No H8ers – why all the H8?

You keep using that word...Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or avoiding ALL forms of media, you may be aware that Central Texas has been a hotbed of debate over abortion recently. A catheter and brightly colored sneaker sporting single mother who chose life has been heralded as a ‘hero’ for enacting a nearly 14 hour filibuster to prevent the passage of a bill that would prevent abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would ensure that abortion clinics had the same surgical care requirements as your local Lasik location. The bill that would protect women seeking an abortion from dying from things such as a perforated uterus was considered ‘anti-woman’. In the end, the bill wasn’t passed because of a wild disruption in the gallery of the Senate that prevented the vote from taking place prior to midnight (it was passed 19-10 at 3 minutes after midnight). ‘Democracy’ shouted those who prevented its passing.

What became clear while watching what was happening at the Capitol was the amount of anger on display – but not by those wearing the blue shirts. Reports of the chants of ‘Hail Satan’ are widely known – but there was much spitting on and harassing of those in blue shirts by those in orange. What I don’t understand is the anger?

Last night I came across a retweet of a tweet from Dan Savage. I was initially struck by his negativity and anger – oddly, I decided to go to his Twitter feed and began reading his other Tweets. Many had made the one I initially read look happy and glee filled.

Rather than simply accepting that there are those who disagree with his lifestyle, Dan Savage has become what he hates. Or, perhaps he always has been what he hates. His story about being bullied and treated poorly because of his life choices is both sad and compelling. He has, however, lost his way as a role model in his anger and vitriol. Here are some samples of Tweets from a man who preaches no H8. Warning – vile and graphic language.

And celebrating his porn contest:

This is the man that President Obama and the White House celebrated and promoted as part of their support of the ‘It Gets Better’ project. After reading some of the Tweets above, I’m perplexed as to whether it really has gotten better for Dan Savage or whether he has become stuck in the place of an embittered and unhappy human being who spends his life feeding on the negativity that he and others so openly, willingly and widely spew.

How is it that he cannot see how he has become the very thing he hates? Perhaps he does, but he doesn’t care because he sees himself being paid very handsomely for doing so.

So very very sad. A man in need of prayers.

‘Thy will be done.’

Some weeks ago, on Election Day, our parish offered last minute Eucharistic Adoration for the day. We only offer Adoration on Wednesdays every week, but a special request was made as it was Election Day and our Priests very kindly agreed. Given the anxiety, I decided to go – not once, but twice – that day. I went for a short while in the afternoon to offer up prayers. Admittedly, those prayers were for what *I* wanted the outcome of the election to be. Sort of a ‘request’ of God.

As the day progressed and turned into evening, I felt more anxious and sick to my stomach than I had in some time. I couldn’t watch the returns and was determined to entirely tune out the mainstream media as they’d already made their preference for President known for over four years. Our family ate dinner and I felt overwhelmingly restless upon finishing. I had not signed up for a specific hour of adoration, but decided to go back to the Church again and stay as long as needed in order to return to a place of inner peace.

I should clarify and note that the place of ‘inner peace’ had been missing for quite some time. Several months in fact. Perhaps even as much as a year. It had become particularly bad as I was finding myself suffering regular bouts of insomnia where I would wake in the middle of the night with my mind racing through roughly as many topics on Wikipedia and doing so at the speed of sound. To make matters worse, I would drift back to sleep sometimes only minutes before needing to wake up for the day. These sleepless nights weren’t regular – but they were consistent.

I did what any good Catholic would do during times such as these… watch TV or go on the internet. I would pray now and then, but only very briefly. It wasn’t anything deep or meaningful and ended up being more rote than anything. I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to accomplish other than I knew that someone – likely my husband – would ask me in the morning, ‘Did you try praying?’. Of course – other than saying the ‘Our Father’ and some other prayers in a very rote and meaningless way – I hadn’t.

As I made my way into the Sanctuary, I thought about the craziness taking place in the country that day and how much it was contrasted by the calm and quiet at our Church. There were several people already there and they were those whom I would expect to be there praying.

I knelt down on the floor at the end of the pew. The stone floor felt cold and hard but the light was warm and the entire mood inviting. I prayed for God to guide me. I asked Him to share with me for what He wanted me to pray. I moved off the floor and made my way into the pew and knelt along the kneeler. I could feel Jesus’ presence so strongly that night. I took my rosary out of my purse and began to pray. I listened quietly to the intentions that God placed on my heart and began to realize the importance of prayer as a moment of conversion.

