Advertise Here


Archive for April 2014

Amanda Knox: the circus continues

The Italian court now accuses Amanda Knox of fighting with her roommate over money. Who writes these plots?

As Americans, we are accustomed to a legal system that relies on evidence. The Italians rely on imagination.  May Amanda find a way to live each day with grace and faith – she must desperately need them.

(S-R archive photo: Amanda Knox during an interview on the “Today” show, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 in New York.)

“Elizabeth Ann:” Looking for birth mom

Her lovely face graced Seattle’s KING5 Sunday news with an urgent message: she is looking for her birth mom. Taya Lee, named “Elizabeth Ann”  by her birth mom, lives in Olympia and is using social media – and the evening news - to find the mom who gave birth to her and then left her in a box on the steps of St. Edward Catholic Church on a January morning in 1981.

Just so happens I worked at that church in 1981 and I remember that day.

The box was left on the church steps, but the church offices are behind the building. The priest, my boss and dear friend Fr. Kieran, never went in the front door of the church. He left the rectory where he lived and went in the side door of the church. He prayed in the church every morning, early before breakfast, and then returned to the rectory – from the side entrance.

He never saw the box with the baby wrapped inside. But a young boy did and he ran to the courthouse, one block away, to get help.

When we learned of the abandoned infant, Fr. Kieran was distraught. “Why didn’t the mother just knock on my door? I could have helped her! She must be scared and that baby – could have died! The mom was counting on me to find the baby soon. And the boy, if he had just knocked, I would have helped!” Maybe the boy did. Maybe Kieran was not in the church when the boy came by.

We could not get any more information about the infant who was in custody of Child Protective Services. But for years – and I mean years - Fr. Kieran wondered about the child, the desperate mother.  He prayed for the “baby and the mother.” And every morning from that day forward, he checked the church steps, just in case.

Everyone wants and deserves to know their heritage, their life story. Taya hopes the desperate woman who gave her life will read this plea and give Taya another great gift: herself.

(S-R archive photo)

The saints go marching in…

Pope Francis I presided over the first joint canonization of two former popes today in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope John XXIII brought the Catholic Church into the present era in the early 1960s with the Vatican II Council. The Mass celebrated once in Latin became celebrated in the language of the participating people - nice to hear the liturgy in one’s own language. Vatican II’s changes took the church out from behind a curtain of clericalism and set it in the modern world. The Catholic Social Teaching of the late 1800s felt more integrated in our lives. My kind of leader.

John Paul II brought his Polish conservative views and behaviors to Peter’s chair. He became pals with President Reagan and looked to tighten the liberals’ understanding and interpretation of the church in the modern world. He became a modern hero for Catholic conservatives. He hunted liberals like Archbishop Hunthausen (my preferred Catholic hero), but backed down when he received an avalanche of protest.

Catholicism offers interesting world views, liturgical practices and ways of being in the world. “Catholic” actually means “universal.” As James Joyce once said of the Catholic Church, “Here comes everybody!”  Now, with two more saints.

(Pope Francis delivers his blessing during a solemn canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, April 27, 2014.)

Seeing spots?

Measles. Those red spots of childhood, thought to be gone, have returned. Most of the 129 cases are in California with 58 cases reported this year. One culprit may involve travel to other countries, like the Philippines where 20,000 cases of the disease have been confirmed. Travelers pick up the disease and bring it home to the Unites States.

Measles is extremely contagious and the disease presents with a fever, cough, a rash and conjunctivitis. Children should be immunized beginning at 12 months and again  sometime when they are 4 to 6 years old. The process should start earlier, if the infant travels internationally.

Military suicides

One day after viewing the movie “Heaven is for Real,” a friend tells me her young adult son has taken his own life. He was a soldier and spent time in Afghanistan. The suicide rate among military personnel now exceeds the rate among the civilian population.

My heart aches for my friend, her family, his friends. And within it all, she maintains her amazingly strong faith. She is confident  heaven is for real, for she had glimpses of heaven in the brief years she shared with her precious son. 

(S-R archive photo)

Is heaven for real?

I saw the movie “Heaven is for Real” the other day. After reading the book, I wondered how the story would translate from pages to screen - never very well for spiritual journeys, is my experience.

But the story has added interest for me: the family is related to our good friends.

“They are just very nice, regular people,” my friend tells me. “Not whacko or likely to create such a story.”

