Saturday, December 27, 2008

Microcosm of Abundance

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." (Ephesians 3:20)

My umbrella had been AWOL for a couple of days; I had looked everywhere! Winter rain - a lot of it - had finally come. It was the morning of our planned prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthood, and I was already resigned to standing in the rain, but said a little prayer for my umbrella anyway. Within a few moments - oh joy! - I saw it hiding behind something in my closet and my spirits brightened considerably.

Double joy! After finding the umbrella, I peeked out my bedroom curtains and saw sunshine. My umbrella wasn't needed after all. God gave me a little message that day: He takes delight in providing in abundance, even more than what is needed, like a double rainbow of answered prayer.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Presents are wrapped, stockings are stuffed, and I'm exhausted!

After what will certainly be a flurry of breakfast and presents in the morning, I'll drive myself quietly to Mass and celebrate the real reason for Christmas. I look forward to that.

A merry Christmas to all, and blessings to each one of you in 2009!

Photo source

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hope for the Holidays

These are not my words; once again, they are the words of Pope Benedict, from What It Means to Be a Christian, written while he was Cardinal Ratzinger. They are so appropriate for today, the day the world celebrates Christmas Eve. (And, by the way, it's also the day our little family celebrates our oldest son's 19th birthday. :) Read on and enjoy.

Faith, Hope, Love

There is still one thing for us to think about at the end. Through talking about love, we came upon faith. We saw that, properly understood, faith is present within love and that only faith can bring love to its proper end, because our own loving would remain just as inadequate as an open hand stretched out into emptiness. If we think a little further, we also come upon the mystery of hope. For our believing and our loving are still on their way, so long as we remain in this world, and again and again they are in danger of flickering out. It is truly Advent. No one can say of himself, “I am completely saved.” In the era of this world, there is no redemption as a past action, already completed; nor does it exist as a complete and final present reality; redemption exists only in the mode of hope. The light of God does not shine in this world except in the lamps of hope that his loving-kindness has set up on our way. How often that distresses us: we would like more; we would like the whole thing, round, unassailably present. Yet basically we have to say: Could there be any more human way of redeeming us than that which declares us to be beings in the course of development, on our way, that tells us we may hope? Could there be a better light for us, as nomadic beings, than the one that sets us free to go forward without fear, because we know that the light of eternal love stands at the end of the road?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, an Advent Ember Day, we shall encounter this very mystery of hope in the liturgy of the Holy Mass. The Church sets it before us on this particular day in the shape of the Mother of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary. For these weeks of Advent she stands before us as the woman who is carrying the Hope of the world just under her heart and thus, going before us on our way as a symbol of hope. She stands there as the woman in whom what is humanly impossible has become possible, through God’s saving mercy. And thus she becomes a symbol for us all. For if it is up to us, if it depends on the feeble flame of our goodwill and the paltry sum of our actions, we cannot achieve salvation. However much we are capable of, it is not enough for that. It remains impossible. Yet God, in his mercy, has made the impossible possible. We need only say, in all humility, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:37f; Mk 10:27). Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Opposite and Upside Down

God's heart is so different than ours.

His birth was in a stable, without fanfare, without fireworks.

Angels made the announcement not to kings, but to shepherds in the fields.

He came to dwell and teach among an obscure and oppressed people.

His disciples were an unlikely lot; they were, for the most part, rough, uneducated men.

He spent His time with sinners and the outcast of society. He alienated the powerful.

He taught a new and unlikely thing: to love our enemies.

He died on a cross, a criminal's death on a most notorious instrument of torture.

Even so, two thousand years later, He is still changing the world.

His coming was foretold in hundreds of prophecies, yet the way He came was so unexpected.

Let us not underestimate this God of the unexpected. Pray with gusto in 2009, knowing our God is capable of anything!

Merry Christmas!

Photo source

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thy Will Be Done

"Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell, especially those in most need of thy mercy."

I long to pray, but I find all I can say is "Thy will be done." I feel frozen; I'm unsure how to pray anything more... or even if I should. A rock of sadness is wedged in my soul; I hold my breath, afraid to hope. The rock has been keeping me company for quite some time and despite the pain, I've grown accustomed to it.

Is my reluctance to pray for healing a lack of trust in God? Or is it a quiet knowing in my soul that I must endure this without complaint?

