You are Never Alone in your Suffering

“In everything give thanks.”  This is a hard quote to follow.  So many times in our lives, we don’t feel like giving thanks.  We are hurting in one way or another and we want it to stop.  Some of us, during the course of our suffering will turn away from God.  We will accuse Him of making us suffer or allowing us to suffer.  How could a good God allow ME to go through all of this hurt?  It is in these moments, that we are called to turn our eyes toward the cross and give thanks.

Remember his words “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you.  Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” Mark 14:36.  God calls us to unite our suffering with his.  Look at the cross and know that he will lead you with his gentle hand through what seems like impossible circumstances.  

As we gaze at the crucifix and see God hanging on the cross, hands and feet pierced by nails, ribs showing through bloodied skin, knees scraped, His side pierced by a lance, His head bleeding from a crown of thorns, and His face so sorrowful, it is a reminder of the supreme sacrifice and suffering Jesus paid for us.

Jesus, the God-man, fully divine and fully human, came to earth to live among us and experience what we as humans experience.  In his short life on earth, He experienced every kind of pain and suffering known to man.

Early in His ministry, the spirit lead Jesus to the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting.  It was at the moment of His breaking point that the devil came to Him.  Knowing how hungry Jesus must be, the devil tempted Him with food.  Imagine the hunger; pains, cramping and rumbling.  I imagine Jesus thinking (as we humans would) “Please just turn one of those rocks into bread for me to eat.  I am so hungry and weak.  I can’t go on anymore.”  Instead His response is “One cannot live on bread alone.”  Next, the devil tempts him with calling down God’s power to save Him, the power to end His suffering.  But again, Jesus does not give in to the devil.  Instead, he responds quoting the ancient scriptures “It is written, you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  Lastly, the devil tempts Him with riches and kingdoms.  Jesus could have everything if he would only bow down to the devil.  But Jesus responds by saying “It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”In all three of these temptations, God is laying out a plan for us to respond to suffering.  

We can not live by worldly desires alone.  We must turn to God as He will always provide a way for us.  We should not always expect the Lord to make everything “good” in our lives.  We should not put Him to the test; always wanting happiness and never to suffer.  Many times we ask God “Why me?, Why have you left me here alone?, I thought you were all powerful, why can’t you fix this?”  Our focus should always remain on the goodness of the Lord and the trust that He will guide us even during times of great suffering.  We need to trust that God would never allow suffering unless a greater good could come from it.  Could God stop our suffering?  Yes, but God allows it in order for us to draw closer to Him, to press into Him and realize we can’t “do” this life without Him.

Let’s look at the life of Jesus during his active ministry.  Jesus felt every emotion we have felt; anger, betrayal, hurt, chastisement, sadness, joy, love, empathy, and suffering.  He lost his best friend Lazarus.  He wept upon seeing the suffering Lazarus’ friends and family were feeling after Lazarus’ death.  Yes, Jesus wept.  Jesus wept because He understands your grief at the loss of a loved one.  He knows the gut wrenching pain you are experiencing at the thought of never seeing that person again and He wants to help you through it.

Now, fast forward to the Last Supper.  This is where His suffering greatly intensifies.  Not only is he betrayed by one of the twelve who hands him over to his accusers, but he is also betrayed by his most loyal follower, the one who will be called “The Rock”.  Facing certain death, beating, and scourging, Jesus needed a friend to be there to comfort him, but instead his friend ran away and denied even knowing him.  

Imagine how Jesus must have felt.  Now, imagine when you feel you are alone in your suffering that God is there with you.  Jesus is holding your hand, wiping your tears, and propping you up to take the next step.  He knows exactly how you feel; the sadness, the abandonment, and the loss.  He is there to rescue you.  You only need to trust in Him.

