The Cardinal Sign

The Cardinal Sign

Today I feel wistful. And thankful.

Thankful for what I took to be a ‘sort’ of sign.

Now please understand – I’m not a person who looks for signs.

I lean on the One who tells me to trust in Him, not in the ways of this earth. And so I’m not searching around for material things, wondering if they hold some cosmic meaning for me.

But every once in awhile, life seems to line up in way that speaks to me of comfort and peace beyond my understanding, and the only correct response can be, “Thank you. Thank you for this moment of grace.”

Today would have been my paternal grandparents’ 76th wedding anniversary.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you’ll remember that my family celebrated their 75th anniversary with them last year (in 2017). My grandparents were in good health and in great, great spirits. However, they both passed into eternal life within weeks of the magnificent event, and the rest of us are left to contemplate how blessed we were to have this amazing couple with us for as long as we did.

All grieving families go through a mourning process that includes shock and sadness. It’s been an up and down year for each of us, but overall, it has brought us closer together. And joy has been a part of these long months, too, as we welcomed our family’s newest member – my sister’s first child, my beautiful nephew.

My heart held fast to these memories as I clasped Grandma’s gold cross around my neck for the first time this morning. My aunt just gave it to me on Saturday during our first visit together since some sad days last February.

As I held onto the necklace I was thinking about God’s words, “And behold, I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20).

I stepped over to the mirror to take a look and just then a cardinal appeared to my right in the bush outside my window.

The brightest, fattest, reddest, cardinal.

It has been said these birds are the spirit sign of a loved one you’ve lost.

And so I wondered…

I was transfixed, rooted to the spot, as it sat there swaying on the branch, its wings, head, and breast glinting in the sunlight.

It stayed long enough for me to hear my mind compete: “I will not move until it does.”

And then…finally…it cocked its head and took flight.

I firmly believe there is an unseen reality and One God who is with us always.

He lives to show us He loves us. He lives to show us His love.

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy
Photo by Jake Hills. Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton, United Kingdom. Unsplash.com

You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”

I can’t say that I was.

I was not raped.

I was not assaulted.

But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.

I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.

Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).

By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.

I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.

When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.

With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”

I want to see this.

FULL STOP.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.

He stayed.

I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.

He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.

And me?

I had identified with the woman on the screen.

‘And why?’ I asked myself.

I had not been raped.

I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.

But I never succeeded.

And now I understand.

My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.

Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.

Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.

At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.

But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.

Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?

Let’s ask for the eyes to see.

Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.

Not Sure What to Believe Anymore? Encouraging Words for Today

Not Sure What to Believe Anymore? Encouraging Words for Today

My spirit stumbled as I read my friend’s words on Facebook this morning.

“I’m not sure what I believe anymore, as these past few years have been rough.”

She lost her dad to cancer two years ago.

Her mother is battling it now.

Yesterday, one of her closest friends became a widow who will raise a beautiful little girl alone.

Maybe you’ve faced similar heartaches.

Maybe you stand in the middle of a circle of suffering and spend most of your days staring at the misery, wondering, “How could God allow all this? It’s too much.”

You don’t have to be a believer in God to feel the desperation and loss of hope that Job experienced in the Old Testament book.

In great oppression men cry out;
they call for help because of the power of the mighty,
Saying, ‘Where is God, my Maker,
who has given visions in the night…

Though thus they cry out, he answers not…
– Job 35: 9-10, 12

Our souls demand answers. When we’ve reached the ends of ourselves we turn as a last resort toward the idea of heaven. Freedom from pain.

There’s a voice I hear from time to time – a memory that comes back at pivotal moments to buttress me.

I’m standing on a street in Paris during my junior year of college, just staring at my feet, complaining about my aching legs which are sore from miles upon miles of walking. The voice of my professor speaks close to my ear.

“Look up,” she says. “Always look up.”

Begrudgingly, I do. A colorful panorama of ancient, detailed architecture framed by clear blue sky awaits me.

There is so much more to discover than the layers of grime built up on my ugly black shoes and the cracked sidewalk beneath them.

I have come to know that the words, “Look up,” were etched into my mind for an even greater reason than to remind me of how earthly pleasures can distract or numb a tired mind.

But it is idle to say God does not hear or that the Almighty does not take notice.
Even though you say that you see him not,
the case is before him; with trembling
should you wait upon him.
– Job 35: 13-14

God may seem silent. He may not answer in a way that makes sense to our feeble minds. But he is ever-present. The Alpha and the Omega – beginning and end which frame our lives and time itself. Something in us recognizes this infinite power and heeds its call when we are fully honest about our need.

