Monday, January 31, 2011
If dryness in prayer, lack of fervor and failure to feel the presence of God in our difficulties is a winter of the spirit, then it was this past Saturday, in the deep of the actual season of winter, that my soul entered spring. I was consumed by joy, excitement and gratitude for the blessings that surrounded me that day.
It was at the annual Women of Christ Conference, a full day packed with speakers, exhibits and prayer that my season changed. There was so much filling my senses and my spirit that I may need this entire week just to share all that I experienced in that single day.
It was shortly after my friend Susi and I arrived and began to set up our shared exhibitors table where she was promoting the Vocations Office (who better than a mother to introduce her son to the thought of priesthood!), and I was promoting the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests which I began with the help of the Vocations Office last September for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, when I spotted Fr. Larry Richards.
It was a little over a year ago when I had written about Fr. Larry for Matt Warner's "Support a Catholic Speaker" month. I had chosen to write about Fr. Larry because although I had heard his name, there was not much else that I knew about him. After I had written my story, I knew that if I ever had the chance to hear Fr. Larry speak, I would be first in line to buy a ticket, and now that desire came true!
Before I left the house in the morning, my husband was watching You-Tube with the headphones on so I didn't know what he was listening to, but I kept hearing him laugh, so I peeked over his shoulder to see what was so funny. It was Fr. Larry Richards Confession talk!
Before long, Fr. Larry was standing next to me in the exhibit hall and was admiring the Seminary's fabulous video of this past year's ordinations. He was telling me that he didn't know much about Milwaukee's Archbishop Listecki, but that he knows our former Archbishop Dolan. I was so pleased to tell him how wonderful Archbishop Listecki is and about how much we are all enjoying his presence in Milwaukee. He has truly emphasized love during his first year here, and this cold, northern locale is much warmer because of him!
Later that morning I was thanking God that I had gone to confession before Fr. Larry's talk, because by the time he was through speaking, and shared his classic examination of conscience, the line for confession seemed as if it was nearly two blocks long!
Memorable lines from his talk~
his opening line: "I am blessed among women!" (There were nearly 2500 women in attendance at the conference!)
on praying the rosary: "When you pray the rosary, Mary takes you by the hand and says, "Come here, I want you to watch the life of my son with me. For example, when you are praying the third joyful mystery, Mary looks at you and says, "Here, would you like to hold him?" and you rock the son of the Universe. And when you receive Communion, you take the Son of God that you held in your arms and now you have Him inside of you, just like Mary did for nine months."
on reading scripture: "When you read scripture and you feel that God is speaking to you, write it down. Carry it with you all day in your pocket or your purse and take it out from time to time and look at it and pray about it. In this way, you will have a continual conversation with God all day long."
and: "Don't tell me that you don't have time to read scripture! If you have time to read your newspaper, a novel, your blogs, you have time for scripture!"
on scrupulosity and selfishness: "Christianity is the forgetfulness of self. If you follow Jesus because you want to get to heaven, its all about you. You are following him for a selfish reason."
on eternal life: "When you were inside of your mother for nine months, all of your needs were met; you were with her night and day, and even though it was messy in there, you liked it. In fact, you didn't want to come out! You screamed when you entered the world. But you couldn't see your mother until you were born. Right now, we are in the womb of God. Everything we have comes from Him. Things can be pretty messy, but we usually like it here and worry about dying. But we can't see Him while we are here. So who's more blessed? The one who dies at four or the one who dies at ninety?"
on daily Mass: "If you really believe that Jesus is present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist and you don't go to daily Mass, then you are a liar! When we pray the Lord's Prayer we say give us this day our daily bread, not give us this day our weekly bread!"
His talk, both entertaining and uplifting, proved him to be a priest who won't back down from what he believes in and one who speaks his mind without adding any sugar-coating to his words. If I ever get the chance to hear Fr. Larry Richards speak again, you can be sure that I will be first in line to buy a ticket!
And on this day when the weather forecasters are predicting nearly two feet of snow in the next few days, my soul is warmed by remembering all that occurred at the Women of Christ Conference. During the upcoming days, I hope to write a bit about Immaculee Ilibagiza, Archbishop Listecki, the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests, and about some of the wonderful women I had the opportunity to meet on that very special day set aside for the Women of Christ; the day that felt like spring.
"Not saying thank you keeps us from going deeper into our faith and into healing." Fr. Matthew Widder
continuing to count the blessings...
~delicious morning sunshine after too many cloudy days
~blasting the Newsboys in the car on the drive to work
~water-cool and refreshing down my throat
~taking a breather from work with a lunchtime walk
~warm, fuzzy slippers on winter-cold feet
~Wildflour Bread from Sister Doris
~Dad helping youngest with homework
~jars of seaglass on front porch; reminders of lazy walks on the beach in warmer weather
~a busy week at work
~14-year-old son reading a bedtime story to his nine-year-old sister
~steam that rises from a newly opened bottle of champagne
The Story of Mr. Blart
By: Joe Bender
Mr. Blart was not very smart.
Instead of a car he drove a grocery store cart.
“Today,” Mr. Blart did start.
“Today I will buy a car at Wal-Mart!”
When he got there he met Mrs. Dart,
a lady who worked right there at Wal-Mart.
What she said tore Blart right apart.
“We don’t sell real cars, cross my heart.”
That left poor Blart feeling real glum,
“A car at Wal-Mart, boy am I dumb!”
To cheer himself up he took out some gum.
It was his favorite and it made him say “YUM!”