Have you ever faced rejection?  Have you ever felt that you can’t do anything right?  Have you ever felt that the world was against you, that no matter what you did, you could never rise above your current circumstances?  Jesus felt that too!  Imagine being with him before the Sanhedrin.  The lies and accusations being flung at him.  Spit landing on his face.  Someone striking his cheek.  Another person calling him profane names and shoving a stick in his side.  Jesus falling to the ground and being kicked by an angry stranger.  Imagine rolling on the ground, writhing in pain, only to catch a glimpse of your mother weeping and unable to help you.  What must a man feel like experiencing such horrible degrading circumstances?  If you can relate, Jesus can too.  Jesus knows your pain.  He knows your frustration.  He knows the depth of your sorrow.  He knows your soul and he loves you with a love that can calm every pain and quiet every voice.

Have you ever felt physical pain; excruciating pain from some kind of injury or chronic pain from some kind of physical ailment?  Is the pain sometimes so bad you just want to give in, you just want to give up?  Jesus felt this too.  In the garden as he was praying, the pain of knowing what he was about to go through was so great that he began to sweat blood.  Can you imagine knowing that your skin was about to be ripped from your body during the scourging, that your skull would be impaled with thorns that would be beaten into your head, that you would have to carry a 300 pound cross to your death, that your hands and feed would be pierced by a thick rusty nail, that your side would be ripped open by a lance, that your shoulders would become dislocated and your skin would burn from the hot sun as you hung on a cross naked and gasping for air as your lungs began to fill with fluid?  That is pain. That is agony.  Jesus has been where you are.  He knows physical pain of every kind.

Jesus provided salvation for the world through his suffering.  During every step of his passion, he saw YOUR face and he loved you so much that he trusted in God’s will.  He was willing to suffer that much for YOU and for me!  And he would do it all again.  He would do it every day of His life, over and over again for you.  He loves you that much!

Allow Him to come down and meet you where you are.  Let him reach down to the lowliness you are feeling and pull you up to meet him.  He is the only one who can save you.  He would never reject you.  He loves you unconditionally.  Feel his love enter your heart and allow that love to penetrate your soul.  Trust in Him.  Trust in his infinite love for you.  Trust that His love is enough to carry you through any type of suffering.  Jesus, I trust in you!  Jesus, I trust in you!  Jesus, I trust in you!

“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” – John 16:33  

A Glimpse of Heaven

Yesterday, while I was reviewing some religious content for a project I have been working on at church, I stumbled across a video called “VITA” by Father John Burns (http://www.ahavaproductions.com/vita/).  After watching the video, I felt this overwhelming sense of joy.  Joy in knowing that I am working towards an inconceivable goal; heaven.

I wrote about “my glimpse of heaven” a little over a year ago when on retreat at Gethsemani Abbey.  When I was on retreat, I experienced God in a way I had never before and I may never again until I see Him again in eternity.  I hope I can convey the feelings that I had in words.

The retreats at Gethsemani are silent.  During my retreat, I spent five days with approximately thirty people, complete strangers, in silence.  The silence allowed me to hear God’s voice.  God spoke to me in many ways that week showing me the beauty of His creation and what life with Him can be.  It was through my experience at Gethsemani that I believe God gave me a glimpse of heaven.

While on retreat, every day, seven times a day, you meet in the sanctuary for prayer with others on retreat.  You hear the wonderful church bells calling you to prayer.  No matter where you are; in your room, in the dining hall, taking a hike, or sitting under a tree, you are called to worship.  You arrive in silence.  You see the monks arrive, one by one, to take their seats and prepare themselves to praise God with beautiful chants and prayer.  They sing at a slow pace that is almost hypnotic.  This pace allows the words to penetrate your soul.  The prayers are simple and beautiful.

Morning prayer is followed by Mass.  Mass at Gethsemani is unhurried.  You enter the sanctuary early to sit in silence and prepare to enter into the most intimate relationship of your life.  When Mass begins, the tune of the hymn is simple but sweet to the ear.  It is sung at a slow pace for you to really enjoy and listen to the words while lifting them to His ear in praise.  Even the responses are said slowly.

