When St. Francis and St. Anthony Show Up At Your House

It started a couple of years ago with a medal showing up on my bedroom floor. It had two saints on it. One side was St. Francis. The other side was St. Anthony. I asked my husband and children if it belonged to any of them. They all said, “No.” I asked my friends and relatives who had visited anytime lately if it belonged to them. They all said, “No.” I asked my neighbors, who all said, “No.” Where did this medal come from? I had no idea, but I knew that St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua were going to be with me for a while.

My daughter’s Confirmation was coming up soon. I headed to look for the perfect gift for her. I noticed an entire wall full of Crucifixes. There were probably 100 at least. Suddenly, this one jumped out and said, “Pick me!” I held it in my hands and realized that I really should give her something else as she already had a crucifix. Plus her older brother’s Confirmation gift was quite different from this. I saw exactly what she needed and added that to my basket. I then looked at the price on the Crucifix and thought, “Why am I buying this?” But I bought it anyway.

I immediately hung this Crucifix in our front hall. My husband noticed it and asked me about it. How do you explain this to your very logical, reasonable husband? I just said, “I was supposed to buy it.” He was fine with that but asked who the people were? The Crucifix had Jesus on the Cross along with four people, one on each end of the cross. I told him, “I have no idea.” He said, “Maybe we should find out.” Good idea! So I got online and googled this Crucifix. I discovered it was called the Misericordia Crucifix. Misericordia means “mercy” in Latin, I believe. Anyway, this crucifix was a 14th-century processional cross. It features St. Francis at the top; the Blessed Virgin on the left; St. John the Beloved on the right; and St. Anthony of Padua at the bottom. So here they were, St. Francis and St. Anthony, showing up at my home again.

Then there was the conclave of March 2013. My beloved friend Pope Benedict XVI was resigning and a new pope would be elected. My children and I watched as they announced the white smoke. Such excitement! Who could understand the language of the announcement. I believe it was made in Latin, but our Latin wasn’t up to translating this! Then I said, “Did they just say Francis?” Sure enough. Our new pope chose the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi.

Twenty three years before this, I visited the town of Assisi, Italy. I fell in love with the quaint streets and festival of flowers. Tiny flower petals were placed on the sidewalks, creating entire scenes. One I remember best was DaVinci’s Last Supper replicated with flower petals! When I saw it, all I could think was, “Please, God, don’t let the wind blow!”

The one church I wanted to visit was the Basilica where St. Francis was buried. When I arrived, a notice was posted that an earthquake had made the church unsafe and we would not be allowed to go inside. Such disappointment! I was very saddened because I also had not been able to see the Sistine Chapel because of a major restoration project. It felt like every time I tried to visit a holy place, the doors were closed!

However, St. Francis will not be outdone in mercy. Decades later, he and his buddy St. Anthony showed up at my house and have continued to shower many gifts upon me and my family. During the past two years, so many amazing things have occurred tied to this dear saint that if I listed them all, you would most likely not believe me. Suffice it to say that St. Francis was an instrument of peace, and he brings blessings to all those who are open to God’s grace and mercy. Perhaps that is why his order is 30,000 strong not counting all the orders who share his charism and the lay people who are Third Order Franciscans!

To honor this dear soul, lover of peace and of Jesus Christ, won’t you pray his prayer with me?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

Running and winning my first and only 5K race

My children do not believe this story. They look at their “pleasantly plump” mother and cannot believe she ever played soccer in college. They don’t understand what multiple child births, along with a decade of caring for an elderly parent, does to one’s ability to exercise regularly! So, although it is true, I can understand why they have a hard time believing it. With this background, here goes.

My dear friend wanted to run a 5K race. She asked if I would be her accountability partner and train with her. I had no plans to run any race, but I liked my friend and figured it would be good exercise. We ran outside for most of the fall. However, when the weather was rainy or snowy, we headed to the campus indoor track. A friend of my older sister’s happened to run the student gym, so we would say hi and chat a bit while I was there. Training was fun for me because it kept me in good soccer shape and I got to chat with my friend while we ran.

Fast forward. My friend found a flyer on campus about an upcoming run put on by the Law School. The entrance fee was reasonable and the course was right around campus. She asked if I would enter with her. Of course, I said yes. We agreed right then that if during the race either one of us just couldn’t continue due to cramping or exhaustion, that the other one should keep running and we would just meet back at the finish line.

