Arms stretched open

What does Holy Week mean to you?  Is it significant or insignificant?  When you hear the Passion, do you feel remorseful or sad?  What are your feelings when you see the crucifix Easter Sunday?

After hearing the Passion several times during the week and reading “No Greater Love”, a realization of Jesus’ endurance to accomplish all God had in store for Him hits the core of the soul.  Even during His final hours, He was still accomplishing God’s Will through teaching, fulfillment of prophecy, conversion and ministry.

The greatest realization that hit me this week as the crucifix was veiled, is what is revealed in the crucifix once it will be unveiled Easter Sunday when we celebrate the risen Jesus.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified, His arms were stretched open.  This is likely typical of crucifixion during the time period.  The significance to me that I have been meditating on that I want to share is on this cross, Jesus, in His final hours is inviting me and you to the cross.  His arms are open, waiting to embrace us with the love that He demonstrated for us during His crucifixion.  After venerating the cross, knowing that a cross similar to this cross, my Lord suffered for me and you, I was reminded of all the sins that I nailed to His cross.  Yet His arms are wide open, inviting me to forgiveness, to repent and to receive Him completely.

There are times in my life and perhaps yours, when life hits and I fall slowly away from God.  It starts with my time.  Something comes up when I planned to sit down and pray and I say, “I’ll get to it later.”  Something else comes up and before I know it a lot of these SOMETHING ELSE pops up and I haven’t spent a minute in prayer.  Other things continue to creep in filling my day and eventually I begin to feel lost and less connected to God.

I think Holy Week helps put this in perspective.  It highlights my relationship with God, where it has been, when it has been fruitful and when it has been barren.  I think this is the compass that helps me to look up and see Jesus’ arms wide open inviting me to be embraced by Him, to a deeper, loving relationship with Him.

I don’t know your story, but I do believe that everyone has a story.  Some of you may have fallen away from the Church, away from God completely.  You may have been seriously wounded and felt abandoned by God.  You may have hurt someone deeply yourself and feel remorseful but unable to move forward towards forgiveness.  You may have sought answers or asked for prayers that went unanswered.  Or you may have lost a loved one and felt God abandoned them so why should you continue in a relationship with Him.  Whatever your story, know that God did send His only son, fully human and fully divine, to walk among His people, to suffer and die for them.  Them – being YOU and ME.  His son was nailed to a cross, displayed for all to see with His arms stretched open.  No matter your circumstance, He is inviting you to come to Him, to let Him embrace you, to pour out His mercy, love and compassion and help you carry your crosses.

Have a very Blessed EASTER.

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Look up and embrace His love

As we approach Holy Week, I have been trying to refocus myself.  Throughout Lent we should have been looking within and uncovering sin in our lives.

My last blog, invited you to look at your own crosses in your life and see the resemblances of those crosses to Christ’s passion and be thankful for your crosses. I think this helps us to relate in a sense to what Christ endured. Just as in our relationships today with those beside us when we connect to someone through similarities in our stories, our bonds grow deeper. I think this is an important dynamic for us as humans – to empathize and discover companionship in our lives. When we can empathize with Christ, we can also go deeper in our relationship with Him.

As I embark on this refocus in my own spiritual life leading up to Holy Week, I am also reading “No Greater Love” written by Dr Ed Sri. This book is an awesome read. One of the things I found interesting in the book is that Dr Sri talks about when Peter denies Christ three times. After he realizes, he goes away and weeps. During Lent, we really begin to look at sin in our lives which brings us to repentance. What is important is that when we recognize this sin that we don’t go into a selfish mode feeling upset about our weakness, that we weren’t as good or as holy as we should have been. In essence, we don’t go into the mode of beating ourselves up over what choices we have made resulting in sin and the consequences that come with it. I am so guilty of this. Instead of focusing on a selfish, beating myself up point of view, look at it from how did I offend my Lord, how has this hurt my relationship with my Lord and/or others. Instead of “looking down”, “look up” at the cross, see your Lord on that cross.

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When Dr Sri talks about Peter going off, isolating himself and weeping bitterly, he talks about how remorseful he was. He wasn’t upset with himself because he knew better. He was truly sorrowful that he had denied his Lord, he had caused damage in his relationship with Jesus through his actions. This is how we as sinners repent and go through transformation in our lives, turning away from sin. It is through true remorse of how we have offended God, how we have moved further away from a deeper relationship with Him that brings us closer to Him.  When we come to Him with a contrite heart, sorry for our offenses against Him, exposing our true self, our weaknesses as sinners, He embraces us with His love with all our hurts, faults, and fears.

