The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

When was the last time the events of a day seemed to be pointing to bad news for you? Did things actually turn out to be as awful as you’d feared?

I shared this story with my readers several seasons ago, but this year seems as good a time as any to revisit the lessons of that fateful day. 

Re-posting this story for your holidays. Blessings to you and yours.

– Gretchen 

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

I can’t remember the year, but I know it was Christmas. And he called my brother-in-law by name. And that’s part of what set off the  tension in the air….

As I remember it, it was like this…
The doorbell rang and a 20-something guy in a fire department sport jacket was standing on the front steps of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house looking very nervous.
Photo my Les Anderson, Unsplash.
The door opened.
“Mr. D?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.”
“I’m uh. I’m uh…very sorry to tell you this. But…”
“Yeah??” my brother-in-law’s voice escalated a little.
“But, uhm. Uh…”
“YEah?”
 “I ran into your mailbox. I’m…”
“Oh, GOD!!!”
“I’m really, really sorry. The road is very icy and I just…”
“NO! No! No,” my brother-in-law was almost yelling, and beginning to let out bits of relieved laughter.
The guy in the doorway wasn’t sure what to think. He paused, dumbfounded.
“No! I…I have five brothers! I thought you were gonna tell me one of them had died!”
“Oh, God!! Oh, no!! No, man! I’m sorry.”
At this point, the rest of us adults in the house were laughing with relief too.
“It was just the fire department jacket, you know!?? And you looked so serious!”
“Well, I just feel so bad about the mailbox, and…”
“Ah no! This hill, the road, it’s ok. Really.”
“I want to pay for it.”
“No. No. Won’t let you do that. Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!”
Isn’t it funny, how in a flash, we can calculate what’s truly most important to us? My brother-in-law knew that his wife and kids were right there at home with him, so his thoughts then followed to the next ring of people he loves – his brothers. And his heart was filled with gratitude for the fact that the news was not about them.
How often do I give thanks for ill that has not befallen me? I’m not saying I should look at other people’s tragedies and say, “I’m so glad that’s not happening in my life.” But if I’m honest, on the vast, vast, vast majority of days the good so far outweighs the bad that I have no reason to dwell unnecessarily on negative things.
Rejoice always. 
– 2 Thessalonians 5:16

Hands Outstretched

imageIf you’ve ever doubted that your body is miraculous, I challenge you to simply take a close look at your hands. Stretch them out in front of you and really look at them.

Each hand is composed of 29 major and minor bones, 29 joints, at least 123 ligaments, and 34 muscles to move the fingers and thumb – most of which which are located in either the palm of the hand or the forearm, since the fingers themselves do not have muscles. A hand also has 48 nerves and 30 arteries, and nearly as many smaller branches. About one quarter of the motor cortex in the human brain is devoted to the muscles of the hands. *

But these marvelous facts still don’t do the hand justice. Hands are our most important tools. We use them to lift, pull, and push. Nearly every movement, from the smallest to the most grand, involves the hand. Hands can caress, carry, convey, correct, and criticize. They can be used for love or violence. They are powerful in every way.

So what does it mean that Christ willingly outstretched his hands and allowed nails to be driven into his wrists?

In my reflections on this Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I feel the bones in my own body, its connective tissues, and remember the fact that most of the time it functions without complaint. Then I consider the brute physicality of Christ’s sacrifice for me.

Sit in this sacred space. Study your hands and your feet. Listen to your breath. Thank Him for what he endured. Seek to understand that He did it for the greater glory of your eternal salvation, and that of all the world.

The crucifixion began. Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic, pain-reliving mixture. He refused the drink. Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground, and Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire felt for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drove a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum was then lifted into place at the top of the stipes, and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was nailed into place.

The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.

As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided.

Spasmodically, He was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences that are recorded.**

Since he endured this, surely we can recommit to paths of holy surrender to the One who loves us infinitely and far beyond our understanding. Our final thoughts on this ought to be Scripture:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

– Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)

 

**Excerpt from “The Crucifixion Of Jesus: A medical explanation of what Jesus endured on the day He died” by Dr. C. Truman Davis – A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion. New Wine Magazine, April 1982. (Originally published in Arizona Medicine, March 1965, Arizona Medical Association.) Full text available online here.