I don’t remember much about the morning of the race. I think I ate breakfast. We both showed up ready to run. When the race started, it was a huge pack of people. I remember thinking, “How in the world will this work? There are way too many racers to even fit on the street?” The two of us ran side by side and just kept moving with the pack. The pack was running fast, so we didn’t have the breath or energy to talk much. I am not sure how far we were into the race when my friend told me she needed to stop and would meet me at the finish line. After I made sure she was okay, I caught back up with the pack.

Just a little background to help you understand the humor in this story. I never ran track in high school. The thought of just running bored me to death. I played soccer because I liked being with all the people. The sport part of the game was fun, too. I didn’t mind running if I was actually thinking about scoring or having fun with friends. But running by itself was never something I would consider. I didn’t have the internal fortitude to stick with something as serious as running.

Back to the race. Okay, so as I am keeping up with this pack, I start to realize that I never even looked at that race brochure. I had no idea what the course was like. I had relied on my friend to know this, and she had to stop running. This meant two things: 1) I must keep with this pack or I will get lost; 2) I had no clue how far I had already run or how much of the race was left. These are two desperate things to be running through your head during a 5K race! So, in my usual fashion, I decided to just run with the pack and forget the rest. I didn’t pay attention to who was in the pack, I just ran. That’s funny because the pack was mostly men, however, I was behind a handful of women so that’s all I saw.

As the course winded back towards campus, I felt some relief because I at least knew I couldn’t get lost now. As we turned a corner, we faced a giant hill. I don’t know if it was really “giant” but at that moment it felt giant. I saw my friend sitting on the lawn next to the hill waving at me. I also saw about half of the campus standing on either side of the street watching the race. Suddenly, I am ashamed to admit, my vanity took hold. I thought to myself, “I’m dying here. I am exhausted. I want to stop and sit on the lawn with my friend. But I cannot do that. All these people are watching me. Okay. Fine. I will just beat that lady in front of me up this hill. I will kick it into high gear and ignore that it is a hill because I am so embarrassed at this moment.”

And that’s what I did. I ran my heart out up that hill and passed that lady and kept on running. Suddenly, I hear people saying, “Good race! Way to go!” followed by “Stop. Stop. The race is over. Come back!” Huh? So I stop running and am walking to catch my breath. The lady I passed comes over and shakes my hand with a disgusted look on her face. She says, “Congratulations,” but her body language says, “I hate you.” I am confused. Now, there’s laughter. One of the volunteers working to put on the race tells me, “Do you know that you won the race?” I think she is kidding because all these guys were in front of me. I must have looked confused. She says, “You are the winner of the women.” I think I said something like, “Oh, okay,” and started to walk and find my friend. The volunteer grabbed my arm and said, “You need to collect your prizes.” I think I was in shock. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I received a gift certificate for a Dinner for Two to a very nice restaurant. Sometime, I will have to tell you how I asked my husband out on our first date with the gift certificate!

P.S. I have never run a 5K race again. Even though I won, I definitely did not enjoy running that race. I have no idea how many women entered the race, and honestly don’t care.

A Toy Maker, a Drug Addict and my Guardian Angel

It was rush hour and I was headed to interview a toy maker for a Christmas story I was writing. His shop was located in an area of town stricken by poverty and the things that often come along with it: crime and drug dealers. I knew this wasn’t a safe area, but I had enough street smarts to know what to watch for and how to stay safe.

As I approached a major intersection the light turned red. I was the fourth car back in the line waiting for a green light. When the light turned green, I started forward. As is usual, we spread out a bit as we moved forward. I was driving a fine green Buick LeSabre circa 1971 nicknamed “the Beast” because of its size and looks. As I entered the intersection, I felt what I can only call a “tap on the shoulder” and against all reason, logic, human thought process, I slammed on my brakes as hard as possible in the middle of the intersection. This is when life entered what I call “soup mode.”

As I am slamming on my brakes without even taking or having time to look behind me to see if someone is going to now rear end my car, I see a tricked out Lincoln about to hit my car. I will never forget the eyes of the man driving that car. They were vacant. The eyes of a soul whose addiction was so deep and whose face looked like someone running from the devil. By all physical reality, he should have slammed into my passenger door. His speed was at least 60 miles per hour. Against all reality, our cars did a complicated dance in the middle of a major intersection at rush hour. This moment was so slow-moving, it was like swimming in soup. His car missed my car by centimeters, and almost as if our cars bended around each other. He drove right on through the intersection. I ended up in the middle of it, untouched, still in soup mode. As I gazed at the drivers of the vehicles all around me, I saw the exact same expression: wide open eyes, jaws dropped, total unbelief! All I can say is that at the very moment I needed it, I had the grace of Holy Obedience to the promptings of my Guardian Angel.