Yes, God wants us to pray. Yes, He wants to hear our petitions. But He also wants for us to  be moved in our prayer. He wants for us to experience ‘conversion’ and to move away from ‘my will be done’ and move towards ‘thy will be done’. None of our prayers come as any surprise to Him. God always initiates prayer through an offering of grace. It is up to us to receive that grace and act upon it. He wants us to spend that time in conversation with Him and not only share with Him our petitions, but to listen to Him speak to us in the silence of our hearts.

I saw the beauty in this so clearly during my prayers on this night. Instead of praying for one candidate to win over another, I prayed for a return of our country to His will. I prayed for our country to turn its eyes back to Christ and to accept Him into our lives and to let Him lead. Of course, He’s given us all the grace that each of us need to do that. He *wants* desperately for us to love Him and share our lives with Him, but we – as a nation – have decided that *we* know better and that our time here on earth is more important than our time spent in eternity. We have become the result of the instant gratification that we have been sold through mass marketing.

My prayers that evening became God’s prayers for us instead of what *I* wanted. I could see within myself, at that very moment in time, the conversion that was taking place during that period of meditative prayer. I listened still and quietly and heard God speak to me over and over and over again through the thoughts he placed in my mind and on my heart. I didn’t write it down at the time, but it is clear as day in my mind and I’ve already begun to act upon it in several different ways. I hope to continue to be able to do so as the days pass.

What was, however, the most powerful experience for me was His leading me in prayer. As an ‘organized Mom’, I have difficulty letting go of being in control – its counter to what society tells us we need to do! I learned that if I was willing to let go and let God be in control, even if it was just leading *me* in prayer, beautiful things happen and we experience His grace and His mercy. We can experience the beauty of conversion.

All the grace we need.

One of the ways in which I know God is trying to talk to me is when I see or hear the same message over and over and over and over again. I say that He is ‘trying’ to talk to me because often times it takes a good smack upside the head for me to pay attention. He is, however, always there and always speaking to each and every one of us.

The message to me of late has been about ‘grace’. As I look back in recent times, I see moments where the idea and concept of grace is placed in front of me on several different occasions, but in my infinite stubbornness – I refuse to acknowledge or see them.

The trend started with my husband noting – repeatedly – that everything is grace. As a wife, I – of course – thought, ‘Yeah, yeah honey… everything is grace. Pass the peas please.’

God, however, was trying to make a point and I wasn’t seeing it so He spoke a little louder by having one of our sessions of ‘Catholicism’ by Fr. Robert Barron speak about the ‘Communion of the Saints’ of which my biggest takeaway was that the saints were virtually overflowing with grace. It was a beautiful reminder of His intention for ALL of us to become saints in our lives here on Earth.

The Catholicism session may have been a reminder, but apparently I *still* wasn’t getting the message so He spoke a little louder and sent me on a 24 hour retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary. It was their very first retreat here in Central Texas and I knew virtually nothing about it until after I registered and even then I was still fairly in the dark only looking up where the retreat center was the morning of the day I was to drive to it and discovered it to be much further away from home than I had thought! I had received the agenda only a day or two before the retreat was to take place and discovered that it was to be centered around the theme of – you guessed it – grace!

While on the retreat, each of the women were given a little gift from the Sisters. It was a sheet of paper on which a particular virtue was written. They had given them to each of us with the idea that we could meditate on them for the next 24 hours we would be together, or even for the entire Advent season. The little sheets of paper were all placed in a basket and passed around among the women who had been told that they could either search for a virtue in which they knew they were struggling, or perhaps leave it up to the Holy Spirit. Working hard to let God be in the driver’s seat, I decided to it be a Holy Spirit moment and closed my eyes and picked my paper out of the basket. My virtue – meekness. I am an organized control freak to put it politely. I knew that the Holy Spirit was calling on me in a big big way. That little sheet of paper which may have seemed like such an ‘insignificant’ gift may have been one of the best gifts I have ever received. It serves for me a constant reminder of my need to trust in God and His will.

Over the weekend, Sr. Maria noted that

God gives us enough grace in each and every day to become a saint.

Tonight I had a beautiful example of God’s grace and my need to focus on meekness – as well as the way in which we are able to see God’s unending and merciful love in a lighthearted and humourous way as we accept the grace that he unceasingly bestows upon each and every one of us.

