Category Archives: Grace

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.

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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!)

Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue Teach Us How to Pray

May is Mary’s month. Today, my children and I held a May Procession to honor the Blessed Virgin. My eldest daughter was voted “May Queen” and carried the crown of roses. We sang our favorite hymns, processing to our statue of Mary in the front yard. My daughter crowned her as we sang, “Immaculate Mary.” We honored Our Blessed Mother as best we could out of love.

My devotion to Mary is a deep part of my faith life. I completely understand why St. Pope John Paul II chose the motto, “Totus Tuus” for his pontificate. He, too, had a very deep devotion to Our Lady. You see, Mary is the reason I found my way back to Jesus and God. Just like a good mom, she waded down into my mess and helped me rise up through it. She didn’t yank my arm or scold me. She just gently nudged me then offered her hand. Actually, it started one Christmas.

My husband and I had gone to university and become “brilliant.” We both walked away from our faith, although we both now acknowledge we really didn’t even know our faith. We went to a state university and got liberal arts degrees. We listened to the “enlightened” and questioned everything we had been taught, including our faith. Thankfully, neither one of us chose to go agnostic or atheist. We were Christians, but had no clue how to put that into practice outside of the Catholic Church.

We started visiting all different denominations to “church shop.” Sometimes, we would stay for a month or a year. We would always get involved, help serve, join Bible studies and try to get to know the Truth. But, when we asked the hard questions, the minister would either dodge or give a non-answer. The congregation was no help either. Half of them didn’t even understand why we wanted to know these answers. Honestly, we didn’t realize that the questions we were asking were theology questions. That’s how ignorant we were. Most of these denominiations’ theology was illogical or fundamentally flawed. Somehow, we both saw through this pretty quickly. That’s why we never stayed at a church long. To be sure, we were lost, but at least we were seeking the Truth.

Then, one Christmas, we were shopping at Barnes & Noble for Christmas gifts. I have mentioned before that books are my weakness. But after a few hours, even I was “booked” out. My husband suggested we stop at the in store Cafe for a refreshment. The store was absolutely packed. We decided to cut through a row of book shelves to beat the crowd. As we are speedily walking through, I abruptly halt, turn my head and pull a book off of the middle of a shelf. I say to my husband, “I am supposed to get this book.” He says, “What are you talking about? What book is it?” I didn’t know. I read the title, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. My husband asked, “What is it about?” I said I didn’t know but Mary was on the front cover. He thought I was crazy but said, “Get it if you want.”

As I read this book , it changed my heart. After reading it, I wept in the shower for days. I turned to Mary for guidance and direction. I converted and handed my life over to her in a big way. I didn’t say a word of this to my husband. It was the beginning of a long journey back to our Catholic faith.

A few years later, I met the author Wayne Weible at a Catholic seminar. I introduced myself and shared my conversion story. He smiled and said that Mary has used him as an instrument for conversion. His book is not his own. It belongs to Mary. He shared enough stories with me that I realized that many, many people are finding their way home because the Blessed Mother is gathering them under her mantle. She is so gentle and loving. She shows us the surest path to her Son and like a good mother, makes sure her little ones are cared for along the way.

In all my brokenness, I had turned away from God. The sins of my past life weighed me down like an anchor. Seeking the Truth felt like running in circles because we could not find answers to our deepest questions. Enter Mary. Mary taught me how to pray. She opened the doors of my heart and allowed me a graceful return to my faith. When I was ready, she began to walk me through the life of her Son and explain what He has done for me. I haven’t always been the most disciplined or humble daughter, but she has never given up hope in me. Now, I see just how precious our Blessed Mother is for all of us. Jesus’ gift from the cross of His Mother is indeed one of the greatest gifts we could receive from Him. It is with deep gratitude and humility I pray, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”

 

Finding the Good in Good Friday

Only God could take something as brutal and wicked as a crucifixion of an innocent man and make it into something good and holy. We call today “Good Friday,” and it is good in so many ways. However, as my children are presenting a live “Stations of the Cross” today due to a request from an audience member at their Passion Play, I am vividly aware of the brutality and evil that was present during our Lord’s Passion. As I watch my children act out these scenes, I shudder. The same crowds that sang “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest,” when Jesus entered Jerusalem are now asking for his death, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I think the Lord has a very clear understanding of the human heart.

