On Learning to Accept Criticism

Criticism. It can be the bitterest potion to swallow and digest. When mixed with pride, those disapproving words are as revolting as sour milk and churn inside the soul like spoiled food in the belly.

The words I never wished to hear in the first place now repeat themselves endlessly in my head. Each time they recur, my own pride strips them void of their intended good purpose and maims them into nasty insults which seek to destroy me instead of save. Left alone in my putrid contemplation, I turn against the one who sought to help me become a better version of myself. He is the one at fault, not I. How dare he scrutinize my shortcomings!  A plank! There is a plank in your eye! There is nothing but a tiny splinter in my own, hardly worth your time and attention. I reject your criticism.

If I am going to allow my spouse to help me become the most beautiful version of myself, I must stop this nonsense. I know him to be trustworthy. I know what he is saying is filled with truth and motivated by goodness. It would be in my best interest, in everyone’s best interest for me to learn to accept his criticism with humility and gratitude.

When someone, especially my spouse, offers correction which I know to be based in truth, goodness, and love for me, instead of rejecting it, avoiding it, or combating it I will try to respond, “I accept your criticism”. In a similar way, someone who offers a sincere apology might receive a response of, “I accept your apology.” This response assures the penitent, “I heard you” and also conveys a sense of “we are reconciled; be at peace”.

I accept that your words are steeped in truth.

I accept that you are motivated by love for me.

I accept that you want nothing more than to guide me closer to Jesus Christ.

I accept.

Lessons Learned from Having a Sick Kid (and its similarities to Lord of the Rings)

Nurses are incredible people.  

Have you ever had your ear inches away from a scared toddler screaming like the Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings while trying to competently complete a tedious task? Dominic’s nurses prep his portacath site and insert the needle into his chest calmly and correctly every time. Afterward, they comfort and encourage the very same kid who just burst their eardrums and threw limbs all up in their grill and then walk out of the room with a Mary Poppins smile on their face and kind words for everyone. It’s unreal. I am really blown away by their compassion and professionalism. They’re superhuman. Nothing but respect!

Help Wanted.

I used to think that I could and should do everything by myself. I don’t know if it was out of pride or necessity but super-lady was sacked when my kid got sick. I had a kid on chemo and a husband with a ripped ACL at the. same. time. I needed help. I learned to stop saying, “No it’s ok, I’ve got it.” and start saying, “Thank you, that’d be awesome!”

A lovely friend of mine passed along a gem she learned at a Theology of the Body conference. When someone offers to help you, receive the gift. Receive the gift. Receive the gift. I am blessed to know a lot of beautiful people who want to give various gifts. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to be the receiver, the dependent one. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone or feel like we’re in debt. Interestingly, this dangerous mentality is incompatible with my faith in Jesus Christ. I am, in fact, utterly dependent upon Him for all of my needs and I am indebted to Him for sacrificing His life so that I may live with Him for eternity. Receive!

Channeling Samwise Gamgee

In an epic scene of The Return of the King, Frodo Baggins is exhausted by the burden he carries and cannot manage to take another step.  Frodo’s companion and helper along the treacherous journey, Samwise Gamgee, becomes his Simon of Cyrene when he says “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you” as he picks up Frodo and trudges on. My son is sick. I can’t carry that burden for him, but I can carry him (literally, like when he falls asleep in the car and I have to carefully transition him to bed, but mostly I carry him figuratively because…ouch…he’s 35 pounds and I’m a miniature human). J But seriously, there are many times when each individual member of the family must “carry” another member. My husband has carried me through many dark days and I have been honored to do this for him as well. This is a beautiful reality of friendship as well as marriage and family life- to share in each other’s sorrows and joys.

Even Darkness Must Pass

‘It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.’ – Samwise Gamgee

Administering chemo. He's not in pain; this is his idea of smiling for a picture. :)

Administering chemo. He’s not in pain; this is his idea of smiling for a picture. 🙂

