Category Archives: Gifts

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.

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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!

To Finish and Finish Well

I was talking with my children about how the end of the school year is so hard for everyone. The spring weather calls to us, wanting us to come outside and enjoy the sunshine and beauty. The school work has been getting more difficult throughout the year, so that by the end of third quarter, we are just starting to break into some truly challenging material. The final exams also mean more intense study. Meanwhile, summer planning has made the excitement of a break from all of this intensity creep into our minds. It’s the perfect storm for poor school performance.

As I considered all of these things, I realized why I always had such an upper hand on my classmates in school. I pretty much conquered school without even thinking too hard about it. Yes, I was the correct learning style for the school room (visual and aural learner), and I had self-discipline and intelligence. Connect that with fundamental respect for adults in authority and personal responsibility, and I see how I was way ahead of the game.

However, as the kids and I talked through the challenges of year-end, I realized that I was able to move beyond my peers because I am a finisher. Although by personality and gifts, I am a very creative, not-too-organized idea-generator, somehow I also have the gift of perseverance. I go until the bitter end. Some would argue this is just a strong will. It is. But it is also a gift because I won’t give up or let obstacles slow me down. When most of my classmates sat down at the end of third quarter, I kicked into high gear. Some day, I’ll share the story of how I won the first and only 5K race in which I ever participated because of this exact principle.

The whole point of this discussion is to teach my children that sometimes in life you win just by showing up consistently and finishing the race. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. In fact, oftentimes, it is not. But that old fable of the turtle and the hare is based on an immutable truth. Perseverance matters. And if you can even increase your performance at the very end, you will pass by many of your peers in any area of your life.

It is humbling to admit that I used to care about finishing well for the sake of college scholarships or job promotions or recognition or honors. Now, I care about it for my soul and my family’s eternal salvation. I want to be able to say what St. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)

 

Seeing past appearances is a gift

I don’t know why God gave me this gift, but for as long as I can remember, I have always been able to look past the “appearance” of someone, and see their true self. For example, I had a friend who told me that she struggled with obesity. When she said this, I really thought she was joking. Not only because she is naturally hilarious, but also because I never saw her as simply her “size”. She was such a creative, funny, brilliant person that her size just never registered for me. When I told her I thought she was kidding, she got angry. Then she was confused. I tried to explain that I never seriously thought of her that way. She simply could not believe me. She had been holding on to this body image since she was a child. She could not conceive of someone not seeing her this way. I tried to explain, but she could not hear. I really and truly never thought of her as obese, but in all physical reality, she may just be obese.

Another example that comes to mind is people with disabilities. I would never have thought to call them that, but I have learned that “people with special needs” is the politically correct thing to say. I wouldn’t refer to them as either of those two things. I always just see them as people. I see how kind they are and how open they are to others. They are my friends, not my projects!

The last example of this gift is when I see certain people, I can see how they were as children. They can be the biggest, grumpiest mess of an adult, but somehow, I see them as an innocent child. I cannot really explain with words how this works, but it changes the way I interact with them. And people around me cannot understand how I could possibly be friendly to such a person. They cannot see what I see.

For many years of our marriage, my husband wondered what I was saying to people because they all seemed to want to share very intimate conversations with me. I really wasn’t saying anything. I was just appreciating them for who they really are, and they must have sensed that. They opened up and would talk with me in ways that you don’t talk to strangers. As my husband puts it, they share more with me than they may even have shared with their spouse! I am okay with this, and he is now, too. He just smiles when he hears other people start down the way-too-personal-for-normal-conversation path. He finally recognizes and appreciates my gift, too.

 

My brother and his kite

My younger brother has always been my chum. I’m not from England, so I really don’t know why that word came to mind, but it fits our relationship perfectly. I don’t recall us ever fighting as children. Sincerely, I mean ever! We are less than 16 months apart in age, but never felt in competition. He did, however, make my life quite interesting.

My brother has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory. When he took the aptitude tests trying to discern what work suited him best, the tester basically said, “Pick anything you like, you can do it all.” If you think I am bragging on him, you are wrong. This is a huge burden for anyone, especially a Christian: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Yikes! All of this to set you up for the story of his kite.

One day, another brother of mine told me to come up to the third floor of our home. We lived in a large, old house with three stories, two staircases, and many bedrooms. A family of 13 requires some space! Anyway, when I came upstairs, I see my brilliant brother hanging out the third floor window. “What are you doing?” I ask. He smiles and shows me the largest spool of kite string I have seen in my life, “Flying my kite.” “What?” I say as I see that the spool is unwinding. My eye follows the  string out the window. I cannot see the kite. It is so far away that it just looks like a string going up into the air. I ask my brother, “How long is your kite string?” He smiles and says, “At least one mile.”

I decide to get on my bike along with two of my other younger brothers and follow the string. It’s hard going because the kite flies as the crow flies, not as the streets go. We figure out a system, and between the three of us, we finally spy the kite flying like a dot way up in the sky about 9 blocks from our house. Right as we all see it, the string breaks and the kite starts flying away. We get on our bikes and chase it as it falls from the sky into a giant pine tree many more blocks away. There’s no getting the kite out of that tree whose lowest branch is a couple of stories high. We ride home to tell my brother about where we found his kite and laugh a long time at the thought of flying a kite out of the third-story window with string a mile long. Like I said, life was never dull growing up with my brother.