I know that pain is God's megaphone (CS Lewis) and that pain is used by God for our greater good (Romans 8:28). Is this particular pain necessary for me... or others? Or is it outside God's will?

I will grab the first fluttery butterfly wings of hope and dare to ask...

Lord, please resolve this situation...

...and help me to trust always in your love for me.

Photo source

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Truest Kind of Love

Truly loving, as God calls us to do, can wound deeply. The love of Christ is reflected in His wounds. I must be willing to receive wounds if I love. The giving of myself to others brings vulnerability; those I love may be unkind, inconsiderate, demanding or misunderstanding of my motives. Yet I must love, if for no other reason because it is what God asks me to do. Somehow this risk, this willingness to love, opens up a broad vista in my soul that would otherwise be dark. It is a great mystery that to achieve true beauty in Christ, I must be honed and shaped and stretched and burned and, finally, healed by pain.

I love the book, "The Velveteen Rabbit," because of this lesson. Each of us may be asked, at some point in our lives, to love so much it hurts. Will I sacrifice for love? Will I walk through the fire? Will I say yes to the kind of love God gives? It may seem much easier to say no. But in the end, if we love, we experience true freedom, as the rabbit did when he came out of the fire and was finally real. And then we find that love became the easiest choice.

Though this kind of love is expressed in marriage, it is more than that. It is something broader and deeper: a love for humanity, a love for God that runs so deep that we are willing to love all that He brings our way.

If I am misunderstood; still I must love. If I am rejected; still I must love. If I am in pain; still I must love. I see that Jesus was willing to "become nothing" and to be "obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2). This gives me comfort. How can I do less? He is my example.

Everything in me wishes to explain and defend, to fight and protect; I cannot. This path of the saints is not easy. To believe when I cannot see, to hope when I don't see the end, to trust when I don't know the outcome - this is tough!

I pray God will give me the greatest strength of all, the strength to love without being loved in return.

In honor of this great thing, love, I now offer some thoughts from those far greater than me:
Living Flame of Love
St. John of the Cross
1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.
3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.
4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

If you judge people, you have not time to love them. Mother Teresa

In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone. St. John of the Cross

Let us abandon everything within the scope of our thoughts and determine to love what is beyond comprehension. We touch and hold God by Love alone. The Cloud of Unknowing

I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express Love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (St. Augustine) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: TO LOVE. St Therese of Lisieux

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God, for God is love.
St. John, the Apostle (I John 4:7 & 8)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our Beautiful Pope Benedict

I love this man. Just read his words below from the intro to his first encyclical, Deus Est Caritas (God Is Love) and you'll see why.

Today the word "love" is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one's lips. And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical. I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his "sight" that "was enriched" when looking at it, changing him interiorly [The textual quotation in English is: "But through the sight, that fortified itself in me by looking, one appearance only to me was ever changing as I changed" (cf. "Paradise," XXXIII, verses 112-114)]. It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us. I wished to underline the centrality of faith in God, in that God who has assumed a human face and a human heart. Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside. It is something very concrete: It is the criterion that decides our lifestyle. In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion to the point of culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death.

Photo source

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holy Hush Deux

Today I stopped by the parish office and borrowed a key to enter the church and pray. As I stepped inside, the presence of Christ was very real; His peace felt full and heavy in the room. Why, I wonder, would the Lord of Heaven wait quietly in a darkened church for us? He makes Himself present to us in the humblest of ways through the Eucharist. Not only did the eternal God pierce time and come to Earth wrapped in human clothes, He communes with us daily under the guise of bread and wine. Truly He loves us.

As I prayed, the tabernacle, where our Lord resides, was in plain view. As I gazed upon it, it became real to me that when viewed against eternity, my cause for prayer is small. Soon we will all be present at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where perfect fellowship resides.

My Marian Miracle

Yesterday, December 8, the Church celebrated a great solemnity: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am not sure why I chose this particular depiction of Mary (as there are many beautiful ones), other than a feeling of gratitude for the pain she suffered because of her willing "fiat" (her "yes" to God's plan). Though she was divinely chosen by God to bear His Son, she was a human, a mother, and a woman who did not escape suffering.

As a convert to the Church, Mary's place in Catholicism has been somewhat difficult for me. It was my final (and longest-lasting) stumbling block to entering the Church. As a former Protestant, I had a great fear of what we had been taught was Marian idolatry. I didn't want any devotion to the Blessed Mother to fall into that category.