Colton Burpo is a four-year-old child who ends up on the operating table, does not clinically “die,” but comes close. He awakens and throughout the days ahead he casually describes what he saw, historical information he could not possibly have known. Colton offers great descriptions of heaven with a gentle Jesus and giggling angels. He encounters deceased relatives and a sibling he was never told about. He reports to his family heaven is a beautiful place…

Do you think heaven is for real? If so, what are your expectations?

(S-R archive photo)

Happy Children’s Day!

April 23 is National Children’s Day – in Turkey, the only country in the world to dedicate a national holiday to children. The event was named in 1920 to commemorate the first gathering of the Grand National Assembly (the Turkish Parliament). The day honors Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Ataturk dedicated the Republic to children so each year children take part in political events: sitting in Parliament and symbolically leading the country.

Families observe the holiday with visits from children  who come to Turkey from around the world. The visits are sponsored by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) who brings children, aged eight to 14,  to stay with families and participate in ceremonies and celebrations during their  week-long stay.

With all our longing for world peace, perhaps Children’s Day is one happy step toward understanding and appreciating each other’s cultures. We are less likely to dismiss others when we know their faces and claim them as friends.

Until death do us part

Kenneth and Helen Felumlee eloped as young lovers and continued their mutual love for 70 years. Together, they raised the kids, cooked the meals, worked to pay bills; they held hands through all the anniversaries, holidays, children’s rites of passage - and at breakfast each morning. When Helen died, Kenneth let go, too, 15 hours after she took her last breath.

While it will never appear on a death certificate, some people do die of broken hearts.

(S-R photo: Kenneth and Helen Felumlee, seated, of Nashport, Ohio, pose for a photo with their eight children in December 2012. They were married for 70 years.)

Easter – it’s all about the egg

Happy Easter, the springtime tradition that blends pagan and Christian symbols arrives.

While women may wear fascinators atop their heads and happy toddlers suck on chocolate bunnies, most people recognize the egg as Easter’s central symbol.

As we should.

The egg recalls the rock at the tomb, sealing in Jesus, sealing in death. Orthodox Christians color their eggs red – to symbolize the blood of Good Friday. With the cracking of the egg, we recall the tomb opening, Jesus rising from death to new, transformed life, a life we share. We move out of the desert of hopelessness and despair into the light of resurrection.

The rock rolls away. Joy remains, Happy Easter.

(S-R archive photo)

Hungry at Easter

While grocery store shelves fill up with chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, some people are hungry for breakfast. In Spokane County  15.4 percent of residents are deemed “food insecure.” Families who rely on food banks and other resources may not always need extra help, but at some time, they lack resources to access adequate food.

Perhaps this weekend we could lessen the chocolate treats in our Easter baskets and spend money to donate food to a hungry neighbor – a gesture more closely linked with the resurrection of Jesus than a Peeps marshmallow bunny.  

(S-R archive photo)

Lab-grown body parts

The world of science fiction continues to overlap with reality, offering previously unfathomable options. Science can now grow needed body parts – from the recipient’s own cells – and implant those generated body parts into the person.

A study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina generated fully functional vaginas for young women who suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a genetic condition, where the vagina and uterus are partially or fully unformed. The condition affects 1 in every 5,000 females. Eight years after the implant, the women reported physiological and psychological success.

Holy Thursday – Pope Francis style

He leads with humility and grace. Today, Pope Francis chooses to wash the feet of aged and frail people who live at the Don Gnocchi Centre in Rome. Washing of the feet is an integral part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, celebrated today, Holy Thursday.  The gesture commemorates Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples.

While most believers celebrate this holy day not in Rome, but in their local churches,  we carry Pope Francis’ message in our hearts: love those who need it most, serve them with humility, and when you do, you become the hands, the heart, the face of Christ. 

(S-R archive photo: Pope Francis washes the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome, Thursday, March 28, 2013.)

Holy week continues

Holy Week…Passion and Grace: we enter Palm Sunday with triumph and joy, a journey into Jerusalem; our own lives seek the journey to return home, to enjoy friends and wonder about our future.  Jesus was deceived by false claims of devotion. We travel our lives with similar steps.

Holy Thursday invites us to share food, drink wine, speak holy words, share our thoughts amid laughter, memories and gentle friendship. Ritual and celebration define us. But soon darkness, betrayal, and anguish overcome us and life offers no real control – even when you are Jesus.

