Becoming Holy

Brave

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I’ve decided I’m not.  Brave, that is. Not brave at all.  The recent attacks in Paris, France, and around the world make me aware of how “not brave” I am. (Cue frightened chicken sounds) Driving home from town yesterday, I was reminded of the Old Testament story of the Macchabees. As a child, I had an obsession with this story. It was in my dad’s old Bible History book from grade school. In it was a story titled, “The Seven Macchabees are Martyred”~complete with a black and white drawing of the event.  To read the Bible account go here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/2mc/7 

 

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The story of the Macchabees takes place in a time of great persecution against the Jews.  King Antiochus overtakes Jerusalem and commands the Jewish people to abandon all religious practices.  He slaughters 40,000 and sells another 40,000 into slavery. He profanes the temple and challenges all who remain to abandon their Jewish heritage or die.  A mother with seven sons is brought before Antiochus and is commanded to eat pork in violation of God’s law. Her oldest son refuses and is tortured cruelly, resulting in his death. One by one, each of the seven sons undergoes torture and death rather than deny his faith. The mother, having encouraged each son to hold fast to the faith, finally undergoes the same torturous death. I always felt bad for the mom, imagining how painful that would be to watch each child suffer and die.  Now, as an adult, I cannot even fathom the pain. 

 Driving home, pondering this story, the tears start to run down my face. I ask myself what kind of person I am. Am I rooted enough in faith to suffer? Would I run?  Surrender? Would I have the strength of the mom from Macchabees  to stand and watch my children suffer and die for our faith? These questions I hope never have answers. There is a growing threat in our world. Persecution of Christians is increasing in the Middle East. Europe is seeing the effects of the absence of Christianity. Countries around the world are being threatened by religious persecution. We need to know who we are and remain anchored in Christ. He, too, was a victim of religious persecution. 

For today, I am called to a different kind of bravery. The bravery of facing one day at a time. The call to love. The call to honor God in my daily life. The call to raise up children who are unafraid. The call to follow Christ without fear. 

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Be Not Afraid

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I have to be honest. I haven’t been living these words. I feel afraid. A LOT. Afraid of sickness and suffering. Afraid of high blood pressures and low blood pressures and of forgetting to take Gabbie’s blood pressure. Afraid of setting up medications wrong or incompletely. Afraid of not seeing the signs of sickness or struggle. Afraid that when we go back to Seattle they will make us stay. The kind of afraid that makes you realize you are shallow breathing all the time. With knots in your neck and the feeling that you have to be ready to jump to action at any moment.

This makes the. “Be Not Afraid” advice all the more necessary. The chaplain at Seattle Children’s made the above book mark for Gabbie. He drew the picture and wrote the words with the touching reminder that the Angel Gabriel also tells us not to be afraid, that WE have found favor with God. His name is Thomas and he brought not only the bookmark, but hope and healing in the form of Jesus in the Eucharist. He has a soothing presence and a gentle spirit. 

The words, “Be Not Afraid” or similar phrasing appear in the Bible a lot. Some say 365 times. Others say 103 times. Others say the theme of not fearing appears more than 365 times. Regardless, it makes sense that when one places trust in the Lord, we are called not to fear. In the beautiful words of Pope Saint John Paul II:

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

I have no idea what Pope Saint John Paul II’s words mean for me and our family. But I hear the recurring request for bravery in the face of opposition. Good will come from this. We will put out in the deep and let down our nets. Just for today, I am going to try to cast off fear and live in perfect love. To trust in God’s plan. To live today for today and not worry about tomorrow. Counting on your prayers. Mine are with you. 

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The Lord Heals the Brokenhearted

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“Remember that when your heart feels restless, when your heart feels hurt, when your heart feels like breaking… ‘I am precious to Him. He has called me by name. I am His. He loves me.’ And to prove that love, He died on the cross.”
 
