You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

Valentine’s Day is upon us. The celebration of the heart.

Three years ago, my daughter and her friend made Valentines for our whole neighborhood.

No. I’m not kidding.

(If you aren’t familiar with it, feel free to read the story above by clicking the purple words and then come back.)

I was astounded by the girls’ actions, and I’ve never forgotten watching them spread light in a dark world.

I was in awe of their enthusiasm. I was enamored with their openness.

They reminded me of a simple lesson: Don’t ignore a generous impulse.

Even if you are not a Jesus-believer, you probably know this verse, a favorite of mine:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

Notice, there are no caveats in that command. (i.e. Only love those who love you, who live with you, who look like you, who are convenient to love, etc.)

If you’re really going to do it right, love demands a lot.

Walking in faith, you learn from experience that loving well isn’t something you do by yourself.

Knowing True Love is being in relationship. With Someone. The One.

He – the Spirit – makes it possible for us to really love others, because we alone do it so very, very poorly.

We think that Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love. And for most people, it is. But I would argue that it can be so, so much more. Because the world needs LOVE — in all its biggest and most brilliant, and smallest and very humblest forms.

I was thinking along these lines when I gave a short presentation to a group of 20 women a year ago. I told them the story of my daughter and her friend, and I explained the following:

“Don’t ignore a generous impulse. We all know that our world is beautiful, but broken. Lately, when we read the news, it may seem particularly dark and ugly. But the light isn’t far off. It lives within each of us. And we see it when we give it away….While many people told the girls how much they had appreciated the Valentines, the real gift the girls received was the joy they’d given themselves.”

Following the promptings of the Spirit will in all likelihood move us beyond our comfort zones. But how is God ever supposed to share ALL THE LOVE He has to GIVE if WE don’t step out and SHARE IT with OUR very own hands?

After speaking, I gave out 20 very basic valentines that I’d put together myself, and I invited the group to think about the people in their lives. Friends. Colleagues. Neighbors. Acquaintances.

I asked:

“Do you know a woman who was just diagnosed with a devastating illness?
Do you know someone going through a divorce?
Have a coworker who has a troubled child?
Have an elderly neighbor who lives alone?
Is there someone in your circle who is bearing a heavy, heavy burden?
Is there someone you can just tell feels hopeless?
Is there someone who seems fearful?
Is there anyone you haven’t thanked for a kindness you’ve been shown?

Valentine’s Day is about love, and we can make it about so much more than romance and friendship between elementary school classmates. Let’s use it as an opportunity to reach out and say, “I see you, I value you, and I care about you.”

We wrote those Valentines to the people we felt might need a bit of True Love, and gave them away.

Maybe tomorrow, you could buy or make a simple note, and then extend your heart and the Spirit to someone in your circle who might appreciate a little something sweet.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7)

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.

How She Made a Good Choice

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.

My Own Glimpse of Heaven

Do you know you are seen?

Do you believe, in your heart-of-hearts, that God is watching over you?

Do you believe God hears your cries of weariness, your frustration, and your desperation of silent dreams unfulfilled? The whispers of your soul?

I didn’t. Not really. I mean, I was trying….to believe. But I’d been through enough of life to know that true faith is a leap off a ledge. And God only knew what would happen if I actually took that step, instead of inching along the crumbling path of so-called certainty.

My mother-in-law was just trying to make happy plans when she said, “Then there will be Gretchen’s confirmation. We’ll have to celebrate that.”

It was sometime in the fall of 2006 and she was looking ahead to Easter. I was going through RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – the process by which adults enter the Catholic Church.

“No,” I said, perhaps too forcefully, and looked at my husband.

“No,” he affirmed, “We’re not going to have a party for that.”

Because I didn’t want one. I wasn’t ready. The journey to get to this point in my life had already been so difficult that I sort of wanted the day to be just about…. me. And God.