*E-hand.com The Electronic Textbook of Hand Surgery

Holy Moments – Day 21 – Take Courage

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When I heard that there would (of course) be a special Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Sunday – to pray for the victims of Friday night’s terror attacks – I thought of the votive candles. Hundreds of votive candles, carrying prayerful smoky wisps heavenward.

When I was in France twenty years ago, I saw many cathedral ceilings covered in soot. For unless a church community can afford the time-consuming and careful process required for removing centuries’ worth of grime from stone, plaster, and paint, the residue of thousands upon thousands of soulful expressions must remain.

So in many sacred places, I gazed upward into a chalky blackness that obscured colorful, inspiring art, hidden just behind.

This weekend, it was hard to look at Paris and see its beautiful view. Candles on its sidewalks, near its restaurants, in its churches, gave the ‘City of Light’ a sadder connotation. ‘Not like this,’ I thought. ‘It shouldn’t be like this.’

But faith requires looking past the present, and holding fast to a beautiful hope that is hidden – for now. And faith is also standing steady on the promises of the past, which point to a secure eternal future.

In this world you will have trouble. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 

Holy Moments – Day 20 – Our Family of Faith

My heart leapt with joy as I ran up the steps into church yesterday. The school children were singing one of my favorite hymns – the Catholic Litany of the Saints. When we sat, I settled quietly into a back pew, where I took this photo. There were six adorable third graders dressed as saints standing on the altar, and approximately 250 kids up front, with my Kindergartener somewhere in the midst of them. They are all so little – they are invisible behind adult heads.

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As often as I can, I try to attend the kids’ prayer services, and because we celebrated All Saints Day on November 1, the topic of this one was the lives of the saints. Our deacon lead us in a simple prayer.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this beautiful day.

Thank you for all the blessings in our lives.

Thank you for all the saints in heaven. 

Thank you for the example of their lives. 

May we all try to be a saint. 

Amen. 

Growing up in Protestant churches, I didn’t give much thought to the notion of saints. They seemed a foreign concept, distant from Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. But all of that changed during my junior year of college when I went to France. And perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Yes – I was a French major and studying a tremendous amount of art history, so I was surrounded by illustrations of the saints every day – in museums, in town squares, in building facades. But to truly appreciate the art of Europe, you must visit its cathedrals, where sculptures and paintings of saints are in every direction you turn. Yet this is not what led me to consider saints in a different light. The story has a subtle beginning, years earlier.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am blessed with one living grandma. But I also have a grandma in heaven.

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After suffering a stroke and then being in a coma for 11 days, my Grandma Elaine (Grandma ‘Chris,’ as we called her) passed exactly 30 years ago on All Saints Day, November 1, 1985. My mother was in such grief that she didn’t even make the connection to this Holy Day until the priest mentioned it in his funeral homily. At 12, I didn’t know what the day meant – what was special about it. But I do remember walking out of the service, into the Florida sunshine, and feeling that somehow, Grandma was ok.

Two weeks later, I woke up one morning and went directly into the kitchen to tell my mom I’d had a dream.

“Grandma was sitting at a square table,” I said, “playing cards with three other ladies. She had on a black dress with small red flowers on it. She looked so happy. Her dark hair was up, and I was walking around the table looking at her. She looked up, right at me, and smiled at me.”

Then I said, “Mom. Did Grandma ever play cards?”

My mom stood there frozen.

“She hadn’t played in years.”

To my knowledge, no one else in our immediate family had a vivid ‘Grandma dream’ like mine following her death. And the details of it have never scared me or left me.

In the time I’d known her, my grandma had also not attended church. But she was a Catholic. In fact, she converted to Catholicism sometime before marrying my grandfather.

So, when I called my mom from France and told her that I felt that Grandma was with me every time I visited a cathedral, she said, “That’s weird. She really wasn’t into church.”

