Category Archives: Growing Close to God

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!)

Advertisements

Is your marriage white, chocolate or lemon?

I traveled this weekend to say goodbye to the family farm. It has been in the family for over 150 years. My great-grandfather came from Germany and “pinned” the land. He gave each of his sons a farm. This gift meant a whole lot during the Depression. Our family didn’t suffer much because by then, we owned the land free and clear, along with the fact that growing food and livestock was part of the farm plans anyway.

Fast forward to the current generation of owners. My father and his three siblings jointly own the land. We have rented it to other farmers for decades. With the financial needs for medical care mounting for my elders, they have finally decided to sell.

So, we gathered for a “Farewell to the Farm” celebration. We also celebrated a 50th Wedding Anniversary, a 17th Wedding Anniversary, and a Wedding Engagement. Three generations of family celebrating the various states of marriage. My talented cousin whipped up one of her famous wedding cakes. It was a three-tier cake: white, chocolate, and lemon.

Isn’t that just like marriage? In the beginning, it’s white–pure and simple. Your love for each other helps you see just how wonderful that person is. Truly, your spouse is a gift from God. The white tier was the largest tier. That makes sense. Lots of people get married and love their spouse.

Then, as you progress through years of parenting, job changes, life changes, things can get a little murky. You begin to see your spouse’s faults so clearly, even while you ignore your own! But through this process, if God is the center of your marriage, love becomes much richer and deeper because it is a choice, not an emotion. This chocolate cake was the second tier and it wasn’t quite as big as the white cake. That also makes sense because many people don’t put God at the center of their marriage. When they finally see their spouse, warts and all, they want to divorce. Never mind that they have their warts, too! Yep, not as many marriages make it to the chocolate stage.

Finally, if you make it through the gauntlet, you arrive at the realization that you picked a lemon, but you managed to make lemonade! You’ve learned to take the sweet and sour of life together in stride. This was by far the smallest tier on the cake. Many people make it through those child-rearing years, only to find that they no longer know or care about their spouse. God was never the center of their marriage, and they were just getting through life, holding it together for the kids. Once the kids are gone, another portion of marriages end in divorce. Definitely, the smallest amount of marriages arrive at lemon.

All this to say that although “farewell to the farm” is sad, our family celebrates as it continues to grow and welcome new members with love. And yes, some marriages will not make it, but we pray that each couple keeps God at the center of their lives together and find that sweet spot called lemon.

Running from Job

God has been telling me lately to read the Book of Job. I have read the Book of Job many times, and the last time I read it, I really liked it. I liked that he had tremendous faith. I liked that he had the fortitude to even respond to his “friends” who were not being very understanding of his situation. I liked that although he had some pretty frank discussions with God, he ultimately revered and trusted in Him.

Last year, my sister told me she was supposed to read the Book of Job, and she really didn’t enjoy that book of the Bible. I told her all these encouraging words about how great Job was and how amazing his faith was. I told her that this was a story of triumph. Yes, it was a difficult story, but it had a really good ending.

Today, I am about halfway through Job. I should have already read it by now. I just cannot seem to want to read it. Here I was, encouraging my sister when heavy things were coming into her life. And now that I am heading there, I’m running away. I have had to force myself to read Job. How hypocritical am I? This is embarrassing to admit, but I have let my feelings get in the way of listening to God. Because I am not feeling good about reading Job, I’ve dragged my feet. I’ve even taken to reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations! My son told me it was a good book, and even though I have read it before, I thought now would be a good time to dive into this massive piece of fiction! Ha, Ha. Oh the lengths we go to so that we can avoid facing what we need to face.

Tonight, I plan to read another chapter of Job. I plan to listen to what God has to say to me. Then, I will fall asleep finding out what’s in store for Pip. I have a feeling that his “great expectations” may not end up so great after all.

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

The Worst News Ever?!

Here’s a roundup of the news I have received from this past week: Stroke. Car accident. Death. Terminal illness. Back strain. Divorce. Alcoholism.

