Monday, June 30, 2008


Our visit with Brandon went very well. It's the travel time that kills, and Bran was commenting on the people that drive half an hour to get to the prison complaining about gas prices. When I told him I wish we were half an hour away he said fewer visits make it more special. He's growing up, my boy. He looked trim and tanned, lots of yard and less food-which for him is ok. I could finally picture him sitting in the backyard with his dad smoking a cigar and making kielbasi. That's a good thing, I think. I really didn't let myself think too much about the future the first half of his incarceration-just too long to hope. But now, I do. He asked for Kierkegaard when I mentioned books. Also good. I do hope he keeps reading. And his spirits stay strong, as does his health.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

three years served

Just a note-we go to see Brandon this week. This visit is the three year mark. It doesn't seem possible, but that's where we are. These past few weeks Brandon has gotten jury duty notices, employment notices and various junk mail that continually demands the reminder-he doesn't live here, he can't serve, he's incarcerated. Well, we did get one reply back from the Luzerne County Courthouse telling us Bran has an acceptable reason to be excused from his civil duty. That's life here in this house.

Thanks for prayers, past, present and continuing. We need them, he needs them. I so appreciate the friends and partners in this journey. We could not do it without you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

growth spurts

Probably the most profound relationship we ever experience on this planet for good or not so good is parent to child. The drawing was a mother/daughter commission. The cute little girl in the picture is now a bride to be, and this was her mother's shower gift to her daughter. I was so pleased to be able to make the event and the gift a very special one.

What I've tried to understand within my own life is how to grow into adulthood in my faith. I believe I have a heavenly Father who does watch out for my well-being, helps me to grow if I ask and corrects me, desiring maturity and character development. A loving earthly parent desires the same in a child. I wanted to include what is a familiar prayer I'm sure, written by a confederate Civil War veteran, and I may have written this before, but today it seems especially appropriate:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey
I asked for health, that I might do great things
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things
I asked for riches, that I might be happy
I was given poverty, that I might be wise
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things
I got nothing that I asked for but everything I hoped for
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered
I am, among (wo)men, most richly blessed

I don't consider that I've suffered like the author of the prayer, but the prayer is about changing one's perspective, learning how to be grateful, learning how to see things as God does, not as we in our small earthly shells tend to. I have waited for four years to see a friend and his family again after serving in a foreign country for that time. There is a weekend get-together planned for this Saturday among friends in the area, and we had already chosen this weekend to visit my son. That is the most important thing we could do, but it strikes me that the things I sometimes most want are the things denied. I almost come to expect this. God knows my heart, there will be other opportunities I suppose, but my loyalties and character are constantly tested until there is nary a murmur or complaint. (Well, LOL!!...almost). The things I try to take into my own hands and mold to my will, even for good purpose, seem to turn into a shapeless lump. I have to trust, and I choose to trust a Father who knows me better than I know me and, getting back to the picture, does prepare His children for adulthood.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

he ain't heavy....

"I can sympathize", "I can empathize", "I can relate", "I understand"....all things I've heard in the last few days. All things relate to struggling children or younger family members. All from people who lead good lives, serve God faithfully, are leaders in the church, love well and aren't a waste of oxygen on this planet. All people who because of trying to raise up the next generation have felt the sting of disapproval, lack of understanding or down-right criticism from those who should know better. All the children involved have, or had, addictions, mental health issues or a combination of both. One is dead. One is prodigal. One is trying to maintain among people who can't grasp the notion of acting out because of misfires in the brain. All agree-they understand our situation, have experienced different aspects of it within their own lives.

I can't explain to someone who has not lived it in one aspect or another what the effects of addiction/alcoholism/mental illness are like on an individual and the family that loves that person. It's days of uncertainty, feeling like the person you "knew" or thought you knew is gone forever, wondering what physical/emotion/spiritual cocktail of recovery will work THIS TIME? Gaining hope, having it leak out of your heart like a sinking ship when the next wave of misfortune hits. It's dreading phone calls, any type of law enforcement, doctors, hospitals, feeling like you are continually a second class citizen.