All of this brings me back to the saints. What do we believe about them? We believe they are our Loved Ones, our Family of Faith. This is why we have sculptures and paintings of them in our churches, so that we will remember them, just as we have photos of our relatives and friends in our homes. And just as we ask our family and friends here to pray for us, we can ask the saints to pray for us as well. The saints are clear examples of people who truly lived Jesus’s commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) And since “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” (James 5:16), it is fitting to ask the saints to appeal to the Lord on our behalf.

While there are thousands of saints officially recognized by the Catholic church, it is accepted that the names of millions if not billions more are known only to God, just like only God knows the hearts of men. “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

For my Confirmation on April 7, 2007, I was invited to take the name of a saint, as many Catholics do for this sacrament, though it is not required. I hemmed and hawed over this decision for weeks, but finally decided that my own name “Gretchen Elaine” was sufficient. Only later did I realize – when I was confirmed ‘Gretchen Elaine,’ that perhaps I had taken a saint’s name anyway.

 

Click Catholic Litany of the Saints to hear the song and see some beautiful artwork. This song was played at the Easter Vigil when I was confirmed.

Holy Moments – Day 19 – Grandma’s Wisdom

Yesterday, when I was brooding (if you’re so inclined, you can read that post here), I heard my Grandma’s voice talking to me. I am so very, very blessed to still have her. She is 93 and breathtakingly beautiful, as you can see in this photo taken of her last year.

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She lives on the opposite coast – in Seattle, Washington. So I don’t get to see her nearly enough. But I try to call her as often as I can.

She is more precious to me than all the jewels in the world. My love for her is boundless. Today, just for a moment, I’d like to celebrate her wisdom.

When I was 11, my parents divorced, and my grandma and grandpa asked that my sister and I come spend a substantial part of our summer with them in the Pacific Northwest. They were boaters, and for several weeks in June and July we toured the San Juan Islands, stopping in Vancouver and Victoria, and dropping anchor overnight in tiny coves, where we watched the Orcas jumping playfully around the boat and listened to their calls in the darkness. It was there that my grandparents let my sister and I discover the freedom of a rowboat, and introduced us to the thrills of catching and eating Dungeness crab. One summer led into a few. They were the joys of a lifetime.

But during that very first summer, there was a cloudless day when Grandma came up to the flying bridge and sat opposite me. She was pensive, and told me she wanted to talk to me for a little. I said sure. She simply asked how I was feeling about my parents not being together anymore. I don’t remember what I said. I just remember that she was the first person who had asked me how I felt.

My world was falling apart, but she was willing to open herself up to whatever might come hurtling out in that moment. After whatever it was I managed to say, she smiled gently. “Well,” she said, “I am here if you ever want to talk about it,” and didn’t belabor the conversation.

My grandma opens doors and leaves them open. This is how she loves others so well. She listens with undivided attention and does not judge. Never once in my entire lifetime has she said anything negative about either one of my parents. And only one of them is her child – my dad. In fact, every time we talk she still asks me about my mom, and cares deeply about her welfare. The two of them visited with one another last summer. People matter to Grandma, because she is wise. She knows and trusts that Love is bigger than human failings. 

I heard her voice yesterday as I was cleaning dishes – again. I had once lamented to her that I couldn’t get the house in order – that it never seemed to be as neat as hers. She laughed and said, “Well, the work is never done.” Right there, she put it in perspective. Orderliness is a temporary facade. It will all shift soon.

So, I honor my grandma with this section of Proverbs from Chapter 8, “The Discourse of Wisdom,” which personifies wisdom, which comes from God.

Those who love me, I also love, and those who seek me find me. 

With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.

My fruit is better than gold, yes, than pure gold, and my revenue than choice silver.

On the way of duty I walk, along the paths of justice,

Granting wealth to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.

– Proverbs 8:17-21

The fruit of Grandma’s wisdom is my family’s unequivocal affection for her. She is a light we are drawn to because she exemplifies honorable character. And I look forward to hearing what she might say the next time I call her – today.