In the midst of a trial, I have a tendency to imagine that my life has always been and will always be misery. This is a great lie. Reality tells me that there are ups and downs, beautiful times and ugly times. When we had a series of very difficult things befall us, I began to despair and grow fearful. How could the end be happy? It seemed as if things would never get easier or better or happier. I began suspiciously watching and waiting for the next horror to befall us. Even when things got easier and the storm began to pass, I was still anxious and bitter. A lovely person helped me to realize that the shadow was passing, but I was still acting like I was engulfed in it. I was still hunkered down with my hands over my head in tornado-safety-position. She helped me to wake up to the beauty around me, to let go of the darkness that had passed. Even darkness must pass; if not during our lifetime, then on our last day.  Our faith in Jesus Christ reassures us that even when we are surrounded by darkness here on earth, we believe in a shadow-less heaven. It is tear-free, pain-free, full of light and beauty, peace and joy.  In the end, this disease is a passing thing. The needles, the tears, the fear, the vomit, the meds; all are passing. None can follow us to heaven. (When I say this, I say it with the joy and confidence of a five-foot-one-inch little lady who just made a slam dunk on a ten-foot goal…to utilize an analogy that my basketball-loving husband would appreciate). Just for the record, I’ve never dunked anything besides a cookie, but I wanted you to visualize this joy and confidence. When basketball is happening around me, I choose from the following activities: rebound, cheer, observe, or narrate. 😉

In summary, just remember, “That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” 😉

Louisiana Twenty Years Ago

Magnolias take me back to my childhood in Louisiana. I lived in two different houses growing up, but magnolia trees were always there. Their branches were low and thick. The leaves were large and plentiful. Perfect for climbing, hanging, tree house building, exploring, dreaming, and hiding.

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My little sister hanging in the branches of out magnolia tree. 🙂

Every Mother’s Day growing up that I can remember, we would cut off the prettiest magnolia we could find and give it to my mom. If the only presentable flower in bloom was fifteen feet off the ground, then we knew what we’d have to do- climb for it, scissors in tow (sounds like a bad accident waiting to happen). J My mom was always so happy to receive them, which made giving them to her that much more enjoyable.

Magnolias are the state flower of Louisiana, but to my great joy, they also thrive where I live with my own family in Texas! When my husband and I chose our current home a couple of years ago, I immediately noticed the short, young magnolia tree planted just outside of the kitchen window. Perfect! Last year, however, when all the other magnolias in town showed off their gorgeous white blooms, ours stood bloomless. I began to wonder if we had a “dud” of a magnolia tree. A magnolia tree without magnolias is like… umm… a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without jelly. It just isn’t complete. You follow me? So, several months ago, I doctored it up a bit by clearing out the grass and weeds around its trunk and placing fertilizer stakes in the ground around it. I also recently learned that seedlings can take up to ten years after being planted to begin blooming.

Over the past couple of weeks, my husband and I noticed buds forming and growing. All of the other magnolias in our area have been blooming for several weeks already. I began to wonder if these buds on the tree would really open. Open! Open! Open! (That’s me standing in front of the tree, opening and closing my hands to teach the tree what to do). This morning, our very first magnolia bloomed! I can’t describe the excitement in words. It was an “eeeek” moment. It might sound silly. It’s just a tree. Just a flower. But for me, it’s a happy childhood memory that I took with me into my grown-up world. What takes you back to one of your happy childhood memories? 

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First bloom! Eeek!

An Easter People

This is the story of your journey- the story of conquering a disease, the story of the joy you have in spite of the cross you carry…

One year ago, a few weeks after your second birthday, you began limping on your left leg. At first, Mommy and Daddy didn’t think much of it and that it would go away on its own. It didn’t go away.  Your pain grew stronger. You started asking Mommy to carry you around to get where you wanted to go. Your left leg began to curve inward near your knee. You could barely walk. Mommy called the bone doctor to schedule an appointment.

On April 26, 2013, we went to an orthopedic (bone) doctor. He decided to take xrays (pictures) of your left leg. You and Mommy played with your toys in the exam room while we waited for the doctor to come talk to us. When the doctor came back into the room, he had a serious, but kind expression on his face. He used a calm, gentle voice to tell Mommy that something wasn’t right inside of your left leg. He said it could be an infection, a fracture, or a tumor. He didn’t want to alarm me, but he explained how important it was for Mommy and Daddy to take you to Texas Children’s Hospital right away to figure out exactly what was happening in your body. The doctor handed us a copy of your xrays and said he would call ahead to Texas Children’s to let them know we were coming.

This is when Mommy’s memory gets a little fuzzy. For the next four days at the hospital, everything happened so fast, like being in a car and everything outside is zooming past you. I felt worried for you. I felt scared. I wondered if you were going to be okay. I wondered if I would be strong enough to face the challenges ahead of me. I wondered how I could keep living life if you weren’t there. I knew if there were times I couldn’t be strong enough, Daddy would be strong for me. I knew God would always take care of us, even if things got really hard.

The doctors and nurses did lots of tests to look at your whole body from head to toe. You could not eat any food for several hours before some of your tests. You were very hungry, but you were still happy. You teased Mommy and Daddy that you were going to eat your feet.