Our hope for our current circumstances is to LOOK UP and continually ask for the things He promises to give: Wisdom. Peace. An ability to recognize that His ways are not ours and that even in our sorrow, He will cover us.

I used to have trouble with this. A LOT of trouble with this.

My family of origin fell apart. I was betrayed by friends. I have struggled throughout my life with the demon of depression.

But I have come to know…

Dear friends and family will come to our aid. We will have the provisions we need to live in body and spirit. God will give freely – using those around us to show us His ancient, present, and forever architecture of Love.

Why My Kids’ Shocking Post-Playground Behavior Is Good News

Why My Kids’ Shocking Post-Playground Behavior Is Good News

After school today, my youngest two kids and I visited the playground and then dropped into the church for a bathroom break before heading home. As we made our way toward the parking lot, my 6-year old son said, “I’m going to go for a walk in the Mary Garden,” and my 10-year old daughter said, “I’m going into the Adoration chapel to say the Lord’s Prayer.”

Huh? A slight wind could have blown me over.

“Uh…I stammered. Ok – no running,” I said to my little guy,” as he stared at me with a perplexed look. He had, after all, said he was going for a walk. I watched him disappear around the heavily pruned bushes.

I turned to my daughter. “And uh, remember, there will be someone in there. The Host – the Blessed Sacrament – is never left alone. Be quiet and respectful.” “Of course, Mom.” She drew in a breath, probably wondering if I was losing my mind, and withdrew into the room without a sound.

I just stood there, dumbfounded. They had sought quiet time. Unprompted. In places designed for contemplation with God.

Good God.

Yes, Good God. That’s what He is.

I wandered around for about 3 minutes and soon, my son emerged from the other side of the hedge and climbed onto the lap of a statue of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos C.Ss.R. I told him to sit next to the statue (which he agreed was more comfortable), and while he was telling me he had been studying a squirrel at play, I snapped this picture of him in all his innocence. taran-by-blessed-seelos-statue

Not long after, my daughter came out and said she’d prayed not only the Lord’s Prayer, but a decade of the Rosary – the first of the Luminous Mysteries.

By the time we got in the car I had collected myself and asked them, “Do you guys know why you wanted to spend that quiet time in the garden and the chapel today?”

“No,” they said.

“Because the Holy Spirit prompted you to. Anytime you feel invited to come spend a little time in quiet, just being at peace with God, it’s because He is seeking you. He’s your best friend and He loves you. He wants to spend time with you. I am so very glad you both listened to Him today.”

My daughter said she felt like she’d like to go again soon – maybe before school during the week sometimes.

Now that is some astounding and really good news.

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

You could tell it was a goodbye just by the way they hugged.

I saw the two women locked in an embrace as I passed them in my neighborhood. They stayed wrapped around one another for longer than two friends typically would, were it just an average parting after a breezy Tuesday lunch.

And when they pulled apart, one dabbed her eyes with a tissue, while the other patted her shoulder.

I don’t know them – don’t know what kind of a goodbye it was. Maybe an altered way or place of living? An illness that makes days less fruitful or pleasant? Or was it a more permanent farewell?

They were near the animal hospital just up the road from me, and if you’ve ever lost a beloved pet you have empathy for that kind of grief. But they were also in a driveway, surrounded by homes. And people experience all kinds of goodbyes every day for reasons far beyond our understanding.

There is suffering. There is separation. People we love go. They move from us here on earth – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And they leave this earth altogether, traveling to a place we can’t see or feel. Only heaven knows why. Only heaven can help us bridge the distances that swell up between us and those we love.

My heart lurched when I saw those women, and it’s no wonder. Today I wish I could wrap my arms around so many others who are hurting from goodbyes, too.

This day marks two years since the passing of my stepsister Claudia, the remarkable woman whose fight for her life over three weeks in an ICU became a focal point of prayer for hundreds. So many people miss her feisty spirit, yearn to see her brown-eyes dance, ache for her laugh. I owe this blog to her, and to the whisper that came to me in the weeks after she went Home, after the Lord stepped in and gave me a bravery I’d never had before, to pray publicly for her on Facebook. Desperation makes us humble. Faith makes us bold.

Grief is a terrible process, and I have no eloquent words of wisdom. It seems to me especially hard for parents, because the death of a child – no matter how old that child is – defies human logic. It goes against what we think of as the “natural order” of things. There is simply nothing to compare to the sadness I have seen in the eyes of grieving parents.

