Tag Archive | faith

What was lost, is found

Easter time and my Pop are indelibly connected. Not only was his birthday during this time of year, but as a minister it was the busy season for him, and for his family. As he wrote out his sermons in long hand, pencil first, pen for the final product, Mom typed out the church bulletins while my sister and I folded the freshly mimeographed bulletins, carefully and precisely.pop

Countless pancake suppers on Fat Tuesday, countless sunrise services on Easter Sunday followed by breakfast and another service. Good Friday meant three hour services starting at noon, ending at three pm. Seven ministers bringing us the the seven last words. Cranky, fidgety kids in the pews, earning Mom’s evil eye from the choir stall. Waking up super early on Easter Sunday, clomping around the apartment wearing pajamas and our new shoes, because, hey, new shoes.

And yet we survived those days and went on to subject our children to the same.

When Pop left the local church to work with the national church administration I was almost an adult. Within three years I established a home of my own with a husband and a child. And there began the search for a church home, a place were I would be nurtured, comforted, and feel safe in the knowledge that my faith would be valued.

Running into ministers with human frailties should be expected, but in my mind I thought, “If you can’t live the gospel, you shouldn’t preach the gospel”. And I moved on. Eventually, I stopped going to church all together. Something that I knew hurt my parents but I was actually more comfortable not going to church. My faith was still there but I’d lost my religion.

And then last week I made a wrong turn that turned out to be very right. I passed an old church building with a bell tower. The sign out front said it was Park United Methodist Church, only two miles from home. I looked them up on Facebook, of all places, and found pictures of a congregation living their faith. A soup kitchen, a child care center and after school program, a community food bank are listed as some of the many programs and services at the church.

I showed up at the Maundy Thursday service in jeans because I’d been running errands after work, and walked into a room of people all wearing jeans. The service was an interactive experience. The crown of thorns we held pricked our palms. We cringed as we held an old nail in our hands and struck it into a cross, with a hammer. We rolled dice, as the soldiers did, wagering to win the condemned man’s clothing. We lit a candles at the altar helping to banish the gloom. The taste of bitter vinegar reminded us that when Jesus was thirsty he was given vinegar. I took communion for the first time in many years and went home feeling peaceful.

Good Friday’s Tenebrae service found the altar covered in black cloth, the sanctuary dimly lit with dozens of candles. With scripture readings and musical selections from Jesus Christ Superstar, the light gradually disappeared leaving us in reverent darkness. We went home in silence.

Sunday’s Resurrection Celebration pulled out all the stops. A bell choir, children’s choir, youth choir, and Chancel choir brought musical selections. Seated in packed pews, we enjoyed music from the organ, piano, and several orchestral instruments. Dancers brought the word to life in movement. We laughed, we sang, we felt joyful.

If you’ve read any of my previous work, you know this isn’t one of my usual pieces. Just wanted to share my weekend with you.

I didn’t go to church because it was Easter. I didn’t go to church to protect my father’s legacy. I went back to church for me. We all yearn to be an integral part of a community and I really feel like I found a new church home. A wrong turn that turned out to be very right. Was Pop my co-pilot that day? Maybe. I’d like to think so, it’s something he would do.

 

 

My personal Guerrera

Anyone who was blessed to have a grandmother in their lives, knows the special love you only receive from your grandmother. I was super lucky because I had three grandmothers until I was an adult. With two grandmothers and a great-grandmother, keeping me in their daily prayers, I had a strong force field protecting me from life’s daily woes.That was then 056

Every kid eventually realizes that their elders have names other than Abuela, Mamá, Mami or Titi. Maria Santos answered to many names; Doña Maria, Mami, Titi, and her favorite, Mamá. As her first grandchild, it was my honor to present her with her first great-grandchild. Mamá was in Puerto Rico when my daughter was born. The day after she returned, I loaded up my newborn, and all of her equipment, and trekked out to the Bronx. There stood my grandmother, baby cradled in one arm, cooking with the other, all the while barking out orders like the general that she was. Someone in the room asked her to lower her voice because the baby was sleeping; you all know her response to that one, “Que se acostumbre”. And you know what? My daughter slept right through it.

The mother of seven, five of whom grew to adulthood, Doña Maria was the grandmother of ten and the great-grandmother of fourteen, all of whom she met before joining her husband in heaven.

That was then 003Mamá’s strength and resiliency was an example to all who met her. Before the end of her life, she had lost two sons to violence and her husband, after a stroke. When her oldest and youngest died, she was brought to the church, both times, from her hospital bed. Every loss took a piece of her heart, and yet her heart was so big that she lived on and showed us all how to hold our heads up although our hearts were breaking. She was the rock who fortified my sister, after the death of her infant son. I remember my sister describing her heartache and not understanding how Mamá didn’t fall into despair with her personal losses. The answer was faith and the grace of God.

Doña Maria was a little pillow of a woman. With a bosom that put babies to sleep within seconds and a home perfumed with the aromas of her cooking. With a bible in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other she ruled over her family just like the queen that she was.

A benevolent ruler, who was many things to many people, but most beloved by her descendants who strive daily to grow up to be her. Maria Maria Martinez de Santos best known as Mamá.That was then 361

 

The heart of the family

We all acknowledge that the mother is the heart of every family. But what do you do when the heart of your family is getting smacked with everything life can throw at her? Well, you learn to persevere. You get in the cab of the bulldozer and you learn to drive that puppy over everything in your path.