Well, I have hope today. And I have the sympathy/empathy/relating and understanding of dear friends who have been there and are still there. For us.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

opposing forces

I did go to the wake last night. I was praying all the way because I was nervous, I hate these thing, I just couldn't remember Linda's face and I felt so awkward and sad. As soon as I pulled up to the funeral home I recognized her standing outside, pacing back and forth. And thankfully as soon as I stepped out of my car she recognized me and we hugged. My awkwardness began to give way to a feeling of such anger and helplessness. All that was inside that funeral home was a beautiful corpse. What should have been, wasn't. The cycle of addiction and incarceration is so difficult to break once the wheel is turned in that direction.

I went back to the prison this morning after a month's break due to electrical repairs, and I was nervous again. But I was prayed for, as was the group. And as I went in, thoughts of what I saw the night before filled my mind. That is why I am there. Young women should not be dying of overdoses. I want to help prevent any of these girls from becoming a corpse, and that could so easily happen. And the group was powerful-not because of me, but because when love is present, things happen. One young lady just broke down and cried almost the whole time. The need for love, reassurance, help and people to trust in is so very great. It's like pulling two magnets apart to get away from the old life. The fear factor is unbelievable. But after seeing Jessica, I knew I had to be one pair of hands wrapped around those lives to lead them away from death.

Friday, June 20, 2008

misc. letters

I like getting snail mail letters. I always have. Blogging is fun, e-mail is quick, but I like the old fashioned written word (or typed). I sent out a mailing to volunteers for Providing Hope, and got the sweetest letter back from a pastor who teaches Spanish-speaking classes in the jail. He and his wife invited moi to dinner. I can do that! It was lovely, made me feel so good.

I also got a letter from Brandon. He always has something to share, and so I'll include that now (I'm killing time until I go to the funeral home-still not sure I even can. The mother will be released from jail to attend...previous post.) HEEERRE'SSS Brandon:

"I broke my watch yesterday, stupid thing. I pried the back off to get at the battery and couldn't get it back on. Later in the day it pitched off the locker, 5 1/2 feet to concrete and just exploded. It was pretty fancy for a jail watch, a $30 Timex, just not so hot in the durability department. I'm not going to get another, they sell those gumball machine Casio quartz watches that can survive a nuclear holocaust for only 12 bucks. Seriously, an archeologist will find one at a dig site 10,000 years from now and it will STILL work.

I found a replacement for my good spoon. (He pinched a metal spoon out of the kitchen and I warned him it was probably not a smart idea to have it on his person.) It's identical to the ones they sold on commissary a few years ago, so I can eat in style and in peace. So, you liked my ink ribbon story? Though you would. I only do that because it gives me something to work on and I only need one cartridge at a time. Given the person I am, I would probably refuse to ask for money if I needed it. I'm stubborn and proud like that (LOL)." (He is).

He asked for a Chuck Palahniuk book and told me to check out the latest David Sedaris to see if it's any good.

Well, time's a-wasting and no matter what I do I have to change into decent clothes. Any one of several combinations of events could happen tonight and two of them demand more than jeans and a t-shirt.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My blog seems to be my therapist. This week I was working pretty much all week for the prison ministry organization I'm a part of, Providing Hope. I agreed to sign on as their administrative assistant-not a hard job, except that I'm more or less "on call" along with doing paperwork, organizing and telephoning. I just got a call from our head male chaplain at the prison. He asked me if I remembered a certain female inmate. Yes, sort of. Well, he tells me, her daughter overdosed. The funeral is tomorrow in our town. The mother may not be able to swing getting there-she's trying, talking to lawyers. If she can't, could you go as a representative for the prison? Of course.

Ok, now I think I need to catch my breath. What a world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

dedicated and cleansed

I guess I need to come out of the closet and admit something about myself...I am an Old Testament law geek. Not that I read Hebrew or anything as academic as that (though someday I'd like to!). But I do like to study the boring and dry books of the Bible that many people simply dismiss or claim not to really understand. And certainly, not having lived in that day and age or in the Middle East ever, there is much I'm sure I don't understand either. Knowing the culture, the time period, the customs of the day and the mindset of the people helps hugely in putting all that is written into a graspable context.

But the view I always try to take when reading the books of Moses, and I am now in Leviticus, is to simply use the entire text as my lens-in the New Testament the Apostle Paul wrote that the Old Testament was written "for our instruction" and to point to the coming Messiah. So I look at the elaborate code of ethics, the sacrificial substitution for the sins of the people, as being all embodied and fulfilled in Christ. That being said, I ran across a small text that stood out like a jewel to me this morning regarding a sin offering, which was an animal without blemish to be killed by the priest, "The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it; in a sacred place shall it be eaten, in the court or tent of meeting. Whoever or whatever touches its flesh shall be dedicated and made clean..."

