Going Deeper

I am thinking about the words of St. Teresa of Avila while I write this today.  Her feast day is celebrated in the Catholic Church on October 15.

“May today there be peace within. 

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

May you be content knowing you are a child of God.

Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and every one of us.”
― 
Teresa of Ávila

 Reflecting on these words of St. Teresa of Avila and then looking at the known facts of her life, I am inspired.  St. Teresa was named as a Doctor of the Church in 1970.  She is one of only four female saints to be given this important designation; to date, there are thirty-six Doctors of the Church in all.

What inspires me most about St. Teresa is that she continued to go deeper in her prayer life AND her life of faith in action in spite of many significant obstacles.  In a time where many focused on prayer and piety alone for the sake of piety, Teresa spoke up and insisted that love of Christ leads us to prayer AND action.  That is why another St. Teresa of Avila quote inspires many:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” 

My prayer for anyone reading this today is that you may find comfort and peace in these words of Teresa of Avila.  But don’t stop there!  Use the example of St. Teresa to go deeper in your conversations with Jesus in prayer.  Ask for guidance and direction.  But be forewarned!  Like St. Teresa, be prepared for whatever surprises God still has in store for you!

 

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Piece by Piece

There’s this construction site that I drive by every day on my way into the office.  It’s right by an intersection, and often, while stopped at the red light, I have time to glance over and see how the project is coming along.  For over a year, the side of this one building on the corner was covered with what looked like a blanket of sorts, almost as if to hold the bricks in place or something.

Then, about three or four months ago, workers began assembling scaffolding around the building and all the way up to the top. For what seemed like the better part of a week or more, I saw two or three people working together, making sure that they had a firm foundation and each piece of scaffolding was secure, most likely because their lives and the lives of their fellow team members depend on them getting everything right.

I know very little about the art of masonry and even construction projects in general.  What I do know, though, is that accuracy and precision are integral elements of any building project. The same is true when sewing, baking, knitting or crocheting.  If you have ever had to use a seam ripper on a sleeve that was put in wrong or bit into a muffin and then realized you had forgotten to add the sugar, I’m sure you can relate!

I see a similarity between building a firm foundation out of scaffolding and constructing a well-lived life.  There was a time when I felt like I knew everything, and life was full of crystal-clear answers with very little shades of grey.  Then I went to college and the first thing I learned at the tender age of eighteen was how very little I really did know.  I soon came to realize that there were other people with valid opinions and thoughts quite different than all I had known for the first two decades of life on earth.  It was at that point that I, and soon we, began to assemble our own life scaffolding, piece by piece, often relying on the help of God and others to maintain safety and security.  There have been many times when we have had to tear down, re-build, and make new plans.  None of this has been easy, but all has been worthwhile, in retrospect.  My husband and I have journeyed together for almost thirty years, and now our children are beginning to build their own foundations, of which I hope we have helped to support.

Wherever you are on constructing your own well-lived life, I wish you the gift of caring people to surround you and the peace and trust of knowing that God is the ultimate Project Manager.  May you have peace today as you look at where you are going and where you have been.  And if I have walked with you along your journey at all, thank you for the gift of your presence!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words of Comfort

The words I share today are from the Psalms, but I first heard some of them in song lyrics over thirty years ago when my brother sent me a cassette tape containing early Amy Grant recordings.  At the time, I had never heard of this artist, and soon became a fan of her songs of hope and faith in God’s WORD.  Lately I’ve been finding comfort in the Psalms, and Psalm 119 especially brings comfort during unsettling times.  If you have ever felt that your faith in someone or something has been shaken to its very core, perhaps you can understand the sentiment I express.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path (Psalm 119:105)

 I rise before dawn and cry out; I put my hope in your words (Psalm 119:147)

 In recent writings I have mentioned that this is a time of transition in the life of my family, but isn’t all of life a transitory process?  Do you find times of transition to be unsettling, too?  If so, what words of Scripture, if any, speak to you?  And do you find comfort, as I do, in our Sunday (or Saturday evening) gatherings at Mass with the entire parish community?

The older I get, the more I realize what I have yet to understand.  Wisdom is a valuable commodity that only comes through living out some of the more challenging moments of one’s life.

Let my cry come before you, LORD; in keeping with your word, give me understanding. (Psalm 119:169)

 

Storm Clouds

I have awakened to a windy, grey day.  The rain has not started yet, but its presence is near.  The ground I am standing on is parched and in need of the nourishment of late summer rain.  So, I welcome this Monday morning storm that looms on the horizon.  Bring it, I say.  Let the rain wash us and bring refreshment.  Of course, I say this, knowing that I will be safe and dry in the house or in the car on the way to work or inside the office all day.  Would I be as bold if I did not have a roof over my head, or if I relied on the city bus for transportation, as I once did?  You probably can guess the answer to THAT question, right?

