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.

Are You A Welcoming Person?

Are You A Welcoming Person?
Photo by Remi Walle. Unsplash.com

I’ll tell you this story – not because it makes me look good – but because it doesn’t.

Sunday I was sitting with my family at the 5 pm Mass, having finally made our way there after a long Thanksgiving weekend filled with fine, rich food and lots of family in two states. I had spent a little time over the previous days praising God for his goodness, and even more time thanking Him for my blessings, but it quickly became obvious my heart wasn’t right for the worship service.

I remember my husband telling me early in our marriage (before I became Catholic), that you shouldn’t be late for Mass, but if you were, you needed to get there before the Gospel was read – the third of the Scripture readings. On a Sunday, this generally occurs about 15 minutes into the service.

And so it was that just as the Gospel started, three 20-something guys in baggy pants and hoodies moved swiftly and quietly to the front of the church and slid into the pew directly in front of me and my family.

Something about them made me uneasy.

Was it their very late arrival?

Was it their dress?

Two of them sported scruffy beards and fringed, unkempt hair and the other had shaved his head. Strong, subtle curves of youthful muscle filled out the shoulders of their large sweatshirts.

Was it the way they seemed unprepared for the service and restless upon the decision to sit?
The one closest to me – the one with the shaved head – was fidgety.

My thoughts raced and images of a mass-shooting at a church in Texas flashed through my head.

God forbid.
How awful of me to think….
Am I always this jumpy and judgmental?
Ugh, if I am – I’m truly awful.
But…my anxiety is for nothing.
Do I have such little faith?
What am I afraid of?
Who do I trust?
I trust you, Lord.

No sooner had I thought this than my focus returned and I looked down at the Scripture in my lap. I heard the Word proclaimed, read in every Catholic Church around the globe on this very day.

’Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ -Matthew 25:44

The homily came and I listened. Then it was time to greet one another with the words, “Peace be with you.”

The young men turned to face us one by one with cautious, unsure expressions. They hesitated before leaning over the seat to shake our hands.

I felt shame and Love flood my body.

“Peace be with you,” I heard myself say to the one closest to me, and as I grasped his hand, his deep brown eyes softened at the corners. His shoulders eased back as he took a breath and returned the greeting with a tiny smile.

When Communion came, the three filed out of the pew and stood aside to let an elderly couple out. But then, they turned away without receiving the Eucharist, and left the church.

I took Communion and kneeled to pray, waiting to see what I would be led to pray about.

People make more of prayer than it is. It is a simple conversation, and when I let God lead, He brings people to mind who need my prayers.

Eyes closed, my thoughts wandered for a moment.

Lord, I thank you for my husband and my kids.

BOOM.

I saw the face of the young man who was sitting in front of me just moments before, the other two behind him.

Pray for them, came the not-so-subtle holy prompting.

And so I did.

And I have – on and off – imperfect as I am – throughout this week.

I may never see those men again – will probably never know WHY I need to pray for them or how whatever it is that’s going with them turns out.

But none of that should matter to me.

It’s not my place to be concerned about results. My place is to follow and obey the One who cares for – and welcomes – all.

People who are in need of welcome surround us every moment of every day, and we are often blind, or worse – unsympathetic – to them.

Souls suffer from myriad kinds of prisons, illness, and hunger.

Every person we meet has an interior life which is known only by God but which requires the Love His people are called to offer unconditionally.

In God’s eyes, welcome is the first action of Love.

This Christmas season, may we have eyes to see where welcome is truly needed, so that from there, we’ll have hearts open to giving, and souls ready for joyful sacrifice.

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.

Jeep daBeep!

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Red!”

“Jeep daBeep, the color’s….Silver!”  (Or Blue! Or Black! Etc.!)

In the case of this one (see photo), a small argument ensued:

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Child 3 (with utmost enthusiasm): “Jeep daBeep, the color’s Light Tan!”

Child 1: “No, it’s not. It’s Brown.”

Child 2: “No, Cream.”

Mom: “Whomever calls it first, calls the color. It’s light tan.”

And I smile. Because this simple game has me smiling all the time. Silly, but true! The kids have been playing it for several weeks now. Every time a child sees a Jeep Wrangler (Cherokees don’t count) he or she shouts this, in an “inside voice.” (Yes, we’ve had that discussion too. I am driving after all.) There is no point to it all, no score keeping whatsoever. And in time, more car games have been folded into this one. They yell out these as well:

“Zingo!” – a lime green car, but taxis don’t count

“Bingo!” – a yellow car, but again taxis and cars with corporate logos don’t count

“Buggy!” – a Volkswagen bug

“Red Booster!” – my littlest guy’s own creation – any red car, but trucks don’t count

And the best of all – “Bingo Buggy!!” – a yellow VW bug.

I’ve noticed that the pace of this game has picked up dramatically in the last two weeks, and a rationalist might say that it was going along at this same rate for awhile and I just never noticed, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. I actually think my kids’ enthusiasm for spotting particular cars is part of the answer to a little prayer.