This evening our Parish held out Advent Reconciliation Service. As we arrived at the Church I had an organized Mom moment and thought that we should find a place close to the one of the confessionals as we arrived so that when the mad rush to line up for the various Priests scattered around the Sanctuary took place we would already be seated in a primo spot and would be in line! ‘Brilliant’, I thought. God, however, had His own ideas. And I’m pretty sure he was looking at me and thinking of that slip of paper I’d received this weekend with the word ‘meekness’ on it – and laughing. Not in a spiteful way, but in a knowing and fatherly way that said ‘Oh, my dear, how quickly you forget.’

As the various Priests were introduced and our Pastor noted where they would all be located, I realized very quickly that he went through the entire list and didn’t say who would be in the confessional to which I had so ‘brilliantly’ placed my family. No, he hadn’t said it would be because there would be no Priest in our confessional. A name was posted on a sign on the window, but that name had not been called and was clearly not going to be there. This, of course, led to a mad dash across the Sanctuary to get to another line… and hopefully a short one. The one that I *thought* was short had nine people ahead of us. Because I am ‘organized Mom’, I did the math in my head and estimated that it would be on average between 5-10 minutes per confession – leaning more toward the 10 minute average which would see us there for roughly an hour to an hour and a half. Of course, there were several behind us in line – so we wouldn’t be last.

During the course of our waiting, I spent time reading and also reassessing my calculations regarding how long we would be waiting.

‘There are many young people ahead of us in line. They don’t like to be in there very long.’ I thought. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so long after all. I looked around the Sanctuary at the other lines and saw people who had come into the service late and were already in the pews praying their penance.

‘Ugh’, I thought, ‘I was here first.’

I realized as I stood in line that, while I had just been to confession on Friday, I might build up enough sins just standing in line with my children to be able to have enough to confess again myself! As the evening progressed and the lines got shorter, people bounced from line to line trying to find the one that would move the most quickly. I, of course, didn’t pick quite so well. People behind us left our line and moved to shorter lines. They came back after their confession and told those still waiting behind us that they had already made their confession and fulfilled their penance. Even my daughter jumped ship for a faster moving line with her friends.

In the end, it came down to my son and I and one other person in line behind us. I noted to her that there was still a Priest in another room nearby and that while he was with someone at that moment, there was no one waiting. She noted that she really wanted to see the specific Priest for whom we had been waiting in line.

In went my son in front of me. Then I went in. My son was very patiently waiting for me when I finished. My husband and my daughter had left a little earlier as she had homework to do and I didn’t want her to have to wait around needlessly and then be up late.

As I picked up my books and purse off the floor where my son had been sitting, I looked up and out around the Sanctuary. It was empty. Absolutely and completely empty. I saw one other Priest who was getting up from his spot and getting ready to leave. As I stopped and looked around, I laughed. I saw the humour in God’s gift to me.

I had spent the early part of the evening ‘planning’ for how we would get in and out of there quickly and easily. Didn’t happen. I then spent my time in line feeling frustrated and trying to figure out how long we would be there. For the record, we were there longer than I had anticipated. The Service ended at about 7:25 and we left at roughly 7:20. We had waited for two hours.

There is a saying that goes like this:

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Tonight’s experience couldn’t have been a more perfect example of this idea. I envisioned God above looking down and chuckling at me thinking, ‘You just don’t get it do you? You are NOT in control.’

As I stood in line with my two children – both of whom were incredibly patient – I began reading ‘The Better Part’ written by John Bartunek LC. Its a wonderful book on prayer. On one of the pages he notes

Mass media stimulates the surface of the mind, but the constant rapid flow of images and information militates against going deeper. Meditation provides a respite from frenzied mental stimulation and gives the soul a chance to simply love and be loved in the intimacy of spiritual embrace.

I thank God for the many graces He provides including the the many reminders of where He is calling me to listen and grow, and especially for the opportunity provided through the retreat to stop, slow down, listen and be willing to receive His unlimited supply of graces – and then through His love and mercy this evening give me that gentle and light-hearted reminder that I need to carry over what I learned while on retreat to my day to day life.

Life Lesson # 1,559,342 – During difficult times, prayer can be… difficult.