Good Friday crashes down with tragedy and skewed loyalties among friends; a frenzy of courage and grief and loss and confusion and hopelessness; a spiritual wandering; emptiness and death. Primal-scream loneliness. Darkness extinguishes one’s spirit. Where is that God who promises so much?

We seek quiet stirrings and reflection and desperately demand meaning out of endings. How can one live with deep anguish? How can one survive the death of all that is good, close, holy, loving? Chaos reigns.

And then…when hope no longer lingers in one’s bones…that stone which has sealed us into death, suddenly quakes loose in ways we could never imagine, understand or even ask for.  The thunderous movement liberates creation and the stone moves farther and farther away, smashing darkness. Light reaches into our own hiding places and warms what has been broken, offering healing and hope.

While our brains cannot explain, measure or understand, we are healed as we eagerly race from that sealed tomb into God’s grace of light and love; we arrive crashing into our God who will not abandon, our God who dances with joy at our own goodness.

The passion of Christ is the passion we claim for our own lives.

When we listen, we know the cosmic message: we are made in God’s image and deserve to be liberated from all that shackles us. In thunderous revelations or in quiet wandering, we arrive in the Light, we are made whole.

We deserve to dance in the Light of God’s Grace. Joyous Easter, promised resurrection ~ life.   

(S-R archive photo: Sunrise from the slopes of Mount Spokane)

A week for Passion

Holy Week arrives. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, palm branches strewn; disciples, strangers, love him and cheer, but finally turn away. Loyalty morphs into fear: the crowd condemns the man of justice, a counter-cultural man with a message of love.

Who would I have been in the crowd? If I had rushed to the noise, to the screaming, what words would have fallen or spewed from my mouth? I ponder the thought.

We walk before Mass, the lot of us - parishioners diverse and noisy, some silent; a community of hope. My son meandering away walks with the crowd. I hold back, accompanying my friend whose legs move more slowly than they once did.  We walk the neighborhood, around the building that feeds the hungry of our community each day – no matter their faith or lack of it. We feed them.  

This morning we carry palms: smooth blades, blessed and fresh. Walking, the People of God – we are imperfect, stragglers, helpers.

The sun casts shadows on our return to Church, down a small hill. Bagpipes lead us and the wailing notes echo off the bricks. As the choir sings, we crowd back into the building, eager souls who listen to the Word, awaiting this week of Passion, humanity’s defining pilgrimage.

Let us begin.

Phyllis Frelich ~ actress

You may not know her name, but you have seen the results of her pioneering work. Phyllis Frelich was the first deaf actress to make her way onto the stage and walk away with a Tony Award. She inspired the play “Children of a Lesser God” which later became a move. Actress Marilee Matlin, also deaf, played the lead role in the film –and won an Academy Award.

Frelich, 70, passed away in Temple City, Calif., her husband, Robert Steinberg, said. Frelich suffered from a rare degenerative neurological disease called progressive supranuclear palsy.

Frelich and Steinberg were married for 46 years. “I would have been happy with 46 more,” Steinberg said.


Fort Hood soldiers

The violence continues in our country. We honor people who serve, who protect and leave us too soon. May their families’ hearts heal, may our nation continue to seek effective care and treatment for those who suffer from mental illness.

We remember soldiers who defended their comrades, their military community.

(S-R photo)

Was there a Mrs. Jesus?

An ancient papyrus document suggests Jesus may have been married. Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King writes about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” as the words on the ancient fragment have been termed.  

The authenticated fragment contains a phrase where Jesus, speaking with his disciples, says, “My wife…” The context is one of debate over whether women who are wives and mothers can be considered disciples – not an independent declaration of the marital status of Jesus.

While the marital status of the historical Jesus is fun to ponder, it has no bearing on my own spirituality.  The discipleship role of women has always been clear: Women who are wives or mothers or vowed religious or single or widowed or divorced or anything else have believed, followed and loved as Jesus loved. Loved others with a profound kind of love Jesus likely experienced from his mother, maybe even his wife.


More moms staying home

A recent finding of the PEW Research Center tells us more mothers are staying home with their children than did at the turn of the century – the last turn of the century – 1999.

In 1999, 23 percent stayed home while in 2012, 29 percent reported being at home.

Interestingly, many Americans - 60 percent -believe children are better off when a parent stays home.

Many factors contribute to a family’s decision to stay home or work: financial necessity, desire to contribute to society through work – and a desire to contribute to society by staying close to home and being a stay-at-home mom.