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After several days of testing, on April 30, 2013, the doctors explained to us what was happening inside of your body. You have something called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. It means some of your cells were not doing what they were supposed to do. They were grouping together and piling up in many of the bones in your body. This is what caused the pain and limping in your left leg. We found out you would have to take special medicine called chemotherapy to get these cells to behave. When our friends and family heard that you were sick, everyone prayed very hard for you. Everyone asked God to make you all better and to please help the three of us to be strong and brave.

Even though we had a long journey ahead of us, we had so much to be thankful for. All of your organs were healthy; we live near doctors who know exactly what to do to make you all better; and we have family and friends to love and support us on our journey. The most encouraging news of all was that the doctors said you have a 100% chance of surviving this disease. Praise the Lord!

It was time to begin your year-long chemotherapy journey. On May 13th, 2013 a doctor put a port in your chest so your medicine can go into your body very easily. On May 20th, you received your first dose of chemotherapy like a pro. For the next year, you would receive one week of chemo (for about an hour each day) every month. A nurse came to our house to teach Mommy how to give you chemo at home. That way, we only have to go to Texas Children’s one day each month for a check-up and the first dose of chemo. You are always so strong and brave. You never whine or complain about going to the hospital or getting your medicine. The only time you cry is when the nurse puts the needle into your port. Mommy tries her best to hold you tight so the nurse can work quickly and get the needle in the right place. As soon as the nurse is done, she gives you a prize ticket and you get to pick out a toy for being strong and brave. One of your other favorite things about chemo week is that you get to watch a video or movie each day during chemo. Mommy enjoys being able to keep you still while you are connected to your medicine. 🙂

It has been a year since all of this began. We are just two short months away from your last dose of chemotherapy. We have been running a very long race together and we are weary, but we are just two months away from crossing the finish line. I hope that we are done fighting this battle forever, but I want you to know that if we ever have to continue this fight, Mommy and Daddy will be right by your side, pushing you along and cheering you on. We will be strong when you feel weak. You will make us smile and laugh when our smiles begin to disappear. God will be our strength. He will see us through every battle. He will not allow anything to happen to us that is not for our greater good. He loves us. He knows our pain. We will carry on. We will keep fighting. We will keep smiling. We will keep loving. Why must we? Because we believe in a God who makes all things new. Do you know what God promises you? One day, He will wipe away every tear from your eyes and “there shall be no more death or mourning or wailing or pain.” Revelation 21:4  We have nothing to fear. Our God has conquered death!

“We are the Easter people and Hallelujah is our song!”  -Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope John Paul II

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Where is God in the Midst of Suffering?

To my brothers and sisters in Christ and all people of good will:

Though I count my trials as nothing compared to the trials of so many others in this world, this past year has brought with it more suffering than any prior year in my life.  I would never ask for suffering simply for the sake of suffering.  Yet, in some mysterious way, these hardships have produced more consolation and peace than I have ever tasted before.  The crosses God has allowed me to carry have opened my heart to live more wholly the joy that can be born through suffering.

In this past year, God has permitted my family and I to experience a torn ACL (me), a diagnosis of sterility (my wife and I), and a hystiocytosis disease requiring chemotherapy (for our son who is adopted).  With the help of my wife, a silent retreat put on by Miles Christi, and ultimately God’s grace, these sufferings have helped me recognize more than ever before the necessity to focus on spiritual and heavenly benefits instead of earthy benefits.  Furthermore, my heart has even been opened to treasure less the good gifts of God and to treasure more the giver of those gifts, God Himself.  In this way, God may be given glory in all circumstances, whether He leads me to still waters in green pastures or through a seemingly endless desert wilderness. Whatever my path on earth, if it was given to me by God, what more saving grace can be received than to follow that path with joy, persevering to the end with charity, faith, and hope in the full glory of God to come (Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:5-8)?

Before moving onto the subject matter of this letter, I want to make sure that I have not deceived anyone into thinking that I have conquered the art of detaching myself from everything this world has to offer.  I have not.  In fact, I struggle with detaching myself even from the most insignificant things.  I am weak and need your prayers.  Let us always seek God’s mercy together.

Sometimes it is tempting to probe God with questions in times of trials such as: Where was God during this tragic event? or Why does God allow natural disasters to occur? or Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? or Why did God “take” this innocent life?

I would like to attempt answering these questions by tackling the question “Where is God in the midst of suffering?”  Three “places” come immediately to my mind: In His Son Jesus Christ, God is simultaneously on the cross, risen from the dead, and within each of us, especially the poor.