Sacrificing your only begotten Son in itself is heart-wrenching. I think about Abraham and Isaac. God put Abraham to the test and asked him to sacrifice his son. I personally am not sure how I would respond to such a request. I would like to say my faith is such that I would gather up the wood and head up the mountain. But I know myself well enough to realize that I probably would begin a long argument with God.

But not Father Abraham! His heart must have been so pure. And I think he must have done a pretty good job raising his son Isaac because Isaac was carrying the instruments of sacrifice. Isaac even realized what was going on and asked, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Fast forward in the story and Abraham is getting ready to sacrifice his son. Abraham was elderly and his son Isaac was a youth. I think Isaac could have fought off his father and escaped, but he clearly didn’t. Did Abraham share his faith with his son at such a deep level that even Isaac understood that God’s plan is the best plan no matter what? God stopped Abraham before he could sacrifice Isaac, but God surely saw just how much Abraham loved Him. He also saw how much Isaac was obedient to his own father and to God’s plan. This must have pleased God very much.

God asks a lot of us. He even asks for sacrifice at times. We are only capable of doing this because of His great love within us. But God never takes us over the edge. He may take us to the edge, but never beyond what we can handle. Only He is willing and able to do that as He shows with his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross for our salvation. And that, my friends, is why He is God!

Jumping Off a 7-Story Building

I would not say I am a risk-taker, but I did choose to throw myself off a 7-story building when I was in high school. It took a lot of courage to do it and here’s why: I was being held only by a rope and spotted by others down on the ground. Of course, I had been rappelling over a few smaller cliffs and had trained to get to this point.

Standing on the ledge of a 7-story building can change your perspective. I wondered if I would really go through with this. I remember the feeling of backing up to the edge of the ledge and realizing that I just had to go for it. Talk about understanding the meaning of trust! I had to trust that I had reliable equipment, knowledgeable instructors and attentive spotters.

At this point, many people would choose to walk away, but not me! There was an added dilemma to this whole ordeal. We were working from a building that the fire department uses for practice on high-rise fires which meant that there were no windows. The building was just a concrete structure with giant holes shaped like rectangles for the windows. I remember my instructor saying, “Just be careful not to swing sideways because you don’t want to swing into an open window hole. That would be bad.” As he is saying this, I am immediately thinking of all the variables that could make that happen, like wind, my trembling hands, and lack of experience. It took a lot of courage, but in the end, I jumped. I followed all the rules that I had learned to safely rappel. When I got to the bottom, I was ready to go again.

This is how it is to trust God’s will for us. Often, we must jump without knowing with certainty how things will land. Isn’t that the definition of faith? Such a simple word, but so hard to put into practice. God will give us the grace we need in those moments, just like I had the equipment and people to help me jump. God has also given us some very wise instruction in His Word (also known as the Bible). God has considered all the variables and knows how to help those work for our good. And when we land safely, we are so happy to know that we have true faith and we are ready to go further, higher, deeper, wider for our good God. And maybe even bring some others along to try it, too!

 

 

 

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.

 

Grace pouring down like rain

It’s been raining all day today. My youngest daughter has been watching the weather and shared with us that she saw a clear pattern: light but steady rain, followed by a downpour, then thunder and lightning with no rain, finally stillness, and then the pattern repeats. I am looking outside as I type this and realizing that suddenly there is a whole lot of green grass and budding yellow bushes all around me. Where did those come from? Just yesterday, I do not think it was this fresh and green and full of life!

This pattern reminds me of God’s grace in our lives. He give us a steady and gentle dose of grace, as He reminds us to keep on the right path. Then He’ll send the downpour of grace right before tumultuous times in our lives that feel like the thunder and lightning. We don’t always recognize this downpour because we don’t even know we need it yet! And once we get through those difficult times, we find peace and stillness. We take a moment to look around and see all the newness that our spiritual growth has brought forth.

This new growth was hiding as a seed in our Baptismal grace. It takes walking through all that life serves us to grow spiritually. God gives us just what we need for our faith to grow and bear real fruit.

 

How to Accept Gifts With Grace

Graciously accepting gifts is harder than it sounds. In my family, accepting a compliment was like bragging. If you were gifted in any way, that was obvious and so it didn’t need to be mentioned. Since I was raised in this type of environment, I didn’t even realize that I had a problem graciously accepting gifts, even as small as a compliment. So this post is for those of you out there like me, who need some ideas on how to be a gracious “receiver” of the gift.