As I’ve explained to many, many women in my Bible study groups over the years, I truly believe that discord and division among Christians must break the Lord’s heart. And my feelings on this subject stem from having been raised in a variety of churches, combined with the fact that my parents divorced when I was eleven, and subsequently pursued divergent paths in Christian denominations. Because we had also moved around frequently, we had never had a ‘church home’ to help guide me, and as my parents’ marriage deteriorated, my ability to understand God’s unfailing love, did as well.

As a child, the only message I retained from many homilies I heard was the “hellfire and brimstone” picture of life without Christ. My fear of God was deep and real. And it wasn’t  the “fear” mentioned in Scripture, which is respectful – the kind one should have for a loving father whom you don’t want to disappoint. No – this was abject fear. How could I love this God?

For years, I couldn’t sit through any church service, of any denomination, without crying. In a way I couldn’t explain, my soul seemed drawn to be there, but hearing the Word brought tears my eyes and terror to my heart. My family was torn apart and it seemed that God was at the center of it all. I just couldn’t make sense of how I felt, of how my story was being written. So much healing was needed.

So when I began RCIA, I truly embarked upon it as a period of discernment. Bless the heart of Deacon Moore, who led our program, because a tiny part of him probably wanted to get rid of me by the end. Every time we met, I asked more questions than a six-year old boy watching his father work on a car.

As I’ve written in other blog pieces, RCIA was one of the greatest experiences of my life. By Holy Week, we had reached the end, and I was to be confirmed at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Holy Week was full of exciting opportunities to prepare our hearts for the sacrament we would soon receive. Sunday – The last time our RCIA group would leave Mass together before the Eucharist to discuss the day’s Scripture readings. Monday – Mass at the Basilica in Baltimore, when the parish’s Chrism oil for the year would be blessed and brought back to our church. Thursday – The Maundy Thursday service – where priests would wash the feet of RCIA candidates, as Jesus did for his disciples at the Last Supper. Friday – The Good Friday Service – where the deacon would carry a full-size cross to the front of the church for us to touch….and remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of pure, selfless love.

I missed every single event.

During stressful times I get migraine headaches, and that week I had one of the worst migraines of my entire life. I spent every day in bed, silently crying about what I knew I was missing. On Saturday afternoon, my husband came into our darkened room. He said, “Try to tell me what it is.”

“I feel like I’m turning my back on my upbringing and my family. And I’m still not ready to tell them,” (It would be awhile before I did.)

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I know. But I want to. I really want to.”

That’s when he gave me a beautiful cross necklace – St. Brigid’s cross – and I was so surprised. It never occurred to me he might give me a gift for this occasion.

I got myself dressed, put on my new necklace, and popped one more of the useless precription pills I’d been taking all week. The sitter came. And my husband (who was also my sponsor for the sacrament) and I left for the church.

Brigid's Cross

In the narthex to the large sanctuary, the deacon approached me. “I’m glad to see you here,” he said gently. “I was worried about you.” I told him I just hadn’t been well, and I smiled through the incessant pounding in my head. Our group processed in and took our seats.

At a special point in the ceremony, I was asked to stand and profess my faith. I stared with glassy eyes at the altar as the priest spoke these words to me and the others.

Priest: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Candidate: I do.

Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried,
rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Candidate: I do.

Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Candidate: I do.

In the millisecond after I said the last “I do” the splitting pain in my head vanished.

Vanished.

I felt as good as I’d ever felt on an absolutely perfect day. No worries. No concerns. Nothing but an absence of pain and a clear, refreshed mind.

A few moments later, I moved to the front of the church and stood, with my husband behind me, his hand on my shoulder, as our pastor, Father Kingsbury, stretched out his hand and prayed for me and the others:

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

In my hand was an index card with my confirmation name: Gretchen Elaine. Some people take a saint’s name. I hadn’t settled on one and figured my own was sufficient.

I handed the card to Father Kingsbury when he stopped directly in front of me, with Deacon Moore on his left, and another of my teachers, Father Harrison, on his right.

“Gretchen Elaine,”I heard Father Kingsbury say as I closed my eyes and he anointed my forehead with the Chrism oil, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

I opened my eyes.