As I write this, locally a Flood Watch trails across the bottom of the screen during our tv morning news and on network television, they are tracking a hurricane along the Atlantic coast.  I am mindful of this as I write these words, holding all in my prayers, hoping that the storm will lose a great deal of its fury rather than doing damage to people’s homes and places of work.

Most often, when there are storms in our lives, we cannot predict with one hundred percent certainty the outcome.  We can prepare for the worst possible scenarios, but there comes a time when we must ride out the storm and deal with the aftermath.

Whatever storms you are facing today, I hope you will find comfort in remembering that the rains always stop, the clouds always lift, and the sun returns to light our days.

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  Matthew 7:25

 

Sorting it Out

Today I offer a little reflection on a prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola that is very new to me.  I’ve chosen this because I continue to be at point in life where I’m sorting out what to keep and what to lose.

One of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, describes this period of life in the following manner: “I realize what a strange in-between place I am in. The Young Woman inside has turned to go, but the Old Woman has not shown up.”

Probably very much like you, it seems like I’ve attended far too many wakes and funerals of friends and loved ones over the past few years.  We all know just how precious each day is, and that we need to live our lives to the fullest.  That always leads me to the prayer, “Send me, LORD.  Show me the way.”  So today, I reflect on the words of St. Ignatius Loyola. His words are in Bold Font Italics, mine are not.  My hope is that perhaps reading these words will bring you comfort today on your journey, too.

Prayer for Generosity

Lord, teach me to be generous;

(Am I being generous of my time and talent, or do I pick and choose when and to whom I will share what I have?)

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

(Do I look to YOUR example in the Gospels as I live each day?)

to give and not to count the cost,

(What do I expect of others?  Am I willing to help even without getting anything back?)

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

(I am not, by nature, a fighter, but what do I truly believe?  What am I willing to fight for, when challenged?  Am I standing up for what is truly right, such as love of neighbor?)

to toil and not to seek for rest,

(I struggle with this part of the prayer, because I believe that sabbath time plays a very important part of my life in Christ…you do want us to work hard, but also to take care of our bodies and minds with proper nutrition, sleep, and down time, too, right?)

to labor and not to seek reward,

(For those of us with a high need for affirmation at times, this one’s tough!  Help me, LORD, to do what is right without expecting a thank you or a pat on the head!)

except that of knowing that I do your will.

(I will continue to pray, LORD, that I will follow your WORD and that I will be open to whatever it is you still have planned for me in the life and whatever is to come.  Help me to know you and to love you all my days.)

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you will find peace and JOY in whatever little moments you experience today.  May God Bless You and those you love today and always!

Love Letter

Our youngest child of three leaves for college soon.  As we prepared for her graduation/farewell party recently, so many thoughts ran through my mind.  What developed was a “Love Letter” for her and really, for all three of our kids.  Perhaps some of you reading this have experienced similar thoughts and prayers when your children have left home. 

As we put together a card box and sweep off the front porch for your graduation/farewell party, so many thoughts cross my mind. And not just thoughts of you, but of your brother and sister and Dad, too. Together we have lived out so many of life’s lessons. We have laughed often and cried together at far too many goodbyes. I hope you know that this one chapter in your life journey has only been the prelude to whatever happens next. While the goodbyes will be hard, the reunions each time will remind us of how strong the bonds of love and family can be! Please let those around you get to know that beautiful smile of yours and your sharp wit! Be totally YOU and don’t ever apologize for being yourself…I love you to the moon and back…thank you for the gift of being your Mom.

I keep thinking about how you will be in so many new situations.  Some are going to be exciting and some may be challenging.  Trust your instincts, or as I’ve always said, “your gut.”  Use your “lifelines…”  Phone a friend (or family member!)  Ask for advice.  Pray often.  Only your surroundings are changing.  We are all still here for you, only a text or a call or one Skype away.

You may occasionally be unsure about what to do in a situation, and even be tempted to do stupid things at times.  I hope you’ll remember all that you have learned, especially that actions have consequences.  Choose the high road whenever possible.  You’ll still mess up sometimes, but probably a lot less often.