Life has been full lately and full can be good. Or, full can be challenging. In recent weeks and months, its been the latter. Truth be told, its really been a tough year. Our family has run the gamut of stress and anxiety inducing situations – death of a family member, loss of a job, issues at school with children – the whole nine yards. That said, I didn’t sit down to write this as a pity party. Not at all.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

I know in my heart that this too shall pass and that God is working all of these experiences in the life of my family for greater good. At times I’ve stopped and pondered what life might be like during these challenging times without faith. Would I feel despair at the thought that this really is all for nothing and that, at times I would think ‘life sucks’ and not have any hope that there was any purpose in my suffering? Would I feel as though life had its ups and downs, but that there was nothing beyond this earth – no possibility of eternity in the beauty of the afterlife? How would I ever possibly lift myself up at moments of despair if this is what I believed? Why would I ever try thinking that it was just how life was and that I would likely have to deal with difficult times again and again and again.

I am so very grateful for my faith and my belief that God permits things that are challenging to happen to us. He doesn’t ‘make’ them happen – but He does ‘let’ them happen. Being a merciful God, He also provides us with the tools to be able to navigate our way through and beyond our suffering. Not only that, but He also provides us with the wisdom we need to be able to learn of the lesson that is being provided for us. In every challenging experience, there is a lesson to be learned. Both of these ideas provide me with great comfort as it provides a purpose to suffering and difficulties in life.

I have to admit that my prayer life has been lacking – seriously lacking. I say ‘daily prayers’ and pray the morning prayers from the Magnificat, but have been unable to fully concentrate on anything that I’m saying or that comes to my mind. This could be partially due to the fact that I have not had much time to truly stop and slow down. I am being reminded that at the time that I most need to pray, prayer is hard.

It is difficult to pray when one is busy or one’s life is full. It is doubly difficult when one’s life is fully AND one is struggling. During our times of struggle we sometimes ask ourselves, ‘Okay God, why is this happening to me? And when is it going to end or get better?’. That can be indicative of times when we most need Jesus, but when we are most conflicted in our prayers. We *need* to pray, but it can be difficult to want to spend that time in prayer because we may feel abandoned by God. I like to believe that this is part of God’s desire to remind us of His role in our lives. By having us struggle, it requires us to want to lay our struggles at His feet and ask for His favor – not because He wants to see us suffer, but because He wants to remind us that He is there to love us.

That said, for me – right now – its a struggle. These days, I am being reminded of three things as I stumble my way through my challenges. First, I am reminded that God has a wonderful sense of humor. There are moments when I have to stop, look up in the sky and say ‘Really? Are you serious?’. Thankfully, at those moments I remember to stop and laugh. Laughing can be much better than crying. Second, I am reminded that God has faith in me. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says in her quote above, God never gives us more than we can handle. At the moments I’m feeling most overwhelmed, I’m doing my best to stop and remind myself that God must *really* have some serious confidence in my ability – and if He does, then I must be confident of my own ability too. Its very comforting. Finally, I am reminded that we are presented with the same situation over and over and over in our lives until we get it ‘right’. While there is much in my life that is presenting challenges that is beyond my control, there is much that I can manage – and I know that God is presenting that situation to me again in order that I can learn something from my experience.

Through these challenging times, I look around at those I know and at strangers on the street and realize that I am, in spite of this little valley in life right now, truly blessed. This past week has given me the chance to see the beauty in my children’s maturing as they make good choices throughout their day. We have friends who are struggling with financial issues, health issues, divorce and all sorts of other struggles. While running yesterday morning we passed what appeared to be a homeless fellow in a wheelchair with only one leg.

Challenges in life are real, and they can lead to stress and anxiety. Many smaller challenges combined can seem far greater than the true sum of their parts. Life can be difficult. The question becomes ‘How to move forward?’. For me, the solution has been taking small and incremental steps – particularly in my prayer life given that prayer can be a powerful force in moving through the tunnels of which we sometimes feel that there is no end.

Yesterday morning as I was driving to my run, I prayed as I always do in the car. Its not very peaceful or meditative, but I take what time I can these days! During my prayer time in the car, I found myself feeling anxious and unable to focus on my words or anything I was going to say. Usually I am led by the Holy Spirit and I always find that comforting. Yesterday, the Holy Spirit couldn’t seem to find me on the GPS. The best words that I could form in my mind and utter from my lips to pray were ‘God, please help me make it through today.’ That’s it. God, however, knows what I need and understands where my head and my heart are at right now. He understands and knows that, sometimes, that’s the very best I can do for a prayer.