~Blessed Mother Teresa
My favorite lines of the above quote~”I am precious to Him. He has called me by name. I am His. He loves me.” 
My biggest question? Do I live in that love? Do I hear His voice? Do I believe I am precious to Him?
Heart imagery has become a pretty big deal at our house since the whole “heart failure” episode. The above image speaks volumes of how April and May look to us. And not just Gabbie’s heart but the hearts of all who know and love her. We have felt broken-hearted and light-hearted (depending on the day). We have had heavy hearts, racing hearts, pounding hearts, bruised hearts, hurting hearts, aching hearts, and hearts full of love and gratitude. Each of those words has taken on new meaning and a literal “feeling” to go with them. We are grateful to our God who desires to heal us.

Psalm 147:3-5

He heals the brokenhearted,
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.

Sometimes, in the middle of suffering, it is hard to reconcile what is visible with what is spiritual. We KNOW Jesus died for us and that He walks with us in our suffering. We desire the suffering to go away. We don’t always feel precious or called by name or loved. But we are. The suffering is not ended. Neither is His love. May we always desire to be Christ’s hands and feet on earth. To do His will and share His love. So many of you have helped to heal our broken hearts and to bind our wounds~working alongside Jesus with your words and actions. It is no small thing to help one another. 

It is the greatest.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

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Dirty Laundry

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I love doing laundry. Really. I love my washer and dryer. They work alongside me. They even continue to work after I go to bed. One of the burdens of our journey to Seattle Children’s was not being able to do laundry at any time. You may be raising your eyebrows in disbelief. But, think about it~even if you dislike doing laundry, there is something about having clean clothes that makes the world a better place.

The artwork above is titled “Polish Madonna” and is a beautiful image of Our Blessed Mother hanging laundry as Baby Jesus plays at her feet. I fell in love with it back in the 90’s and found a nicely framed image about seven years ago. It has hung in my laundry room ever since. It centers me and reminds me of the importance of the daily tasks of homemaking. Even Baby Jesus needed His clothes washed! I like to pray for each of my kids as I fold a specific item of their clothing. With four girls in a row, there are some items that every daughter has worn~I picture each of them wearing it and I smile. I still marvel as I fold little boy jeans and socks and Ninja Turtle shirts after years of pink! Many items have a story and mark the passing of the years. 

Several years back, I realized I was doing a disservice to the kids with my laundry obsession and not teaching them to help. We now have a system in which each child has a day of the week to do his or her laundry. They have that day to wash clothes, sheets, blankets, etc. and get them folded and put away. It helps with not mixing up clothes or drying something that the owner prefers to be line-dried. Towels go into a “family hamper” but everything else is taken care of by the individual. Upon returning from Seattle, we tossed all our dirty laundry into a big pile and we got to do our laundry all together! 

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In Seattle, at the Ronald McDonald House, we shared our “home” with 84 families!  Our room was like a hotel room with two double beds and single cots, a bathroom and sink, and a small table with two chairs, a television and a medicine refrigerator. We were on the third floor.

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The second floor was the lobby, mail room, and a few sitting areas. The first floor was the Dining Room and kitchen areas. There were two kitchens, each with four sink areas or work stations. Each family had a double door cupboard and a mini fridge for food. The seating area had a dorm cafeteria like feel. The basement is where the laundry room was. A streamlined system was in place.  Twelve stackable washer/dryer units were in one room. Each family could have two loads of laundry in progress at a time. Magnets with our room number were placed on our washer/dryer when we used them. If one needed a washer and the cycle was done but the laundry hadn’t been moved, we were asked to put on gloves, get a big plastic bag, place the clothes in the bag and the family’s magnet on top. I really didn’t love the idea of other people moving our clothes around, so I tried to be very vigilant about our laundry, making certain to check the washer often to be ready to transfer. In the beginning, it was impossible to spend any length of time at the McDonald house as so much was going on at the hospital with Gabbie. The laundry piled up. It was hard for one of us to leave to do laundry, though it was a welcome break for Max, who could play air hockey and video games while we waited. 