Nereida’s story is not the one you can find in a book of fairy tales. While I don’t know what the early part of her life was like, I was anThat was then 031 eyewitness to her adult life.  A young wife, who was bullied into finishing high school by her sisters-in-law, she learned to bully back and they became sisters, without the in-law part. The conversion of Nereida Diaz into Nereida Santos had begun.

She went on to have three children with Guillo and a successful career at Prospect Hospital, the personal ER for the Santos grandchildren. She cracked the whip over all of our heads. When Titi Nereida said something, you did it. As kids we knew who to go to for nurturing, although it was a close call between Mama and Titi Ana. They became our protectors against whatever storm was brewing. We all knew that Titi Nereida and Titi Luisa (my mother) were the ones to hide from.

Guillo’s sudden death hit us all hard, none harder than Nereida who now had three children to raise by herself. Oops, did I say by herself? My mistake, you see this is the Santos Family and here you don’t have to do anything by yourself. You need help, there will be a Santos to the rescue. Wrinkled cape and all.

I’m not going to say the Santos Family is resilient in the face of tragedy, only because I don’t have to say it. I remember Mama telling Debbie to stop crying in the aftermath of Guillo’s death. This woman who had just lost another child was in the kitchen cooking. Yes, cooking. I remember Tommy headbutting my boyfriend because my lap was his, and only his. Gil, known as Kookie in those days, was concerned about the collateral damage. A true sign of the man he would become.

That was then 128I slept with Debbie in the days leading up to her Daddy’s funeral and let me tell you now, Nereida’s strength of character was etched into that kid from a young age. #Ballbuster

When my parents had to go out of town, I stayed at Titi Nereida’s apartment in the Santos compound. After all, we were the South Bronx’s version of the Kennedys (ok, maybe just Beck Street’s version). Just like Titi Flora, we spent part of the day hanging in the window looking out onto Beck Street to see what everyone was up to. During one of our window sessions, Titi asked me if I had my friend yet. Not getting her meaning, and thinking that she meant to ask if I had a boyfriend, I told her that I did in fact have a boyfriend (although he may not have known it). She laughed and asked me flat out if I had my period yet. Red in the face, I admitted that no, the momentous occasion had not yet happened.

Yes, Titi could be embarrassing even without witnesses.

Again, as an eyewitness, I must admit that there were two pivotal events in Nereida’s life. One was a return to the church. She was always a woman of faith, but not always a church-goer. Upon her return, she jumped in with two feet and never looked back. She wanted me to take my comadre, for whom she had much affection, to a healing service following her MS diagnosis. Her invitation brought tears to my comadre’s eyes.

The other event was becoming a grandmother. I’ve never seen a woman take to being a grandmother faster than Titi. All of a sudden the nurturing side of her was out and in full display, and those of us who lived under her whip, found ourselves just the slightest bit jealous.  Billy, as the first, was the recipient of a lot of coddling and spoiling. So much so, that we begged her to stop when he started using those eyebrows against us.

I thank God for Gil, Debbie, and Tommy. I thank God for Billy, Alexandra, Victoria, Saadia, Ariana, Elizabeth, Antonio, and Mark. I thank God for Mitzi, Joanne, Teresa, and David.

I thank God that when her illness hit hard, she was good with Him. I thank God that she was able to see and interact with all her grandchildren. I thank God that she was not cognizant of Debbie’s illness and death, because it may have broken her. I thank God for every minute of her life. The good and the bad. Her illness took her from us way before we were ready to lose her.

She is now in the arms of our heavenly Father and restored such that we will recognize her when we enter our heavenly reward, as God has promised.IMG_5886

Rest in Glory, Titi.

A Good Man

Some deaths take us by surprise and we have trouble finding the words to express our sorrow. Unfortunately, this morning I received news that wrung all the words out of me. It’s taken me a while to wrap my mind around it and pour my sorrow on a page.

My heart family has lost one of its shining stars. Warren Morrow was a young man who, while accomplished, had not yet fulfilled his true potential; we all knew he would get there because he had already charted the path to get there. I personally did not know him well and perhaps that distance allows me to put my grief into words, you see Warren was married to Christina Fernandez-Morrow, my comai’s niece. It was Chrissy I knew well. Before moving to Chicago, and later on Iowa, Chrissy and her family lived right here in Hudson County. Chrissy played, and fought, with my daughters, as kids are bound to do. She was surrounded by male cousins and my daughters gave her some feminine relief.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Warren and Chrissy worked to improve the lives in the Latino community. That was actually how they met; they were engaged, on stage, at a community event they put together. They loved the community and the community loved them back. Knowing that many Latino immigrants didn’t trust the banks, Warren created Coopera Consulting, a firm aimed at helping credit unions grow by tapping into the growing Latino population. Warren’s Linked In profile  may show how connected he was, but it cannot show the man who was beneath the words.

Warren was a family man and an advocate for adoption, he and Chrissy adopted their daughter, Ariana. They sent me a picture of their happy, proud faces on the day that Ariana legally became a Morrow. And she loved her Daddy something fierce! Warren and Chrissy were so vocal about adoption that they were chosen to have their photo on a billboard in Des Moines to encourage other Latinos to adopt.

As I write, family members are in route from Puerto Rico, Mexico, New Jersey, and Chicago to share their grief and derive comfort from each other in the tragic, and sudden, passing of a good man. Please keep this family in your prayers.

“Love and appreciate the people that God gave you, because He will need them back one day” – Unknown