Despite my resistance, I have been drawn to her through the years in sweet ways. The more I release myself to her goodness, the more she gently leads this stubborn child on a path toward holiness and reveals ways to please her Son.

Yesterday, on the day of her solemnity, her intercession wrought a miracle in my heart. While I sat at Mass, a sin was brought to light in my heart and a great burden winged its way to Heaven. It is amazing what happens in the spiritual realm when truth is exposed. The ripples from this have already revealed wonderful beauty.

Thank you, dear Blessed Virgin Mary. Thank you for your patience with my doubts; thank you for drawing me close to you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Under the Carmelite Moon

We Carmelite aspirants have been asked to write about what the journey to Mt. Carmel means to us. For me, this answer is in the undercurrent of a stream flowing just under my surface. The stream ripples and moves, with changing, swirling eddies that are visible but hard to grasp. Just when I think I can explain what draws me to the waters, the explanation or feeling or thought darts out of sight, as though it wishes to remain hidden, felt but not seen. Yet it moves me, this invisible current just under my surface. It moves me in ways I do not wish to resist.

When I journey to Mt. Carmel it feels as though I am stepping into silvery moonbeams that bathe the earth in soft, sweet light. The moonbeams are the witness of the saints that have trod this path before me; they freely pour their wisdom onto the path, beckoning all who choose to walk to move forward with them. These moonbeam saints reflect the light of the Son whom they love and follow. In their circle of brightness lies true peace.

Now that I'm here, I feel I was always meant to walk this path, though I would not have known to plan it. My adventure began when I responded to Christ's call to the Eucharist; it continues on the moonlit road to Carmel. "Deeper and further," says the Lord, and I follow. I look forward to the places He will draw me on this journey.

Photo source

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Timing of Life

I haven't been posting for a while; it's been a full month and a half. It's hard to believe how quickly time flies! In the time I've been gone, I've gotten up to speed in a new job, taken on a third one, helped my son in various senior year activities (including an ambitious Eagle Scout project, of which we're in the middle), and joined the aspirant program at a Carmelite monastery. (That's aspiring to be a secular Carmelite, not a professed religious. I'm too happy being married for that lifestyle. ;) For what it's worth, I'm happy to be back in Blogland.

Photo credit

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Miracle of Grace

A road through vineyards led me
To where I found God's grace
It met me in abundance there
Before I left that space

A humble priest behind a veil
Softly spoke God's will
Kneeling in the shadows there
I listened, my heart still

The abundance of the Sacrament
Fills this heart of mine
I came broken, in despair
But left in joy sublime

Peace rested in my soul that day
It fills me even now
A miracle was wrought in me
God's endless healing power

Thank you, Father Xavier
For being there that day
And thank you, Holy Spirit
For the kindness of your ways

Friday, September 5, 2008

Choose Life

My heart longs to save life on this planet. Tiny, sweet, innocent life, fresh and new, full of hope, just beginning. Each time a sperm and egg unite, a new being, with its own DNA and fingerprints, is created, unique from its father and mother. The fingerprint of God is stamped anew on humanity.

"Abortion is the biggest lie perpetrated on women in our culture today," said the woman sitting across from me many years ago. (My children were babies then.) I had never thought of it that way, and her strong statement startled me. That brief second in the history of my life began a journey which has culminated in, other than motherhood, the most important work I will ever do: saving the unborn and helping women avoid the lie. I have just begun to fight, and I pray the Lord will graciously continue His work through me in whatever small way I can contribute.

Tomorrow I will visit a counseling center for women in crisis pregnancies. I will report back on the miracles being wrought there. :)

"Being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it forward to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6 (one of my "life verses")

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Do It Anyway

This is the prayer Mother Teresa kept on her wall. It is the one she read at the beginning of each day. It no doubt inspired her to keep going, in spite of many obstacles. It does the same for me (immensely!), and here it is for you:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Be successful anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it will be between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

I have written about my affinity for Mother Teresa here. Her works of charity and great love inspire and move me. But the words she so cherished in this prayer teach me something new: I may be exactly where God wants me to be, and things may still go wrong. I may live out my call to Christ in the best way I know how, and what I do may be destroyed. This doesn't mean I'm wrong; it merely means I must press on all the more. Thank you, Blessed Mother Teresa - you continue to teach even now!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Unexpected Gift