It is very difficult to explain what I saw – but it just may be my first glimpse of heaven.

Brilliant, white, and golden light surrounded the three men. The space seemed positively filled with it. And I was filled with, and surrounded, and bathed, in this radiant light. All my fear was gone. Head to toe, I was flush in a spirit of wonder and awe, and I knew I was smiling broadly into the glowing faces before me. I was warm and comfortable all over. It was pure bliss.

I didn’t want to leave that spot before the altar, but it was time to return to our seats.

As we settled in, I said to my husband, “Did you see that light?”

“What light?”

“Up on the altar. All around them.”

He looked in the direction where my eyes were searching – the spot where the second miracle of my night had occurred.

“The lights are on,” he said quizzically.

And then I knew – the light had been for me. And the healing had been for me. Me alone. Because He sees me. He knows my story. He knows every last bit of it, and no matter what has happened or just might happen yet, He is in control. And He loves me. 

In time, I would tell my parents about my faith journey, and their responses would be more grace-filled than I ever could have dreamed. Both of them are fellow travelers on the road to eternal life with the Lord, and we have wonderful discussions about how He works in our lives. Christian unity is at the heart of my relationships with them.

If you seek Him with your whole heart, you will find Him. He sees you. And He loves you. Regardless of whether you know Him, feel Him….whether you doubt His existence or not. He’s real. He is listening to the whispers of your soul.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom

a light has shone.” 

-Isaiah 9:1

Liturgical Text for the Easter Vigil Service was copied from this document, provided by the Diocese of Owensboro.

Holy Moments – Day 2 – 106 Women

WWP_STMStartFlowersOctober 1 was a monumental day for my parish. A handful of us had been praying for years – YEARS – for that day. We wanted to host a particular Bible study for women. But space is very limited in our historic church, and there were many obstacles. Yet, when God’s timing is right, doors just seem to fly open.

And they did. In the span of a few months, a team of us started gathering interest. And then it happened…Women began registering for our study. More women signed up. More than we expected. And on that rainy night – they came out for the first meeting. 106 of them to be exact.

106 women walked through the doors to begin our parish’s chapter of a growing nationwide Catholic Bible study called Walking With Purpose (WWP). I have been a participant and group leader in this study at another local parish for the past 5 years, and have experienced healing, transformation, and a deep conversion of heart that is difficult to fully express in words. The women I have met have become steadfast friends. Sisters, really. And I look forward to going to Bible study like I look forward to seeing beloved family members.

So why is this a holy moment? Because I KNOW what’s in store for these ladies. I know of the goodness that they are about to taste. And I am thrilled for them.

Today is Thursday again – time for WWP.  Our numbers are now 112. My adrenaline is pumping. The work of the Holy Spirit that is being done through this ministry changes lives. I am witnessing it with my own eyes, and thanking God for what He has done, and will do.

 

Claudia’s Day

image“Mom – Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?”

It is the penultimate question. Asked on a big day. But my daughter had no way of knowing that. I haven’t told her that today marks one year since my stepsister Claudia entered heaven. That Claudia is on my mind. In my heart. And always will be.

“I don’t know.” I answered honestly. “But God is much smarter than we are, and we have to trust him. He wants the best for us – to keep us with Him forever. And while bad things may happen in our lives, He just wants us to lean closer to Him when they do, because if we do, He promises to protect us always in the end. Because while our bodies hurt, our souls are protected. Forever. When we choose Him.”

I was preaching to myself as much to her.

September 13, 2014, my family lost Claudia to complications following childbirth. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks as Claudia fought for her life in the ICU, my family and I spent hours on our knees, and I posted prayers for her on Facebook. And when she passed, I was emotionally exhausted for weeks.