But that still left him sad and his heart still numb.
Then poor Mr. Blart he started to hum
and on a guitar he started to strum.
Though nothing he did could make him not glum,
because after forty-three years he still lived with his mum.
“That’s it!” shouted Mr. Blart with might.
“I’ll change my life and I’ll put up a fight!”
Then Mr. Blart felt he reached a new height.
He felt like he was flying just like a kite.
He always wanted to feel so light.
He had never felt so cool so tight!
As he skipped home into the night
a smile came across his face full of delight!
He spread many books across the table.
He’d study all night if he were able.
One book had a very interesting label.
The title for it was Anne of Green Gable.
He read the book ‘til he didn’t feel stable.
Then he clicked the remote and fell asleep watching cable.
He had a dream about when he was a lad.
He got into trouble and acted real bad.
When the teacher yelled at him he got so mad
that he quit school and the whole life he had.
Waking up he felt very sad,
but only just a tad.
He wished that he still had his dad,
Though he knew he got shot by a Russian named, Vlad.
“I’ll do it!” Blart said “I’ll do it for dad!
I’ll do it for the dad I never had!”
And for him Mr. Blart went out on a limb.
He went to his old teacher, Mrs. Kim.
Mrs. Kim knew his chances were dim
but out of pity decided to help him.
Her husband, Tim,
bought some books on a whim.
With help from Mrs. Kim and Tim
he felt much smarter and they were so proud of him.
Then after that Mr. Blart was just fine.
He had an IQ of 2009.
He was so smart he could create things with some sticks and some twine.
He made a house, a garage, and a car with an engine 409.
He had lots of women all waiting in line
for Blart to say to one “You are mine!”
And so Mr. Blart turned his life upside-down.
He now wears a smile instead of a frown.
So the morale is if life’s got you down
and you’re always the loser in town,
work hard and you too, can turn your life around.
Friday, January 28, 2011
The sky lost its sun, and the world lost its green to lifeless brown
Now the chilling wind has turned the earth hard as stone
And silently seeds rise beneath ice and snow
And my heart's heavy now
But I'm not letting go of this hope I have that tells me
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
And all we've been hoping and longing for soon will appear
Spring is coming, Spring is coming
It won't be long now, it's just about here"
~Steven Curtis Chapman
God called me to the deep and I answered, but not with a joyful and trusting heart. Instead I gave Him my pent-up, defensive, worrisome heart. I'd been walking in the waters of fear this month, forgetting to keep my eyes on the Lord and feeling the icy water rise up beyond my ankles, losing the trust that's required to keep me afloat when the waters churn dark and fearsome.
Struggles with my rebellious son leading to a sorrowing heart caused me to wonder if that was how God felt when Adam and Eve ate the apple. When they turned their backs on His love and care acting as if they didn't need Him, did He feel that wave after wave of grief washing over Him? Who did He turn to then, to bring Him comfort? Yet, my loving God wouldn't let me live with that pain of motherhood for long before he turned my son around and wrapped us both in His love and peace. We have now had a week of familial bliss without a single argument!
And troubles with my boss at work-us passing each other by in the narrow hallway, barely saying hello, hardly looking at each other, her misunderstanding me and me surely misunderstanding her, but both of us too shy, too fearful, to ask the hard questions that could bring the relief of understanding. Until the recent day when we finally opened up just a little, just enough for God to open our hearts in kindness and we shared some of our misgivings allowing us to work together in peace once again. And now, we have had two days where our silent scowls have been replaced by smiles and friendly hellos!
Then my sister reaching out for forgiveness from a long-ago hurt she placed on my shoulders, and me wanting to withhold the freedom of loving forgiveness, having grown so accustomed to living in resentment. But, after reading and praying about her message, sent on her birthday, I felt a softening, a mellowing that loosened its grip on the rigid and narrow rock of ice in my heart and allowed it to melt into warm and peace-filled waters, that brought me to want to choose gentle love over stiff resentment. God brought me to respond with love and I pray that we are on the verge of a true and peaceful forgiveness!
Now, it was with one of my most recent fears that God really worked my heart to truly bring me peace. Such a little worry, but he kept putting it in the front of my mind, placing it deep into my heart where it burned until I could work it out. My dearest friend asked me to help work with a long-standing faith group, and I agreed because I was eager to help him, but in what is an all-too common anxious habit of mine, I quickly felt myself back-treading. I listened to Satan's whispered lies, telling me that I couldn't do it, that it would never work and I was contemplating leaving the work to someone else. But God wasn't going to let me escape from responsibility that easily. He kept working me, drawing my worries out in written words, giving me time to look at them and pray about them, really letting them soak into my soul, helping me to understand my worries from a different view, until I could see that it truly is His will that I take this role upon my shoulders. It's for His glory after all, and how could I ever say no to God's glory?
And through all these struggles, disappointments and worries-these winters of my spirit-God carried me, led me, and warmed me until at last, the brilliant sun streamed down and broke through the common clouds of frigid winter. It feels like spring! So, naturally, I had to stop and pick up flowers to bring the season to life and remind me that winter doesn't last forever, and spring is just around every corner.
This reflection from Caryll Houselander seems to describe the winter of the spirit so well-the dryness in prayer, the lack of faith and trust, the struggles to live life with joy. What a lovely reminder this is of the hope we have in Christ if only we will remember that He is always there in the trials and tribulations, the little sufferings that come our way, in our own weakness and sinfulness, and spring will come again.