During Holy Week, not only do I invite you to look at your crosses and feel Jesus’ passion through your life but I also invite you to look up, and evaluate how your sins have impacted your relationship with God and truly offended Him. This will give you the graces through your reconciliation to turn away from sin and be embraced by the love and mercy of God – JUST AS YOU ARE, A WRETCHED SINNER WHO HAS FLAWS.

Your cross

In the still of the morning, my mind wanders to the path you walked. 

What did you feel when you were condemned to death?  Were tears welling up in your eyes for the love you felt for me as I placed my own sins on the cross that you would carry?

When you picked up your cross, did the thought of me cross your mind as you knew you were offering yourself up for me?  

Each time you fell from exhaustion of carrying your cross, burdened with the weight of the world, did your heart ache?  

When you saw your mother Mary, did sorrow fill your wounded body?

When God sent Simon of Cyrene to companion this journey with you, lifting the weight of the cross from your body, did you feel His overwhelming love and the power of His Will within you?

When Veronica wiped your face, did you feel her kind heart?

With each swing of the mallet when they nailed you to the cross you were carrying, did you feel the sting of each of my sins that you carried along your journey?

This journey I travel through life has a familiarity.  Every corner I turn on my path is strewed with crosses.  Some of these come with great pain and suffering that seems unbearable as I try to carry it alone. Yet some seem light and airy.

You carried one big cross for many and I carry many small crosses.  When I feel burdened with the weight of my cross, you tell me I’m not alone and you send me a companion to aid me in carrying that cross.  Along my path, our Blessed Mother meets me and comforts my sorrowful body with her gentleness.  You send many Veronica’s to show kindness to me, lifting my head and wiping my tears.  

It is in these crosses I pick up and carry along my journey, that I meet you.  I meet you in those around me, the companions you send.  I meet you in the pain, suffering, love and mercy.  I embrace you when I trust in your presence within me as you lift the burdens of the cross.  It is these crosses that become light and airy.  And it is in these crosses that I find true joy, love and forgiveness.  

Have you felt a familiarity with Jesus’ passion?  Do you see the similarities of your crosses in life.  Do you recognize the Simon’s of Cyrene He sends to help you carry your crosses?  Do you recognize the Veronica’s that show kindness lifting your spirits?  Do you feel the gentle embrace of the Blessed Mother comforting you?  Although Jesus endured much more pain and suffering than we may ever endure, our journeys are similar to His when we carry our crosses.  It is in our crosses that we empathize with Jesus’ passion, that we feel close to Him, where we meet Him more intimately.

As Holy Week approaches, I invite you to look at your crosses in your journey – where you were sent a companion, or a kind person, or an embrace of comfort.  Truly feel the passion of Jesus through your own crosses, your own pain and suffering and thank Him for laying these crosses before you.

May God keep you and bless you this Easter season.

Finding love and forgiveness – A lesson from grandma

My grandmother passed away March 30, 2016.  As I was thinking about the Lenten season today and what forgiveness means to me in my own life and those who have left deep scars, I was reminded of my grandmother.  I wanted to repost this blog post I wrote last year.  It talks about one of the greatest lessons I learned from my grandmother.  Her actions spoke volumes on forgiveness that I know resided in her heart.  Forgiveness is an essential part of our spiritual journey, the health of our souls and the quality of our lives.  I pray that I will be an example as great as she was in forgiving and showing love and kindness.pexels-photo-334978.jpeg“You have never been in love” Antonia Lipari Mire

Words spoken by my late grandmother as we sat on her front porch swing. I was in my early twenties. I was a baby in my career, just graduated college, on my own in a small town in Arkansas. I was cocky, independent and lacked wisdom. My grandmother lived about 45 minutes away from where I lived after graduating college. I often would pay her a visit on the weekends. One conversation I remember clearly was talking to her with a very self centered attitude about marriage. I remember telling my grandmother that I was glad I had a college education so that I, unlike my aunts, would not have to put up with marital issues due to lack of the ability to support myself. My grandmother put me in my place in a matter of seconds. She looked at me and told me, “you have never been in love”.

Later I realized how much that conversation really impacted me. As I grew wiser and settled into my own marriage, I recognized what my grandmother meant. My grandmother was a model of love, love to her family and love to my grandfather. My grandparents had separated for as long as I could remember. My grandfather from what limited knowledge I had of him was not a very kind person to my grandmother. He appeared to be very lonely and didn’t have great relationships with his kids. When he was dying of cancer, 20+ years after they separated, my grandmother with the loving heart she had, moved in with him to take care of my grandfather until he passed away.

