Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Medicine for the Soul

It's interesting how easily bodies fit together in a hug, almost as though our Creator designed our forms for embracing. A good hug from a trusted friend is great medicine when one's soul needs repair. The arms of someone who cares and a long embrace can be so comforting.

Some of us crave touch more than others. My youngest son is my kindred hugging spirit. When he was an infant, he'd seek to get as close as possible to me; when I held him, he'd press his check next to mine and hold it there. I could tell he was soaking up the comfort of his mother's nearness. Even now, at age 17, he craves long hugs from mom. I am happy to oblige. ;)

My hugging posse isn't always around for a fix when huge hugging needs are present, so I'm learning to "hug" myself and to receive "hugs" from God. Sitting still in His holy presence feels like a hug, as does prayer, and doing things that are good for me. Old fashioned good deeds feel like hugs, too. (It's funny that we feel like we've been hugged when we do for others. That's God's economy in action!)

But hugging with real arms feels good, too, which is why it's my favorite kind. :)

Amendment of the Heart

Last night I wrote a prayer asking God to shape my heart. But I want to amend something.

I asked Him to make my heart "cautious but open." I should actually be asking the opposite. May I never be afraid to love completely, fully, openly and with abandon in all situations, whatever I am thought of, however I'm treated. May I have the heart of Christ, who always reaches out with complete love.

May I be myself in all situations, offering my heart freely, without fear of rejection. May the love I offer be selfless; may it be an offer that doesn't expect anything in return. May I continue to love and offer my heart in cases where my heart has been hurt or my expectations have not been met.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love." I John 4:7 & 8 (recited in King James English from memories of a song sung in college. :)

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Close Do I Want to Be?

Dear Lord,

I pray that my heart would:

be as a child's before you each morning, sprout a garden of willingness to please you, be cautious yet open, seek your peace but be willing to fight your fight, have you as its priority, find its confidence in you, be stilled at the sound of your voice, desire justice tempered with love, follow you as the sunflowers do the sun, be ever faithful, be flooded with your light in every dark recess, be bowled over by the knowledge of your love, reflect your kindness, love others, be hidden in you so that every relationship would be based on you, and know that you, and you alone, are more than enough.

Love, Esther

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trust among Sticky Cobwebs

I wrote not too long ago comparing mistletoe on oak trees to sin and how damaging either can be if left unchecked.

Right now I'm not being hampered by sin, but by sticky, cobwebby cares that don't want to let go. They cling as soon as I take my eyes off our Lord. Like St. Peter in the stormy waves, I sink when my focus drifts from Him.

I've made a difficult decision, one that will eventually bring health and healing to me and those I love, but on another level it brings grief. There is personal loss for me and disappointment for others. When I focus on those things, the cobwebs surround me.

Jesus beckons to me from the waves, asking me to trust, even when change feels difficult. I admit that I can be a cowardly decision maker. I love decisions that "make themselves," such as my deciding to become Catholic. I was driven toward that goal; the desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist compelled me in an irrestible way. Tentatively stepping out of the boat, however, is not so easy, and that's where faith comes in. It's being willing to work without a net (at least not a visible one).

My earthly father was a very strong swimmer, and when I was young, he took my brother and me for rides into deep water. He asked us to hold onto his back while he swam. It didn't seem dangerous to me because I trusted his strength and skill. It didn't matter that I didn't know how to swim well yet because I knew my father did.

Taking baby steps on the water is what I'm asked to do right now. My life preserver is the knowledge of my Heavenly Father's goodness and grace. Hope sees the road, trust takes the step, and faith pushes forward.

"All things work together for good for them that love God and are called according to His purposes." Romans 8:28

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

Monday, April 21, 2008

Trusting God in the Journey

I am on the cusp of a decision and am asking God for guidance.

A friend in college used to say, "When in doubt, don't." I am leaning on that now. My tendency is to jump as soon as I hear the whisper of leading. I am finding that it's important to wait and pray about it first, as sometimes those whispers are seeds which are intended to come to fruition at later times.

I have been in situations where God led so forcefully that I felt I was Jonah in the belly of the whale; however, much of the time it seems following God's lead is an art that is just beyond my fingertips: almost there but not quite within reach. Yet I keep seeking. Perhaps we are not intended to fully know, which is where trust comes in.