It's been a while since I've participated in Jennifer Fulwiler's Quick Takes MEME, but it's been such an interesting week filled with joyful news and words that made me smile, I thought that a little compilation of the best of it would be in order...
1. My most recent post about our family dinner conversation brought several emails about the importance of discussing sex with children. A sweet email from my dear friend Marge, whom I hadn't heard from in a while and was missing terribly, made me laugh out loud, so I've got to share some of her words here.
"I just had to shoot an email off to you after reading your blog post this morning about ‘mentioning sex’ to your kids!!! How funny!!! But I have to ask you…..didn’t you know that???? Good grief, woman, you violated a major rule with that one!! Heeheehaaaaa (I’m laughing kindly by the way)... never, never, never talk or teach about sex using yourself as any kind of example or reference. Using people in general works ok. Talking about chastity and all that in, kind of, the ‘third person’ works ok. But you? And your husband? You don’t have sex. Get it? You would never consider it; have never thought about it; your children were delivered through God’s love on your doorstep (or whatever weird way they want to imagine it)…they ‘know’…they just don’t want to talk or think about it."
2. The Milwaukee chapter of the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests(MPRP) has been up and running for the past six months! It has been met with many positive comments, and I recently was told that the Milwaukee Catholic Herald has been running a weekly edition of the calendar. I am so pleased to have been able to bring this apostolate to my Archdiocese and know that it does much good! I am especially grateful to freelance writer Karen Mahoney, who has written a little piece about the MPRP on her blog.
3. This Saturday is the Women of Christ Conference in our area. I am so excited to be able to attend with my friend, Susi. We will be working a booth promoting the Archdiocese Vocations Office as well as the MPRP. The speakers should be outstanding! I am especially looking forward to hearing Fr. Larry Richards, about whom I was honored to write a little something here for Catholic Speakers Month, and Immaculee Ilibagiza!
4. There's been lots of chatter on the blogospere about the March for Life in Washington, DC this week. But one little-known nugget that especially pleased me was hearing that several of our own local boys from the seminary were in attendance at the Mass and the march. What a blessed experience that must have been for them!
5. We've officially begun the process of looking into colleges with our oldest son. COLLEGE!!!! I can't believe it! How quickly fly the years! Wasn't it only yesterday that he was just learning to ride a two-wheeled bicycle?
6. There is a wonderful group here in Milwaukee that has been in existence for the past thirty years known as Roses for Our Lady. For the past two years, I have enjoyed attending the monthly Holy Hours that they sponsor at our seminary to pray for vocations. Earlier this month I took a leap and officially joined the group to help them continue the good work that they do for the Lord. It's been a blast working on the development of a website to promote the organization and hopefully draw many more people to join! I'm always thrilled when I can learn something new, something that I would never have imagined that I would be capable of doing and I am eager to share the website as soon as I receive the a-ok! But, I know that I still have much to learn and so much growing to do and with growth comes the inevitable presence of pain. Please keep me and all of the Roses for Our Lady members in your prayers as we adjust to one another and our varied ways of doing things.
7. A few months ago, I bemoaned the folks who were complaining about the upcoming Missal changes in public venues such as the local newspaper and thereby contributing to dissent in the Church, sadly, even some leaders from my own parish. Today I rejoice because my parish will be holding mandatory trainings for all lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Eucharist to begin to teach these volunteers about the new wording so that we will all be ready to adjust when the time comes for the changeover to begin.
And this morning I have to add a little update, sneaking in a rule-cheating number 8. It feels really good to learn that once again my little writings here have made Eric Sammons' list of the top two hundred Catholic blogs! This time I came in at number 187-up from 194 just last June. Thanks so much to all of you who subscribe and I pray that each time you leave this blog, your heart may be lifted a little higher towards the Lord!
Life is busy, but very, very good; for every inch of it is a blessing from God. How often I forget that when I get bogged down in the details, but when I slow down, take a good, hard look at the big picture, all I can see is His love! How blessed I am! I pray that you, dear reader, feel blessed as well!
Monday, January 24, 2011
The first semester of school has finally worked its way into history and now begins the second half of the year. At dinner, Justin mentioned that he will begin his health class, the class consisting of the three students whose parents signed them up for the "abstinence only" section of sexual education. A lively discussion ensued about the reasons why Paul and I insist he not learn about artificial birth control, self-gratification, and same-sex marriage as part of his high school curriculum. I was feeling pretty high and mighty and righteous at the beginning of the discussion, but by the end of dinner, I found that I was the one who was apologizing to my children!
"Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love." Pope John Paul II
I tried to explain that sexual intercourse is a beautiful thing, a blessing from God, the way He brings life into the world, as long as it is within marriage. I shared the fact that our bodies are beautiful, made in the image of God, and that sharing our bodies with our spouse is the fulfillment of marriage. The volume quickly rose as the children cried out, "Eww, that's disgusting Mom! How can you even say the word sex in front of your children!" "Well," I countered, "if it weren't for sex, you wouldn't be here!"
That was enough for youngest son who quickly covered his ears. It was more than enough for dramatic Mary, who left the table in disgust and escaped upstairs to her bedroom. It wasn't long before she was back, with her coat on and a suitcase in hand.
"I cannot stay in a house where my mother uses the word "sex" at the dinner table!!!!" And she walked out the back door. Soon middle son went outside to soothe her temper and coax her back inside.