  • On the cross – Suffering ALL, suffering with us, and allowing our suffering to be redemptive. (Philippians 2:7-8; Revelation 5:6; Colossians 1:24)
  • Risen from the dead – Now reigning gloriously in Heaven after His Ascension as the conqueror of suffering and death. (Mark 16:6,19; 2nd Timothy 1:10)
  • In each of us, especially the poor – Living abundantly in the poor and saving those who care for “these least brothers of mine”. (Matthew 25:40,45-46)

Seeing God in these three “places” will bring light to our understanding of suffering and death.  Although we will never fully grasp every tragedy or the existence of evil in this world, God has revealed to us a glimpse of His glorious plan which should give us sufficient hope to sustain us in our darkest hour.

First, I want to emphasize that God does not desire or cause suffering or death, but rather permits it.  This is not a sign to us that God’s power is limited, but rather, a sign to us that He acts out of love, not force.  Out of His great love and respect for our “free will”, He allows the consequences of sin to enter the world.  God is always in control.  However, God controls by respecting our “free will”, giving us the freedom to choose Him or not, and permitting the resulting consequences or blessings of our decision (CCC 311, 1730).

Our belief in God’s respect for our “free will” is necessary for us to better answer the question about suffering.  It also makes clearer the absurdity of the question “Why does God “take” life?”  God does not “take” the life of a person because He neither desires nor causes death.  To paraphrase words of wisdom I recall from my parish priest, Fr. Barker, God does not “take” life, but rather receives life into His arms.  Through Jesus Christ, to be discussed in more detail later, God receives us into His eternal glory, fully embracing those who choose Him, by bringing them out of death into a new life with Him in Heaven (CCC 1010-1012).

God’s original plan for us has always been a sharing of His Divine love in Heaven.  However, Adam and Eve’s sin against God, what we call Original Sin, broke this plan.  Thus, Original Sin is the cause of suffering and death, not God.  Rather, God permits suffering and death as a result of Original Sin.  The consequences of Original Sin were severe, resulting in a fallen world, subject to natural disasters, evil, suffering and death.  In His infinite loving power, God permits suffering and death in this fallen world, to bring forth an even “greater good” (CCC 311-312, 412).

From the very beginning, God remained faithful in His love for us and prepared to restore His plan for us.  Incredibly, His plan would make good out of the evil that entered into the world through Original Sin.  This good that He brings forth is His Son, Jesus Christ, our redeemer, our hope (CCE 312, 412).

Why is Jesus our hope?  One way to answer this question is by reflecting on the “places” previously mentioned where God resides in the midst of our suffering.  When we suffer, Jesus Christ, God, is both on the cross and risen from the dead, giving us our great hope!  This great hope must be lived and shared with others!

Jesus’s first location during our suffering is on the cross.  Jesus Christ is on the cross, suffering all tragedies, all consequences of sin, and ultimately, death.   But why must Christ suffer and die?  Let me answer by paraphrasing a sermon I heard by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:

Adam and Eve’s sin against God and any sin against God is a sin against the infinite.  Thus, the payment for a sin against the infinite God must itself be infinite.  If the payment is not infinite, it will not have full redeeming value.  Furthermore, as humans, Adam and Eve’s sin against God is humanity’s sin against God.  Thus, to redeem the human race, the payment to God must also be made by humanity.  As a result, the payment to God must be both infinite and made by humanity.  Blessed are we, for the one person Jesus Christ, is both fully God and fully human (CCC 464-469).  Possessing both a Divine nature and human nature, He is both infinite and capable of representing humanity.  Therefore, Jesus Christ is the only one who meets the criteria to repay God and to offer a redemptive sacrifice to God “for all” (CCC 616-617).

Moreover, to be an infinite payment, it must be total, taking upon itself the complete suffering due to sin, even unto death (Philippians 2:8).  Jesus Christ’s suffering and death is the infinite payment for the human race.  Jesus chose to suffer and die in order to fully redeem humanity back to God’s grace and to share in His Divine love.  Why is this particularly important to us in regards to our own suffering?   Through Christ’s suffering and death, God knows all our pain, all our suffering, and all our loss.  God can more than relate to us because in his love for us, Christ, Himself has experienced the full weight of all pain, suffering and loss even unto death (John 13:1).  In the mystery of Christ’s passion and death, He has even experienced the sorrow of infertility that Christine and I have experienced.  Jesus, almighty God, has experienced everyone’s deepest sorrows and sufferings!