The first mass I attended felt strange.  I was done saying the response while the monks were still on the first few words.  As I started to slow my responses and really listen to the words and their meaning, I felt a deep sense of love for the liturgy come over me.  When it came time for the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer, they were sung slowly and purposefully.  This was like angelic voices being lifted to heaven.  The slow, intentional voices of men who have dedicated their entire lives to living as Christ lived was like the sweetest choir of angels surrounding our Lord in heaven.  For the first time in my life, I understood Mass and how every Sunday when we are celebrating Mass, Jesus and all of the Saints are in heaven doing the same thing. We are in union with our most high God and all of the angels and saints.

On the last day of the retreat, I was overwhelmed with love.  Love for God, love for the monks, and love for the others on retreat.  It is a kind of love this is difficult to explain.  It is the purest kind of love I have ever experienced.  I didn’t know any of their names, races, how much money they had, sexual preference, political persuasion, etc.  All I knew was that seven times a day we were united in one goal; loving Christ with the utmost of our being.  I miss the monks and the others on retreat.  Many times, if I am feeling low, I sit and remember their faces.  I recall each of them and the love I have for them.  I remember the people I sat next to in prayer and at Mass: each one uniquely wonderful, created in the image and likeness of God.  I left changed.  I left longing for heaven, longing to see God’s face.  I am home sick for sure.  Home sick for the day I too will meet our heavenly Father face to face.  I believe the experience I had at Gethsemani is a glimpse of what heaven is like; pure, unchanging, unconditional love found in perfect communion with God and His beloved.  A love that is hard for humans to comprehend because it is such goodness and mercy beyond our understanding.

I struggle to express what my encounter was like because in this life, we will never achieve the kind of love waiting for us on the other side.  Heaven is like a mother nursing her child where two become one with life giving food.  It’s like the wedding night when a husband and wife join their bodies together in oneness and love.  It’s like pure joy that radiates from a child’s face when they discover something new and wonderful.  It’s like the sweet smell of a baby’s head when they first get out of the bath.  Heaven is pure, perfect, unblemished, sweet, joy filled love.  That is what we are working towards.  Heaven makes every moment of every day worth it when we are growing closer to being with Him in eternity.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” – Colossians 3:1-2

Created in the Image and Likeness of God

Every morning I wake up, roll out of bed, and get in the shower.  After showering, I stand before the mirror to go through my morning routine of doing my hair, brushing my teeth, and putting on makeup.  As I stand before the mirror, I always have at least one comment that runs through my mind about how I need to start exercising more, look at that new wrinkle, my hair needs dyed because I see some new gray hairs coming in, my smile is crooked, my teeth are yellow, my neck is starting to see the signs of aging and gravity, my pants are a little tighter today than they were yesterday, I need some new bras (the current ones aren’t helping my sagging breasts as much as they used to) and so on and so on.  Within the first 15 minutes of my day, I have stood on the scale, looked at myself in the mirror and judged everything I see as wrong with my outward appearance.

Yesterday, as I went for a walk in the woods asking God to reveal something to me, something I needed to change in my life, my walk took on a completely different path than I expected.  As I walked through the woods, the beautiful red, yellow and orange leaves falling all around me, I could feel the presence of God.  The cool breeze, the rustling leaves under my feet, the sound of water rushing over the stones in the creek, the faint sound of reeds blowing in the wind, and the sun reflecting on pond all reminded me of God’s love for the earth; His beautiful creation that He has entrusted to us.  

As I continued to follow the makeshift map that had been provided to me, I decided to visit Vineyard Knob on this walk.  The word knob made me think that this could become more of a hike than a walk, but I was anxious to see what would await me at the top of the hill.  I made the right turn to follow the path and began what would be a very difficult climb to the top.  At first, it started as a slow upward climb.  My lungs were filling with cool clean air and it felt wonderful.  With each step and breath, I began to thank God for my health and the ability to make such a journey.  I was using using my God given strength step after step all the while taking in my beautiful surroundings.  

As the climb began to become more difficult, I started to second guess myself.  Would I be able to make it to the top?  How can I focus on my beautiful surroundings when I can’t hardly breathe?  What are my legs going to feel like tomorrow morning?  I’m out in the middle of the woods all by myself, what if I fall?  But then I remembered, God will never leave me.  He will lead me gently through even the greatest suffering.  I stopped, took a deep breath, and realized God has blessed me with two legs to climb, two arms to catch me if I fall, two lungs to breathe, two eyes to see, two ears to hear, and an able body that enables me to make this climb.  