I wish I could be with Claudia’s mom Ingrid in Texas today – to hold her hand and remind her that her beautiful daughter lives forevermore with the King. She was and is God’s child, and nothing can ever separate her from His love, through the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord. But since I can’t grasp Ingrid’s hand or wrap her in my arms, I will call her. I will “reach out” with my voice.

Physical closeness can be uncomfortable for many of us, but when someone we love is gone, it’s reassuring to feel the strength of another standing by, ready to literally hold us up as waves of sorrow threaten to drown us. If you are mourning, or experiencing a goodbye of any kind, my heart and prayers are with you today. And if not, please ask God to open your eyes to where your capable hands can be ready to serve. Our world needs you, because our world needs God’s unfailing love, pouring out from your heart.

Finding the Essence of Holiness

Finding the Essence of Holiness
Assateague
Horses on the beach at Assateague Island, July 2016.

I started the day with thanks. The best way for me to start any day.

But this wasn’t just any day.

Some friends of ours had invited my kids and I down to their campsite at Assateague Island to spend an afternoon on the beach and enjoy a couple meals.

Ever since I was a little girl, when I poured over the book Misty of Chincoteague (and all the others in the ‘Misty’ series by Marguerite Henry), I had wanted to visit the islands where Spanish galleons had wrecked and descendants of their live cargo – horses – still roam wild and free.

Today was going to be a monumental day.

It turned out to be more than I’d dreamed.

We drove 2 hours from Annapolis, had lunch at the camp, and crossed the dunes onto the beach. The sight took my breath away.

Horses. Everywhere.

Bays. Chestnuts. Paints. All gorgeous. Breathtakingly gorgeous.

In that moment, I thanked God again for this day, and was reminded of the words of Anne Lamott in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.

There is ecstasy in paying attention.

You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world,

where you see in everything the essence of holiness,

a sign that God is implicit in all of creation. (p. 100)

It was impossible to look on these creatures, surviving here in this unlikely place for hundreds of years, and not see the presence of the Creator.

But that wasn’t my only moment of joyful surprise for the day.

Mid-afternoon, I saw an older woman on a boogie board taking on some huge waves and it looked like so much fun I couldn’t help myself. I ran right out there too. I never even stopped to think about how I looked: pale-skinned 40-something woman who bears all the evidence of her four decades and having birthed three kids. And I’m so glad I didn’t. Letting myself wonder about what goes on in other people’s heads robs me of the fullness of Life intended for me.

The surf at Assateague pounds the beach with tremendous force. These were not gentle lapping waves AT ALL. As I jumped into the sea and the first two swells crested, I lost my footing. The aggressive waves threw me down headfirst – one right after the other! But did I quit? No!!!  I got back on my board, sandy hair and all, and headed out to sea.

The next 20 minutes were exhilarating – riding the whitecaps and kicking back out for more – as were the following 5 when I strolled onto the beach and flopped down with all three of my slack-jawed kids. Each one kept sneaking peeks at me like they’d never seen me before in their lives. Finally, my daughter summed up what they were all thinking.

“I can’t believe you just did that, Mom.”

Yes, I did, kid. Yes, I did. And it felt so good.

Giving thanks opens us up. It changes our outlook, removes our inward gaze.

It’s kind of a sin when you think about it. To not give thanks with everything you can muster, for every good thing that comes your way.

I’m so glad I took every opportunity I could that day.

Every perfect gift is from above,

coming down from the Father of lights,

with whom there is no alteration

or shadow caused by change.

– James 1:17

For a brief video of the horses being startles by my kids’ boogie board being washed ashore, click here.

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

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We attended a wedding and got a thank-you note. But I wasn’t expecting one. The bride and groom had already sent us a note for the gift we’d given them. ‘Hmm,’ I wondered as I opened it, ‘maybe they were worried they had overlooked us, so they’re sending another one.’

Nope.

“Thank you both so much for joining us as we celebrated our big day. We hope you both had a great time as well!!”

Who does this?

Who spends postage to thank guests for their presence, instead of their presents?

Almost no one. And that’s why it’s so remarkable. And sweet.

The truth is, we are grateful to have special people with us, in good times, bad times, and in-between times. The trouble is, we neglect to tell them we are thankful that they are there.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Something to think about.

Gifts I Would Never Take Back

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We were walking to the playground to spend an hour while we waited for their sister to finish choir practice.

And when we got there – to that place I’ve been going for about 12 years – we ran into an old friend we hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked me what I’ve been up to.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

Day in and day out, not much changes, but over time, everything does.