Holy Moments – Day 18 – Brooding

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This fall has been so filled with to-do lists that I feel like I’m living in a perpetual corn maze. There is no satisfaction in checking items off the list, because once an item is completed, another one is added. And the stuff on the list feels dead to me. Life-less and soul-sucking.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been many happy moments, like watching my daughter revel in the fellowship of her friends at her 10th birthday party. Like receiving more frequent hugs from my ‘tween’ son, who has seemed especially intuitive and sensitive lately. And like listening to my  kindergartener read his first words. “Mommy – It says, ‘I can go.’  See? ‘I can go!'”  Yes, indeed. Look at them go.

But so much of my time is wrapped up in doing for them that I often end up feeling depleted. I know that what helps more than anything else is to sit still and talk to the Lord. But sometimes, even then, I find myself offering up a litany of requests instead of praises. Praise and gratitude are the keys to re-turning my heart in the direction of all that’s Good and Pure and Loving…all that’s coming from Him Who is greater than everything in the world, and in me.

Yet, this is very hard when I just feel downtrodden, and put upon. Like I’m being pecked to death. If I’m not careful this kind of mood can really get away from me and I can become a fairly unlikeable wife and mother. Not that you’d know it, if you don’t live with me. But I have suffered bouts of depression and carried others down with me. It’s a brutal state, and a slippery slope. And it’s dangerous because it can be hidden. And for me, it starts with too many days passing like this.

Mind you, like most people, I can get myself dressed, fix my hair and makeup, and put on happy mask. I can smile at you in the supermarket so you’ll end up thinking, “She’s got it together today.”

But He who sees it all knows what’s really going on.

I cried out to him for the second time this morning, well after my regular prayers, and after I’d spent a couple hours at the computer and around the house, slogging through tasks as if a heavy bucket of woes was hanging from my neck.

I asked him to use my Bible. To please, speak to me.

I dropped it open and read where it fell, frantic for a message. As my heart raced and I scanned the page, I read over a section in Sirach Chapter 31 that just didn’t seem to apply at all. Growing frustrated, I heard that whisper. “Look again.”

Just one column over, in Chapter 30, under “Health of Soul and Body,” the Word came alive for me:

Do not give in to sadness, torment not yourself with brooding;

Gladness of heart is the very life of man, cheerfulness prolongs his days. 

Distract yourself, renew your courage, drive resentment far away from you;

For worry has brought death to many, nor is there aught to be gained from resentment.

Envy and anger shorten one’s life, worry bring’s on premature old age.

– Sirach 30:21-24

I realized, I was given this Sacred Scripture as my prayer for today. Perhaps you need to pray these words too.

Heavenly Father,

You are all powerful. You are All Mighty. There is literally nothing You cannot do.

You breathe Life into the dead and heal the afflicted.

Please save me from sadness and brooding.

Renew my heart with gladness and joy.

Strengthen me with Your Resurrection Power.

Drive my worries far away.

I trust in You.

I believe in You.

You are sovereign over everything – seen and unseen.

You are Lord. 

 

Holy Moments – Day 17 – Findings

Why do we keep stuff? Have you ever been unsure about why you’ve kept an item from your early life, and yet, the idea of parting with it has always seemed wrong?

I have this book….

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I think it was my parents’. Copyright 1972. According to Amazon, there are two million copies in print, but I think mine is a first edition. There are no other printings listed on the inside cover.

This morning, I read it again for the first time in decades. It was in a dilapidated box we keep in our storage room labeled “Gretchen – Childhood,” as if the sum total of those formative years can be held within crumbling walls of cardboard.

The things we choose to save reveal something about us. Or about where we were at a moment in time.

I was totally captivated by this book as a child, even though I knew I truly did not understand it.

I remember reading it at age 7 or 8 – thinking it was a pleasant story about how two caterpillars become butterflies.

At age 11 or 12, I was perplexed. See, in the beginning, two caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, are in love. But after awhile, they stop gazing only at one another and spend some time in a pile of caterpillars climbing over one another to reach something high in the sky. Sometimes caterpillars fall to the ground, and once, a caterpillar who briefly survives the fall whispers a mysterious message about “the top.” This feeds Stripe’s compulsion to climb. So he heads back into the pile, leaving Yellow behind.