As I came upon the summit, it was breathtaking.  A makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross to remind us of our Lord’s trials as he faced certain death by crucifixion.  As I sat among the trees, the wind blowing, leaves falling, and squirrels gathering nuts, I realized God created me in His image and likeness.  He created me to be perfectly me, exactly who He wants me to be.  He will not let me fall.  

My body, a temple of the Holy Spirit,  has experienced laughter, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and the birth of three beautiful babies.  I have played soccer, tennis, golf, volleyball, softball, and football throughout the course of my life.  I have witnessed the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, I have played the slots in Vegas, I have laid on the beach at Waikiki, I have climbed the steps of the Eiffel Tower, and I have been to 40 of the 50 states and to many countries.  I have jet skied, water skied, swam in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and I even swam with giant sea turtles.  And I did all of this in a body that God formed in my mother’s womb.  A body that He sees no imperfections with.  A body that is perfect in His eyes.  With this body, I have been blessed beyond measure.  And the greatest blessing of all is that God has given me the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me.

God always works in ways we never expect.  The problem is, we are sometimes sleeping in our walk with God and don’t see the ways he works in us.  I hope we will all wake up tomorrow morning, look in the mirror and see the goodness of God especially in the wrinkles, gray hairs, sagging breasts that sustained the life of our babies, rolls of skin and stretch marks from pregnancies, and the lifetime of happiness and trials we have experienced in our own temples, our bodies, God’s gracious gift.

Slowing Down

There is something to be said for slowing things down a bit.  I’m always rushing from here to there.  So much to do, so little time.  Big kids off to school, start the laundry, empty the dishwasher, third kid awakens, 5 rounds of Candy Land, check the phone, check facebook, empty the garbage, load the dishwasher, change the laundry, someone needs to potty, make breakfast, fold the laundry, change our clothes, go to the store, hit the library, go to the post office, check email and facebook in the parking lot, head back home, unpack bags, play barbies, make lunch, fold more laundry, get your shoes on, off to preschool, back home, check email and facebook, grab dog for a walk, do some work, 30 minutes to relax, first kid home from school, walk the dog, preschool pickup, third kid home from school, homework, start making dinner, out the door for evening activities, back home, take showers, read books, bedtime for everyone, five minutes later I’m asleep on the couch.  Rest and repeat the next morning.

WHOA!  Wait a minute!  Can’t we slow it down a little?  At what point during the day did I sit back and appreciate life?  Do I even remember any of it?  How many times did I tell my 3 year old to “hold on a sec” or “just a minute” or “let me just do this really quick” or “I’ll be right back, mommy needs to grab something”?  My life has literally gotten out of control.  My son comes home from school and longs to play 15 minutes of hockey with me, but I’m so worn out from all of the running that I don’t have the energy and I tell him I will later.  Well, later comes and we get busy on something else and I never follow through with my promise. 

My time with my kids is finite, not infinite.  I only have them for a few more years until they leave for college and embark on a life of their own; for my oldest, that is 6 years from now, for my middle, 9 years.  I have them for less time than they have already been on this earth and I am missing out.  These years don’t even include those high school years where they pretty much think they already live on their own, but they sleep under your roof.  My time with my kids is precious and I need to treat it as such.  

What would happen if I left the dishes on the counter and danced with my 3 year old?  What would happen if I put a frozen lasagna in the oven instead of a “from scratch” meal so that I could play hockey with my son?  What would happen if I turned off my phone as soon as my kids were home from school and was truly present for them at every moment?  The world would not stop.  People would still post to Facebook (and I wouldn’t be first to “like” the post).  My laundry would still sit in my dryer waiting for me to fold it (I could just put it on the de-wrinkle setting later to fluff it up a bit).  And you know what else?  I would have one happy son, a middle school aged daughter who I connected with, a three year old who has seen her mom dance like a rock star, and a husband who gets a smile and a kiss when he walks in the door from work.  What could be better than that?  Absolutely nothing. 