I remembered that story from my college days, yet the love and forgiveness didn’t sink in until after my grandmother had told me “I had never been in love” and after I was married. Both of those memories of my grandmother merged and gave me a lot of food for thought as I struggled in my own marriage and a divorce. The example my grandmother showed me was an extraordinary example of love and forgiveness. My grandmother had an immense capacity to love and she also had a great ability to forgive. Both of these were gifts that came to fruition when she took care of my dying grandfather, a man that did not treat her with love and respect.

It’s been a little over 2 years since my grandmother’s passing.  As I think of this memory of her,  my heart sings with joy because of the impact her words and example of compassion has had on me.  I truly believe as God has worked in my own heart, the example of my grandmother is a gift that has helped me to love and forgive even when it has not been reciprocated.

How many times should you forgive your brother or sister? Jesus tells us that we should forgive seventy times seven.  I’m sure he really meant infinitely.  St Paul also tells us in Colossians 3:12-14, that we should put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.  If one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”  Forgiveness is very difficult when you have so much pain buried with in you.  It is important to lift that pain to God and trust he will fill your heart with love to pave a path for forgiveness and healing in your heart.  In order to forgive you have to love.

 Are you practicing your capacity of love and forgiveness, especially to the one person who has inflicted the greatest pain upon you?

The Unseen Journey Beyond the Struggles

 

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now, rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT)

How do you view your journey? Is it a narrow view or wide angle view?

Sometimes I think we become very focused on the narrow view of our circumstance. In some cases, we allow this to control the things around us, affect our life in a way that may not be life giving. When we look from the narrow lens, we look at what is happening in our lives and become hopeless of what is to come in life. This may create a sense of feeling stuck.  I think we can become very stuck in a whirlwind of life. Circumstances can clutter life, creating feelings of being lost, disoriented, negative, angry, sad, and/or broken.

HOPELESSNESS

Yesterday as I was listening to the radio, they played the fairly new Christian song, “Scars” by I Am They. This song tends to bring tears to my eyes as it reminds me of my own scars. The beauty of this song is not the focus on the SCARS but that of thanksgiving. I don’t know what you may be going through or have gone through in your journey but healing is a process that is never complete. Our scars are present and always will be but it is through the scars that the glory prevails just as in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

When we open ourselves to seeing life through the wider lens, we are able to see that these scars, although significant at some time in life, are small when compared to the glory that is produced from them. It is the unseen process of healing that will last forever. It is through a faithful relationship with Christ that these weeds will wilt and new life and fruit are produced in the garden of your heart.

As I walk my own journey, the things of yesterday are revealing the things that were not seen then but that were present. I have come to realize that the journey is not just a road we travel but it is a process of purifying us. Gold is purified by being heated to very high temperatures and the impurities are then removed from the surface of the molten liquid. I joked around with my coworkers one day and said “you know I think by the time God is done bringing me through all this fire in my life I will be as pure as the finest gold and as shiny as the most precious gem.”

The process in the journey is the glorification. The troubles we go through are what’s on the surface waiting to be purified revealing the beauty that is deeper within, behind the scars – the fruitful garden that gives life to those who desire what God has in store for them.

When you look at troubles of today, I invite you to look through the wider lens and fix your eyes on the things that you can’t see, the grace that God is giving you to persevere in hopefulness. And when you see the scars of your life, be thankful for what they have produced.

 

How well are you known?

Lord, You have probed me, You know me; You know when I sit and stand; You understand my thoughts from afar.  You sift through my travels and my rest; With all my ways You are familiar.  Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord You know it all.  Psalm 139:1-4

Have you ever sat in a quiet place, perhaps beneath the stars in the dead of night or under the blanket of the suns warmth near a creek or a lake and just wandered how well God knows YOU?

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite Psalms.  I could sit and meditate on this Psalm for hours, bathing in God’s presence as He probes me.  Of course, there may be days I don’t want God to probe me but He does.

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I have struggled with seeing God as a God who judges and disciplines.   Viewing God in this light and reflecting on Psalm 139, can be a little bit of a fear factor – seeing God as someone who knows every nook and cranny of my being.  Someone who knows my thoughts, my actions, and my feelings even before I do. What does He think when He sees my ugliness, my sinfulness?  Does He judge me then?  Does He nod His head and say, “there she goes again?”  When I first read Psalm 139, this was my reaction.

Oh no, God knows what I was thinking when I saw Betsy Sue take the last piece of that delicious cake and I’m going to have to go to confession.

God may see the ugly thoughts I have and all my sins but where I find the AWESOME SAUCE in this Psalm, is that God knows me so well that He guides me through life.