By age 16, this book disturbed me. I distinctly remember trying to read it and then putting it aside. Partially because Yellow seemed insecure and too timid. I didn’t like her.

[S]he just couldn’t believe that the top was worth it all asks to get there…. 

She also felt stupid and embarrassed since she could never put her reasons into words that his kind of logic would accept. 

Yet somehow, waiting and not being sure was better than action she couldn’t believe in. 

At the same time, in the pile, on dark gray and green pages, Stripe is “determined to get to the top. He especially avoided meeting the eyes of other crawlers. He knew how fatal such contact could be….He disciplined himself neither to feel nor to be distracted.”  I didn’t like this guy either. He seemed insensitive. Eventually, he realizes his pile is just one of many and asks, “Something is really wrong but…what else is there?”

I was left confused. What did this all mean? Yellow was floundering and yet the pile was such a dark and dreary place.

Truth be told, I mostly avoided the book in my college years. My earlier experiences had made it subtly threatening. And then there were passages like this one, when Yellow meets another caterpillar who has opted to build a cocoon rather than climb. She has this troubling conversation with him:

How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. 

 “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow, remembering the three who fell out of the sky.

“Yes and No,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live. Life is changed, not taken away. Isn’t that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?”

In my late twenties, when I was newly married and my life happily consisted only of my husband and my work, I could see that Yellow’s decision to become a butterfly was a courageous leap into the unknown. But I was reaching…for something. That’s probably why, when Yellow (as a butterfly) meets Stripe at the top of pile, my heart was not moved like Stripe’s.

Looking into the creature’s eyes he could hardly bear the love he saw there. He felt unworthy. He wanted to change, to make up for all the times he had refused to look at the other. 

He tried to tell her what he felt. 

He stopped struggling. 

The others stared at him as though he were mad.

It can be read as a sweet exchange between lovers. And I think that’s what I thought. But I also had enough maturity to see this book as a metaphor for many of life’s experiences. Good enough, right? I was settled in that knowledge. I figured there was no need for me to think any more about it.

However, deep inside, I kept this book knowing it was not for sentimental reasons. The story had taken me on an emotional ride for my entire life. Nevertheless, it went (in its box) into storage.

That was about fifteen years ago, when I was blind to this story’s application to my life. But as the years passed, both of Stripe’s and Yellow’s feelings described me.

Feelings of unworthiness? Check.

Desire to change? Check.

Shame that holds you back from the tender gaze of Love? Check.

Inability to describe the inner struggle? Check.

In my thirties, I did what Stripe ultimately does. I ignored the voices who told me I was ‘mad’ – some of them internal, some of them not – and climbed down from the pile to build a cocoon. And in the space of submission and quiet, I allowed myself to be led on a process of growth that included letting go of my preconceived notions about success, a confession of all the ways I had done wrong in my life, and a surrender to Perfect Love. Real Love. The Grace from above, freely given. Sacrificial. To the point of death. On a cross.

And somehow, in becoming less, I became more of who I really am. The person I was always meant to be.

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17

Hope for the Flowers has a new home: on my shelves of old treasures.

Holy Moments – Day 16 – Les Jacobins

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My daughter asked me last night why we have to sleep. (This kid would absolutely forgo it, if she could.)

I told her that I didn’t have a detailed answer for her, but that scientists tell us we need to relax our brains – to give them a rest from everything they’ve been processing all day long. If we didn’t get a break every night, our minds wouldn’t function well. They would just be overloaded with too much information that would become a tangled mess as we tried to sort it all out.  Our minds need time to throw out garbage and put important items into long-term storage.