This is yet another item on my grateful list. In Seattle, I found myself dreading laundry. I had many conversations with myself. The two of us (me and myself) would talk about women in third world countries who would DELIGHT at the ease of doing laundry at the McDonald House. I imagined many scenarios as I trudged down the stairs with our laundry basket~washing clothes in a muddy stream, carrying water in a jar on my head, having so few clothes that there was not much to wash. I was made aware in powerful ways just how easy I have it. I was disappointed in myself for my lack of gratitude. I was truly thankful to have somewhere to do laundry but I also truly wasn’t. I really wanted life back the way it had been. I promised myself I would never take anything for granted again! 

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Thank you, God, for the gift of being home. Thank you for the gift of laundry~your reminder to us that what is dirty can be made clean. Thank you for laundry soap and for Downy. Thank you for dryer sheets and clothes drying racks. Thank you for stain spray and soaking sinks. Thank you for my laundry room and the precious picture of Baby Jesus and His Momma on laundry day! Thank you for reminding me to be thankful. Please bless everyone at the McDonald House as they do their laundry. Hold them in your hands. Remind them of your presence. Help them to be renewed with each basket of clean clothes. Help our prayers to touch them and bless them and give them hope. 

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Home is Where the Heart Is

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We are home. At. Last. For Gabbie, April 8, we left our driveway and did not return until May 15. Through gray skies, this beautiful stream of balloons marked our return.  They were the first to wave at us and celebrate our return to normal. Prince Charming awaited at the door!  A delicious dinner, made with love by family, awaited us. Home. Sweet. Home. In our five and one half weeks away, I discovered some things about myself that I want to remember when this journey is a distant memory.

We are blessed. Daily life is a blessing! Some things I learned to treasure while living under different circumstances include having my own bed and soft pillow, favorite sheets and a quiet place to fall to sleep. Waking up and stepping out of bed onto warm, soft, inviting CARPET! A coffeepot~any kind really~and the choice to make coffee when/if I want to. No charge. No trip to the coffee cart (once a day) for a small cup of joe. Pretty mugs and a skosh of creamer. Sharing it with those I love. Okay…here is a biggie…driving in IDAHO!  Where the biggest obstacle is farm equipment being moved from field to field and where you truly can measure distance in time vs. miles. Quite the opposite of Seattle. 

Bigger blessings…hmm…the health of our children and each other…living in a country with excellent medical care…friends who pour out blessings of prayer and resources…charities like the Ronald McDonald House…doctors who have sacrificed to gain the kind of knowledge that helped bring Gabbie home…nurses who make the difference between a good day and a great one…pharmaceuticals that make all the difference in healing a heart or replacing it…the list could go on and on.

For now, I want to say thank you…to each and every person who lifted up a prayer for Gabbie and our family. For prayer services, Masses, Holy Hours, Team Gabbie Events and Support.  For handmade quilts, knitted hearts and slippers, stuffed animals, flowers, plants, candy, gluten free baked goods, balloons, cards, gift cards, gifts of $$$, letters, loan of guardian angels, bathrobes and jammies, clothing, puzzle books, magazines, care packages of snacks, and lip balm. For blessings, Anointing, Confession, Holy Water, visits from priests, Eucharistic Minister visits, and conversations. For new friends, barbecues, dinners out, dinners in, foam mattress pads, coffee cards, nail painting, Jamberry, Mother’s Day gifts, gifts for siblings, Cupcake celebrations, and so much more. 

We feel so blessed. We have been carried by angels. Please continue to pray for sweet Gabbie. Our prayer is that all the medical intervention along with the pacemaker will heal her precious heart. We want to keep her treasured heart here at home~the place she loves best.

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Humility

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do you will. Amen.”