His efforts worked, but after she came back in, she went upstairs to put away her coat and suitcase and didn't come back down. I followed her to her room and knocked on her door. She was still pretty upset with me and did not want her vulgar mother to come in. Meanwhile, Joe was busy printing something at the computer. Soon he handed me the "Parenting Guru's Guide to Raising Kids."
It had a list of basic facts about teaching children to be responsible, independent, respectful and smart. And last on the list, in large, bold letters, were the words he added himself-
"Do not ever mention the word 'sex' in front of your children!"
Funny Joe. Lesson learned. Maybe my words aren't the best way to teach them, maybe they can best learn about the sanctity of the human body, the glory of God within, through physical examples such as:
golden hair brushed gently into braids
hand squeezed during sign of peace
thumb brushing away tears that stain face
feather-soft kiss upon the forehead as sleep comes on
kneeling side by side as prayers are whispered
tender embrace of forgiveness
sideways glancing smile of pride
shoulder rubs and back scratches
husband and wife holding each other in an embrace
And I remember that it was only a few hours ago at work, that I had visited with a father and his one-year-old son who was born with a spinal disorder. Dad showed me the scar on child's back from the surgery that he had undergone after birth, told me how his child may never walk, that from the waist down he is unable to move any part of his body except his toes...
and I can run if I want to!
Then there was the young mother of five (just like me) whose baby just came home after two months in the NICU, born with a full right lung, but only half of his left lung, the baby who will require oxygen for his entire life, however short that may be, just so that he can draw in the clear, fresh air of life...
and I can freely breathe in and out without giving it a second thought!
And, too, I saw the young girl, just barely sixteen, holding a new life within her womb and I thought- "child holding child inside, take care of yourself!"
and I come home to children who wince at the very mention of sex!
I am blessed! This is the dinner lesson I want to remember-my body, all of our bodies-whether healthy and strong or weak and fragile- are so very, very beautiful! I think of the wondrous miracle that my eyes can see, my mouth can taste, my legs can move, my mind can think. This gift of body, glorious and magnificent in His image, IN HIS IMAGE, and what is He but LOVE?O Lord of Love and Beauty, You who created us to look like You, to be like You, teach us to be grateful for our bodies and to treat them with the gentle, loving care than they deserve. Amen.
On the drive to church, I have to smile as I recall the reason why my keys were in his coat pocket: last evenings dinner-the usual chaos over chicken dumpling soup-boys fighting, daughter crying, father yelling-this is the glue that holds family together?
But, then, dad gets our attention when he tells the fighting sons, "Just think, in one hour we will all be sitting close to one another with forced smiles on our faces!" Yes, it was family photo night for the church directory, that dreaded night when nothing we do can seem to get us all looking pleasant at the same time and I am reminded of how much I hate having my picture taken. Paul hates it too, and was probably so glad to be home that he forgot to put the keys on the hook in his relief to be home. So grateful that's over...
... we arrive at Church with a few minutes to spare, to quiet ourselves in the presence of the Lord before Mass begins. Then...
...I stand at the ambo, trembling as He speaks His words through me..."They shall not enter into my rest" (Hebrews 4:1-5)
I feel like a Hebrew follower of Moses, constantly complaining about my lot in life and His words meant for ME, "You shall not enter into my rest." (Hebrews 4:1-5) makes me think hard about how I live and refuse his gift of rest for the doing...
...I make it through the morning at work and return home to last night's dishes in the sink, a basket of never-ending laundry to fold, dirty floors and a sidewalk that needs shoveling once again. I'm tempted to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.
But instead, I come upstairs to the computer with a bit of green pepper to feed to Daisy, the guinea pig, and take a few minutes of rest here before continuing with the tasks of life. With Daisy contentedly nibbling on my lap, I look at the words of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on the sidebar of this page...
"When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God's hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and to begin the new day like a new life."
...and I remember to lay my life in his hands, now, in the midst of activity and to-do lists and somehow trust that He will allow me to enter into His rest, and tomorrow will be like a new day.
continuing to count the gratitude...
6. a good night's sleep, a short moment of rest compared to what I hope He has in store for me eternally
7. waking to husband's kiss as he's leaving for work
8. yes, I'll write this, too-the Packer's beat the Bears and are going to the Super Bowl
9. quiet evenings alone with my daughter
10. BBQ pork sandwiches
11. work and an opportunity to earn money to support my family
12. coffee-warm and flavored sweet
13. daily Mass and oldest son who wakes early on his day off from school so that he can attend Mass with me
14. a brand-new journal covered with golden sequins that jingle-jangle, a gift from my long-time friend, Judy
15. a warm house on a cold day
16. hazelnut scented candles flickering shadows in the evening
17. listening to George Winston quietly tinkling the ivories
18. the soft eyes of the Lord looking out at me from my Sacred Heart of Jesus bookmark
19. my daughter's golden strands shining in the lamplight
20. starting a new day like a new life (and remembering a favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables-"tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet")
21. having a friend whose gift of words reminds me that I am a nobody, which is just the way I like it!
Friday, January 21, 2011
Ann Voskamp. Could she be the woman who has the power to change my life? To change me from a bent over, tear releasing, withering woman to one who learns how to feel joy again, no, more than feel it, to live joy? To live His joy-the joy He surely must have meant for me when He created me as a speck in my mother's womb? That day, nearly forty-six years ago, when He reached deep within her thirty-eight year old tired body, already the carrier of eight lives before my own, and changed me from His thought to a real, living human being?