Whether this made sense to her or not, I don’t know. But this morning, in my studies and on FaceBook, one name kept popping up: Thomas Aquinas. And once again, I was taken back to that pivotal year in my development: 1992-1993, my junior year of college when I studied abroad in Toulouse, France. I often think that if I had been forced to process everything I was exposed to in that year, in the time I was experiencing it, my brain just might have exploded. The lessons I was taught – academically, interpersonally, and spiritually – have lasted to this day, and more is being revealed to me as the decades pass. I have needed time, rest, and maturity to take it all in. If there is one year of education I haven’t thanked my parents for enough – this would be the one.

So, for the duration of this 31-day series, don’t be surprised if I’m revisiting France a few more times. I’m not trying to relive my past. The Lord just keeps bringing it back, because there were holy moments there. And I was aware of them the time, but I didn’t have words to speak about them. And He was taking me on a journey…

Now – me and Thomas Aquinas.

It was September 1992 and my fellow students from the Dickinson College study abroad program were with an art historian preparing to enter a church near the town center of Toulouse, Les Jacobins. It dates from 1350, and from the outside, it looks like this:

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The floor plan is unusual, and that’s the first thing you notice when you get inside. In 2011, there was some extensive work done on the church to secure its foundation, so I’m not sure where you enter now, but when I was there, you came in at the door above the letter ‘C’ on the floor plan pictured here.

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At the far end of the nave is the Jacobins’ famous column, admired for its architectural originality. Ten palms cascade out from its center. Here you can see the church’s narrow space and some of the green and red detail of the palms in the column.

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In this quiet hall, under the altar, lies the tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas – one of the ‘doctors’ of the Catholic Church, an exemplary thinker and saint whom many, if not most, consider the preeminent theologian of the Catholic faith.

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I was nineteen when I entered this room in September 1992.

I was captivated by its beauty.

And intrigued by its complicated ceiling.

And it’s here that I realized I was ignorant.

Truly, ignorant.

When I arrived in France, I knew next to nothing about Catholicism or the growth of the Church in Europe.

Our art historian teacher was passionate about this building. She talked about the stones, the stained glass, the Dominican Order, the history of the attached cloister, and its enclosed garden. We would come to spend a great deal of time with this lady, and though she never professed faith of any kind, I came in time to understand that what she was describing in each church we visited was an unfolding story of a people giving glory to God.

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I visited many, many churches in Europe that year.

Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris.

Chartres Cathedral.

Midnight Mass in the Cathedral at Strasbourg.

St. Peter’s in Rome.

The Duomo in Florence.

Westminster Abbey.

Each one of these masterpiece cathedrals is worthy of a long visit and is a cherished artifact of history.

But Les Jacobins is the church that has stayed with me. I think of it more than any other.

Why?

Perhaps because it was where I realized there was so much I didn’t know. And in the silence of the rooms, which I came back to on my own throughout my time in Toulouse, I realized that not knowing was acceptable.

At a time in my life when I was anxious to figure it all out, to have the answers to life’s biggest questions – Who am I to love? Who loves me? What should I be doing for a career? Where will I go? How will I make it? What will become of me? – At this soul-searching time, my soul found respite here.

It was here that I could sit still. That I could listen to a concert. That I could just stare. At a ceiling. At the arches. And enjoy it.

By calling me back to revisit Les Jacobins time and again, God was opening His arms and saying, “Come. Rest in me.”

Holy Moments – Day 15 – Secret Dream

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Hearing encouragement from the right person can make all the difference.

I have a friend who spoke the secret of my heart out loud.

She had no idea that’s what she’d done at the time she said it. But with her words, she gave a dream wings.

“You should be a writer.”

In the very early days of writing my blog, it was her voice that gave me the confidence to click the ‘Publish’ button.

And to write again.

I quickly realized I needed to thank her.

So I did.

And then, well, grace came back to find her, too.

Because in big and small ways, that’s what He does.

Our emails mark the trail….

From: Gretchen  
Sent: Sun 10/05/14      4:20 PM
To: Laura 

Laura,

So, I’m sharing this with you because I keep feeling prompted to do so…probably because on more than one occasion now you’ve told me I should be a writer. Whether you were serious or not, I don’t know, but you couldn’t have known you were speaking truth to a private dream.