~St.Ignatius

These words were much needed for my heart today. This morning, I was called to do something that takes me out of my comfort zone~making an announcement/promo before morning Mass~and I seriously did NOT want to do it. The thoughts that go through my mind ahead of time and during are something like this?  Is this too long?  Is it too short? Is the information there? ? Am I speaking too fast?  Too slow?  Does it speak to the parish? Will they hear me? Is the mic echoing? Are they frustrated with yet another announcement? Etc. Etc. I made it through…just over two minutes..with no way of knowing the answers to any of my questions. I came home to this beautiful quote by St. Ignatius and I realized my gift was simply giving the announcement. There is no need to count the cost. I have only to be generous with my time and seek to do His will.  

This is true of everything in life. How often do I count the cost before committing to something?  How often do I worry about my own woundedness before taking up the cross of Christ?  I am often more concerned with my own comforts, with my need to have a break, with my desire for an earthly reward than I am with investing 100% in following Jesus. St. Ignatius’ prayer is a gentle reminder that doing the will of God is all that matters. 

There is one full week of Lent left. Let this prayer be my focus as I seek to follow each day, each moment, how Jesus wants me to live. This prayer calls for both detachment and humility~two virtues I struggle to achieve. In big things, in small things, I want to do your will, Lord. 

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Busy! Busy! Busy!

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I saw a challenge a while back that has stayed with me as I go about life.  The goal of the challenge was to eliminate the response, “Busy” when someone asks the question, “How are you?” The reason for the challenge was to help people engage with others at a more authentic level. At the time, I remember thinking that was nice but probably didn’t apply to me.Then I started paying attention.  

To myself.

In the beginning, before I could even catch myself, I heard myself responding, “Busy” over and over again. I heard those I speak with responding “Busy” over and over again. It made me question why this response is so quick to roll of our tongues. Is it because it is a simple, catch-all response?  After all, responding we are busy serves as an explanation of why we may look frazzled, why we are hurrying off without continuing the conversation, and perhaps why we haven’t been present to this person. Responding that we are busy is a seamless reply.  No one else can argue with us whether we are busy or not (though some may grasp this opportunity to “out-busy” us). Responding with “busy” gives one freedom to either drop the conversation or share details of our busy-ness.  This type of exchange doesn’t require a lot of authenticity.

I still catch myself responding this way. However, I am taking steps to change both my response and the reality. This Lent has been a good time to reflect on “Busy-ness” and all it entails. Why are we so busy? Is it because we have filled our homes and our lives with useless things and too many activities? Are we afraid to slow down and have time together? Do we feel unaccomplished if we are not running around at full speed? Do we think the only way to be a true Christian is to join everything, do everything, help everywhere?

FoMo is a relatively new acronym in our culture. It stands for Fear of Missing Out~a fear that seems to have taken over society. It reminds me of something one of my dear friends shared in our book club years ago. There were just five of us in the group and this particular friend casually asked the rest of us what we had been doing at the parish hall the night before. Each of us had our own reason for being there, though none of us were together. As we shared our purpose in being there, she was visibly relieved and said, “I saw all your cars and felt like I was missing out on something.” 

Fear of missing out has the potential to drive us to busy-ness. Trying to be all, do all and attend all. This is not what God desires for us or for our families. We must remember that fear is not of God and neither is fear of missing out.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus at work. He is confident and consistent. He lives His Mission. The word, “busy” is not used. He is steady, not frantic. Jesus knows both Who He Is and what He is about. That is my goal for myself~knowing who I am and what I am about. These two things give confidence and consistency to life. They are a great “go-to” phrase in discernment.  My hope is to eliminate my own FoMo, my own busyness, and to live the life I am called to live.

“Be Still and Know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

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The One My Heart Loves

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I recently purchased a set of mugs from Day Spring.  I have wanted them for over a year and decided that our 25th Anniversary was a good cause for purchasing them.  Inside, printed under the rim of the cup, is the verse, “I found the one my heart loves.” ~Song of Solomon 3:4

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There is something powerful about drinking coffee out of my “Mrs. Mug” and reading those words each morning. The words are both an affirmation and a reminder. I have found the one my heart loves. How am I showing that to him? Does he know by my words and actions the special place he holds in my heart? Do my actions sometimes convey, “I found the one I pay bills with and live in chaos with” ? I think each of us could insert our own sentence of what daily life looks like when we forget the gift of one another. 