I've been reading Ann's A Holy Experience blog ever since I started to write Imprisoned in my Bones in my effort to release the God that for too long I had kept bottled up inside of me, as if I were trying to contain the essence of EVERYTHING and seal Him back up within this real, living human body that He created. My first visit to Ann's place and I fell in love. Everyone does. Who could not love that little farmer's wife, mother to a brood of six homeschooling wonders, who turns mere words into wisdom and poetry and love; whose heartbreakingly beautiful piano music and photography of her family and her farm makes me turn to her page again and again; who took her own pain- unspeakable pain- and lifelong depression, and turned it into joy with a list. That's it. A list.
I've made a few stumbling attempts to follow her example, you've seen them right here on several Mondays. But, I didn't number my gratitude like she does. I simply wrote it. Maybe that will change now. Her book came in the mail this week. The book that I had pre-ordered online over a month ago; the book that arrived on a day so busy that I was going to go right from work to the school gym where I was signed up to volunteer at the admission table for my son's basketball tournament, collecting dollars from guests who came to cheer on their sons; the day where I would leave the house at 6:45 in the morning but wouldn't arrive back home until 10:30 at night.
First, I placed a quick telephone call home to say hello to my husband, and breathe a word of love to him through the phone line. He said, "Do you have a minute to stop at home and get your book?"
He didn't have to tell me what book he was speaking about. "It came? YES! I will be right there!"
Walking in the back door, I saw it, still in the cardboard cover, right next to a sandwich brimming with ham, lettuce and tomatoes for my supper. My husband loves me well. I quickly unwrapped One Thousand Gifts and embraced it close. I took my book, my sandwich and my daughter and headed to the gym where the rest of our family would meet us when it would be time for Jack's game to start.
In between taking the dollars from the sports fans-parents, grandparents and siblings who were bursting with pride for the young basketball player in their lives, and in between bites of my sandwich, and in between conversations with my daughter about her future hopes for marriage at age twenty-two with two children to follow, ("Not five, or seven, or ten?" "No, Mom, they might be bratty children and how would I handle so many of them?" "No life in a convent praying to the God you are so madly in love with?" "No, Mom, I will always, always be madly in love with God, but I don't want to be a nun.") -I began to read Ann's words. Her words of wisdom, poetry and love.
And when I read these words on page twenty-six-
"For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into a nightmare. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I'd be bound to just wreck. Years, I lie listening to the taunt of names ringing off my interior walls, ones from the past that never drifted far away: Loser. Mess. Failure. They are signs nailed overhead, nailed through me, naming me. The stars are blinking out. Funny, this. Yesterday morning, the morning before, all these mornings, I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get it all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always, the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I live tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, find enough, do enough?"
I could feel my head nodding. Me too, Ann-Ann without the fanciful 'e', as she puts it. We share a name with or without an 'e', and we share pain. But, we both know that Ann(e) means "grace" and who better to show me how to live His grace, to accept His grace, to deeply live His grace, than a kindred Ann(e).
And I haven't gotten very far in the book. This morning, two days after receiving it, I open the book that I thought I would finish before leaving the basketball game and find that I am only on page forty-seven where she shares her story about how writing her list of One Thousand Gifts makes her feel happy. She says:
"Long, I am woman who speaks but one language, the language of the fall-discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied...Well, if all these were gifts that God gives-then wasn't my writing down the list like...receiving. Like taking with thanks. Wait. 'And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them...' Gave thanks. This crazy-dare gift list-it's language lessons in eucharisteo! For real: But eucharisteo-it's the word Jesus whispered when death prowled close and His anguish trickled down bloody. He took the bread, even the bread of death, and gave thanks. I look down at my list. This thanks that I am doing-it seems so...crude. Trivial. If this list is the language of eucharisteo-this feels like...guttural groanings. But perhaps the "full of grace" vocabulary begins hauntingly, simply, like a child, thankful for the childlike. But doesn't the kingdom of heaven belong to such as these?"
I thought that I would pick up Ann's One Thousand Gifts and not put it down until I had devoured every last word along with my sandwich. The sandwich is long digested, but the book is going to take me forever to read through-each page gives me so much to consider, to contemplate. This book is taking me deeper into who God means for me to be. Thank you, Ann, without the fanciful 'e' for sharing your lessons with me, with everyone, and for carrying us along with you in your quest for gratitude.
It's time for me to really start my list...
1. rebellious son who wakes and finds me here typing, holds me long with his stretched out arms and whispers love, then asks "What time will you take me to confession?"
2. husband chef, who makes delicious sandwiches that nourish with love
3. kneeling low at a Holy Hour for life before an elaborate golden monstrance that houses the Author of life, and words from transitional deacon Christopher Klusman spoken in that glorious American Sign Language reminding all of their beauty that comes from the One who formed us fearfully, wonderfully, and I believe him, I believe that I am beautiful
4. words-words that drift from my mind through this keyboard and are shared with everyone on this blog, and with a few in intimate email messages, words of mine and words of others that have healing properties, words spilled out from me and words graciously meant for me, given to me by others, words that give love
5. women like Ann Voskamp who bravely share their pain and their searching for His grace so that I may learn how to find His grace as well
Thank you, Ann, for One Thousand Gifts!
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
But they're the only times I've ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own
Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lovers' eyes
I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It's either sadness or euphoria"
Billy Joel- Summer, Highland Falls
How disappointing it is to work so hard for something only to see it slip through your fingers and escape your grasp. We've been getting a bit of snow here lately and my children were desperately wanting a snow day. An interesting story began to spread around the school and was inevitably acted out in our home. It was told that if they wore their pajamas backwards and inside out, placed a white crayon in the freezer, flushed an ice cube down the toilet and placed a spoon under their pillow before going to bed for the night, school would be canceled the next day due to excessive snow.