Those few words seemed to sum up my approach these days which is to eat the elephant one small bite at a time. I remind myself that I don’t have to have everything resolved at once, but I can certainly approach those items which are in my control first and work toward moving through the dark tunnel they present with the most simple of prayers.

Blessed Mother Teresa spent a great majority of her life feeling as though Jesus was *missing* in her life – she did not feel His presence. She did, however, persevere in her ministry and continue to pray seemingly unceasingly. She is a wonderful role model for those of us who find ourselves struggling with prayer at the very moment when we need it most as well as a reminder that simplicity and minimalism can often be vastly underrated.

Stepping outside the comfort zone.

I have been reading ‘Radical Hospitality‘ by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. Its a wonderful book about Benedictine Hospitality – of which I *thought* I understood, but am learning that I didn’t really know what it truly meant until I started reading this book. We have come to know the idea of hospitality in terms of the social niceties that exist in society today – serving someone a warm meal, offering a place to stay. These are ideas that exist within Benedictine Hospitality, but the idea goes much deeper in its need for us to open ourselves – not just our homes – to strangers.

Hospitality means bringing strangers into your heart, which may or may not result in inviting strangers to the table.

True hospitality requires that we open our very selves to strangers and be willing to listen and care. Doing so, however, doesn’t require that we need to bring people into our lives forever as a result. Someone who gives of themselves

… does not have to attach himself to every person who passes through this open heart of his, however: he can love them at the moment and let them go on.

I am only half way through the book, but there clearly a recognition that asking people to open themselves in this way in this day and age is a radical departure from that which we are used to. Today we fear strangers. We keep a distance from them as we go about our busy lives. We think that the issues and troubles of others are of no concern to us. Asking people to modify this way of thought requires a change of heart and behavior. Changes such as these require most of us to step outside our comfort zone. These days, however, we do not welcome the idea of being outside the comfort zone.

Advertising today shows us that the primary goal of our consumer centered society is to find ‘comfort’ in some way. Comfort can be our feeling good about ourselves because we wear beautiful clothes that are in-style making us feel a part the well-dressed in our society. Wearing the latest styles also gives an appearance that we can afford to throw away our ‘old’ clothes at the whim of designers and clothing companies that need to change styles in order for us to continue to consume. Comfort can also be found in the ease and convenience provided by various products – smart-phones, kitchen appliances, GPS mechanisms in our car, prepared foods. The list goes on and on. Consumers today want ways in which our lives can be made easier – less work means more comfort. We step further and further away from the idea of knowing what it feels like to be outside the comfort zone.

Yesterday, I worked outside in our yard. There was much work to be done and it was a warm day outside. I thought about the comfort zone as I went about completing the yard work in the heat of the sun. My body felt progressively tired and I was starting to feel aches in my knees from bending down and pulling up semi-dead grass that was growing among the spaces in our rock garden. It occurred to me that as we have moved away from an agrarian and rustic society and toward more highly concentrated urban centers, we have stepped further and further away from understanding the challenges of physical labor and more and more toward a society of convenience.

After our second child was born, I began to run more regularly and eventually decided to tackle the challenge of running a marathon. If one ever wants to step outside their comfort zone in a physical sense, run a marathon. For those just starting to run, a 5k can be just as much an accomplishment! When I began to run more competitively – a relative term meaning that I ran in an attempt to improve my time and compete on a local level, I enlisted the help of a coach who would be able to walk me through the training necessary to improve my speed. What I began to learn is what any athlete will be able to tell you – that to improve and excel at a particular sport means being required to step outside of your comfort zone on a physical and mental level on a regular basis. For runners, it means running faster than you intended to run your race and holding that pace for extended periods of time. For distance runners it means logging lots and lots of miles on days when your legs are already tired from a tough workout on previous days and the cumulative effects of already having run lots of regular miles. Doing these things brings discomfort to your body which requires a strong mind in order to overcome and be willing to keep going.