The picture I have in my mind of the Lord Jesus is that people touched Him all the time, or He touched them. Once again, according to Old Testament law, if the unclean were to touch the priest or holy man, or anyone for that matter, it required of that person a huge ritual of separation and cleansing. I think of the lepers that Jesus touched, the women with the issue of blood (blood and skin-diseased people were really pariahs in society). But here's my jewel of understanding-according to the OT scripture I read, Jesus identified Himself not as the priest, but the offering for sin, and everyone who touched Him was cleansed. He became the perfect offering for us. I wonder if the crowd who touched Him knew the law and saw this thing! Some had to. And moving forward to the New Testament, the shedding of His blood was once and for all. Jesus was the living example of this OT principle. These things amaze me.

abide these three

Now abide these three, faith, hope and love;
but the greatest of these is love.
I know it's a trite old story that has made the rounds, but it always gives me a charge of energy when I think of the moral. A boy was walking along the beach throwing a starfish back into the ocean. They covered the sand, and a man noticed what the boy was doing. He told him, "This beach stretches on for miles. How can it possibly make a difference throwing back the starfish when there must be thousands of them?" The boy replied, "It makes a difference to this one".
Ok, at the risk of truly being my jaded self, there is a part of me that thinks about a "Hancock" treatment to this- the boy hits a swimmer when he throws the starfish back. Well, we can't all be faultless superheros. But what we do does make a difference. Only humans have the capacity to make a reasoned decision to do something kind, to start cause and effect in a life, simply by making up our minds to do so. That is powerful stuff. We don't have control of the outcomes necessarily, but but we do have control of our actions and reactions.
I only have to think for a few minutes to come up with a list of people I know personally who have affected my life this way, and whose lives I have affected. Many more I don't know. Certainly there is no measure to what one action causes in a life, the continued ripple effect, but even in this harsh world we call home, isn't it true that one heartache brings about so many means of healing? I suppose the one living person in the world I could point back to and say she caused this ripple effect in my life, is my mother. She wasn't around for long-I was 15 when she died, but I look at myself today and realize so much of what she did shaped me and has caused me in turn to do the same for others. She was a great communicator and encourager. She put her words into action. Our home was warm, safe and secure because she made it so. She rarely ever complained even when there was good reason to. My mind is filled with memories of coming home from school to cookies, special surprises, beautiful table decorations and fun things at special events. We didn't have much money, but somehow she was the magician that made a few dollars turn into a dress, a feast, an art lesson, a new toy. She served the community, and with 5 children to care for, that was no small feat. She was brave in the face of terminal illness, a handicapped child, more challenges than I could ever imagine facing in her short life.
So all you beachcombers of life out there, do not give up! It makes a difference to this one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

the promise we have

My Jesus, My Savior, Lord there is none like you
All of my days, I want to praise
The wonders of Your mighty love
My comfort, my shelter
Tower of refuge and strength
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You

Shout to the Lord all the earth let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
Forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You

Darlene Szchech, Hillsong Music

We sang that song, Shout to the Lord, yesterday, and this morning I was praying, and I was thinking. If there is one thing I hope my life is able to do, it's make clear that we have a remarkable Savior. The world needs one. I think that's pretty obvious. All I could really do this morning was behold that truth and know, His life was unlike any other. The whole idea-God becoming a man? That so incredible I can't even put my mind around it. And what a Man. Someone no one could ever put a handle on, a rope around, set in a box, own, make into anything other than what He Himself claimed to be. He infuriated the religious folk of His day, loved the simple, touched the broken and bloodied, hated injustice but Himself became the One who let Himself be sentenced to serve the time for humans for all time, and gave His life for ours. The most perfect life ever lived, being laid down for the most imperfect.

When I feel like my life just isn't enough, when I feel like I can't do this, I can't make a difference, I just don't have anything good to give, I screw up relationships, can't love-I stand in the shadow of the Perfect One. I can't, but He can through me. When I really, completely understand this, I lose my fear. He was always there, but revealed Himself to me at a time in my life when I had nothing to give in return but my own fears and insecurities. He is always there. That's our promise, the last words He spoke, "For lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age". A hymn writer cried out in song, "Hallelujah, what a Savior!" If I can do the same, nothing else is needed. When life comes over us like a flood, He sets His bow in the sky-His promise to preserve humankind never ends.