Can you imagine the excitement in my home when my two youngest heard this tale and decided to follow the directions? What great hope they held that they might be able to sleep in and avoid school the following day! But, when daybreak arrived and all of the snow had been shoveled and plowed away, the looks of disappointment on their faces made me want to cry right along with them!
Spoon Under My Pillow
For don't we all know
that deep disappointment,
that crushing of dreams, the letting go of our desires?
We want so badly to have control
of our little lives, but God
always sends surprises and we must humbly accept
And we find a place of comfort
deep within our hearts
where we can release our sorrow if only for a moment
We fall to our knees
bury our brokenness in our hands
and release the tears until numbness takes their place
But somehow we must hold on
to the hope that tomorrow offers
believing that God will carry us through to a new day
And so we place a spoon under our pillow,
a relic in our palm, a seed within the garden
and faithfully carry on
We trudge on through the snow
we pray and work our normal day
believing that tomorrow new joys will come our way
In a recent reflection on his vocation at the Roses for Our Lady Holy Hour at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, Fr. Norman Schwartz mentioned that at the time when he was ordained, the current rector of the Seminary, Fr. Don Hying, was just a toddler. Fr. Norman said that he could look at Fr. Don like a spiritual grandson. He mentioned that today's seminarians need spiritual grandsons as well; young men who will one day become ordained priests to carry on the priesthood.
Well, there is a group of young men who are working towards their own possible priesthood, and who encourage others who are also discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Those young men manage the website A Vocation to be a Priest and this week they are celebrating their second year on the internet! Won't you keep them in your prayers, as well as all of those men who are discerning a call to the priesthood, those who are in the Seminary and those who are already serving the Church as ordained priests?
And for a really great vocation story, please visit Fr. Michael Klos' Holy Family Blog. You will be moved by his uplifting story!
Monday, January 17, 2011
He needs love, this boy of mine, with body stretched so tall that he passed up the whole family. He eats and eats and grows and grows. But what can fill his heart?
His heart is growing, too-but he rejects the food that can satisfy it and too often it remains empty, aching, searching for meaning and fulfillment. He's often tempted to take whatever junk food that comes along-from television, internet and peers-and stuff his heart with that instead of the nourishment that comes from the food of God-His very Word.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Having just come from Tiffany's blog, Family at the Foot of the Cross, I find that I have been deeply moved by her story of a recent experience at Adoration where she witnessed a woman who was clearly in a deep love relationship with the Lord, and I feel that my whole perspective on my relationship with the Lord has been challenged.
Whenever I go to Adoration or attend a group Holy Hour or daily Mass, I always sit in the back (unless I'm the lector.) I guess it's my way of saying I'm not worthy to come closer and I also enjoy being able to see all of the other people who are there, drawing a feeling of loving community from them, realizing that we are all there to offer praise and worship to the Lord. I'd been in the habit of looking at all of the people gathered as one, and I always ask God to please hear all of our prayers, not simply my own.
But, maybe I've got it wrong-maybe I should be right in front, as close as I can get. Perhaps God is calling me to come closer in prayer and not let all of the other people distract me from Him. Maybe for the short time that I spend in worship at Church and at Adoration Chapels, He wants me all for Himself and wants me to feel His love as a gift for me alone. Could it be that through that hour of close and loving rest near His Eucharistic Heart, I will be strengthened to carry on with all of the responsibilities for which He has commissioned me?
O Lord, draw me close to you. Let me inside of Your Most Sacred Heart, where love and peace abound. Give me the courage and the strength to carry on Your will for me in this world of temptation and pain. Keep me forever within Your love. Amen.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Why is it so hard to remember? Like a child with attention deficit disorder, His lessons go through me and disappear. I need reminders-and they always include pain.
A rebuke from my supervisor.
An argument with my son.
A little word of restraint from a friend.
I wince when I learn once again that this life is meant to include sorrow, that this journey to the perfection of heaven means that I am not perfect yet, but must continue to work towards that ideal.
And then He brings me to silence. Bowed before Him in adoration, watching the blood spill from His side, wanting so much to stop it, to cup it in my hands, to hold it forever...but it drips right through my fingers.
He wants me to stay small and to give my love to others over and over again, even when I grow weary and would rather not put any effort into loving. Like His blood that keeps on flowing, my love is meant to continuously be given to others, not pridefully kept to myself.
Humble love...grown in the silence that follows hurt pride and embarrassment...requiring restraint of tongue and abandonment of self...it's His gift to me; the one thing that I can hold on to forever, if I will only remember...
“At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it with humble love,’ If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.” — Fyodor Dostoyevski
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Sitting at Mass today, looking around at those who were sitting in the pews surrounding me, I was swept over by a warm feeling, a peaceful feeling like I hadn't known for a long time.
I realized that all of the other people present at Mass are beloved by God, just as much as His own Son is beloved by Him, and I offered a prayer of Thanksgiving for these beautiful people whose only desire is to draw closer to His loving heart and to carry a bit of that love in their own hearts throughout the coming week.
I thank you, God, for:
~the man who was sitting in front of me with his three children, the man who has given so much of himself to teach Christian formation to the children of our parish for so many years, as he bowed his head into his hands and wept while we listened to a recording from Archbishop Listecki explaining how the recent announcement that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy can be a sign of hope for us all.