Tenderness

When you hear the word tenderness, what comes to mind?  Comforting someone, touching someone’s shoulder when they are feeling down, and being gentle is what I think of.  But tenderness actually requires a great deal of strength in certain situations.  

When we encounter someone with a differing opinion than ours or someone who is acting in a way that we don’t agree with, do we always exercise tenderness in our response?  Are we apt to respond quickly and admonish rather than act with tenderness?  Are we quick to judge rather than understand?

As I reflect on the election season,  I realize tenderness is an area in which I sometimes fail.   I did have some wonderful conversations with people “on the other side” of certain issues.  These conversations, I believe, strengthened those bonds and opened my mind to different views.   However, there are others who I now see I did not always exercise tenderness with.  I have beliefs that drive my actions, but so do others.  Even two people that have been raised by the same parents could have two completely different views simply because they encountered different situations and people in their lives.  

As I see it, there are winners in this election, not the candidates, but those people who can look back on conversations they had with family and friends and admit to themselves that they didn’t exercise tenderness and apologize for those situations.  It takes great strength to be tender.  It takes even greater strength to admit you were wrong and seek forgiveness.  We need to heal from this election and this is a great place to start.

The ability to stop oneself before responding takes incredible inner strength.  Mary, the mother of God, is a great example of someone who always responded with tenderness.  When Jesus was a boy, they traveled to Jerusalem for Passover, after the festival was complete, Mary and Joseph left to return home not realizing that Jesus had stayed behind.  After a day of traveling, they looked for him among his family and friends but could not find him.  Now, imagine Mary’s terror.  Where could Jesus be?  How frantic would you be looking for your child in a great sea of people leaving Jerusalem.  They searched for three days.  After three days, they found him in the temple teaching.  Now, imagine Mary’s response in “our language”, “JESUS!  Where have you been?  You had us worried sick!  Why did you not come with us?  We have been looking everywhere for you!”.  Now, Jesus replies (in today’s language) “Mom, didn’t you know where to look?  Of course I would be in my Father’s house!  Dah.”  Now, imagine you are Mary.  Wouldn’t you just want to shake twelve year old Jesus and tell him “don’t you ever do that again!”.  But instead, Mary responded in tenderness saying nothing and “kept all these things in her heart”.  And again, fast forward 20 years as she is watching her son be scourged, beaten, chastised, spit upon, stripped naked and finally nailed to a cross to die.  Watching her son climb the hill to Calvary, what did she do?  She encountered him, wiped his brow and allowed him to continue, holding all of it in her heart.  She knew he must die to save all of us.  That is tenderness.  That is the strength to look beyond self, humbling oneself for the good of others.  Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we all may exercise tenderness.

Truth from Gethsemani – 2016

Truth be told, I was terrified to come to Gethsemani and spend 5 days in silence.  Yes, it was scary to think I would be disconnected from my family, but the most terrifying part of it was the silence.  When you are silent, it causes you to look inside your own self.  It causes you to look at your own life and reflect on things you may not want to admit to yourself.  I knew God had many things to reveal to me on this trip, and that terrified me.  There was a part of me that wanted those things revealed, and another part that wanted them to remain buried.  By revealing them, you are forced to make a decision, do I continue the way that I am, or do I attempt to change?

No one likes change.  Change is hard.  Change makes you feel uncomfortable.  Change makes you work.  It makes you constantly revisit conversations or interactions you have during your day to check yourself’ and make sure you are striving toward a different and hopefully better you.  It also requires others to help you along the journey.  People whom you trust to keep you on the righteous path.

I have shed many, many tears this week as different things were revealed to me.  It made me realize, I have come a long way, but I still have many mountains to climb.  

