and I was all: "Ha! I won!".  Then when I was aggreivedly relating my tale of woe to someone who is much younger and wiser then myself, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had probably hurt the feelings of the other person.  "But, they hurt MY feelings!" I retorted indignantly.  And then I stopped and thought.  And thought, and then I got a little weepy when I realized that I had probably made the other person feel as bad, or worse, than they had made me feel.

So I sent another email to the person and asked if they could meet me for coffee yesterday because I felt bad about they way things had played out, which we did, and we talked and when I told the person that my feelings were hurt by the original conversation, they told me that they didn't mean what I thought they meant and what they meant was something else entirely.  And they told me what their intentions were, which I had assumed were the opposite of what they were, and then I got a little more weepy, and we came to an agreement and now all is well (I hope).  I especially hope that all is well because it was a fairly public disagreement in which there were innocent bystanders that were hit by the shrapnel of my harsh judgments and not-so-righteous indignation, some of whom responded by saying that they loved us both and how heartbreaking the whole thing was.

So, the lesson here is this: Even if you think your point of view is the correct one, that doesn't give you the right to be uncharitable.  And always assume good will on the other person's part, even if they appear to be demonstrating bad will, selfishness, etc.  And, stop for at least 48 hours and think about the effect your words are going to have one another person, a relationship, or a community.  And for the love of God and all that is holy, don't enter in to a debate via email, where it is impossible to interpret tone and intention.

In other words, don't be a jerk.

Lesson learned.