Lord, I stand in awe of your eternal plan and the heavens and the earth you have created. I thank you that the Holy Spirit lives in me.

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Frankly Phyllis

How About a Carefree Summer?

Every spring our newspaper honors ten "women of achievement" for their investment in others through illiteracy programs, soup kitchens, childcare, and other selfless work. They support wives of prisoners and design inner city parks. They care. The most recent edition of this story got me thinking -- how does caring happen?

When my Jennifer was six, we visited a hospital every week. One day, leaving the building, I noticed an elderly woman struggling with the door, and I dashed back to help. The next week, Jennifer, without my saying a word, went out of her way to hold the door for someone. Her smile showed how much she enjoyed being a copycat. She's been caring ever since. Isn't it fascinating that something free, like care, is so precious to give and receive?

Sometimes it may appear no one notices your gestures, as happened with an emotionally tormented, suicidal woman I knew years ago. I asked God how best to show her I cared. I wanted to talk with her about life and getting professional help, but her illness was treated like a secret -- a topic that was forbidden to discuss. But, as is often the case, another door opened instead. She didn't enjoy cooking, and I used to cook extra for my large family -- to freeze dinners for another day or pass on meals to a household in need. People would joke about salivating when they saw me because I brought food if there was even a hint of a sniffle. So, several times a month I'd send food to this woman's family, with the silent prayer we would lay aside pretense and talk about and address the problem. That openness, however, never occurred between us, and it felt kind of useless -- almost silly -- just sending food, but it was all I could think of to do.

Years later, I learned she'd tried to take her life. I was asked by a family member to go to her. Hesitantly, I knocked, but no one answered the door. After some searching, I found one of her children at work and forced out my words: "I hope this doesn't embarrass you, but I just learned your mom's in trouble." The response I'd feared surprised me when this tearful teenager replied, "That's okay, Mrs. Wallace. We know you care because you always send us food." In the end, simple food was enough, even though I wanted it to be so much more. It didn't open up the door for the conversation I wanted to have, but it made the simple point I was concerned for them. With care and support surrounding her, the woman sought professional help and leads a vibrant life today. When you care, love always finds a way.

It doesn't always feel that way, though. I remember being totally undone by one aspect of my graduate research in a state prison for youthful offenders. My last day there, I threw a party, complete with cake and snacks, to thank the kids for working with me. What shocked me was their reaction -- no gratitude, no enthusiasm, no anything. They were completely indifferent. After spending their young lives being beaten down, they simply did not know how to respond to being cared for. It was that they didn't trust kind gestures; they couldn't comprehend them.

I see similarities in the lives of too many people around me, who choose to bury themselves in too much work and too many activities. These people seem unable to take the time to see just how much people do care for them. If you feel uncared for, check your lifestyle. You could be blocking out indicators that people care about you. Make sure you're showing care to others, too. When that's in place, suddenly you'll see the signs of it everywhere in your own life. You are surrounded by people needing someone to care about them. God can open your eyes and your heart to who they are.

God models care best. He went much further than I did when I held a door, shared food, or befriended delinquents. On the cross, He sacrificed His Son to show His unsurpassed care. Jesus Christ rose victorious over death to go beyond care, to carry us into eternity with Him when we die. Through Baptism, He adopts us as sons and daughters. He cares for us from our first breath to our last, empowering us to live out the Bible words, "Freely you received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8b). He weaves lives together to pass on that care.

Lazy summer days are natural for slowing down to linger a while with someone whose life will be blessed with your attention. Listen without doing dishes at the same time. Choose to spend time with your kids, your parent, your mate, or your lonely neighbor, doing what they think would be fun, not just what you enjoy. Care is free to give. So, have a care-free summer!

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