I will miss this place of solitude; the simplicity, the comfort, and the silence.  As I sat in the church this morning, I started thinking about how much I would miss these men; men who I have never spoken to and men that I don’t even know their names.  I have developed a deep love and respect for them.  Many of these men are old, frail, and have been here their whole lives.  They pray fervently every day, seven times a day as a group praising God through the liturgy of the hours.  They are praying for us and for this world.  I can’t even fathom the prayers reaching God’s ears from these holy men.  I can’t imagine the world without them in it.  I am having a hard time imagining my new world without seeing them seven times a day to bring me back to Christ.  This place has left an impression on my soul that will not soon diminish.  

I pray God will continue to work in me and continue to bless me.  I pray for these holy men, that their deep love for Christ will bring them joy and lead to a happy death many years from now.  Thank you Jesus for bringing me here.  Thank you to my family and friends who made it happen.  I am beyond blessed and thankful for this time away.

Enjoying the Mass

Life at Gethsemani moves slow.  At first, the slowness of it all is daunting and boring.  However, as your senses start to relax and you become more aware of everything around you, the slowness brings peace.  It is a deep sense of peace.

For years, I have thought praise and worship music at church was necessary.  It gets our bodies moving early in the morning.  It makes our blood start pumping and we walk out of church dancing and singing these fast paced exciting tunes.  It puts a little pep in your step.  Since becoming Catholic, I have felt the need even more.  As I watch the faithful in the pews yawning, barely singing, going through the motions, looking at their watches during the homily, many leaving after receiving the Eucharist, and many more leaving before the priest even leaves the sanctuary; it brings to mind some questions.  Where do they need to go?  Is there something burning in the oven?  Did they leave their iron plugged in?  Why can’t they stay for just a moment and thank God for the glorious gift of his only begotten son?

I thought the answer to these questions would be better more lively music or better homilies that sound more like a motivational speech than deciphering the Gospel, or even locking the people in the sanctuary until they understood what they just encountered at Mass (obviously this would be against fire code).  But this week I came to a greater understanding of just what we are encountering as we enter into Mass.  We are encountering a part of our week where we GET to be with Jesus.  We don’t HAVE to be with Jesus, we GET to be with Jesus.  The best part, we GET to receive him in the Eucharist; body, blood, soul and divinity.  Why should we rush this?  Why should we make the sanctuary loud and more about us than about Him?  

The intention of Mass is for you to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus.  Can you enter into a deep relationship with anyone when you have to rush a conversation?  Can you really give that person all of your attention when you have to rush out?  Can you really understand them if you just tell stories about yourself rather than study their words?  No, you can’t.

Mass here at Gethsemani is slow.  You enter the sanctuary early to sit in silence and prepare to enter into the most intimate relationship of your life.  When Mass begins, the tune of the hymn is simple but sweet to the ear.  It is sung at a slow pace for you to really enjoy and listen to the words while lifting them to His ear in praise.  Even the responses are said slowly.  The first mass I attended felt strange.  I was done saying the response while the monks were still on the first few words.  Had I really listened to what I was saying?  Had I really understood the words that came out of my mouth and what I was responding to?

As I started to slow my responses and really listen to the words and their meaning, I felt a deep sense of love for the liturgy come over me.  When it came time for the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer, they were sung.  This was like angelic voices being lifted to heaven.  The slow, intentional voices of men who have dedicated their entire lives to living as Christ lived was like the sweetest choir of angels surrounding our Lord in heaven.  

This way of celebrating Mass goes back to the beginning of the church.  Laypersons didn’t have soccer games, work, grocery shopping, or other places to be.  They came to be with God.  There was no where else they wanted to be.  Their attention was on God and the sacrifice that would be performed during Mass.  They couldn’t wait to receive Jesus into their souls.  To drink him into their being.  To take Him, who is now part of their body, with the grace of God through their week until they came to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the Holy Mass the next Sunday.  It was the beginning of their week, not the end.  It was the highlight of their week, not an obligation.  It was the gift of eternal life they were seeking, not just checking a box.   

Through this deeper understanding of the Mass, I have come to realize, the slower the better.  Take time to be with Jesus.  Take time to understand why you are there.  Take time to listen and respond with joy for what Jesus has done for you, and take time to praise Him after receiving Him.  There is nothing more important in this life than a slow, intentional relationship with our Lord.