It is somewhat obvious to see that Christ’s suffering and death do not eliminate our own misery or death in this world.  However, it is not so obvious to realize that Christ did not suffer and die so that we would not have to, but so that we can now unite our suffering with His, following His example (Matthew 16:24, 1st Peter 2:21, CCC 618).  His suffering and death allows us to unite ours to His and thus make our own suffering and death redemptive, effective and purposeful (CCC 1521)!  This leads us to Jesus’s second location during our suffering: risen from the dead.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, reigning gloriously in Heaven as the conqueror of death.  Alleluia!  It is true that Christ’s passion and death would be practically meaningless for us if Christ remained in the tomb.  Blessed are we, however, that Christ rose from the grave and conquered death (2nd Timothy 1:9-10).  His resurrection destroyed the power of death over Him and over us.  This should give us great hope, for in uniting our suffering and death with His, we can eagerly anticipate rising with Him into Heaven (Romans 8:16-17).  By Christ’s resurrection, our human redemption won by Christ on the cross can now be brought into the full glory of God in Heaven.

If Christ’s resurrection does not give us great hope, we are too attached to this world.  The truth is we are all going to die.  I am not suggesting that we stop praying for relief from suffering or avoidance from death in a particular situation, but to pray for total escape from suffering and death indicates an unhealthy attachment to this world.  I am suggesting we pray that Jesus will use our suffering and even our death to make the “works of God” visible through us and bring about the salvation of others (John 9:1-3).  I am also not suggesting that we seek death the quickest way possible.  Rather, I am suggesting we respect all life, including our own.  While at the same time, we offer our lives to God by giving ourselves to others in charity even if that means enduring immense difficulties or a painful death.  This leads us to Jesus’s third location during our suffering: within each of us, especially the poor.

Christ is in us, ready to use us as instruments for the salvation of souls.  Christ is in each of us, especially when we do good unto others.  He is in us when we care for the needs of those around us and when we show charity to those who are suffering.   “When ‘the poor have the good news preached to them’ (Matthew 11:5), it is a sign of Christ’s presence” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church n. 183).  His presence not only exists in those who serve, but also in those whom we serve, the poor (Matthew 25:35-40).

Before we discuss God in the poor, let us ask: Who are the poor?  Who are those suffering and those most in need of our love?  Is there someone in our own household who is most in need of our love?  The poor do not just include the homeless of the inner city or people in faraway villages with little food.  There are people very near to us who are greatly in need of our service and love.  As one who cared for the desperate and extreme poor, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is quoted: “Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share this joy with all you meet especially your family.”  Let us then show great love to those present to us each and every day: the husband to his wife, the mother to her child, the priest to his parish family, the neighbor to his fellow neighbor.

How many of us have experienced our greatest joy after giving our time, talents, and treasures to others?  When we care for others, not only do we relieve their pain, but our own pain is made joyful.  When we attend to those in need, we are more capable of forgetting our own wants and are able to experience the true joy of serving others, the joy of Jesus Christ.  To quote again, Mother Teresa: “Like Jesus we belong to the world living not for ourselves but for others.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.”

In the great mystery of love, when we care for others, God frees us from our own selfishness and pride.  In other words, God makes Himself present in the poor to free us from our own poverty of sin: selfishness, pride, etc.  With God in the poor, we are able to put God first instead of ourselves.  When we care for God in the poor, we are able to love and be loved as God loves.  Without the poor and suffering, the best of us is not called forth.  However, with the poor and suffering, our acts of charity to those in need bear witness to the joy of the Lord and to a supernatural love, free of self-interest.

Moreover, Jesus Christ makes Himself present in the poor and sick person who unites his suffering to that of Christ.  Did the conversion of St. Francis come from a direct revelation of God?  Maybe.  But I contest, and I think there is little doubt, that the deepest conversion of St. Francis came from hearing the Gospel and Christ’s commission to His Apostles to preach and serve “without cost” and without material possessions (Matthew 10:7-10).  From that moment, St. Francis made himself poor.  And by becoming poor, he would be forced to find his joy in God alone, and place all his future trials in the hands of Christ. When we see Christ in a poor, sick or elderly person who suffers with joy, we better recognize our own poverty and sickness.  We see, as St. Francis did, that we are all poor; we are all lepers, in constant need of an eternal physician, God Himself.

In our fallen nature, without suffering, we are tempted to treasure the gifts of God above God Himself.  However, with suffering, now made meaningful through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we are given the grace to praise God more perfectly because in the moment of our agony, we have no “gifts” to treasure, but God alone.