Thank you, God, for the gift I received just now. Billy, my youngest son, on the cusp of his first day as a senior in high school, said I was the finest person he'd ever met (because I'm "so nice and trustworthy and everything"). He also reminded me that whatever good thing he becomes, it's in part because of me. I didn't expect this (how could one?), and I am filled with surprised gratitude. I certainly don't deserve it, but here it is. (He also said his dad is the hardest working person he knows. :)

Parenting is interesting. You stumble along, aware of all your imperfections in the process, knowing full well that you could have (and should have) done a much better job. Yet, somehow, despite all that, love comes back to us. God allows us the privilege to participate in shaping His creation. How generous He is!

Thank you, God, just thank you. And please bless both my sons, Bobby and Billy, and parents and children everywhere. May we reflect your love in the love we share with one another.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Baby Rowan

I just read about Rowan, a story that both touched and horrified me. Rowan was born alive in an abortion clinic after a botched second trimester abortion. He lived for 11 minutes. His mother, Angele, tried to save him, but was ignored by the clinic staff. The pictures of Rowan were difficult for me to see. His body was perfectly formed. Other than his tiny size, he looked like any other baby sleeping, with fully formed hands, feet and facial features. The thought that this little one, so clearly a human being, was destined for the dumpster was like a nightmare, but it is a real story, played out many times every day. What kind of culture is ours?

I was going to post a picture of Rowan, but I hesitated, because seeing him is not for the faint of heart. This is not because he is gruesome, but because he is not. He is beautiful, not worthy of such death. Please click on the link above for the story.

We must stop the killing of our most innocent life. Rowan did not do anything to deserve death. His mother, Angele, regrets the decision she made and will now live the rest of her life with the knowledge of his untimely death. Lest you think I condemn her, I don't. I was there once, too. Poor Angele. Poor Rowan. What is happening to us, that we kill those who do not harm us? Blood is on our hands.

Too many have died. Too many are wounded. Abortion kills, yes, but it also maims the souls of those left behind, of those at whose hands innocents have been destroyed. We must stop it. As Mother Teresa says, "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you live as you wish."

Please, help stamp out this poverty. Let's not let another Rowan be left to die. And let's protect the other Angeles from being wounded. What can you do to help?

May Baby Rowan be carried to our Lord's bosom by our Mother, Mary. And may Angele know the peace only our Lord can give.

For help after an abortion, see here for Rachel's Vineyard.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Only That

I only want to say one thing: I'm grateful. Grateful to God. Just that... only that. The more I walk through life, the more I look back on the things that have occurred from my birth till now, the more I see God's direct hand of involvement in the events of my life. God is now so palpably real to me that His presence feels like "heavy air." (Odd description, I know, but strangely apt at the moment.*)

Yesterday as I transitioned from one job to another, I took a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee on an outdoor patio. I was lost in thought when my eye glanced at a small but vibrant berry-laden tree. I noticed that someone had fashioned the dirt around it so the tree was literally growing from the center of a heart. What a beautiful image! A heart rooted in Christ, like that patch of soil, would sprout life from its center, and such fruit-bearing life would nourish others, pointing them to Christ. Dare I hope for this?

Focus on the soil reminded me of the Parable of the Sower. While it is recorded in all the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), something caught me as I reread Luke's version. Luke 8:15 says, "But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." " persevering..." ! The crop (my image of the berry-laden tree) is produced by... persevering. Hearing and retaining the word are necessary, but I must also persevere to produce the desired crop.

In the Parable of the Vine and Branches, Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." I must persevere at remaining in Christ. I must seek Him through everything life brings, both the good and the bad. Only then will a tree of life with berry-laden branches spring from the soil of my heart. I dare to look forward to that with great anticipation.

God is good.

*After I wrote this, I remembered that CS Lewis described the presence of God in a somewhat similar way in one of his science fiction books, "Out of the Silent Planet."

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Scent of the Violet

Mark Twain said: "Forgiveness is the scent of the violet on the heal that crushes it." Isn't that beautiful? I have been blessed with this fragrance; it wafts toward me, though undeserved. I am drowning in a sea of gratitude... and the most beautiful aroma surrounds me.

Truly God is good, and, in His goodness, anything we suffer with Him becomes good as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Day at the Monastery

I am in a state of peaceful exhaustion after spending the better part of the afternoon at the Carmelite House of Prayer to witness a friend's temporary promise to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.