On this most holy day of the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, I thank mine for giving me my life. I think my children would also thank my Guardian Angel, as they would never have been born, but for me making it through this unreal moment in life.

Angel of God, my Guardian Dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here.

Ever this day, be at my side

to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

Finding The Little Flower

l owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to a little soul. I have never met her, but she has deeply impacted my life. When my husband and I were in need of tenderness and gentleness, she not only welcomed us with warm kindness, but brought us home with her. She made sure that we were not only well cared for, but that our children were embraced, too. She knew how hard life could be, so she sat with me and told me many stories that would prepare me for the years to come. She had a way of telling stories that made you feel as if you were there. I just knew whatever story she shared from her life, it was going to be important in my life. We became very close friends. At one point, when I least expected it, she introduced me to her best friend. It was just like her to sneak up on me and spring this friend upon me. I loved her so dearly already, how in the world could I not love her friend!? And he was amazing. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to spend time with him.

As the years went by, I discovered that I was going to be moving away. She had been a very important part of our lives. I really didn’t know how to tell her, but I think she already knew. I introduced her to many of my friends, hoping that they, too, would get to know and love her. I also wanted them to meet her best friend. Some of my friends were very thrilled to meet him, too. About a year ago, I had a chance to go back and visit her. She was just the same, but this time it wasn’t so hard to part ways because we had become so close that she was always with me in my heart. A few months later, a good friend surprised me with a special gift from her. It was a rose petal from her writing desk. Wasn’t that just like her to send her love in the form of a rose petal? It sits on my bedside table and reminds me that I have a dear friend who loves me.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

No room in this inn

Good Saint Joseph has been on my mind this morning. As I reflected on the Joyful Mysteries, I paused at the Nativity. I thought about what it must have felt like to be St. Joseph. Here he was given the tremendous responsibility of caring and providing for the Holy Family, yet one of his first tasks is a complete and total failure by human standards. His very pregnant wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary, must have felt horribly for him as he knocked at each inn door in Bethlehem. I’m sure he worked hard to find them a safe place to spend the night. But in the end, there was no room in the inn.

Many Christians and non-Christians seem to be following the idea: if you believe, you will succeed. If this was truth, then surely St. Joseph would have easily found a room for him and his expectant wife. However, neither Mary’s prayers or St. Joseph’s prayers were answered. Perhaps, God had a greater plan than either of them could humanly see or conceive.

How often have I fallen into the trap of the wrong belief I mention above. I would add my own twist which is: if you believe and work hard, you will succeed. God has allowed me to experience plenty failures when I pursue things that really don’t matter. He can see inside my heart and knows when I need a good dose of humility. My self-reliance and pride can kick into high gear very easily, and only He knows how to temper that for me. When I am full of myself, there is no room in the inn for God or the Holy Spirit. It’s when I let go of my grand plans and acknowledge that my entire existence rests in His hands that wonderful things begin to happen. Sometimes, I have had to knock on many doors before I realize I am knocking on the wrong doors. He just patiently waits for me or sometimes knocks me over to get my attention!

Let’s pray for the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker when we find ourselves struggling with pride or self-reliance.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Jesus, I trust in you!

Running on Empty is Never a Good Thing

Running on empty is never a good thing. I remember a recent road trip where had a van full of nieces and nephews who I was bringing back home with me. We were enjoying ourselves tremendously as we drove across the state. About two hours into the drive, I suddenly remembered that I never filled up with gas before leaving. I did a quick check of my gas gauge and realized that I was running on fumes in a section of the state that has no gas stations. In fact, that area is simply miles and miles and miles of country land. My prayers began in earnest. I called upon my Guardian Angel, St. Christopher and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I knew how few miles I had left before I ran out of gas. I also knew the next gas station was further than the gas in my tank could take me. This was a moment of desperation, and my prayers rose to a high pitch. May I add that it was a very hot day and we had little or no water in the car. I was envisioning myself and the children sitting on the side of the road sweating and dehydrated.

By this time, my prayer was sweating out of my pores! I tried to hide the tears streaming down my face. Suddenly, an exit with a gas station appeared. I quickly made my way to the gas station and filled up my tank. I know exactly how much gas my minivan’s tank can hold. However, when I filled my tank, the meter read .1 gallons more than my tank could hold. How was that possible? I have no idea but I surely know now that full is so much better than empty!