I think sometimes we don’t realize this until we go through something major in our lives and we see God’s hands guiding our steps and those around us.  In some cases, we may not see it in the midst of what is going on in our life but it’s revealed to us later.  Other times, it may be something simple, something we read or see.

One day, I was humored when my daughter was reading a daily devotion that spoke directly to her with something she was dealing with that day.  She paused and looked at me and said “how does He do that? How does He know what I was going to be dealing with today?  Did He swap the pages?”  I often wonder this exact thing when I read something that speaks directly to me about what I have been dealing with.  Often it is in a devotion or opening the Word of God and reading scripture.

After reading Psalm 139, I’m not sure why I am ever surprised when God speaks directly to me or guiding me.  After all, He knows exactly what is on my mind, what is in my heart.  I could give testimony after testimony on where I have seen God’s hands guiding my life.

This my dear friends is where surrender and a journey of trust begins.  It’s seeing God’s presence in your life, seeing His hands guiding you, reading something that speaks to your heart because He knows what is on your mind and in your heart.

Wherever you are in life, “even there [His] hand guides [you], [His] right hand holds [you] fast.” (Psalm 139:10)  “[Your] days were shaped, before [you] came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Are you ready to surrender and trust your God who knows you better than you know yourself?  Are you willing to allow Him to guide you along the path that He has already mapped out for you?

Tauren Wells says it so well in his song Known…. “It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace to be known fully known and loved by You.”

Eye of the storm – revealing God’s presence

“You have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me.” Psalm 71:6

Have you seen the hands of God throughout your life?  Have you seen Him carrying you in a moment, in a circumstance, through your lifetime?  Have you ever sat down and written your spiritual biography, spiritual journey, from childhood?  From the moment you first remembered God?

Perhaps it’s a good exercise.  And you may uncover moments that God was there and at the time you just didn’t see Him or feel Him.  Many of us don’t open up to an awareness of God until later in our lives.  If you really sit down and review your life, I’m sure He will reveal Himself to you in a moment when you needed Him but you didn’t realize that He was right beside you – catching your tears, embracing you with a hug, removing you from a situation that wasn’t healthy or was dangerous, or just paving a path for the successes in your life by guiding your choices in accordance with His will.

I once read a testimony written by a lady and the image she described of God’s presence is one I can relate to living in the south near the Gulf of Mexico and in my own testimony.  She painted the picture of a storm, a hurricane to be exact.  If you know much about hurricanes, you know that one side is very windy, one side is very wet and rainy and the center is calm – no wind and no rain.

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Life is kind of like the hurricane, it can get very windy and rainy.  The storm will rage but in the center, God is there waiting for us.  He never leaves the storm, never steps away from our life.  He’s there in the calm, in the center of it all.  The outer realms of the hurricane doesn’t necessarily have to be a trial or struggle your going through, it could just be the craziness of life.  God is right in the center waiting for you to meet Him there.

When I think about this center, I think about the core of my being.  Deep within me is where God is waiting for me.  This center is where His will and my will align, where my heart and His love align, where the graces are poured out upon my life, where the strength is renewed and refreshed, where my joy radiates.  There is no room for fear there, no room for anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, selfishness.  Those are on the outer realms.  They are the windy, rainy layers of my being.  The more I go to this center, the more in touch of who I truly am, who I was truly created to be before I was “formed in my mother’s womb.”

There are so many things that go on in our outer circles of us that influence where we are in a moment in time.  These environmental affects involve people, events, circumstances.  Sometimes they can really influence the winds and the rain of our being.  They can really stir up the storm.  These are the moments I think we don’t see God in our life.  It isn’t until we go to that “eye of the storm,” the core of our soul that we see God and what He has done in our life or is doing in our life.

I recently had to look back on my life and uncover a place that I never want to go back to.  Although it was painful, it strengthened my faith and my trust in God.  Looking back I could see that it was only through the grace of God, His strength present in the center of my storm, the center of my being, that brought me out of this place to a place of love and joy.

One of the things I notice when I go back to my past is that it isn’t until I was open to seeing God that I went into the center and allowed Him to align my path to the journey He had prepared for me.  Although He was there, as long as I stayed in the circumstance of the storm, the outer layers, I didn’t see Him.  It was when I was ready to go deeper within me that I became aware of God’s presence and allowed Him to pull me to a place that aligned with His will for me.  I think this is where our faith grows to a deeper level in our relationship with God.  It is this realization that opens us up to surrender and trust in God in our life.  This reality proves that He is and always has been with us and cared for us.