Now, before you think all of these things happened to me, well, they did and they did not. What I mean to say is that I would argue all of this does in some way happen to you when you have a large family full of love and brokenness. Yes, some of the suffering is self-inflicted, but some of the suffering comes on in its own.

Our response to suffering shows a really clear picture of where we stand emotionally, morally and spiritually. It’s why one of my friends who is a Protestant minister likes to perform funerals. She says that it is when the suffering is at its peak, so the people are most open to hearing God’s Word. Their hard hearts have been cracked, just a little, by the loss. They become real again, facing things that they have ignored for a long time.

My prayer has always been to let God help me see through the light of Christ, so that when the suffering comes, whether of my own making or on its own, I am strengthened and can give God glory even in those moments.

I was deeply impacted when I watched a news report about 10 years ago when a man lost his entire family in a freak flash flood which washed his minivan off the highway into flash river in a location where this had never occurred before. During his interview, he explained that he and his wife had adopted many children with disabilities. They were all in the car. When the water came over their car, he could not get to his family because he was sucked out through the front windshield. He watched his wife and all of his adopted children get pushed down into the river in their minivan.

His response was, of course, sorrow. But, he said he could not be mad at God. This happened in his life and he trusted God had a plan for him. He quoted the Bible verse that speaks to trusting in God with all your heart. I had never witnessed what that meant until I saw this man on television. He was that Bible verse.

I pray that God will show me how to trust him in those dark moments. I pray that my prayers for my family bring healing and love. I pray that suffering can be offered up for the whole world and make our world a place of deep, abiding peace. I know suffering will come. I hope that I am ready.

Which Poverty Would You Pick?

Poverty is on my mind today. As an American, I do not think that I fully understand true material poverty. I have always had food to eat and a roof over my head. But this isn’t the only type of poverty. There is spiritual poverty. I have been debating which is worse: material poverty or spiritual poverty?

I have some experience with material poverty. Being in a large family, I saw all the sacrifices my parents made to ensure that our needs were met, yet we definitely had no excess. My mom stayed home with us while dad worked long hours. When other children came to our home, they couldn’t understand why each person was limited to 2 slices of pizza (homemade, of course!) My older sister and I shared clothing. I remember a time when all I had was a uniform which I wore to school, a pair of jeans, a top, a Sunday church outfit and hand-me-down pajamas.

I also have experience with spiritual poverty. As a liberal arts major at a public college, I was given a heavy dose of Marxism and Existentialism which rocked my world view. I was not wise enough to question these philosophies, nor was I formed enough in my own faith to combat the questions they raised. I actually believed my professors who said things like, “Forget everything that your parents have taught you. Their ideas are outdated. We are open-minded here and consider all thoughts.” These statements were lies on a very fundamental level which I won’t go into now. However, I did believe these professors and I let their agenda influence me. Over time, I found myself in a deep spiritual poverty. The choices I made during this dark time of my life were harrowing to say the least.

I guess in the end I would look to two world figures who probably know poverty better than most people, or at least show by their actions that they care for the poor. First, there is Blessed Mother Teresa. In A Simple Path: Mother Teresa, she says: “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Blessed Mother Teresa would visit America only out of obedience. It was very hard for her to be amidst such spiritual poverty. The material of poverty in India was easier for her to deal with than the spiritual poverty here. I feel her pain. I believe that spiritual poverty is much more challenging than material poverty. As I typed that last sentence, I am realizing that now that I have written this, God will probably let me experience true material poverty, which is scary indeed!

But the real difference in the types of poverty and how to respond to them is wonderfuly stated by the second world figure who I think deserves to be listened to because of his actions. That is Pope Francis. I think this excerpt from Pope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014 sums it up quite nicely:

“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us though Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.

The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelisation and human promotion.