I have written about my attraction to this form of spirituality here. My heart, full of exuberance, longs to grow closer to our Lord, yet my path is often void of sustained direction. Taking deliberate steps to develop a deeper prayer life is something I desperately need. For this reason, I am contemplating joining their aspirant program, which begins in November. The intellect-stretching nature of Carmelite spirituality appeals to me. I will devote a lot of prayer to this; it's not something said lightly.

I feel a bit like the children in the final book of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, when Aslan encourages them to go "further up and further in." Throughout my life, Christ has drawn me to Him in deepening stages. I cannot remember a time I did not desire Him, even before I heard His name. He called me to join Him "further up and further in" when my agnostic father read stories from the Old Testament to my brother and me (a reluctant offering to my maternal grandmother, who wanted us to receive religious education); through answers to childish prayers I offered, often in desperation, while growing up; through friends who invited me to the youth group at the local Baptist church, where I first heard His true name; through commitment to Him in baptism at age 17 after being drawn by a song. Five years ago, He drew me again, this time to the Catholic Church, through an unquenchable desire to receive Him in the Eucharist after a journey of reading. And now, as if that were not enough, He draws me to go even "further up and further in" through contemplating the secular Carmelite order. Certainly this pearl of great price I have found has no end.

In unrelated news, God gave me a beautiful gift yesterday, like an unexpected butterfly of hope that landed on my open palm. Its wings open and close as I watch. I dare not breathe lest it fly away. It has lighted gently and the recognition of answered prayer spreads warmly through my chest.

God is good.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bobby and Ivan

Here's my son, Bobby, who's officially off to college now. He, my other son & I drove down to drop him off yesterday. He took the lead in his "new" 74 Camaro with his brother riding shotgun; I drove behind them, wondering how in the world they graduated so quickly from their two-seater tricycle to the car in front of me.

This mother has a terrible ache in her heart; Bobby has left a screaming absence behind. His brother misses him; even the dog is confused. Billy mentioned this evening that he feels he's in a different family, as though he's visiting relatives, rather than being in his own home. The familial scales have been tipped off balance a bit. I just returned from their room where I prayed with Billy; seeing Bobby's empty bed left my heart feeling the same.

But I feel selfish in my grief. I attended a funeral today for Ivan Wilson, a Marine killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. His grieving mother knows she will never see her son again (at least, not this side of Heaven). Denise, his mother, has told me more than once how much she misses him. She will never be able to pick up the phone to call her dear Ivan, she'll never receive another letter from him, she'll never greet him at the airport with a hug. Ivan died bravely in the line of duty, leaving his mother with unquenchable sadness. When I think of her grief, I dare not dwell on mine. Lord, forgive me for my smallness.

Today I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary twice. Our sorrows unite with Jesus'. The scriptures tell us:

"He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young."
(Isaiah 40:11)

We are in His arms, close to His beating heart, in both our sorrow and our joy. Our Savior walks with us.

Rest in peace, Ivan Wilson, and may God comfort your family.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Our Day

We went to outdoor Mass on the mountain. As we turned into the drive that leads to this little chapel, I remembered that five years ago, on the evening of our 15th anniversary, we had our marriage blessed by the Church in this very place. It is so refreshing to attend Mass in the woods. It is peaceful in every way: sight, sound and Sacrament.
I love watching the sunlight play among the leaves in the canopy of trees when I'm there. The shade makes it cool even in the summer.
We stopped at a little creekside deli for smoothies. A creek in summertime in California is a rare treat!
Hmmmm... which is the orange and which is the peach? We couldn't tell, even after tasting!

Russ loved the food at Molly Brennan's Irish pub.

Isn't this town lovely?

Later, we stopped for coffee. The artistic chairs at our little table were beautiful, hand-carved by someone local. They seemed to belong in a church.

Here's the entrance to the beautiful Mediterranean inspired winery on the lake.

And here's the courtyard. The lake is in the background.

Lovely flowers spilled out of containers everywhere!

This is the entrance if arriving by boat.

It's a treat to walk to the end of this pier to catch the breezes from the lake.

A small sliver of a big, beautiful lake.

We walked through the garden. I fell behind, poking around taking pictures!

I love doorways. They intrigue me! I just had to take this photo.