(S-R photo)

Mickey Rooney dies at 93

Mickey Rooney was irrepressible and delightful as an actor, singer, dancer, entertainer.

He debuted as an infant and never stopped. He was the screen’s most famous teen face during World War II – starring as Andy Hardy, the active fun-loving teen.

Rooney’s real life reads like an action film: rich beyond imagination by the time he was 40, earning $12 million, spending it more easily than he made it; he loved risk and adventure with his fortune and gambled early on. He was married eight times. His relationships were marred by his fiery temper and irresponsible habits.

Still, we loved Mickey Rooney on screen and in the news. His 93 years of life have inspired and delighted us all. May his legacy be one of entertaining a nation who adored him. 

(S-R archive photo: In this Jan. 5, 1942, file photo, Mickey Rooney, 21, Movieland's No. 1 box office star, and Ava Gardner, 19, of Wilson, N.C., pose together in Santa Barbara, Calif., shortly after the couple applied for a marriage license.)


No more milk cartons

We used to see them on milk cartons: faces of missing children, the text describing the child and asking consumers, “Have you seen this child?”

Today parents use social media to ask friends, strangers and anyone who accesses information with the click of a mouse or an index finger: “Have you seen my child?”

The process worked for one Seattle mom who posted her plea on Facebook for her missing daughter Hailey. Soon Hailey was home.

A Missing Persons department is not open 24/7, but social media never closes and a plea for finding a loved one seems to spread within minutes. In a complicated world, especially complicated for struggling teens, social media has become a life-saving blessing.   

(S-R archive photo: In this May 18, 2012 photo, Facebook founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, center, rings the opening bell of the Nasdaq stock market)


Gotta pen?

A life-saving device, similar to an EpiPen used to stop allergic reactions, has been approved for use to treat those who have overdosed on opioids. Prescription drug abuse is rampant, killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined. In 2010, more than 16,500 people died from opioids according to federal sources.

The device, called Evzio, contains naloxone and is small enough to hold in one’s hand. Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of an overdose; Evzio will be used on someone who has lost consciousness or stopped breathing.  The new treatment may be available this summer.

Good idea?

Happy Birthday, Doris!

Okay, I admit it. I am not of the generation who listened to Doris Day in her teen years. I loved her when I was only a few years old. “Please play Dayis Doors,” I would ask my parents. Her records spun for hours on our family hi-fi.

Later I loved her movies, especially Pillow Talk with that great kiss on the couch with Rock Hudson. She was smart, and of her time. But her off-screen life was less than storybook: one child who predeceased her and four marriages. But today Doris Day lives a rich and full life, she tells admirers. She advocates for animals and enjoys time with friends. She stays close to her Carmel, California home (afraid of flying her whole life). Her legacy is one of grace, talent and class.

Happy 90th birthday, Doris. You remain America’s sweetheart for all time.

(S-R archive photo)

…with liberty and health care for all.

A friend writes she now has health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. With reoccurring cancer, she is able to return to her beloved oncologist – whom she could not have care for her under her previous insurance. “I can’t explain what peace of mind that gives me to know that he will be with me through this time. I was so excited that I wrote a thank you letter to President Obama.”

Light in times of darkness comes from many directions. Through medical challenges, a trusted provider alleviates fear. My friend Pam McCauley, a writer, shares one of her poems.

           His Light

We are all ships in the fog

Trying to navigate

Our way through

The sea of unknowing.

God is the lighthouse,

Giving glimpses of light,

Showing the way,

Reminding us of His presence.

Even when His light,

Is nowhere to be found,

The sound of the low, deep foghorn

Resonates through our souls.

Our ships will come to shore

The fog will lift

And God in His Glory

Will gather us up.

For one woman, the Lighthouse illuminates a path made easier through the Affordable Care Act.

(S-R archive photo: The lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point, a 36-acre Washington State Park on the west side of San Juan Island. )

Oso strong

The digging, the waiting, the mud continues.

The names of the deceased appear, the names of the missing posted.

What happens to a community when so many simply vanish? How do we come to understand the catastrophe? When overcome with grief, how does someone survive?

One takes small steps, uncertain of the stability of each day, for the terrain of one’s heart has shifted and one’s world altered forever. Grief, like cleanup, requires small steps, lots of rest and a community who loves without reservation. 

(S-R photo)

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
Advertise Here