There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Micah: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) Perhaps any decision is good, as long as it follows that advice; however, I do believe what Jesus says: "My sheep hear my voice." So I am waiting for guidance from my Shepherd.

I'll keep you posted. Until then, will you pray for me? Thanks.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Big Wow

I came over a hill today and was surprised to see our big, magnificently beautiful lake from a new vantage point. It was actually far more breathtaking than this; I was unable to find a photo that reproduced the "wow" I felt upon seeing it. My heart did a little flutter at the unexpected wonder of the blue expanse stretched before me. (This photo shows a small part of our lake; there is much more!)

If I felt this much wonder today at seeing our lake, how much awe will there be upon seeing Heaven? What kind of "WOW" will I experience when I come upon that view? I can only imagine. Actually, I can't; it's far beyond my comprehension. I don't know when I'll get there, or how long my passage through Purgatory will be, but I know one thing: I look forward to the view (and the Person I'll find) over that hill!

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (I Corinthians 2:9)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Shamrocks, Swords and the Body of Christ

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (I Corinthians 12:27)

People never cease to surprise me, and, honestly, that's one of the fun things in life.

I was waiting in a slow line at the pharmacy today when a member of our parish began conversing with me. Eventually the conversation turned to the tattoo that she had gotten for her 80th birthday. If someone had told me earlier in the day that I'd be viewing a green shamrock tattooed on this 86 year old's ankle, I would have found it hard to believe!

Then there was the time I found out the soft spoken, unassuming auto mechanic who hands out bulletins every Saturday night at Mass is a Medieval sword fighter. How wrong I was in thinking that his life revolved around tires, brakes and changing oil!

I will never again judge anyone based on who they appear to be, and I look forward to the next surprising discovery! However...

...my favorite stories are those that tell of the work of God in someone's life. There is nothing better than seeing the intimate flow of relationship between Creator and creation. Like Michaelangelo, God sees the finished sculpture in the block of marble before it's begun. If we let Him, He lovingly guides the chisel to create His masterpiece in us.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that we are all part of the body of Christ, though functioning in different roles. Each role is necessary, and none should be considered better than the other. Some of us wear shamrocks, some wield swords, some collect stories. But each one of us is used for the greater glory of Christ.

We are quite a family!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life and Death, Blessings and Curses

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life..." Deuteronomy 30:19

God has graced us with the ability to create life; we also hold in our hands the means to destroy it. It seems odd that one would destroy what one has created... yet it's done thousands of times each day, millions of times each year, and tens of millions of times each decade. I'm speaking of abortion.

And sadly, it's legal. While many rightly languish in prison cells for taking another's life, abortion, which stops the beating hearts of the most helpless and innocent members of our society, is condoned, encouraged and even touted as a right. Where is our shame?

Our shame is hidden. It's there, but not acknowledged. Abortion kills, we know that, but it also maims. Abortion causes emotional, psychological and spiritual damage to those who choose it. No parent can take the life of their child without being severely affected. The link between abortion and depression, suicide, substance abuse and self-destructive behavior is unmistakable. With over 40 million legal abortions performed in the U.S. since 1973, and a minimum of two people affected by each abortion, the emotional cost is staggering.

But there is hope, and healing, and grace to be had. There is no sin too big for God to forgive and no wound too deep for Him to comfort. There are vehicles for the healing of those who are victims of our nationwide epidemic.

There are also solutions to abortion, viable alternatives for unwanted pregnancies that don't get talked about enough. That's where crisis pregnancy centers, pregnancy resource centers and centers for life come in, and they need our support. While the abortion industry reaps handsome profits, centers that provide non-violent, life-affirming alternatives normally operate on a shoestring budget and rely strictly on donations.

Next Saturday, April 26, I'm participating in a walk-a-thon to raise funds for a local center for life. Will you help me help them? For more info on this, email me via the link on my profile or simply leave a comment.

Read here for info on adoption. More than two million couples are waiting to adopt a child, even a child with special needs, should one become available.

Read here for info on healing after abortion. Rachel's Vineyard retreats replace shame with healing and forgiveness. There is hope!

Together, we can heal our land! Won't you join me?

Of Labradors and the Lord Above

This may sound strange, but I have learned a lot about God from my dog.

Goldie, our yellow lab, has been part of our family for eleven years now, and typical of her breed, she loves exuberantly and with abandon! When one of her beloved humans comes home, she dances and spins with joy, so much so that I sometimes wonder whether she'll achieve lift like some kind of furry helicopter.