I consented to having my photo taken.

Good-bye, winery. Until next time!


My husband and I are taking the day to celebrate our wedding anniversary (which is number 20 on the 13th). In happy anticipation, here are some things to which I look forward today:

1. Mass outdoors on the mountain (a first for us this summer)
2. The fresh, pine smell of the "chapel"
3. The play of shade and sunlight in the trees above us
4. The crunch of gravel beneath my feet as I go to receive
5. Kneeling in two favorite places at once: church and the outdoors
6. The possibility of seeing old friends there
7. The comfortable togetherness that 20 years brings
8. Astoundingly beautiful surroundings as we drive around the lake
10. Trying the Irish pub
11. An ambling, unscheduled pace and freedom to be spontaneous
12. Stopping for walks
13. The over-the-top Mediterranean style winery on the lake
14. Bees buzzing about lavender and the sparkle of sunshine on blue water
16. Trying a new wine
17. Knowing our boys are OK (and even enjoy being) on their own
18. Home at the end of an adventure

I hope to have some photos for a post-celebration report.

The photo above was taken 8 years ago*. I didn't realize it was taken on our anniversary, but when I looked closely I saw the pin I wear every year on that day, so it must've been taken on our 12th. What serendipity! :)

* My photo files are sparse... sorry!

Monday, August 4, 2008

First Friday

I look forward to First Fridays, when we have an hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at our little parish. It brings peace to sit before our Lord. The smell of incense lingers in the hush of the church, sunlight filters through stained glass and prayer candles gently flicker. If I arrive there with questions in my soul, I find His presence brings quick answers. He is generous in this way, allowing His wisdom to enter me. Here is what I wrote in my journal Friday while sitting with Him:

It is far better to be one with the Creator - to seek His face - rather than the creation. We so often seek the creation in this world, often without recognizing we have placed what we desire in God's place. It is Him alone we must seek. All else must flow from this: marriage, children, friendships, family, housing, jobs, ministry, interests, material goods, secret desires, even paths of spirituality.

He is our sun. We cannot exist without Him. I can see why the ancient Irish monks chose this symbol for Him. Without Him, there is no life. He is the center of our universe. All is dependent upon Him. His goodness is like the warm rays of light - visible and palpable - that break through clouds and dark forests, revealing what is real but often not seen. His mercy is like the warmth on one's face when turned upward toward the sun, and His grace is like the effect of the light that makes plants grow, thereby nourishing our world through a vast chain reaction.

Like sunlight on plants, His grace enters our lives, poured on us in endless quantities, nourishing our souls. When we pass this on to others, we cause unknown chain reactions of God's mercy, goodness, grace and salvation in the lives of those we affect, perhaps in quantities as great as atomic energy. (In other words, the movement of grace.)

Similarly, one bad choice can set off a chain reaction in negative ways. We run from the Lord - I imagine racing away on a bicycle - and when we tumble, we must limp back to Him. Because our God is one of second chances, He doesn't want us to wallow in our mistakes; He wants to help us get it right. Our bicycles may be battered and twisted from our fall, but He makes them ridable again. He heals our bumps and bruises.

If I am journeying on my bicycle, I want Jesus as my pilot. I invite Him to sit on my handlebars, telling me which way to go. I pray I may see the encouragement of His strong back before my eyes. Decisions about direction are to be His, not mine. I need only watch, listen, seek and follow.

I have returned again to the place in my heart when I first asked Jesus to be the driver, to take His rightful place in the front seat at the wheel of my life.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Jewels in the Dark

One recent night I went outside before bed and sat under the stars. There was no moon, and it was the first time in many weeks that our California sky was not heavy with smoke. The blackness above was sparkling with jewels. Perhaps it's because it's been a while since I gazed at them, but the stars seemed larger and brighter and "jewelier" than I remembered. There were plenty of them, strewn thickly through the heavens like spilled salt. A shooting star sped by as a special treat. I saw bright orbs that could only be planets, though I'm not sure which ones.

Some folks complain about the lack of streetlights in our small community, but I am thankful there are none. Our skies are so clear that the Milky Way is visible; a rare sight, from what I understand. I thank God for the mountains that keep the coastal fog at bay and for the "cleanest air in California sixteen years running." Those things make the clear, bright beauty of a starry night accessible.