First, let me help you identify if you have this problem. Here are some of the ways it might manifest in your life:

Situation #1:
A co-worker gives you a simple compliment such as, “I like your new haircut.” You immediately respond, “Oh, well, I think it’s too short for what I really wanted and I’m not sure I can even manage to style it right.” That is not the way to accept a compliment.

Instead, you should say, “Well, thanks!” It’s as simple as that. How I came to realize this is a co-worker told me that I would never accept her compliments and it bothered her. She gave me specific examples, and I realized she was right. I have learned to say, “Thank you,” although if feels like my mouth is full of rocks.

Situation #2:
While visiting a neighbor’s house, she offers you a bottled water or something to eat. You immediately say, “Oh, I’m fine.” And you may have just had lunch and are truly full. That is not the way to accept your hostess’ gift.

Try this instead: out of courtesy, accept the water or food. You do not have to finish it and that is not wasteful. Breaking bread together (or drinking water) is a simple way to show you are friends with someone.

Situation #3:
A  friend points out that you have a natural talent at (fill-in-the-blank). You laugh it off and say, “Oh, I am not really that good at (fill-in-the-blank). That is not the way to accept your God-given gifts. 

God does not make junk! You were given some amazing gifts that only you have. They are irreplaceable and there is no one on this planet who can come close to being you! I suggest you respond with, “Why, I never realized that before now. I am so glad you pointed that out because you are right, I am good at (fill-in-the-blank).” Then thank God the next time you pause in prayer!

 

The Gift of Undeserved Grace

I always find myself apologizing to my oldest child and explaining to him that he’s basically our “training wheels” for the other children. He laughs at this, but yesterday we were recalling some of his toddler and preschool years, and I found myself apologizing all over again.

When he was about 5 1/2 years old, I found some letters scratched into the hood of my minivan. The first letter happened to be the first letter of his sibling’s name. I confronted his only other sibling who could write at that time. She adamantly said it was not her, and she really wasn’t so great at writing legibly. I went back to my oldest child and asked for the truth, please. He adamantly said it was not him.

However, he had lately become obsessed with rocks and writing with rocks, and this looked clearly like the scratching of a rock. Also, you had to be pretty tall to reach that far up the hood of the car. All facts were pointing towards my son. I started drawing a line in the sand. I mean, really? This was lying! And as a parent, I felt I needed to nip this in the bud. My son would not budge. He did not care what the penalty was. Being a brilliant parent, I just kept raising the bar. He knew that I always follow through, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. Finally, my husband arrived home from work.

I explained the whole situation to my husband. He agreed with my thoughts and course of action, and backed me up as he has always done. (Thank God! I haven’t always been as wise as my husband, but that is another story…) My son would not come clean. So, the wise parents slammed him by taking away additional privileges. His behavior became unbearable. The next day was like living with a crazy person. Our extreme measures had created a beast!

I turned to a wise friend and explained the situation. She immediately said, “Now, this is your chance to show him what true grace is!” I said, “But, but, but…” She said, “You have set him up to have no way to win, so he is just acting out his total frustration. You are right, he is wrong, but he definitely isn’t learning the lesson you wanted him to learn. Can you see that?” “Oh yes, I can see that,” I replied. She suggested that we offer him grace. Just like Christ died for our sins on the Cross without us deserving or gaining this, we would take away his transgression without him deserving it.

My husband and I called our son into the room by himself that evening. We brought up the minivan hood and the fact that he lied about it. He began to look very upset. We told him that we wanted him to experience real grace. We told him that we forgave him for all of it and wouldn’t mention it again. It did not matter how or why it happened and all his privileges were restored. We loved him and wanted to give him undeserved grace, just like Jesus gave us when He died on the Cross for our sins.

I have never seen such a lifting of spirit! He immediately became a different little boy. His whole self just seemed to expand and glow. He gave us giant hugs and ran off to play.

We hadn’t spoken about this for almost a decade. When it came up yesterday, he said that he had written on the minivan hood. He also said he could clearly remember the meeting with us and the feeling of the gift of grace. I guess we managed to recover pretty well from one of our many parenting mishaps!