I have often seen her extravagant and constant devotion to us, her masters, as a guideline for what my devotion to my own Master should be. Normally I feel great passion for God, but if I don't, Goldie is there to remind me what it looks like!

Goldie also gives me glimpses of what God feels for us. As extreme as her love is, it's a distant blip on the radar screen (if that) as compared to God's passion for His children. And Goldie's fidelity, constancy and devotion are no match for God's character as played out in our lives.

The Gospel of St. Luke (chapter 15) is a great place to read about the Creator's great love for His creatures. Jesus shares parables that show God's grand efforts to bring His children home and the great rejoicing in His heart when they come.

This morning I stood on the deck and saw Goldie below in the yard. When I whispered her name, her tail began thumping and she came to see me. God waits for my whisper and will respond with joy when it comes. May I never forget that, and may I always listen for and respond to His whispers to me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Love Is the Builder

"Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the window which hope has opened." Charles Haddon Spurgeon

I may not know where the next staircase leads, but if love built the stairs, I shouldn't be afraid to climb. If hope has opened a window for me, it is one I long to look out.

Love, the builder, always exceeds my expectations; in fact, love is able to do "immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine." Love never fails, and always wants what's best for me. (Ephesians 3, I Corinthians 13)

Hope, which opens the window and offers the view, is the mystery of Christ in me, is full of glorious riches and is alive! (Colossians 1, I Peter 1)

Faith, which helps me begin the climb, is given by Christ, who knows just what I need for it to grow. He makes it perfect. (Hebrews 12)

That sounds like an incredible trio of contractors. Race you to the top!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

USS God Almighty

During a family health crisis some years ago, I felt emotionally vulnerable and I found it difficult even to pray. My concern at the hospital overwhelmed me; so much so that it felt I was in the midst of a sea of crashing waves, barely clinging to life on a tiny piece of wood.

The crisis passed and we knew our loved one was going to make it through. Suddenly it became clear to me. Although it felt I was alone and vulnerable in the waves, I had, in fact, been on God's battleship, safely carried through the storm.

We are now in a different kind of crisis. On May 1, my husband's job will be eliminated. You can imagine how that feels with a mortgage, and children (one off to college soon), and two older vehicles that have traveled many miles, and... well, there's no need to go on; you get the picture.

My prayer for this storm is that I will trust God from the beginning, rather than worry, to have the grace to rest in Him from the get-go, knowing I'm on a battleship and not alone in the waves. I want to honor Him with my trust.

Jesus asks me not to worry about what the next day will bring. (St. Matthew records this in his gospel.) Our Lord reminds me that God cares for the sparrows. How much more will He care for me? Peace comes as I rest in this.

So, until this crisis passes, I will pray. And pray some more. He only asks that I trust Him as He steers the ship.

Anchors away!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

This Is Why I'm Catholic

Christ beckoned to me from the Church, inviting me to receive Him through the Eucharist to which voices from ancient Christians bear witness. The veil between Heaven and Earth opens and He pours Himself out to us. We are filled through Him: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Seeking God Together

When I was 14, I spent a very lonely six months in a new school 3,000 miles away from my home. The circumstances as to why I was there shall remain unexplained, but suffice it to say that when I got home, seeing my friends again was a great joy. After that experience, I made a vow to myself: I would do everything within my power to surround myself with friends, lots of them, wherever I happened to be. It was just too painful to be as alone as I was during those months.

CS Lewis said: "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."

I love the thought that friendship, like philosophy and art, gives great beauty and meaning to life; with that I do agree. However, for me, friendship is one of the great necessities of life. It IS about survival.

I believe God created us with an innate desire for connection. It's what causes us to seek Him and to seek out relationships with one another. On the grand continuum of our varying needs for intimacy, I'm guessing I would land deep on the far side of "yes." I love sharing my heart with others and hearing what's within theirs. It's one of my great joys in life.

Thankfully, in all the years since age 14, I've not had to live my life without friends. I am thankful for each one; some have followed me through the years... and some are just beginning to walk the path next to me. I love each friend, old and new, and the ones who point me to the heart of God are the jewels in the crown. I treasure them most of all.