This thought came out in a strange way.

“I take a lot of pictures, just to document the fact that they are growing.”

She smiled and said she knew exactly what I meant.

My husband and I try to give our kids myriad experiences and opportunities to try out life. A good school. Sports. Music. Days with friends. Family trips. Time alone with each of us.

I’m always checking my motivation for these gifts – many of which are expensive. The money and time we spend are investments. And although we live comfortably, we also make sacrifices.

There are bright, sunny days. And rainy, worrisome ones.

Would I change any of it?

No.

We give to our children as parents typically do – to the most of our ability and with the limited wisdom we have.

There are so many questions – about which choices will have the most impact on their lives. No one can say for sure.

But parenting is the call of our hearts – a calling we could never ignore. Love demands that we help our kids grow up. 

And they do – moving slowly away from us, a little every day.

I pray they will want to come back, to just look at us with love, when they are fully on their own.

If we feel this way, imagine how God does. Because what He gives us, He gives with perfect wisdom, and without restraint.

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

-Romans 12:29

How She Made a Good Choice

imageAs parents, we’re all doing our best to convey our values to our kids. And if we have faith, we are also hoping they will grow to share that faith in time.

Once in awhile, I am blessed with a reminder that my efforts are being rewarded.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer doing routine admin stuff when my daughter appeared at my side.

“I thought you were at Emma’s* house, honey?”

“I was. But then she and the others started watching a show I didn’t think you’d like me to watch. So I left.”

“Really? What show was it?”

“I don’t know.”

She awkwardly pushed herself into my lap – and she’s ten, so she doesn’t fit there so easily anymore. I hugged her and asked,

“What was it about?”

“Ghosts, I think. It gave me a bad feeling. I thought I shouldn’t be there.”

“A bad feeling where?” I asked, suspecting she wasn’t talking about a ‘Scooby-doo’ ghost.

She pointed to her stomach.

So I asked,

“Do you know why you felt that? Do you know Who was talking to you?”

“God.”

Yes,” I said. And I am so proud of you for listening to Him. It took courage and strength to leave that situation, and I am amazed and so glad that you did.”

She gave a big smile of relief and went off to spend the rest of the afternoon with her brothers. By bedtime last night, the three of them were worn out from laughing and wrestling so much.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on for our children’s hearts. And  today, I am so thankful my daughter is growing strong and skilled in fighting back. She heard and obeyed the Voice that has promised to lead her on the path of peace and joy.

On the way of wisdom I direct you,

I lead you on the straightforward paths.

When you walk, your step will not be impeded,

and should you run, you will not stumble.

Hold fast to instruction, never let her go;

keep her, for she is your life.

-Proverbs 4:11-13

*Not her real name.

I Forgot a Necessary Thing

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Every waking moment is an opportunity to find peace.

I rediscovered this last night, when I was awake from 2:30 to 5:30 a.m.

I know why it happened – the insomnia. I made the mistake of looking at the computer, and then the iPad, for the few hours before bed. I let myself be sucked into the black hole of cyberspace, and I lost my way in there.

Then, I didn’t pray before dropping my head to the pillow.

You’d think I’d have learned by now, because I know that this is necessary for me. I even wrote a post about that awhile back – How to Sleep Well. But we are all stubborn and slow learners, and we often fail to follow through on what we’ve learned. 

So at 2:30 I woke up – head churning with to-do lists and plans for today. After 45 minutes of trying to fall back to sleep, I gave up, went downstairs, drank some milk, made the kids’ lunches, organized clutter, and read a magazine. For another two hours.

In my meditations this morning, I heard the question, ‘What does it mean for me to have freedom within, and obedience to, God?’

The One who has taught me so lovingly was there waiting for me last night. And until the very end of my restless wakefulness, I didn’t trade my burdened mind for the light load He was offering me.

Small trials like a lack of sleep can remind us of our dependence on the routines we were designed to keep. Obedience to the deepest needs of my body and spirit enable me to have the life I want. The good life intended for me.

And in that good life comes the peace of understanding that is beyond my capabilities. In flutterings, wisdom and direction are showered on me like soft petals.

When I go it alone, I doom myself to unnecessary suffering.

“So now, O children, listen to me;

instruction and wisdom do not reject!

Happy the man who obeys me,

and happy those who keep my ways,

Happy the man watching daily at my gates,

waiting at my doorposts;

For he who finds me finds life,

and wins favor from the Lord;

But he who misses me harms himself…”

-Proverbs 8:32-36