For the record, the “Mr. Mug” has the exact verse inscribed inside. I couldn’t help but notice, while taking the “mug shot” for this blog, that the two mugs have sweet messages in how they are made.  The “Mr. Mug” is a stronger color and the band of white is located higher on the mug.  The “Mrs. Mug” is softer in color and has its word band just below that of the “Mr.”. This spoke to me of our roles as Mr. and Mrs.~with the husband as “Protector/Provider” and the wife as “Nurturer/Caregiver”. The woman carefully crafted by God from the rib of Adam~just below his heart~is visually made present in the “drop-down” effect of her title on the mug. 

Perhaps one of the most precious things I am noticing is that “Mr.” and “Mrs.” are actually “mr.” and “mrs.”.  Lower case letters. My heart tells me that the capital letters belong to Him. To God. To the One Who “mr.” and “mrs.” are called to rejoice in. Together. 

Perhaps we aren’t even the ones speaking. Maybe~just maybe~the words belong to the Father who loves us so much He sent His only Son to save us. I feel His presence here this morning.We are having coffee together and He speaks to my heart, “I have found the one my heart loves.” 

Me, too.

Sincerely,

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No Retreat, (No) Surrender!

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Have you ever really wanted to do something and realized you were not going to get to be a part of it? Do you react like a spoiled child, stomping your feet and pouting?  Or do you react with grace and the realization that God has exactly where you need to be? This morning I am making a conscious decision to choose the second response, though everything in me wants to throw a tantrum.  Things are just not rolling out to get to a retreat I was hoping to go to today. 

God is calling me to “retreat” anyhow. To surrender. To raise the white flag. Lay my weapons down. Pick up the cleaning supplies instead. Yep. I like to clean the floor on my hands and knees and I am picturing God chuckling at this “new retreat” he had in store for me.  So…the Christian music is playing.  Even the songs are jabbing me.  “Build your Kingdom here. Change the atmosphere”, “Let my life be the proof of your Love”, and other treasures to remind me that today is NOT ABOUT ME.  

Or maybe it is. Maybe it is all about me. About my heart and the changes needed here. Maybe today is ALL about me. One definition of a retreat by good old Merriam Webster is  “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director.”  I think today is a retreat of ONE (that being me) and the director being God’s voice in my heart. 

Here’s to a “do-it-yourself” retreat. To a surrendered heart. To truly living what God wants me to live. To a day of grace. To clean floors and a clean heart. Keeping you all in prayer.  

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Ashes to Ashes

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“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s Ash Wednesday and the older I get the more I recognize the beauty in it.  Taking a day and starting anew.  A second chance at New Year’s Resolutions. A day free from food.  Free from the burdens we are choosing to cast off during this holy season. A day to ponder our “being dust.”  An even more beautiful saying always comes to my mind today~”Remember that you are dust, but very PRECIOUS dust.”  My aunt, Sr. Mary, is known to share that sentiment on Ash Wednesday, marking this day on the calendar with that special quote. I remember being young and reading that and feeling very special before God. That is truly His desire~to remind us of the fleeting nature of our earthly existence while letting us know how precious we are to Him.

I actually believe that it all comes down to that. When Jesus asks in the Gospel, “Who do you say that I am?”, we have to give an answer to that question.  Peter, infused by the Holy Spirit, responds, “I say you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” We need to be ready with our answer. We also need to ask that question of God.  “Who do you say that I am?”  We need to be open to His answer before asking the question.  We are His beloved. His precious dust. We are the reason He came and became man. Why He suffered and died for us.  Until we know both who He is and who we are to Him, we are going to struggle. There is a beautiful song by Jason Gray which has transformed my life and how I view myself before God. God has found ways to use this song in my life to remind me I am His beloved.  Understanding that Jesus is our Beloved and we are His Beloved changes everything~and everyone!

 

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