With this light, I can rejoice with St. Paul, knowing that my suffering can be united to Christ’s and can bring about the salvation of souls (Colossians 1:24).  My wife and I can even rejoice in our infertility, by uniting our cross to the cross of Christ, and opening our hearts to the spiritual graces made possible by God through our infertility (CCC 2379).  For us, God opened our hearts to adoption and now we have the incredible blessing of our son, Dominic, and joyfully await his future sibling(s)!

Our hope, therefore, is in Jesus Christ, who remains with us, conquers death, and welcomes us to rise into Heaven with Him.  Thus, instead of questioning God, should we not ask God to help us see the beauty of His plan and to help us seek first the treasures of Heaven, such as faith, hope and charity instead of the treasures of this earth such as an indulgent amount of wealth, materials, or pleasure?  Sometimes it can be difficult to digest, but our attachment to this world is too strong if we care more about God saving us from suffering, hardship and death on this earth than saving us from an eternal death in Hell.

I wish not to deceive anyone including myself.  Suffering is not easy!  And all of us are not called to carry the same crosses.  We know this truth.  In our darkest hours, we are tempted to turn away from God.  Consequently, let us pray for one another, that we may persevere in the cross God has given us to bear, relying on our hope in Jesus Christ, and thus bearing witness to the truth that God alone is our joy and eternal goal.

Seeking above all, eternal life in Heaven with Christ will help give us a better understanding for the suffering and death of the innocent as well.  If an innocent person suffers or dies, should not our peace be all the more great because their innocence will make their suffering all the more redemptive and rewarded and make their eternal rest all the more certain and promised?  The reflection here is not in any way meant to make light of suffering and death, especially of the innocent.  Nor am I saying that we should not fight with all our strength the injustices of this world.  Rather, this reflection is intended to help give us peace, hope and understanding in our sorrow for the suffering or loss of a child of God.

The sorrow we have for someone close to us who is suffering or who has passed from this world is necessary, true and good.  And I cannot begin to imagine the deep sorrow and pain that many have endured here on earth.  However, Christ can relate because He has suffered all, has truly died, and has permanently conquered death by His resurrection!  By uniting our suffering to Christ’s and believing in the resurrection of the dead, we bear witness to God’s plan of making good out of evil.  Through Jesus Christ’s own suffering, our “suffering, a consequence of Original Sin…becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus” (CCC 1521)!  We bear witness to the truth that the evil brought into this world by Original Sin dwindles in comparison to the good brought about by Christ; that our “suffering is nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” by Christ (Romans 8:18).

In conclusion, I hope we can now answer “Where is God in the midst of suffering”?  Jesus Christ, God, is on the cross, suffering with us!  He is risen from the dead, ready to receive us into the eternal bliss of Heaven after our death!  He is present in the poor!  He is within each of us, who remain in His grace, never ceasing to care for those in need of His mercy!

Let us then, give all our suffering and sorrow to Jesus Christ who makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  Let us give our lives and even our death to Christ who has conquered sin, suffering, and death through His resurrection.  May our sorrow then be turned into joy as we wait for Heaven: our eternal face-to-face meeting with Jesus Christ in His full glory.

I will close with a mini-reflection inspired by an analogy for Heaven given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope):  Like the thrill of jumping into the ocean with the penetrating, cool and endless water, so too let us anticipate our entrance into the eternal bliss of Heaven with the intense, refreshing and infinite love of God, where all our tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4) and our joy will be complete!

May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you always!

Please pray for me and God love you,

Jacob

PS: If time allows you, I highly encourage you to look up, read, and meditate on the words given in the sources throughout this reflection.  The words in the sources, of course, are much more sacred, more beautiful and more valuable than my own.

CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church

Our New Adventure: An Edible Garden

Our New Adventure: An Edible Garden

Dominic helped me plant vegetable and herb seeds in little jiffy pots on January 15th. Just three weeks later, all but two of our two dozen seeds are thriving and flourishing. It has been such a thrill watching them grow every day! Today, we transplanted them from the itty bitty jiffy pots into larger pots so they can spread their roots, yet stay inside until warmer weather arrives. Even if we just get one little bite-sized veggie out of all this, it has been so much fun to create something that never would have existed without our work.

Gig ‘Em, Fr. Mike!

We always knew it would happen! Our beloved Monsignor Mike Sis was named bishop today by Pope Francis! Fr. Mike was pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Center when my husband and I were students at Texas A&M University, from 2001-2005.

Fr mike with our fam July 9-10  2011Myself, my husband, and our son with Fr. Mike Sis at St. Mary’s in the summer of 2011.