~for our Deaf community, and our deaf Deacon, gathered week after week in the front rows of church where they can easily see the interpreter, joyfully signing the Mass responses.
~for the little girl with down's syndrome who smiles and hugs everyone around her, easily drawing us all into her joy.
~for the girls on my daughter's basketball team, many of whom were present at Mass today with their families.
~for my long-time friend who was the lector at Mass.
~for the young boy prodigy, not more than ten years old, who is learning to become an organist at Mass, and who plays with so much talent!
~for the entire community present at this Mass, who filled the church as if it were Christmas Day, many of them friends, more of them strangers to me, but all of them beautiful.
~for Fr. Dave, who took this occasion of the Baptism of Our Lord, to remind those who are seeking the Sacrament for their children, of the lifelong responsibility that Baptism requires of parents.
~for my son, John, who had attended Mass on his own the evening before because he is working on weekends, and for my son, Jack, who stayed home from Mass because he is sick with the flu. Both of my sons suffered in missing this Mass, Jack, simply because he was ill, and would much rather have been at Mass, and John, because he so enjoys lectoring, cantoring and singing with the choir at Mass and now, because of his job, those opportunities of service are much more limited.
~for my loving and wonderful husband, who is always by my side at Mass, worshiping the Lord with my children and I, setting the example of how a beloved child of God is to return to our Father all of our gifts at the weekly hour of worship.
Thank you, Lord, for blessing us all with peace. Amen.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
not by water alone, but by water and Blood." 1 John 5:6
Have you read Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, yet? It’s a wonderful book, a retreat that can be completed in a weekend for the purpose of comforting Jesus who continues to suffer from our sinful natures and our rejection of the love He offers to us. The entire book was wonderful with many references to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina. I found myself profoundly moved by Fr. Gaitley’s suggested breathing prayer. There are three parts to the prayer: holding a breathless moment, the inhale, and the exhale.
After releasing an exhale but before inhaling once again, he suggests that we hold that breathless moment, recognizing that here, in this empty space, we are weak and in need of God’s mercy. At this moment the prayer is Ecce-“behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” and we offer ourselves just as we are.
While inhaling, the prayer is Fiat. We tell God “yes, let it be done to me” and a flood of merciful love flows into our hearts.
Finally, upon exhaling, we pray Magnificat and let our soul magnify the Lord. We offer praise to God for all of the good things that He has done for us. (This part reminds me of St. Bernard’s Four Degrees of Love-the second degree-Love of God for self’s sake.)
According to Fr. Gaitley, this entire prayer is an act of trust, and can become a spiritual communion. “It becomes one if we make it our intention when we inhale to receive God’s rejected merciful love into our emptiness. It’s especially like receiving Sacramental communion if we imagine that the merciful love we inhale is coming down from the pierced side of Christ as blood and water.”
ECCE, FIAT, MAGNIFICAT-Lord, let me breathe in Your merciful love, fill my emptiness with a flood of Your blood and water and allow me to console You and praise You for all that You have done for me. Amen.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Today I learned that the Latin root word for courage is 'cor' or heart, and I think of the young girl who was told to rest her head upon His breast, to take His heart for her own. While adoring our Lord in the exposed Eucharist, He came. He showed His heart to her and asked her to spread devotion and love to Him through His Sacred Heart, pierced for our sins and on fire with love for all. He gave her a special friend, Fr. Claude de la Columbierre, SJ, to be her spiritual director and to help her promote this devotion. And reflecting upon the experience that St. Margaret Mary had with our Blessed Savior, I am inspired to take heart in my own life.
I've had a few rough weeks at work recently that included some difficulty getting along with co-workers resulting in misunderstandings, humiliating treatment from my supervisor, and the need to own up to my own sinfulness and mistakes that contributed to those problems. On top of that, the kids have been bringing home more than the usual difficulties from their schooldays like excessive projects that require the purchase of seasonal items that are hard to find at this time of year and their own misunderstandings with their teachers.
But God; God knows what to do to ease my worries and sufferings. He shows me that it's important to 'take heart' through the trials at work, because the clients that I serve, well, they really need and benefit from the WIC program and I so enjoy serving God by listening to the concerns and worries of these young mothers and by showing them a little compassion and care to help them meet the burdens of raising their families in poverty. And just when things seem black and ugly and I begin to wonder if I would be better off searching for a new job, He sends me some very special women who share their gratitude for the WIC program with me and my heart melts, and I remember the passion I have for my work, and begin to forget about the behind-the-scenes stress.
And then, as if He feels that He needs to prove His love to me beyond the visits from grateful women at work, He gives me a tangible sign, something that I can always hold on to when the going gets rough, something that will easily cause me to "take heart."
During the past year, I have been developing a particularly DEEP devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Last June, during the month of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I began a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the second day of the Novena, I was blessed to find a red piece of sea glass that looks just like a heart with a gash in the side where sword of steel pierced the heart of my Lord. In gratitude for this precious sign, my family and I enthroned our home and consecrated ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the help of a very special priest. I feel that Jesus' heart, throbbing with love, letting drops of precious blood fall with every pulsing beat for me, blood that saves me from my sinful nature and purifies me-slowly, steadily, unceasingly-is forever united to my own, and He uses his Sacred Heart to give me rest and to keep me close to Him by guiding me to others who also have a DEEP devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
So, when God united me in friendship with Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, it was no mere coincidence. I believe that God meant to bring Fr. Jim into my life because He knew that this was a man whose own heart beat in constant love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and all of the mysteries and beauty contained within that lovely vessel stabbed through to the very center and crowned, not with gemstones, but with sharp, prickling thorns. Jesus knew that Fr. Jim would encourage and nurture my devotion to His Sacred Heart, and through him and his kind and gentle words and beautiful loving actions, I would delve ever more DEEPLY into the world of love contained within His Most Sacred Heart. Recently I had shared a beautiful story with him from the blog Evlogia about a relic of the Holy Innocents. I told him that I wish that I had a relic of a special saint that would look over me with love and care, someone that I could turn to in times of need and look up to as a role model in faith.