I share this story to say that I spent the weekend with my oldest children at an amazing conference put on by Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I have to tell you that spiritually I had been running on empty. I was not taking the time I needed to fill myself up with God’s grace. This weekend was like standing under a fire hose of the Holy Spirit! To say I am “full of grace” does not seem like an understatement. I recognize now that I need to stop running so hard and take time to fill up throughout my day. Enough of the running on empty. Too scary. Too tiring. Too worrisome. Instead I will pray, I will make time to read scripture, and I will spend time with our Lord in the Eucharist. I pray that my grace will overflow on those around me and fill them up! (and so on, and so on, and so on!)

Patience and Humility Can Be Found in the Toilet

If you pray for patience, God will bring you the perfect opportunities to learn how to be patient. If you pray for humility, He will do the same. I know this to be true because every time I think that I need work on a virtue, I think that praying for it will be some kind of short cut to learning how to live that virtue. Ha. Ha. Ha. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither apparently does God. You see, anything that is worthwhile takes time. I have been remodeling my bathrooms. My experience at this is basically nill. I am not too proud to ask for help. I just cannot at this moment afford professional contractors whose bids could pay for a semester of my son’s future college. So, I pick the brains of my siblings and parents and friends. Sometimes, one of them actually helps me do something, like change out the sinks. Because bathrooms are small, it seems like they should be quick and easy to update. That’s a joke.

I remember the first house my husband and I purchased. It had solid bones but was definitely outdated. We spent the first few years of our marriage (before we had children) painting and updating that house. One of the first rooms we tackled was…you guessed it: the bathroom. It was more like a small closet. It also had lots of bump outs and wall surfaces.  I chose a gorgeous vertical stripe wallpaper (popular back then) for the upper portion, and a solid dark blue paint for below the chair rail. It was during this project that I realized that my husband and I would stay married forever.

Why? Because every time we went to hang a piece of vertical stripe paper, it appeared to be diagonal. Not one single wall in that closet/bathroom was plumb. We started just “eyeballing” it, which worked until we hit a turn in the wall which was also not plumb. Our patience was increased by leaps and bounds throughout that project.

Fast forwards to today. I should have remembered all the time it took for that silly little bathroom when I undertook mine. One is completed (almost…there are always those nagging little details that need finishing up) and the other is 15% complete. I try to keep smiling and thanking God for giving me such a dose of patience and humility all in one project, as I scrub the tile with a toothbrush to bring back its original beauty. Tonight, I grout. Tomorrow, I install the toilet! Any well wishes and prayers are appreciated as I honestly have no idea what I am doing!

A little old soul

He was an old soul that I had never seen before. His hair was as dark as coal, and his eyes drew you in. He walked slowly but with purpose. His deep red vestments made him look like a king. When I first saw him, I thought, “Now, that’s how you wear red!” My mother-in-law commented on the gorgeous roses that covered the altar. They were beautiful, but my focus was elsewhere.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. The day our Church was founded. The day when the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, the Advocate, the Unifier, came into the lives of the Apostles like a roaring wind and flames of fire. This huddled group of fear-filled men and the Blessed Mother received the very Love of God the Father and God the Son in the form of the Holy Spirit. It changed them forever.

As the incense rose from the altar, my thoughts rose to Heaven. The swirls of incense were very visible today, and seemed to move wherever they wished. This reminded me that God’s tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit with His many gifts and graces was washing over the entire Earth today. My heart was open and ready to receive. I prayed deeply for my entire family, for my friends, for my community and for our world.

That’s when this old soul, the priest I had never seen before, began to sing in Latin the Veni Sancti Spiritu or Come Holy Spirit. He humbly sat, pulled the microphone down to his level, and began to sing. His voice is a pure gift from God. It was so awe-inspiring that you could hear a pin drop once he started. When I heard this beauty, I closed my eyes and thought, “Now, that’s how you sing!”

His homily was an amazing story about Blessed John Henry Newman. About 150 years ago, he had traveled to Rome and was heading back to England by ship. His heart was heavy because he had come to believe that the Catholic Church was the one true church, but accepting this truth meant many losses for him. He felt stuck, and then the ship got stuck. The wind just stopped altogether. For an entire week, his ship was stuck on the sea outside the port of Rome, yet not on its way to England either. He realized that God was perhaps allowing this to show him the state of his soul. Newman could do nothing to change his heart or his physical situation. It was up to the “wind” or the Holy Spirit to come into his life and help him move towards the truth. And the wind did arrive, pushing Newman towards a major change for his entire life.