His homilies were always full of gems of wisdom and knowledge, but more than anything, I remember his joy. After every Mass he celebrated, he walked down the aisle of St. Mary’s with a beaming smile on his face. His smile truly reflected the radiant joy he embodied from being a vehicle of God’s love. He was instrumental in awakening us to the beauty of the Catholic Church and the beauty of giving ourselves completely to God’s will.

I believe Fr. Mike Sis, by his love for Christ and the Church and the joy with which he lives, drew me near to Jesus Christ and helped me fall in love with the Catholic Church. I remember one evening after Adoration in the chapel, Fr. Mike was speaking to myself  and a young man named Chris. He realized the beautiful root of our first names, Chris and Christine, and told us with delight, “How wonderful! Your names tell not only WHO you are, but WHOSE you are.” How perfect.

My husband, a convert to the Catholic faith, is very fond of the fact that he received all three of his Sacraments of Initiation at the hands of Fr. Mike.  What an abundant blessing to have been under his direction during our collegiate years! We love him very much. He is a gift to us and to the Church. Thanks be to God!

Jacob's Baptism 2Fr. Mike Baptizing my husband, Jacob, at St. Mary’s on April 19, 2003.

http://www.austindiocese.org/article/13851/msgr-sis-appointed-bishop-san-angelo

To the White-Haired Folks…

To the elderly in America,

Do you have white hair and wrinkles? Perfect! This letter is for you. Maybe this letter will never reach you because I have a small audience, and well, if you’re anything like my grandparents, you refuse to touch computers. I am a young, American mother and I want to tell you something. I am sorry if our country and the people in it have made you feel worthless, insignificant, and as though you have nothing to offer. We have made you feel as though you are a great burden to us. You are not a burden; you are a great blessing! You are filled with treasures, collected over many years. Though you cannot labor with your hands, you have much to offer. Your love, your life experience, your wisdom, your stories.  Please share them with us. I want to learn about gardening, quilting, loving my husband, and raising children. Do you know about these things? Tell me what you know. Share with me. Teach me. Mentor me. I want to learn from you.

Sometimes, when I am out and about, and I see an elderly person walking with downcast eyes and a long face. Why do they look this way? Maybe their arthritis aches them as they walk. Maybe their sick spouse just breathed their last. Or maybe they don’t see the point in looking up because they are sure they will not see any compassion in anyone’s eyes. Perhaps you will not get kindness from everyone, but I am waiting to greet you with a smile and a kind word. Look up.

I often think of my three living grandparents, a state away, and I wonder what will become of them when they can no longer live in their house by themselves. My husband and I would gladly welcome them into our home to care for them and love them. I have a feeling, though, that they would not accept our offer. Is it because they are scared to be in a new place, far away from the one that was so familiar to them? Or is it because our society has told them they are a burden who would weigh us down and suck the enjoyment out of our young lives? It breaks my heart to think that it is probably the latter. You are not a burden; you are a great blessing. You have so much to offer with your loving presence and hard-earned wisdom. Please bless us with your presence. And by the way, a little extra work doesn’t scare me. If it did, I never would have chosen to become a mother.

You have great value in my eyes whether you raised babies or fought overseas, whether you were a postal clerk or homemaker, carpenter or businesswoman. You are priceless. You have something unique and valuable to offer this world until your very last breath. Wear your wrinkles and white hair with pride, like a medal of honor. They represent your wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Not all of us wish to cast you aside like yesterday’s garbage. Some of us want to love and be loved by you.

There is one widow I met at church who has made a great impression on me. She lost her husband and lives alone, but she is filled with joy and a sturdy knowledge of her precious value and worth. She has invited me to volunteer alongside her at a food pantry and to catch a bite to eat with her at McDonald’s to chat. When she has not heard from me in a while, she calls just to see how I am doing. I affectionately call her my “old lady friend”.  I want to be like her when I grow up.  I want to always have a smile for others, be able to identify what I can offer to others at each different stage in my life, and when I can give of myself no more, be able to graciously receive the gift of others’ love.

“Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a father…older women as mothers…”  1 Timothy 5:1-2

Llewellyn and His Faithful Dog

The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon. Nearby lies the village of Beddgelert. “Bedd” is the Welsh for “grave”, so “Beddgelert” means “the Grave of Gelert”. This is the story of how the village got its name.  A chieftain called Llewellyn had a faithful dog called Gelert. At home the dog was gentle, but was fierce in the hunting pack. One evening, Llewellyn rode back towards his castle, having missed his dog during the day. He heard his barking, but could tell that something was wrong. The dog did not bound forward to greet him, but lay low on the ground, licking his lips. As Llewellyn got off his horse, he could see in the dim coat and face had blood on them.  Llewellyn ran into the castle, and found a trail of blood and signs of a struggle. He rushed upstairs and saw more blood. Behind him came his dog, limping slowly. Llewellyn’s eyes were drawn to his baby’s cot where his son should have been lying. The sheets were torn and covered with blood and, now, at his side, stood his blood-covered dog, Gelert. Llewellyn could think of only one thing, and cursed his dog: “You have betrayed my trust and killed my child” – and he plunged his sword into the dog.  No sooner had the dog died, than Llewellyn heard his baby son cry in the next room. He rushed in. There, next to his child, was the torn and mangled body of a huge wolf.  His dog had, after all, been faithful and brave, and had been injured in defending his master’s child from the wolf. Happy as Llewellyn was that his child was alive, he knew that he had drawn the wrong conclusion from what he had seen. He had not relied on his past experience of his faithful dog. But nothing could be changed. He buried his dog with great sadness. There, beneath a mound of stones, Gelert’s grave can still be seen today in the village called “Gelert’s Grave” – Beddgelert in North Wales.

Let us pray:

God our Father,

the Bible reminds us

that your love for each of us is great

and that you are faithful for ever,

never letting us down.

Inspire us

to value friendship and loyalty,

and grow in faithfulness

to those who love and trust us.

Amen.

This is an excerpt from the page of this date in ‘Praying Each Day of the Year’, a 3-volume book by Nicholas Hutchinson, FSC.

How many times have I looked around at the evidence before my eyes only to unfairly conclude that God is not looking out for my best interest, not protecting me, not being faithful to me, not loving me?

It was no coincidence that God allowed me to stumble upon this story and reflection this morning. Last week was a rough one. Really rough. As I faced yet another dreadful challenge, I begged God to spare me from this particular suffering. Not only did He not spare me, He allowed me to go undergo this particular suffering twice in the same evening.  Every time I began to recover from one misfortune and catch my breath, I was given yet another.  Rather than continuing to trust that God was doing this for my own good, I looked only at the ugly evidence before my eyes. I unfairly concluded that He was not looking out for my best interest, not protecting me, not being faithful to me, not loving me.

Lord, forgive me for thinking this way and jumping to nasty conclusions. Help me to trust in your will. Help me to know and believe that you are working out all things for good in my life. When all I see is ugliness around and my human mind is tempted to draw the wrong conclusions, elevate my thoughts to know you must be doing this for a reason, for my own good, and for your greater glory. In you, I want to live and move and have my being.

“For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.” Acts 17:28

I Love the Pebble in My Shoe

I love you,

Disperser of tidy piles                                  

Derailer of trains of thought

Stainer of clean clothes

Soiler of newly changed diapers

Scatterer of household items

Destroyer of breakables

Exhauster of my caffeine consumption

Disheveler of neat appearances

Gobbler of prepared food

Strainer of back muscles

Interrupter of conversations

Ignorer of my instructions

Undoer of all my hard work

I love you with all of my heart! I love the way you challenge me every day. You test my heart, mind, soul and body. You help me to reach new goals and push myself just a little further than I thought I was capable of going. You’ve made me stronger than I ever thought I could be.  You’ve helped me become a better person. You’re helping me develop into the person I want to be… more selfless, thoughtful, creative, resourceful, empathetic, humble and disciplined. You undo all of my hard work each day so I that I have a chance to do it with more love tomorrow.  Some may think my job to care for you is a boring, repetitive lifestyle. I think, however, that you are offering me a new chance every day to do it better than the day before. Each day this little person guides me closer to the woman God knows I am capable of becoming.

Each new day I hope for…

  • more choosing joy, less crying over spilled milk;
  • more gratitude for my many blessings, less worrying about the things I cannot change;
  • more soaking up time with you, less guilt about the times I was not able to focus on you.

How can one embrace this condition of motherhood which sometimes feels so burdensome, exhausting and irritating? How can one love a “pebble in their shoe”? Because this is way Christ loves us. I am the un-doer of all of His hard work, the forgetter of His many good gifts, and the ignorer of His instructions. Yet He loves me, delights in me, and rejoices in me! He teaches me how to love unconditionally, even when the one we love works against us, even when we have to carry the heavy burdens of the ones in our care. He loves me, the pebble in His shoe.  And I love my little pebble too. I’m so glad you’re mine to carry.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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