Fighting the Good Fight

“I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith….The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever.”  2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18

I’ve been having a rough month in my faith.  I’ve been so incredibly busy and stressed out that I’m not finding the time to pray or read.  My head is in it, but my heart hasn’t been.  I’ve noticed thoughts and temptations creeping in.  I really needed God to reach down and show me that it’s ok and He is never far from me no matter where I am.  

Yesterday was the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.  I was driving to my husband’s work to take our annual wellness exam, and I turned on the radio hoping to hear my favorite priest, Father Ricardo, however, he wasn’t on.  EWTN was having Mass in celebration of these two amazing men who lived their entire lives even to death on a cross and death by beheading for Christ.  I remember thinking “I don’t want to listen to mass, I need something uplifting and exciting to listen to this morning”.  Then, I stopped myself.  What could be more uplifting and exciting than Mass???  So, I listened and God spoke.  I live every day to “fight the good fight” that Paul talks about in this scripture passage.  Isn’t that what we all long for?  Like Paul, nearing the end of his life here on earth, who looked back and said “I did it, I gave the Lord everything I had, I followed him even to death”.  When temptation creeps in or self doubt starts weighing you down, remember the Lord will rescue you from every evil threat.  He is there, ALWAYS there for you.    

This morning, as I made my coffee, I asked St. Paul to pray for me to continue to fight the good fight.  I asked Jesus to protect me from evil and allow me to keep the faith even through suffering, and you know what I saw next…this glorious rainbow.  God is good!!

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.

The Mercy of Forgiveness

How many times in your life have you been wronged by someone?  Was the wrong caused by someone you know or by a stranger who said or did something?  Can you even count how many times someone’s hurtful words or actions made you angry, sad, or discouraged?  I know I can’t.  

I have been wronged, greatly wronged by family members, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and strangers.  For years I thought, “How could that person say that to me?” or “I tried my best, but I guess it wasn’t good enough.” or “Why would a stranger say something that hurtful to someone they don’t even know?”.  My first thought was always about ME.  They don’t know ME.  How dare they say or do that to ME.  What gives them the right to treat ME that way.  The one thing I never thought of was them.

What happened to that person over the course of their life that caused them to feel this way?  What did someone do or say, or better yet neglect to do or say to that person that would allow them to treat someone else with disrespect?  When you really look into someone’s heart, you become overwhelmed with mercy for them.  You realize their heart needs healed.

Over the last few months, I realized I am that stranger.  I am that family member, I am that friend, co-worker or acquaintance.  I am that person who has inadvertently hurt so many people over the course of my life.  I have said and done things that were wrong and walked away having no idea the lasting impact a few words could have.  After turning the finger around and pointing it at my heart, I recognize my heart has holes.  God sized holes that need healed and can only find healing in Him.  

Forgiveness is hard.  But forgiveness opens your heart to freedom from the lies, the hatred, and the wasted energy.  I ask for your forgiveness today.  If there is anything I have ever said or done that has hurt you, please forgive me.  Have mercy on me a sinner. 

As our Lord Jesus Christ said as he hung on the cross, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”.   Who can you forgive today?  Who can you ask for forgiveness today?

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. 

A Masterpiece of a Life

When I think of a Masterpiece, these words come to mind; timeless, beautiful, inspiring, perfection, one of a kind.  A masterpiece can touch someone’s soul.  

Shortly after I graduated from college, I was given the opportunity to travel abroad.  For four weeks, we toured England, France, Italy, Austria and Germany.  While touring, we experienced many masterpieces of art, literature, architecture and music.  I remember seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time.  We walked into The Louvre knowing that we would have the opportunity to gaze upon one of the most famous paintings in all of history.  Our anticipation grew as we climbed the stairway to the gallery where she was displayed.  Upon arrival, I was struck by the number of people waiting to get a tiny glimpse of this woman.  They had their cameras waiting to capture the moment.  They wanted to be able to share this moment with friends and family, but also to have a record of the fact that “Yes, I have seen the Mona Lisa”.  While in Austria, we visited the birthplace of Mozart where we heard the brilliant and expressive tunes of such a master of music.  While in italy, we gazed upon La Pieta and Michelangelo’s David, pieces of artwork that will forever remind me that there is a God.  The numerous Duomos (cathedrals) throughout Italy were a reminder that there was blood, sweat, and tears put into building glorious houses for our Lord; each one different but exquisitely beautiful in their own way.  There is definitely some amount of pride in witnessing something considered a masterpiece.

Since Christmas, I have seen the death of several people.  They were from different families, different age groups, lived in different parts of the world, had different faith backgrounds and had different reasons for their deaths; some were very shocking while others had followed long illnesses.  The one thing they all had in common; their lives were a masterpiece.  Hearing stories from their loved ones of living life without limits, deep faith in God, love for humanity, spending quality time with their family and friends, giving charitably without expecting anything in return, teaching their children what it means to have character, and so much more.  Their lives were timeless, beautiful, inspiring, perfect, and one-of-a-kind.  They knew what was most valuable in life; living a life filled with love.  I remember at each visitation and funeral having a similar type of experience as I did that day in France; people lined up to tell stories of their loved one, needing to speak to the families to tell them how important that person was in their life, beautiful flowers symbolizing beautiful lives, pictures of adventures, birthday parties, graduations, holidays, vacations, and weddings.  Every person just needing to say “Yes, I knew them.  They changed me.  They lived a masterpiece.”  Each person carrying a beautiful snapshot of a memory of moments they shared with their loved one.  Each of these loved ones had touched someone else’s soul in a deep way.

I want to live a masterpiece of a life.  At the end of our days, isn’t that what everyone wants; to look back and say “That was a masterpiece”.  A masterpiece is one-of-a-kind, each one is unique and wonderful in its own right.  For me, I think it comes down to love.  If I love Jesus, I should make time for Him each and every day.  If I love my children, I should give them 100% of my attention when they need it.  If I love my husband, I should give him grace when life calls for it.  If I love my family, I should reach out to them to stay in touch.  If I love my friends, they should know they can trust me with anything.  If I love my community, I should give back charitably.  If I love my church, I should invite others to come and see what has created a change in me.  Each one of these ideas of “love” is it’s own color of the rainbow in a brilliant painting, a note in a beautiful opera, a cornerstone of a cathedral of God, or a word in a classical piece of literature.  Each piece by itself is not enough, but when all pieces come together, it sets something in motion that is extraordinarily magnificent.  What does a masterpiece of a life look like to you?  As my favorite shirt says, “One life is all we have to live.”  How will you and I choose to use it?

 

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.