In the cross of Christ I glory
Towering o'er the wrecks of time
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime

Sunday, June 15, 2008

now and then

A significant person has come back into our lives, Attorney Shelley Centini. Shelley is a beauty in the criminal justice system, young and tough, but a class act. She was a rookie just starting out, assisting the Public Defender who took our son's case, three years ago. She is now an Esquire with a shingle and an office in a pretty classy old mansion in Wilkes-Barre. Circumstances with another child led us back to her legal advice and expertise. But she also asked about Brandon, and has taken the city police to task regarding our seized property which is still not returned. When I called Shelley to retain her services, she immediately offered to cut her fee in half for our family and help Brandon out in any way she could. He has three years remaining before facing a parole board and it's time to think about the end game.

I suppose seeing Shelley tripped the memory wires and reminded me how much time has passed and life has streaked by us since Brandon's arrest. After Rebecca's graduation we spoke to him over the phone, and he keeps commenting as the days go by one after "pretty much the same" other, how much he feels left in the dust. How old. He's not the same person that walked out of our house at three in the morning flanked by the 'coke's finest. But when the metal doors closed, time stopped in certain ways for him. I'm starting to feel it, too, like leaning my head out of a speeding car when he calls. I can't stop it flying by. I can only describe the view and like a postcard sort of say from the bottom of my heart and soul, "Wish you were here". Wish you were here because you ARE missing it. All of it. Visitations are getting fewer and farther between. We don't have time or money.

I don't know how I'm going to feel when Shelley is successful in restoring our property and we sign it off the evidence roster. It's only evidence of something that will never be again. A strand of life and a thread of the past that snapped like a cable and fell away.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

my hope is in You

Christian band Third Day took the words of Psalm 71 and put them to music:

To You Oh Lord, I lift my soul
In You Oh Lord, I place my trust
Do let me be put to shame
Or let my enemies triumph over me

Yesterday was a zinger. Wow. Not many days like that, but that's life and they do seem to be happening more. Phone calls made, phone calls received, phone calls waited upon. Appointments made, appointments done, more appointments needed. Unexpected things. Let's see, it started off with an OB-GYN appointment, my least favorite of the lot, poked and prodded in the nether regions. Not much action there, but lots of waiting and dreading. Ok, hurry home. Gotta draw. We're trying to sell our pool filter and fielding calls from the free PaperShop ad. In the afternoon our Honda goes in for a damage inspection (the graduation deer) and scheduling for repair or totaling out. Not sure what's going to happen. Waiting for the adjuster to tell me. Hurry home, keep calling models for life drawing which starts on, oh, tonight. Answer filter calls.....

My hope is in You
Show me Your way
Guide me in truth
Through all my days

oh, my friend from Arizona DOC is supposed to call for the first time, but wait, my daughter is calling long distance, have to pick up, someone's ringing through, oh well...Let's see, back to my drawing. It's coming out really nice, but the phone's ringing again. My husband, how did the car appointment go, someone's ringing through, oh, the chaplain from Providing Hope, do you have a minute??? Ok, let's check the ministry cell phone which isn't working. Right, back to drawing, and the phone, phone, your filter still....wait, I can't hear'll have to call my husband. It's five o'clock-dinner, I have to make dinner...

I am oh Lord
Filled with Your love
You are oh God, my salvation
Guard my life and rescue me
My broken spirit shouts, my mended heart cries out

....I forgot to get the filter plug, only a small part but the pool store is closed, hafta get back to my drawing. This isn't working, my husband's calling again, the man's coming for the pool and no plug, where's my daughter-she has to call her sister back. Did my friend call...where's my husband, where's the people who are supposed to come for the filter, it's not even clean, I forgot to take out the trash...I think I'll sit down now and wait!