Finally, remember that life is messy.  Situations and people are never perfect but continue to strive to look for the good in everything and everyone.  Put on a brave face and keep showing up.  Life can be hard sometimes, but you have persevered and will continue to do so!  Always remember that you are loved.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   JEREMIAH 29:11

 

Broken Yolks and Other Lessons

Our dad was a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen.  While most of the weekly cooking duties were clearly our mom’s domain, part of the Sunday morning family ritual after Mass included Bacon and Eggs.  While we kids had the job of setting the dining room table, Mom poured the orange juice and was on toast detail, but Dad watched over the bacon and eggs like he had been charged with the task of guarding the Hope Diamond. Each slice of hickory-smoked bacon was arranged almost scientifically on the broiler pan, the oven timer was set, and then he’d pull out the cast iron skillet to make fried eggs.  It was Sunday morning, and life was good, until a yolk would break, as they sometimes do, and then an expletive or two would be heard coming from the kitchen.  Dad took his eggs extremely seriously!   Nothing went on the plate if it was not just so.

My brother reminded me of our Sunday egg ritual recently when I posted an early-morning photo on Instagram with the caption, “If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry again.”    Right after my post appeared, he wrote, “Dad would’ve been so upset you did that!”  My reply was, “And therein lies the lesson!  I didn’t utter one swear word when Egg #1 broke.  I slid it over and grabbed another egg. And our dog didn’t mind the broken yolk at all!”

For my siblings and me, Dad’s “eggcitable” temperament in the kitchen was an early lesson with both good and bad messages intertwined.  To do a good job and to be careful were important lessons learned, but there was a perfectionist tone that has taken me many years to work through.  Through the years, Dad mellowed.  I’m not sure if his approach to egg-cooking ever became less intense, but through life’s many ups and downs, Dad and Mom continued to teach me many things.

The lesson I treasure most was one I stumbled upon totally by accident, when I stayed overnight at our childhood home a few years before our mom passed away.  At this point in their lives, Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease was well-advanced, and she suffered from dementia.  Our once-vibrant, funny, beautiful mother was now almost child-like and gentle, relying on our dad for so many of her daily needs.  Dad took on the role of caregiver.  The marriage vows that they had said some forty-plus years earlier began to illustrate “in sickness and in health.” But that’s not the only lesson I learned.  When I went downstairs to grab the tote bag I’d left in the kitchen, I saw them sitting together in the living room, praying the rosary together.  Dad later told me they did this every evening before bed.  I never knew this until that one visit, and it’s an image I will always remember, as it was so intimate, so very beautiful.

Our mom was buried on what would have been our parents’ forty-ninth wedding anniversary.  Our dad passed away ten years later.  While I miss them both dearly, I treasure the merciful moments like these that were part of our family’s story.  Laughing with my brother about a few broken yolks reminded me of the importance of telling our family stories and keeping the memories of those saints who have gone before us alive.

 

 

 

 

 

Grocery Store

I just wanted to get into the grocery store and get out again, as quickly as possible.  My daughter and I had divided up the list of needed items and we both had our own carts.  It was a solid plan, foolproof, so I thought, until I reached the deli counter.   A wall of customers surrounded the glass case.  Number eighty-six was lit up on the “Now Serving Customer” sign, and there was no clear path for me to even take a number.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or two, Number 87 was called.  And then the strangest thing happened.  Nobody said a word!  Nothing.  Again, a deli clerk announced, “Number 87!”  Still, silence.  I didn’t see any of the customers holding tickets, so I just asked the crowd, “ARE there numbers?”  Finally, to the left of me, a response, “It (the number machine) keeps breaking and someone has to keep opening it up for the numbers.”  “Okay, thanks,” I said, “Have you been waited on?  Ma’am, how about you?  No?  Well, you be 87, then, and I’ll be 88.”  Problem solved.  I’d get my husband’s turkey and roast beef, and head for the organic bananas in Produce.

That was the whole conversation.  Not particularly earth-shattering, but it was the following exchange that felt like a graced moment.  The woman I’ll call Number 87 was pushing one of those really cool, but extremely large shopping carts that looks like a race car, with a little toddler girl buckled in one of the two seats.  She approached me after she’d received all her deli meat.  “Thank you for letting me go ahead of you.  My husband had to take our son to go get a balloon, I know things got a little crazy, I’m sorry…”  I told her not to worry…we have three kids of our own and I miss the days when they were little.  I told her I like to see young families like hers as it reminds me of those days.  No big deal, right?  But it felt good, just the same, to spread a little sunshine.

After the bananas and two bags of shredded lettuce were secured, I headed for the soap and shampoos aisle.  On the way, though, I witnessed a very tender moment, and it stuck with me the rest of the afternoon.  A couple stood in one of the aisles, a man and a woman, and the woman was visibly upset or sad about something.  The man embraced her and leaned down and gently kissed her on her head.  I heard her quietly say to him, “Let’s just get what we need and then go.”   I moved one aisle over just so that I was not intruding on their quiet moment, but it felt very personal for some reason, and I felt privileged to have witnessed such tenderness.