Below is Psalm 19, my favorite when I was in high school. I enjoyed the beauty of a night sky then, too. (And the last strophe has become a favorite prayer of late.)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gratitude in Times of Trial

Gratitude is the light that glows from under the door in a dark room. It is the flower that blooms in the cracks of a rock, the sun filtering through clouds, the rainbow after the storm. It's knowing there is a tapestry on the other side of the knots, and that beautifully colored windows come from bits of broken glass.

It is saying thank you to God even before we've learned the lesson that will inevitably come from the hard knocks.

It nurtures hope in the midst of adversity.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Highly Recommended

When I'm at Mass or before the Blessed Sacrament, I find it is impossible for emotions that are not in harmony with the love of Christ to maintain residence in my heart. They seem to melt away. It is a humbling experience, and I find it quite amazing. My friend, Dean, has written from his heart words that came to him during a recent time of Eucharistic Adoration. I believe they reflect beautifully Christ's heart and I highly recommend a visit to his post. (Simply click on his name.)

He used one of my favorite pictures of Christ on his post and I have also used it here. I love the way it depicts our utter dependence upon Christ's mercy.

Many blessings to you all!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Redeeming the World One Person at a Time

I am thinking of how much Christ loves us and feeling very grateful. My husband and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage next month. Reflecting on that, it seems odd that this ragamuffin, who was raised in poverty with chaos as the only constant, can have contributed to something that has not changed for two decades. Before the age of 18, I experienced two divorces, twelve moves, homelessness, abandonment and familial alcoholism; considering that, a 20th anniversary feels like a surprising bonus. God truly writes straight with crooked lines!

Jesus experienced chaos and adversity on earth. He was tempted in the desert, people sought to kill Him, He was run out of town, crowds drained His energy, He was misunderstood, falsely accused, plotted against, chastised for His miracles, and all this was BEFORE the cross! He knows what it's like. He's been there and lived it, and He walks with us through our various trials.

A friend on this journey of faith was in dire financial straits and received an unexpected windfall that will take her through the next two months till her income picks up again. We can never predict what God will do; our second guesses may not be the way He will choose to solve our problems. Things like this serve to remind me that God cares very, very much; He doesn't leave us flailing about without provision and direction, though there are times it feels that way and we must trust through the adversity.

It seems this God of ours is continually in the very serious business of redemption. Though the earth is fallen (and can be a very difficult place to reside), though we are hurt (and hurt one another), He longs to redeem. If we'll accept His help, He'll bring us along at the pace that's possible for us. A speaker at a seminar I attended long ago said that although Jesus is the perfect teacher, we're imperfect beings and we don't always learn quickly.

God is the source of redemption... and redeem He will. Twenty years later, it is nice to look back and see His mercy and provision.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

St. John of the Cross

This painting by Salvador Dali is called Christ of St. John of the Cross, so named because it was inspired by a drawing of Christ by him. The original painting has the cross suspended over earthly scenery (a lake with boat) and the imagery is a powerful reflection of Christ's presence on Earth.

I have a small but growing fascination with St. John of the Cross. His mystical writings (those I've read, which are not many) stir up in me a longing for a deeper presence of Christ in my soul, not unlike the ache of unrequited love.

I am tentatively stepping into prayerful consideration of pursuing formation in a lay Carmelite order based in a local monastery. (St. John of the Cross, along with St. Teresa of Avila, was a reformer of the Carmelite order.) If my journey leads me there, I imagine formation would begin in September of 2009, after my youngest son graduates high school. I cannot imagine pursuing something such as this until after his senior year, which I expect will be a whirlwind!

For now I leave you with some words of his, far better than continuing with those of my own.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you." -- St. John of the Cross

Living Flame of Love
St. John of the Cross
1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Monday, July 21, 2008

God Is in the Details: Jellyfish

The graceful, ballerina-like ocean dances of jellyfish speak of a deeper magic invested in living creatures all around us.

There is more than what we see.

Such seemingly simple, mindless creatures have been graced with unique beauty, and there are endless surprises in their variety. They glide through the seas, tendrils trailing, inner lights glowing, bodies pulsating with rhythm.

God has poured Himself into details hidden beneath deep water.

The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see infinity reflected in the world around us, which shouts, then whispers, then shouts again of God's glory.

See below for jellies, jellies, jellies!

PS Thanks, Lavinia, for your question that inspired this! :)

Jellies, Jellies, Jellies!