My hope is in You
Show me Your way
Guide me in truth
Through all my days

Here they come, there they go, remember to close the ad, the car's scheduled for repair, this is a good movie, I need a shower, a call from the prison? Hi, Shannon...ok, talk to you next week. Good night, gotta sleep. Tomorrow's coming...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

we made it

This week was Beck's graduation, and honestly, the events that unfolded were sincerely not how I had imagined things happening, if I imagined them at all. After two no-shows on the graduation stage, I was starting to get more and more nervous as senior week progressed. Monday and Tuesday were rehearsal for the event. Rebecca spray-painted her gown with flourescent green paint polka dots and did the same with the top of her cap, writing "most unique", as her classmates voted her, in electrical tape. Doubt inducer #1. We had a meeting with our attorney on Tuesday regarding Beck's hearing coming up the following week (a whole 'nuther subject to blog about, sigh!!), and what we were to expect. Fear factor #2-the police jumping out of her high school cafeteria for any small infraction (we saw that gum wrapper in the auditorium!). Class pictures on Wednesday-here we go with the gown, lump in my throat, several more gray hairs....Beck wisely borrowed another virgin gown from a friend, but kept her decorated cap. Ok, now we know it's a problem. In between all of this Beck and her sister trying to work out Dena coming to see the event, no matter how crazy the scheme-"you might parachute from a plane and hurry right back to work"(sounds ridiculous, I know, but I don't put ANYTHING past my kids!!) And oh, then, the call at 9:30 am..."mom, I think I won an award-could you come RIGHT NOW to the auditorium..." Actually, I was thrilled (are we done yet?) and "I need a dress for tomorrow".

Well, that's what you expect from children. What you don't is, a teacher making up an award just for your child because there aren't any visual art award categories, giving her a huge build-up because her classmates had no idea how much she's done and hearing them all cheer and scream out her name. Wow, massive lumpiness in the throat region. Her sister's workmates fibbing for Dena to get her off work and on a bus to see the graduation. Ok, maybe a tear now! Watching your "baby" sleeping on the couch, exhausted from all the activity and wondering where the time went-if I could only go back, just for a blessed, how blessed I am. Hearing her recount the story about daughter and friends blowing up balloons for graduation with a helium tank and singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in chipmunk chorus. These moments have gone by too fast. Watching her parade through the gauntlet of mini American flags in cap, gown and high-heeled sneakers. We may never pass this way again, but what a ride.

Oh, yes, a good time was had by all, except the deer that crushed the driver's side front end of our Honda when I drove Dee back to Philly at one in the morning. It had to end with a bang!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

white letter et al

Got a letter from Bran, some excerpts:

"They've (the kitchen cooks) been on this awful garlic kick like the kitchen's been invaded by Italians (heyyyy, shuddup-a with the shuddup-a! You shuddup-a!) . Everything's loaded with it all of a sudden, making everyone smell more like sweaty nether regions than usual. Ick! Still, pizza inundated with garlic is better than bologna any day, which is what we get during the shake-n-bake (there was a cell shake-down). We were served our "lunch" at 9 am, don't know why, smelling heavily of garlic. Great, they found a way to inject it straight into pre-sliced bologna. It turned out to be pizza, or rather cheese on a broken wheat cracker. Hey there were cookies. Yum!"

"One of the things I needed was typewriter ink, which out of the efforts to save money has become an amusing ritual in itself. The stuff I need comes in packs of 2 and costs $10. Then there's ink for an obsolete model, 1 for $4. One guy who knew his way around a typewriter told me the obsolete ink was virtually identical and could be used in my model as well. He neglected to mention the ink itself was compatible, not the cartridge, so the spool would have to be transplanted into one of my empties. I figured it out for myself, eventually. The Kodak moment came when I began to pry open the case thinking, "Well, this shouldn't be too hard", when it flew open with a comically loud "BOING!" and shot a black streamer half-way across the cell. There are some springs in there with a surprising amount of tension! I got it together with a good deal of effort, it was like holding bare clockwork together and slapping a case on it before it flies apart. I'd say it was worth a buck or two."

He ends it, "Even though it's Friday, I should wrap this up. I suppose I'll be talking to you tomorrow, if that's the case, good talk! They should be collecting commissary sheets Sunday, so I'll order Dad his Father's Day card. My memory's so bad I forgot to order it 10 years in advance. Ah! I should have KNOWN! Ok then, later Mum."

We're three years into his sentence this July. I just met with an attorney who assisted on the initial case and now has her own office. Very thankfully she offered to help us with the return of property seized three years ago, and wonders why Brandon has not contacted her. We need to start getting more proactive in terms of release. So my response to him includes her contact information-I have to keep reminding myself half-time release is not a done deal.