It was at that moment that my daughter, now with her cart full, approached and probably wondered why the only contents in my cart were:  peppermint tea, turkey, roast beef, bananas and shredded lettuce.  I spared her the details of these special moments and efficiently located the rest of my items.  To her, it was a quick trip to the grocery store together.  To me, it was a few more life lessons on encountering Christ in the most unexpected places.  Keep your eyes and hearts wide open, friends.  You just may have your own God moment, when you least expect it, in Aisle Eleven!

Sandcastles and Sheep

There was a little toddler at the beach yesterday playing in the sand.  She kept running to the water’s edge to fill up her bucket, then would run back to the place next to her mom on the beach and pour the water into a little hole she had dug.  Every so often her mom would pop a little cracker in her mouth or hand her a sippy cup, but for the most part the little one frolicked gleefully by the water.  My daughter and I kept smiling as the little girl played, amused by the little one’s antics.

The few hours spent at the lakeshore yesterday with my youngest daughter were bittersweet.  She leaves for college at the end of next month, and as much as I say I know she is ready, in my heart I know that I am not ready to see her go.  I felt the same way when her older brother and sister left, too, but this time it is a little bit worse.  Yesterday, as I watched that little toddler and looked at my own 18-year-old girl, I realized how much of life has already passed by.  I saw grandparents at the beach with their grandchildren, and I realized that could be us in a couple of years.  How did we get here?  Where did the last thirty years go, when so much of this was just beginning?

I take these thoughts to prayer often of late and I don’t even really know what to pray for.  So, I ask God for acceptance of whatever lies ahead.  I thank God for the times we shared with our kids when they were little.  I pray for the safety and well-being of those in our family and families everywhere.  I ask that those without families of their own will have good neighbors and friends to be family to them, that nobody will be lonely or scared.  I pray with the all-too-clear realization that nothing in life is promised, especially not tomorrows, so my prayers have become fervent, pleading, incessant.

Last night at our local Newman Center, our family attended the Sunday evening Mass.  Even though the Gospel was from Mark 6: 7-13 (Jesus’ sending forth of the disciples, two by two), the homilist referenced Jesus’ conversation with Peter (John 21: 17):

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

 I don’t know why this was part of the homily, but it was important for me to hear last night after our afternoon at the beach, because Feed My Sheep has been a Scripture passage that I have used in prayer for over fifteen years.  I’ve had one or more of our “sheep” at home for the past twenty-six years, and now our “flock” is scattering.  Looks like the next question in prayer will be, “Who ARE the sheep, LORD?”  It appears I’ll have to stay tuned and find out…

Lists

People love to make lists.  There’s grocery lists, playlists, Christmas lists and bucket lists.  We write lists on sticky notes, the backs of envelopes, or when nothing else is available, on the palms of our hands.  You may think you are high tech because you use some sort of app on your phone for your list-making purposes, some of you are huge fans of spreadsheets.  Whatever the case may be, humans make lists to organize thoughts or tasks or whatever it is that we have a whole lot of!

To count one’s blessings is by no means a new concept.  People pray in thanksgiving or prayers of gratitude.  Some people write daily in Gratitude Journals or keep a jar of blessings in their homes.  We are taught at an early age to “think positively” and to “look at the glass as half full, rather than as half empty.”  In prayer, I have often used this approach, with the hopes that being filled with gratitude will continue to fuel my desire to give to others.

Today, though, my prayer took an interesting turn and I went where I least expected to go.  In my head, and on my heart began to form an entirely new kind of list, one I dare say would be extremely hard to put on paper.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12: 9

Yep, it all started with that line in 2 Corinthians yesterday.  I read it before Sunday morning liturgy, then heard it proclaimed, but today I was still thinking about those words.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  That’s where the list came into being.  I started looking back on fifty-two years of messes, heartbreaks, failures and pains.  I thought of times when life did not seem to be fair or when I was too scared or too broken or too angry to even imagine there would ever be a better day again, and yet as I looked back over all these instances and more, I began to remember the people along the way who somehow were there to offer advice or solutions or maybe nothing more than a smile or a nod.  YOUR grace, LORD, was sufficient, and in my moments of weakness or sadness or despondence, you carried me.  You lifted me.  You loved me.  Every day, if we look around, there are little reminders of just how sufficient this grace was, is and will be.  If I were not so afraid of needles, I think that would be my tattoo line!  May all your days be grace-filled, friends!