We have also taken the willingness to step outside our comfort zone of pain in child-birth and even breastfeeding with the advent of pain suppressors and formula. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone who opts for the epidural or a shot of Demerol. I fully understand that there are no medals given for women who choose to give birth drug-free. I have to confess that I opted for a shot of Demerol in the birth of our first child because I was feeling as though I was coming a little ‘unglued’, but did manage to relax and overcome the pain of childbirth with our second child and was able to do so drug-free. I share this not to give myself a pat on the back and will confess to you that my choice to do so in both cases was two fold – i) knowing that women have done this for thousands of years and survived made me understand that I would be able to do so and I really wanted to avoid bringing un-natural drugs into the experience and ii) I am petrified of needles and a medial procedure weakling so the thought of an epidural scared me far more than the thought of the pain of the experience which I fully understood would end as soon as my sweet baby was born. Once our beautiful babies are born, many opt to not breastfeed and instead choose formula. I’ve heard a multitude of reasons for this – but the great majority seem to center around either the discomfort that can arise during the initial period of breastfeeding, the inconvenience and embarrassment of breastfeeding in public, not wanting to have enlarged breasts for an extended period of time, or going back to work and not wanting to pump. The theme throughout is the idea that ‘this isn’t going to be a great experience for me’ for some reason or another and will require extra effort. In both cases, my attempt isn’t to criticize anyone who opts for the drugs during childbirth or not to breastfeed – to each his own, but to identify the idea that we are again – in the most natural experiences in our lives – drawn toward the experience that will give us the most comfort.

The ways in which we move toward comfort in our lives are too numerous to mention. Contemplation led me to begin to understand that reaching toward comfort is allowing us to spend our time focussed on a self-centered life and concerned mostly about our own comfort level. How then, can we expect to fully and freely move outside our comfort zone? And if we aren’t willing to step outside our comfort zone, are we truly capable of significant and radical change enabling ourself to give back to those we encounter every single day? This is going to be a wonderful exercise!

Time for a little love.

Today is the day after Mother’s Day – aka the day when all the stuff I let slide for the day yesterday has come back to haunt me. Isn’t that what happens when Mom’s stop for a day? Truth be told, yesterday was the best Mother’s day I have had. Ever. I have a tendency to not stop or slow down until my body gets sick and forces me to do so. Yesterday was a beautiful gift of a day from my family. It was a day in which I could stop. Truly stop. The beautiful thing is that it wasn’t *just* yesterday – it was the WHOLE weekend!

Amazing things happen when we slow down. We stop and smell the roses. Wait – that would be a *great* quote to put on a needlepoint pillow! We hear it so much that we don’t even really think about it anymore. This weekend, though, I was given the greatest gift that one can receive; love.

My husband was busy during the day on Saturday, but the weather was spectacular for being outside so I dragged my somewhat reluctant kids to the ‘Revival Market’ about 10 miles outside of town. It was a wonderful little open air market featuring every kind of reclaimed door, window and piece of something you really didn’t need that one could want. And, egads, my kids even enjoyed it! It didn’t hurt that they had a talented singer there with his guitar singing acoustic versions of their favorite songs like Katie Perry’s ‘Firework’ (why is it that mediocre songs by mediocre singers seem to be so enjoyable to the pre-tween audience – thankfully, my kids do have a thing for Mumford and Sons as well as Coldplay so we do see eye to eye on *most* music). We enjoyed our hour or so rambling through the stalls filled with all sorts of gems. Amazingly, we managed to walk away empty handed.

On Saturday night, I went to hear my friend, Sally Robb, speak at our Church. It was a small and intimate gathering where she talked about love. She’s a brilliant woman who has been blessed with seeing every drop of beauty in the expansive world that is the Catholic faith and manages to help those who hear her speak understand their faith in a way that is both eye-opening and life-changing. In roughly an hour, she managed to explain the beauty of God’s love in the most spectacular of ways.

We hear it over and over and over… but we don’t grasp it. ‘God is love.’ How simple and beautiful it is. God is love. Why did God create us? Because He wanted someone to love and wanted to be loved. God, in His majestic glory, sent his only son for our salvation to become love personified. Everything that Jesus did during his short 33 years here on earth was an act of love. Everything. The gospels tell us that He never spoke ill of anyone, never harmed anyone, taught us through acts too innumerable to document in just one book how to love one another.