A couple weeks ago, in my study time with God’s Word, I just offered up a small request – for a little more joy in my everyday living. I have many ‘serious’ prayer requests every day: for an end to violence against women and girls around the world, but especially those suffering at the hands of ISIS; for persecuted Christians; that families would be healed and brought back together; for friends and family in need….The list goes on. But I also asked for more joy. It was right at the very end, almost like an afterthought. But you know, God sees and hears everything. I sometimes forget that, even when I’m giving him my list of supplications.

Just recently, I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus cures a paralytic and later a man who is blind and mute. The crowds are astounded. But in both cases, Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities – in the first case, the scribes, and in the second, the Pharisees. Both times, as Jesus speaks with these critics, a verse in Scripture is repeated: “Jesus knew what they were thinking,” (Matthew 9:4) and “But he knew what they were thinking” (Matthew 12:25). Standing there among men, having assumed the human form, the Lord knew what was in their minds and hearts.

This is the marvelous mystery of prayer. In turning to Him, we begin to express what he already knows about us, and we enter deeper into that intimate relationship which He so desperately wants to have with each one of us. And He misses nothing. Not even the half-uttered last sentence before the ‘Amen.’

The past two weeks have been chock-full of fun for me, and I am really looking forward to this summer. In several social events and even small visits with friends, I’ve caught myself laughing – deep, rolling belly laughs – the kind doctors say are good for your health. My life is happy, yes. But it was happy before. This is different. I’m a fairly reserved person – now one who is smiling a little bit more. Because I asked for JOY. And He presented me with many opportunities to feel it and live it. He is the Great Giver. Oh how He loves to give!

And in the past couple days, as I’ve understood that a prayer was answered, I’ve added on to the kids’ game too. Now, when one of them yells, “Jeep daBeep!” I grin and think to myself, “Praise God!”

“Jeep daBeep!”  Praise God! 

Day 18 – Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Last night, my preschooler startled me during bedtime prayer. There we were, heads bowed, him saying the traditional ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ which we modify at the end by asking God to bless each member of our little family (including the dogs), when suddenly he added someone else. “And Lord, please make Ava and Charlotte’s* daddy, who is in the hospital, better.”  My eyes shot open. Then, after a big sigh, and squinting his eyes even harder closed, he added the most tender, heartfelt “Amen” I’ve heard in awhile.

‘Amen’ means ‘it is certain.’  I think of this every time I say it. It girds me up, gives me strength and hope, and I picture the worldwide community of believers who trust in the evidence of things unseen. But watching my child say it?  Wow. He was so sincere – totally devoid of any doubt, fear, or distrust.  He reminded me:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,

and do not hinder them,

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 

— Matthew 19:14

The parallel verses – Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16 – are nearly identical. It must have been quite a moment there with Christ, since children then were not considered as significant as adults, and the gospels vary in accounts of other events, but not this one.

It’s easy for me to think cynically here and say, ‘Oh, but young children…my son – he doesn’t have abstract thought yet. He’s not mature enough. He doesn’t have adult concerns. He can’t see the big picture.’  All true, and yet….

I think of my son’s small hands, folded together.  He remembered to pray for his friends’ dad – someone I don’t even know – because at preschool he heard about this man’s need.

Lord, what are your other plans for how this little one might serve you, and what are you trying to teach me, as you see me watching him?

* Not their real names. 

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

cropped-g_easternshore2014.jpgThree deaths over the last month have left me tired…..and sad. My beloved great aunt……a dear friend’s niece who took her own life… and my stepsister –  who passed after nearly 4 weeks in the ICU fighting to recover from extremely rare childbirth complications.  It’s my stepsister’s passing that brings me most often to my knees. I cry out to the Lord on behalf of her third child, a now 1-month old baby boy who will never know his mother.

They say there is a cycle of grief.  It has various stages. And I’m watching devastated people go through it now.  But in the midst of all this anguish, I  have been blessed to remain thankful and aware of God’s infinite goodness. I have also been given new opportunities to serve Him, and follow Him more closely – sometimes in ways that push me beyond old boundaries. I posted a prayer for my stepsister on Facebook. And soon, the family requested more.  It seemed the Lord wanted to use me.  It made me both nervous and strangely excited – not because people appreciated my writing, but because I had stumbled upon a way to really serve. And I learned – when there are people hurting, perhaps then more than ever, the Lord wants me step out of my safety zone and walk in new terrain, keeping my eyes on Him.

About 10 days ago, I saw the invitation from Myquillin Smith to take the 31-Day Challenge and write in October. I could hear the whisper that always leads me to good places — “Try this” — and felt that tinge – of joy.  And as I sat down to write tonight, I remembered a verse I taped to the front page of one of my journals four years ago when I first intended to write in earnest – but never really did.

A bruised reed he will not break,

a smoldering wick he will not quench….

             —  Matthew 12:20

The Word is full, so full, of promises. And for myself and so many people I love, I am holding on to this one right now.  Whether we are writing or just trying to get on with living day by day, the terrain in my world seems new and tough.  We are bruised and bent over, trampled and beaten down, hardly like flames alight. But when I fix my gaze on Him, when I ready myself through surrendering prayer, I am given all the strength I need.

Lord, help us. Thank you for the confidence you’ve given me – the knowledge that you alone are fully trustworthy, and that you are my only true help – my Savior.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.