Thank you, each one of you, for sharing the journey with me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Planting Seeds

This morning I spent a lot of time planting seeds, not in my garden, but in my heart. I see prayer that way. CS Lewis has said that prayer is not about changing God, but about changing us. I find this to be true; the more time I spend on my knees, the more I am changed. And that's a good thing.

There is no more peaceful place to be than in prayer. When I ask for God to shed His grace upon my friends, my family, my parish, the world, I know He becomes involved in the lives of those I love, and that comforts me. All the cares of the world slip away and are replaced by the peace only He can give.

Prayer also brings thanksgiving. Being on my knees helps me see life more clearly and to understand how much He has blessed me. Whatever my physical circumstances, He lavishes me with grace when I seek Him. A never-ending font of spiritual blessings is poured from Heaven.

Sometimes it's hard to get to my knees, but once I'm there, I don't want to leave. It's good to know I don't have to, even when I get up.

"Pray without ceasing." I Thessalonians 5:17

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Stone in My Heart

One of my favorite scripture verses is Ezekiel 36:26: "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

God has given me a heart of flesh; it beats within me for Him. However, within the tenderness of that heart lies a great stone. The very thing that is most important to me is what divides me from my family.

They don't share my faith.

How I long for them to be united with me in the pursuit of God! How I miss the times they were.

St. John speaks the truth when he says: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4)

Today at Mass, my heart broke, and within the break lodged a very heavy stone. I can only hope that my family will eventually make their way home. And, dear God, may that be sooner, rather than later.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Sign of Love

Flowers are a sign of love from God, I think, a bit of "extra" He put into the world so we'd know He cares. I can't think of any other reason they're here than to grace our senses and reflect the beauty and generosity of God.

Flowers show me that God is extravagant.

I used to work in a florist shop, and the variety of shapes, colors, sizes and smells embodied in flowers seems endless. I loved being immersed in the headiness of it all on flower delivery day, when riots of color and fragrance graced buckets all over the store. Even now, the stunning beauty of a graceful arrangement can stop me in my tracks.

"The Earth laughs in flowers."

I've seen this phrase attributed to both e. e. cummings and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Either way, whoever said it, I couldn't agree more.

Thank you, God.

Of Mistletoe and Sin

(See the post below...)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Losing Weights

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1

Our picturesque spot in the world is made even more beautiful by many acres of oaks that line roadways and dot hillsides. In wintertime when branches are barren, green balls of mistletoe become exposed, hanging from the otherwise bleak trees like defiant bits of spring clinging to a winter landscape.

An overseas friend recently asked for photos of our native mistletoe (she's never seen it growing in its natural environment), so lately I've become fascinated with finding photogenic specimens on my drive to work.

But, alas! What I've discovered is that I'm a bit too late! Once the trees begin leafing out in spring, the mistletoe becomes hidden.

The thought of mistletoe warms my soul and makes me happy because it's associated with things I love: romance and Christmas. It's hard to believe that in actuality it's a parasite that saps health from its host tree, sometimes even killing it if it takes hold strongly enough. It reminds me that things are not always as they seem.

I got an inspiration while in the quiet of Eucharistic Adoration today. Like mistletoe on an oak tree, indulgence in sin depletes me of spiritual nourishment. Sin may start small and feel good, but I must not be fooled; its aim is to take over my soul. Like winter mistletoe, it may seem beautiful at first, as though it's dressing me up; or, like spring mistletoe, it may be hidden within the "leaves" of the otherwise goodness of my life, but, ultimately, it's a killer.

I had a friend in college who spent months training for a long wilderness hike. She walked everywhere (everywhere!) with weights on her ankles. The idea was that she'd feel unencumbered in comparison when she did her actual hike.

Those ankle weights remind me of "the sin that so easily entangles" that impedes my progress in the race. I long to "throw off everything that hinders" to run my race without handicaps! But it takes time, and encouragement, and strength, and will. I am thankful I can ask my "cloud of witnesses" to intercede on my behalf, the saints in Heaven that have gone before me. Each one of them struggled and overcame in this life, and they are there at the finish line, cheering all of us on.

I am also thankful for the "cloud of witnesses" in this life, those that run the race with me, sometimes pulling me forward, sometimes allowing me to push them. They make it feel more like the team effort of a relay. Though each of us must run our own race, we can help one another to the glory of the finish line!

Lastly and most importantly, I am thankful for our Heavenly Gardener, He who knows when it's time to prune the mistletoe.

"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Romans 12:9