Today my sisters and I spent some time helping at the Apostleship of Prayer's monthly volunteer day. After Mass and a pleasant morning spent working and visiting with the other volunteers, Fr. Jim, who is the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, told me that he had something very special for me. It was a relic of St. Margaret Mary, the very saint to whom Jesus entrusted His Most Sacred Heart devotions! He said that he was so happy to share the relic with me because of my own devotion to the Sacred Heart and because he felt that with this relic, St. Margaret Mary would help me to fall DEEPER into love with Jesus, to move DEEPER in hope and joy and faith to the very heart of God. At the very moment when Fr. Jim placed the relic in my hands, I felt a shift in my own heart, a DEEPENING, an awareness of the presence and love of God like I had never known before.
With this gift, I take courage; I take heart, and feel as though I have spent time resting on His breast just like St. Margaret Mary did. I am renewed and I know that with the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I do not need to fear trials at work or difficulties with my children and their education; I know that His perfect love will cast out all of my fears and together both Jesus and I will strengthen our wounded hearts until the day when we are permanently united in heaven with hearts that beat in unison for all of eternity.
"From the DEPTH of my nothingness, I prostrate myself before Thee, O Most Sacred, Divine and Adorable Heart of Jesus, to pay Thee all the homage of love, praise and adoration in my power. Amen." - - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Giving love to God through gratitude becomes my gift for the infant Jesus, my offering to lay at the foot of His crib. Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience has the right idea; she's been keeping a gratitude list for the past few years and is now counting praise in the thousands! Here's my latest contribution of thanksgiving to God for the blessings in my life, the things that cause me to love God for my own sake, as I work toward St. Bernard's Third Degree of Love: Love of God for God's Sake.
Today I am grateful for:
My faith-Catholicism; full of wonder, mystery, traditions, beauty, suffering, joy and romance with God-this is my greatest treasure.
While teaching my daughter the family tradition of making Czechoslovakian kolaches, hands working dough and hearts feeling love, she sweetly professed a desire to be just like me. Had she said this a year ago, I would have smiled and thanked her, but inside I would have prayed that she would grow to be anything but just like her mother; why would I wish a life of pain and depression for her? But this time, I truly was grateful for her loving comment, and thought, yes, I do hope that she grows to be like me in many ways, and can already see so much of myself in her-the good things and even some of the not-so-good, but I know that regardless of what type of adult she grows to be, she will always be in God's loving hands and all will be well.
On the last day before the air warmed and the snow melted in our area, I took my children and my great-nieces sledding at our favorite hill. What fun! Wind blowing past my face, weaving and whipping down the slope, screaming and laughing all the way down; it is my favorite childhood joy that I never tire of re-living.
Midnight hooting and hollering from the boys as they arrive home from a victorious Buck's basketball game with Dad; even though their voices woke me from my sleep, it was such a lovely sound to hear them all having fun together.
Watching my daughter happily playing in her first basketball game with Dad as her coach, and the joy of seeing her score two points...for the other team!!! And the greater joy of her upbeat attitude about her mistake.
For the fun of fortune cookies! My favorite ever fortune: "You are domestically inclined and will be happily married."
I am so blessed with a wonderful co-worker and friend, Melissa, who lets me share all of my faith stories and struggles, even though we don't share the same faith-she is a spiritual friend whom I can always count on when I need to speak of God and His works in my life.
It was such a lovely way to use our family heirloom Nativity Set from my childhood and leaves much gentler wear on the pieces than the way I used to use it as a child, which was throwing the pieces at my brother when I'd get angry! Kidding, of course! It was my brother who threw the pieces at me! No!!! :) But I don't know how else to explain all of those nicks and cracks and glued together pieces. I guess this set has just been well-loved through the years!
And, something about my broken-down manger feels right, after all, when Jesus was born in the stable, I'm sure it wasn't perfect; clean, fresh, and bright with all brand-new animals and farming implements-no; surely it was filled with some old and sick animals, a tired and worn down shepherd, tools that were worn and well-used, and a manger in which many animals guzzled their food. I think my worn down stable fits more closely with the actual scene that must have occurred that long-ago night in Bethlehem.
But wait! Who's that adoring Jesus in my manger? Oh! It's Archbishop Dolan! Well, he certainly gives those worn-down and broken manger pieces much more class, doesn't he? His picture of adoration on his card is so lovely and I decided to frame it so that all year I will be reminded of our need to adore the Holy Child.
(The trick here is the lovely Christmas Card that he sent to my family, tucked into our scene.)
And today, I am most grateful for the HOLY NAME OF JESUS-the name of which I never tire of saying or hearing, the name that brings more joy to my heart than any other, the name I vow to take deep into my soul until He spreads and grows and flows out from my soul to the world around me and my entire life will be deeply surrounded by His Holy Name-Jesus!
Won't you join in praising God with your own list of gratitude; your reminder of all those things for which you Love God for Self's Sake?