God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.’” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1604

Sally shared with us, through her beautiful wisdom, the idea that not only must we love others – but we must love and see ourselves as God sees us. God sees the most perfect version of ourselves that we can be. He knows what that is and He sees us in that way. We, however, see ourselves as the imperfect sinner. Does that mean that God doesn’t see our sin. Of course He does – but He is saddened by us, not angry with us. We do that to ourselves. Those with children will understand the feeling when our children defy us in some way. We feel sad that our children haven’t listened to us – if they loved us they would have listened. Not listening must mean they don’t act in a loving way toward us, and that makes us feel sad. This is how God must feel. He has given us the ability to live our lives and to *choose* to love him and also to accept His love. When we sin, we turn our backs on God’s love for us just as our children do to us. Its painful and it hurts.

Though, if we open our eyes and our hearts, we can see the gift of grace in God’s forgiveness of our sins. Every time we are aware of our sins, we become more and more aware of our relationship with God. We draw closer and closer to Him, just as we draw closer to those we love when we hurt them and realize how it must make them feel. We also learn that which we are to be working on within ourselves to become the best version of ourselves – the David with Michelangelo’s block of marble.

We must be able to love ourselves the way in which God loves us in order for us to love others. If we cannot fully experience our love of self, how can we share that love with others? Part of loving imperfect selves is understanding that God loves our imperfect selves. Love feeds love.

Its no accident that I started reading ‘Radical Hospitality‘ on Sunday. Its a beautiful little book that discusses the depth of true hospitality – not just the idea of welcoming strangers with a warm meal, but welcoming them by creating a ‘sacred space’.

At the heart of monastic hospitality is the discipline of listening, of allowing a guest to feel safe and loved. – Radical Hospitality

Kathryn Jean Lopez was live Tweeting from Cardinal Dolan’s commencement speech at Catholic University of America on Saturday. He had some wonderful things to say, and I’m grateful for her willingness to take the time to post them to her Twitter feed.

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God places these wonderful little messages in my path when He’s trying to tell me something. Thankfully, this message was delivered in a gentle and kind manner – unlike the baseball bat to the head that is sometimes the method of delivery.

Turning back to my Mother’s Day, I had a new and deeper appreciation for my role as a mother and an awareness of how much I loved my family and how much they loved me. My role as a mother is a gift from God. He entrusts my husband and I with two of his most precious children – and they are all precious. The God of the universe who IS love, has blessed me with a husband with whom I could create the two most beautiful little people I could ever imagine having the privilege of raising.

As I continue on my journey through my life and walk the path of my faith, I learn more and more about God. What I learn changes my perspective as I realize that the most important gift I can give my children is to teach them that they are loved by God for all that they are and that God sees in them the beauty and perfection upon which He bestowed upon them as His creation. My role as a mother is also to impart on them that, I too, see that beauty and the gifts and talents they have been given. Like God allowing me to make mistakes in order that I will become more self-aware, I too must allow my children to stumble in order that they can learn – and, hopefully, in the process we can grow closer as they learn that in order to love them I must give them that freedom.

As we spent time together as a family on Mother’s Day, I saw a happiness, love and familiarity in my family’s eyes that had been missing for some time as we went about our lives busying ourselves with something or another. That was the greatest gift of all.

Rich in Blessings

The weather has been so beautiful that I’ve been taking every opportunity to eat dinner at the little table on our front porch. This past Sunday night we at grilled hamburgers outside. I had made them specifically for my daughter who has given up meat for Lent. Since Sundays are feast days and one can partake in what they have given up on these days, she has enjoyed chowing down on some good red meat on Sundays during Lent.

While we sat outside eating, I expressed my appreciation for the blessings in our life. I looked around at the beauty around us as I took in the view of the hills across from us and the city vista off in the distance. My daughter said, ‘Mom, if I had a nickel for every time you pointed out our blessings, I’d have more than the people who won the big lottery on Friday night!’

I stopped and thought about it for a minute and realized the importance of her statement. While she’s morphing into a slightly cynical tween, she’s still hearing what I’m saying. At her age with few responsibilities and even fewer troubles in her life, she hasn’t yet crossed over the threshold into a world of significant challenges and the instability and uncertainty they can bring. She has been fortunate enough to have a yummy and healthy home cooked meal on the table virtually every night. She has a warm and comfy bedroom in which she can retreat into the privacy of listening to music and reading, or emailing her friends. For her, life is pretty good.

Its very possible, though, that it won’t always be that way. There will be times when she will worry about finances, or live in a student apartment that isn’t as nice, clean or comfortable as the home in which she was raised. There may be times in her life when she is working a low-paying job or may even be out of work.