So – after years of thinking about it, I’m finally taking the leap and trying a little bit….[I] created a blog…It isn’t perfect…I’ve posted for 3 days and hope to be faithful to it….I hope you’ll pray for me. 🙂

Here’s the link….

Blessings,

Gretchen

 

From: Laura
Sent: Mon 10/06/14      10:07 AM
To: Gretchen

Wow Wow Wow…

I had just arrived home from taking the kids to school. I was still sitting in the garage waiting for Joel Osteen to come to a break in his talk so that I could run the XM radio inside to finish listening there. I was debating whether this particular episode was even worthy of my time as I had to get on with my “daily duties” and it wasn’t particularly striking a chord with me. I decided to ease my guilt by multi-tasking – I began to check the emails on my phone.

He kept stressing the point about how even a passing statement to someone that seems like nothing, could mean the world to them. We have no idea about how we can affect the course of someone’s life. We should never underestimate ourselves and the power of our words. I thought, “Ok. Makes sense. Still, no big aha moment.” …and then I opened your email…I may not have given any propulsion to your dream, but I feel like God was telling me, “Yes, even YOU, Laura.” My fists were clenched and waving as I audibly got the willies- in a joyful way. God is fun sometimes!

I went to your blog and read every last bit. You are amazing! 3 People?!

I hope you shout it from the rooftops so that everyone can experience your talent and inspiration! (add to favorites-click!)

In the meantime, I WILL pray for you and I will remember today’s message for a long time.

L

 

From: Gretchen
Sent: Tue 10/07/14       7:53 PM
To: Laura

Laura,

What an awesome experience to have all of those “promptings” for me to tell you then come together so that Monday morning you would get your God moment. He really is amazing. :).

Thank you again for the encouragement. I think the three followers are all friends…. My confidence goes up and down.

I’m certainly not ready to post it to FB or anything.… Facing that fear is hard.

But anyway – every bit of support is awesome, and helps me feel like maybe I’m on the right track.

Blessings,
Gretchen

 

I did eventually post to FaceBook and over time, in infinitesimally small ways, living a secret dream started to feel less scary. More like taking flight.

Holy Moments – Day 14 – The Path

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From 2006 to 2007, I went through 9 months of RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the education and discernment process by which adults enter the Catholic Church. We met weekly to learn about the faith and the Church, familiarizing ourselves with terminology and concepts that previously seemed foreign. It was a deliberately slow but thorough process, designed to allow for reflection and consideration.

I had been curious about RCIA for years – ever since the 1999 wedding reception of two dear friends, where I was seated next to the officiating priest. He was the first person I’d ever met from Malta. But he really drew me in when he told me he was finishing up his dissertation at Catholic University, focusing on the role of imagination in faith.

In college, I double-majored in French and English, and I loved all things related to art and literature. If you bring up the topic of imagination, I will stick to you like glue. Almost needless to say, this priest and I had a lengthy, meaty conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the other guests at our table.

This gentleman told me about RCIA. But looking back over my life now, I can see that this encounter was like so many others. The Lord had His hand on me, and had arranged this meeting to knock gently on the door of my heart.

On the first night of RCIA, our deacon’s wife led us in an exercise. She said something along these lines:

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Imagine you are walking on a quiet path, meandering over gentle green hills. The sun is warm but not glaring. There are light, puffy white clouds in the sky. A breeze blows across your face. You are, in every way, comfortable.

Someone is coming up behind you. You look back. It is a man. You turn to move aside but he does not push past. Instead, he looks you in the eye and smiles a friendly smile. Then, he falls in step with you. How do you feel?

As the script continues, we learn from the description of the man that this is Jesus. As I imagined the scene, I was overcome with a peace I’d never felt before. All my life, I’d seen paintings, sculptures, films – other people’s representations of the risen Christ, but I had never spent a long moment deep enough in thought to visualize Him for myself. It was a powerful experience. And a turning point for me.

I felt just like the two disciples who encounter Christ after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus.

Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

-Luke 24:32 

Now, when I pray, I seek His face. I look for that same face that I saw on my walk.

What a day it will be when I can truly see Him.