What many find strange is that I didn’t know Claudia all that well. My father and my stepmom had been married at that point for 12 years, and had 7 grown children between them when they met. My stepmom is from Chile, and over the last decade or so, most of her 5 children had remained there. So, I only met Claudia in person about 3 times. Nevertheless, we were family, and when family is in crisis, family comes together. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the power of the Holy Spirit when He  intervenes. And it was completely His work in using me to pray for Claudia. I felt a love for her like I would for my blood sister, whom I’d known for 39 years. I was ready to pray for Claudia day and night. I wanted to know every detail about her health status, the care of her baby, the welfare of all those closest to her. There was a holy fire lit in me that I still can’t explain. I just loved her. And I knew that Jesus had called me to this privilege. And the next thing I knew, I began to write down my prayers on Facebook.

I had never before done something like that. Never before had I put my faith before a public audience. And I was completely unafraid. I felt the boldness and confidence of the Lord in my heart and it brought me joy and peace to appeal to Him daily on behalf of Claudia.

Within a couple weeks, I felt another nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin this blog, and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t been primed for the experience by writing prayers, I either would have ignored this nudge, or backed down from it out of fear.

So that’s what I want to say today. I want to thank my sister Claudia for opening a new door for me. I have always thought it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to write this blog, to accept that 31-day writing challenge that started it all. But the other day, I had a passing notion – ‘Hey – What if she was the one who came up with the idea? Maybe whispered it in Jesus’s ear? Hmm? Can these things happen in heaven?’

I don’t know. But this last year of writing and following through on that holy nudge has been her lasting gift to me, and I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

What He Sees

 

The room was dark, and I snuck in as quietly as I could with a pile of warm, folded clothes. I avoided the squeaky floorboard in front of the dresser, carefully opened drawers, and put away little socks, t-shirts, and shorts. I was just about done when a sleepy young voice called out from under the bed covers.

“Thanks…cleanin’ my clothes, Mom.” 

He was three. My oldest son. I had tucked him in a half hour before, and thought he had fallen asleep. Guess not. 

That was nine years ago. But I will never forget how his simple ‘thank-you’ touched the very deepest part of my heart. 

On days like today, as the laundry piles up, I’m scrubbing bathrooms, and washing dishes, I am so thankful when I remember his words. When once again, I hear his little voice.  

We can be tempted to think that no one sees what we do. That our everyday ‘behind-the-scenes’ work doesn’t amount to much. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God sees us. He appreciates our efforts. 

And He knows our hearts. He’s talking to them….through other people, in quiet stillness. If we listen, we can hear Him. 

He can even encourage us through memories that He knows bear messages we need to hear again and again. And our hearts, tethered to God, recognize those messages as divine Truth.

As Jesus told us, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)



Day 25 – The Little Plant

My daughter’s little plant, in its clear plastic cup, was drooping when I came down for breakfast this morning. It sits in our kitchen bay window, where the night’s cold weather probably exacerbated its fragile state. Its’ tightly curled leaves clung from limp stems and for the first time, I noticed that its roots were pressed firmly to the sides of the cup, begging for H2O. ‘If it survives,’ I thought, ‘a repotting would be in order.’  I took it to the sink, sprinkled it carefully, and put it back in the morning sunlight.image

Often, things are more resilient than they appear. By the time I’d eaten, finished my tea, and read the paper, the plant was completely revived.  I had met its most basic need – water.

We all know there was no magic involved. The roots carried the water upward and nourished the plant’s cells.  So it is with me. I too, need water. Living water.  Too often I forget that it is always available to me – a gift freely given.  I rely only on insufficient ‘helps’ – my intellect, my creativity, my willpower, my handy electronic gadgets – to reach out in all directions, micromanage my time and my life, and cover as much ground as possible. The end is always the same. I hit my walls of exhaustion, resentment, and anger.

When I have done this to myself, and am therefore left weakened and easily battered by the elements of this world, the help I need is within.  The roots of my soul must reconnect with the living water. The Spirit is my refreshment, restoration, hope, and source of love and comfort.  And it gives me the assurance that I need never go thirsty again.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God

and who it is that asks you for a drink,

you would have asked him

and he would have given you living water.”

– John 4:10