There will be times in her life when she will experience disappointment with her friends and those whom she loves. There will also be times when she will experience the disappointment of not being accepted into a program to which she applied, or not winning a writing or drawing competition. These are all very real parts of life.

When I think about these things – all of which I’ve experienced in the course of my life, I think about that moment on our front porch and how important it is to stop and savor the moments of blessing in our life whatever they may be. During this Holy Week, I’ve seen and been sent several messages on ‘being still’. I’ve struggled with how to fit ‘stillness’ into my somewhat ‘full’ week of day to day living, but I realized that the moment on the porch with my children and being thankful for that blessing was an opportunity from God to be still.

While my daughter may not yet appreciate the importance of ‘blessings’ as gifts as well as our need to recognize and thank God for them, she does hear me (albeit, through her own filters). Hopefully – when she is grown and has a family of her own – she will think back to our dinner and understand what it was I meant. If I am ever so fortunate to hear her make her own statement about being blessed, I will know that I have won the jackpot.

Courage.

Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy set out in the Old Testament. Today marks the beginning of the passion of the Christ. Its the beginning of Holy Week, a week in which we are called to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, my faith has deepened and I find myself impacted by Holy Week in a deeper and more meaningful way every year. In that sense, this year was no different. I was, however, struck by a parallel to Christ’s journey in the loss, this past year, of someone very dear to me and to many. She was forty-one and had four children, the youngest of whom was 3. This past May, our family lost my husband’s sister to cancer. She had fought a courageous battle for a year and a half against an aggressive form of sarcoma. The decision was made last March to not continue with chemotherapy as it wasn’t proving effective and was, instead, destroying her frail and weak body.

In mid-May she entered a hospice facility on a Friday evening in an effort to get her pain under control. We thought we might lose her that weekend. Miraculously, she rallied that Sunday afternoon and decided that she wanted to go home. It would take a few days for arrangements to be made for her to receive care at home and for her medical team at the hospice to feel comfortable with her pain being under control. She was able to go home on Thursday of that week.

We had been warned that her pain may get away from her again and that the regimen used one day may suddenly prove ineffective. After four days at home, that risk proved true. The Monday after being home, she was admitted to the same hospice facility again – this time, by ambulance. It had been a difficult night for those who were there with her, but everyone knew it was the right decision. This time, though, we all – including my husband’s sister – knew that she would not be going home again.

I thought about her this morning as I thought about Jesus. I thought about her as Mass started and about what it meant for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on the donkey at the beginning of the Feast of the Passover. Jesus knew that he would enter Jerusalem to meet his fate with death. My sister-in-law knew that she would enter the Hospice and she would also meet her fate with death.

She entered Hospice early Monday morning and died the following Sunday. During that last week, she said her last goodbyes. I think about the immense courage it would have taken to say goodbye to those she loved. In saying goodbye to her, I only had to say goodbye to one. She had to say goodbye to many – including her children. I can’t even begin to imagine the strength and courage it took to do that.

All of us that knew her and loved her knew that we would continue on in our lives, albeit painfully, without her. We did not know what that would entail or how it would play out, but we knew that we would go home, sleep in our own beds, brush our teeth in our bathroom, go to our places of work or school and life would have to go on somehow. She, on the other hand, would – at the risk of sounding cliche – go on to face the great unknown. While the faithful trust that its a place of overwhelming joy and love, there – for some – is still an element of trepidation and anxiety of what lives on the other side as we pass through the membrane of our lives here on earth to the afterlife.

As I thought about Jesus, my sister-in-law and all of those who have known that death was imminent, I sat dumbfounded as I thought about the grace with which they had been bestowed by God to be courageous under seemingly ‘hopeless’ circumstances. I am thankful for them opening the door to that grace and so willingly receiving it in order to stand up as a model and witness for the rest of us so that we may learn that there is the opportunity and possibility for strength of spirit and mind when all can seem lost.

Seven Days in Utopia

If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it for the entire family. Its a movie completely free of violence, bad language, sex and overwhelming noise and special effects. Its a movie about people and life. I had heard Robert Duvall interviewed some time ago about this movie and it had stuck in my mind. I was flipping through Netflix the other night on my laptop looking for a movie to watch, and up popped ‘Seven Days in Utopia‘. I enjoyed it right from the beginning. Its not perfect and there are some flaws, but they are well worth overlooking in order to get the full effect of this movie.