 

Fitting my son for a Cross

I am measuring my son’s arm span this morning to fit him for a cross. Last night, I wove a crown of thorns. As I worked, I was thinking things like, “Hmmm…those thorns don’t look sharp enough. How do I make them sharp? Do I have enough big thorns?” I feel like I am in a really terrifying Twilight Zone episode!

We are putting on a Passion Play and my son auditioned and received the part of Jesus. The director spent quite some time preparing him for this role. Not only mentally and emotionally but spiritually. She is a nationally recognized professional who has been in all sorts of performances, but she shared with him that anyone who takes on the role of Jesus Christ is always in for a tremendous journey of faith. I can see that I am in for a journey, too.

When I found out my son had the part of Jesus, tears welled up in my eyes. I have such a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother that I have very intense feelings of her sorrow during her Son’s Passion. I am not sure how I will be able to be the Stage Manager while watching my son walk the Way of the Cross.

As I shared all of this with my dear friend, she turned to me and said, “How do you think I feel? My daughter is the tormentor!” We both laughed until tears ran down our faces. Thank you, God, for dear friends who can make us laugh when facing something difficult.

 

Wonderful, Scary, Sad Announcements

I’ve been thinking about announcements–when they occur, what they mean and why we make them. In my life, there have been wonderful announcements, scary announcements and sad announcements.

Wonderful announcements: “We’re engaged.” or “I’m expecting.” or “It’s a boy!”

Scary announcements: “A tornado is touching down.” or “An airplane has flown into the twin towers.” or “Your youngest brother has cancer.”

Sad announcements: “We’re getting divorced.” or “Grandma died.” or “You are losing this baby.”

It really doesn’t matter who delivers these messages, when they deliver them or how they deliver them to you, there is this feeling right before the message that sinks into your heart. Sometimes, in that moment, it is even hard to understand what exactly is being said because the reality of the statement is just too much to bear.

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, I wonder if Mary felt all these things at once–wonder, fear and sadness–when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her. What an announcement that was for her to receive!

Although the announcements in my life are minor compared to Mary’s, I think about how impactful those moments were in my life and how I had to really spend some time processing the news, either good or bad. I do not think I always respond in the best way. Instead, I let fear or despair or sadness or pride reign over me.

But the Blessed Mother’s “yes” to an announcement that is beyond all announcements has changed the world. I am trying to learn to say “yes” like her and change this little corner of the world around me. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

 

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from close friends, family members and even acquaintances that have an overwhelming need to vent. These calls or conversations last at least an hour or two. If I had to group these conversations into a category, I would name them “mid-life discontent” or something of that nature. I have listened to both men and women who range in age from late 30s to early 50s.

I am a pretty good listener. I really try to understand their perspective. I also try to imagine the other person’s perspective, too. Often times, after listening for a long, long time, what I suggest is not what they want to hear. Why? Because usually it is true and it is hard to do. Believe me, I know this to be true because I have good friends who will listen to me and suggest the wise course, which I sometimes do not want to take!

I called these conversations “mid-life discontent” because my callers are usually not happy about a situation in their lives. Sometimes, it is a result of their choices. Other times, it is a result of their spouse’s choices. Often times, it is because they chose to act before seeking wise counsel or discerning God’s will. In our hurry-up-and-go world full of messages of instant gratification, slowing down and listening and pondering the right choice is not even considered. It seems that we have taken in the lie that we should always be “doing” something versus “being” someone.

I work really hard to be a human “being”. I try not to rush ahead to solve a problem or to accomplish my own game plan before listening and discerning. Sometimes, I am accused of being “lazy” or not being open to a change. That is not so! If only the accusers understood how much self-control it takes for me to slow down, listen and wait!!! It is not in my nature to do these things. It has taken considerable prayer and change for me to get to this point. I like to “do” just as much as anyone, but I have learned the hard way that “being” is much better than “doing.” So, even when I am being confronted for my lack of “doing”, I fall back on prayer and listen to God’s will. It has served me much, much better than my old human “doing”…Now, if I could just get more people to try it!