We all must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us the same courage and love that He gave Blessed John Henry Newman and the Apostles. May our hearts burn with this love and give it freely just as we have received it freely.  We will see that God does make all things new.  Won’t you pray with me?

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Finding Our Green Thumbs

Our little garden is growing! I am so excited and so are the kids. You may think this sounds silly, but honestly, we put a lot of hard work into tilling the soil, clearing the tree roots and prepping the area so that our plantings would grow.  And now they are growing!

Our past attempts at a vegetable garden ended terribly. First, I chose a section of ground that was too large for one gardener. Second, I planted whatever my children selected from the seed store. Third, I didn’t really spend any time reading what each plant needed. Fourth, I ignored the fact that bunnies and squirrels and birds lived throughout our back yard. Fifth, I didn’t see a need for fencing or protecting these plants, figuring there would be enough for the animals and us. Finally, my children were about 10 years younger and their patience level was much less, too. So I had no time to ponder and plan as they wanted to plant their seeds and right now! The concept of patience and waiting was not so well-developed in them at that time, as well as the concept of growth taking time.

The results of our first garden almost ten years ago was a small breakfast cereal bowl of lettuce with a few carrots–as in two. The rest of the lettuce was devoured by our bunny friends before it even grew much above the ground. The carrots were also uprooted. The pumpkin and squash vines grew all over the garden, making us guess that we would have a bumper crop. Somehow, pollination just didn’t happen. Our flowers never became pumpkins. Lazy bees? Sick bees? Who knows! But no pumpkins or squash. We also planted some sunflowers which the kids were certain would grow huge. Hmmmm, I don’t think they even started out of the ground. With all the work we did for that garden, the kids were not very enthused about a bowl of lettuce and a few carrots. In fact, I think I ate the lettuce!

Fast forward to today. We only planted herbs, but my tea has already been quite tasty with some fresh mint leaves. The kids are planning to make Signora Maria’s famous homemade Marinara Sauce with fresh basil from the garden. Only a few more weeks and we’ll hopefully have tomatoes. We have lots of other herbs that my “sous chefs” will find recipes for. It should be a tasty summer.

My youngest has been taken on official watering status. Although God has been providing a lot of rain, she stands at the ready to fill in when needed. Tiny weeds have started peaking through the soil. She and I will tackle those tomorrow, while we smile at the giant tomato plants that have already grown taller than their stakes!

 

Summer Freeze Bath

Transitioning into summer has been like jumping into an ice-cold river! The universe seemed to get a signal that school was wrapping up and began to send wave upon wave of intensity at my doorstep. I thought I was ready for summer. Now I am not so sure.

I suppose my youngest said it best. We headed out to weed the front beds and she informed me, “Why did we wait so long to get to this? Look at all the weeds!” She was right. It had been too many weeks. But family and friends and family and vacations and visits came tripping into our lives day after day since before the end of May. If we had a free moment, we were either all doing laundry and putting our house back in order or not feeling well. This is the first weekend in a long time that our calendar is actually readable.

I had a lot of amazing plans for this summer. I wanted to get back into the bible study that the kids and I started last summer. I mentioned that our chef (a/k/a me) who prepares lunch and dinner would need a sous chef this summer and that each child would get a turn. I haven’t even started planning my overnight week camp for cousins and friends.

But reality is much different from plans. My focus has shifted from the “would like to’s” to the “have to’s”. I have a house to finish remodeling along with many repairs to be made. I have to take the youngest to their swim lessons and the oldest to his college classes. I have to find a way to let the children play, yet have time to get these “have to’s” done. The list keeps growing and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Although I think I am flexible and can roll with changes, I have not been handling all this very well. I got a little grumpy with God. I had to go to Confession again! Yes, I am definitely a sinner. My little plans had to shift. I should know by now that God has a bigger, better plan. But I don’t always have the faith I need. As my wise friend said, “You know what the motto in Hell is, don’t you? I did it MY way!”

I am so thankful for the Sacred Heart Sisters who shared with me and my family on a weekend retreat. They refilled my heart with good thoughts and solutions. They live their faith, and their joy is contagious. I sure needed that lift as I head into this summer. Thank you, God, for Sister Rose, Sister Teresa, Sister Adriane, and Sister Laura! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!