A journey defined

“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD.  The LORD will be their trust.  They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream.  It does not fear heat when it comes.  Its leaves stay green.  In the year of drought, it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8

Have you ever had a Bible verse or two, just speak volumes to you?  What about a few lyrics in a song?  May be you have read a passage in a book by your favorite author or heard words of wisdom from a sage soul that spoke to the inner core of your heart?

Almost three years ago, I attended a retreat and heard the verses in Jeremiah 17:7-8 for the first time, deep within my heart.  I’m not sure that I understood then how much these verses would be the verses that would truly describe my journey.  Although my life began in my mother’s womb, my true journey of faith began six years ago.

I think my story is amazing.  It is amazing because God has laid small and large stepping stones in front of me with an intended purposes.  And I truly believe the intended purposes that He has been leading me to is exactly Jeremiah 17:7-8 -to grow in trust in Him and through this to strengthen my roots in my faith so that no matter where life takes me, it will always produce fruit.

This amazing story of mine is a story of trust.  But this story began with tremendous hurt and lack of trust.  In the darkest hour of that pain, God answered my call.  He literally lifted me out of my situation and He began to lay before a new path.  This path would still not be easy but would refine me, purify my heart and cleanse me from my past.  It would provide me with a new compass and a new focus – “the Lord [would] be [my] trust.”

Through the last six years, my journey has gone through many phases that have lead precisely to this moment.  These stepping stones I have been walking on have each served a purpose of leading me to trusting in God.  I could write a book on the details of God’s hands and feet along the way, the people He placed in my life, the obstacles placed before me and those removed, the books, the readings from the Bible and the list goes on.

Some of the amazing details are centered around the obstacles that seemed to be removed that were in my way at times.  There was no doubt that God’s hands and feet were a part of it.  Most of the phenomenal movements of God’s presence was internally within me.  This is the purification process that has been leading me on the path of trust.  It is the interior spiritual movement that is the description of my journey expressed in Jeremiah 17:7-8.  This is where the external stepping stones have led me to the deep roots, nourished by life giving water, bearing fruit in my life.

In one of Lysa Terkeurst latest books, “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way,” she describes an image of life being shattered to dust.  What she goes on to say in the book is that sometimes our life has to be shattered to the point of dust so that we can be reshaped.  It is through the reshaping that God’s perfect plan for us is placed in motion.  As I look back on my life, I see this very process – my life shattered to fine dust and God picking every ounce of that dust up and reshaping me – from the inside out into exactly what He wants of me.  The root of this process is trusting Him to do so, being vulnerable to the shattering and reformation.  It is here where the fruit is produced, where the dead branches begin to grow new life.

So, when I heard the song on the radio by For King and Country, “God Only Knows,” and tears stung my cheeks, I knew that “God only knows what [I’ve] been through… God only knows the real [me]… God only knows where to find [me]… God only knows how to break through… There’s a kind of love that God only knows.”

Each of us go through some form of struggle in our life where the branches seem to be bare and darkness filters in.  In many cases, life as we know if feels like it has shattered into a million pieces and we don’t know how to pick up the pieces.  I invite you to trust in God to pick up the pieces and reshape you as He leads you on a path of reformation, purifying and perfecting your path He has laid before you.

 

A Merciful Love

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” St. Catherine of Siena

Have you met someone you admire?  That one person that has taught you how to be a better person?  That one person that opened your heart to your Heavenly Father, that was a catalyst igniting your faith?

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  It’s a day of celebrating God’s mercy.  The devotion of Divine Mercy is based on the private revelations of St. Faustina.  Most importantly, I think this devotion, the messages St. Faustina received and this day of Divine Mercy is a realization to each of us of God’s great mercy that He gives each of us in the graces we receive and ultimately the merciful love He asks of us to give to each other.  This mercy is another expression of God’s unconditional love for us and is illustrated throughout the pages in the Bible.

Divine Mercy

Our response to this devotion of Divine Mercy should be an expression of bringing the love of Christ to those who are broken physically and spiritually.  It is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sharing the love of Christ with those who feel forgotten.  It is as simple as giving a hug to someone who is going through a difficult time and letting them know that God’s goodness is the ultimate consequence of their trial.  It is as simple as volunteering to serve the community in some way.  It is as simple as sharing hope and comfort with an elderly person by spending a little time with them.  There are so many ways we can share in God’s Divine Mercy.  He gives us opportunities everyday. I think the quote by St Catherine of Siena is so fitting – “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” That is truly what the message of Divine Mercy is for us in our daily life – to be the person God created us to be by showing His merciful love to the world.

One of the more personal experiences I have had in my life of Divine Mercy was through a few ladies in my life.  These women have impacted my faith journey immensely.  They have been examples to me and have guided me in my faith.  They always pointed me in the right direction when my compass seemed a little out of whack.  They have touched me in a way that led me on the journey of my life, my relationship with Christ.  Jesus said “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. (John 17:20 NLT Catholic Edition)”

I never thought in a million years that I could ever be as they were to me to another.  To share in this gift of God’s Mercy by sharing my faith through my journey, through my continued growth in trusting in God’s Divine Providence is a great blessings that I never realized was so impactful.  Until the other day, I never connected my journey over the last few years as a vehicle of participating in God’s Divine Mercy.  It was the words of a dear friend and sister that helped me to see that my own journey has been an example of God’s Mercy and has impacted those around me even when I didn’t see it.  My heart smiles to see how God can use my own story, my own experience and the transformation in my faith to reveal His unending love to others, His goodness in all things, even the pain and sufferings.  It is in this that I know my pain has produced much fruit in me and through me.  It is humbling to be to others as those who were catalyst in my faith journey were to me. It’s another way of paying it forward – revealing God’s merciful love.

Sharing in God’s love story, His Divine Mercy, is simple.  It’s sharing His love with one another.  It’s taking the opportunity to love on someone in need, to pray for one another, to assure someone that God’s goodness is in everything, especially in those things that appear to be hopeless to our human eyes.

The greatest story I could ever share through my own experiences is the message of Divine Mercy – “Jesus I trust in you”.  It is a message I was introduced to 6 years ago. One of the ladies that impacted my faith journey used to tell me to say these 5 words when my struggles were at their peak.  May this message be a catalyst to many just as it was to me during a period I needed to hear it the most.

“JESUS I TRUST IN YOU”

 

Prayer – my design or God’s?

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14

Do you feel frustrated when you sit down to pray and your mind is cluttered with distractions? Do you think the clutter is really clutter or a distraction or is it there for a reason?  Does this clutter or distraction have a purpose in that moment, in your prayer?  What is God inviting you to discover?

Many years ago, I remember walking into my very first meeting with my spiritual director and telling her that I couldn’t pray, my mind was cluttered with all this stuff.  Her response to me was – perhaps you should bring this clutter into your prayer.

I had to chuckle today as I was reading today’s message in “An Ignation book of days” by Jim Manney.  It was exactly this topic – What to do about distractions.  There was a quote from the book “Finding God in All Things” that said exactly what my spiritual director had mentioned to me about 5 years ago – “make the distraction the content of [your] prayer, to hear God’s word in this person, situation, whatever it might be.”

For me during that time period, prayer was a place I went to in order to remove myself from what was going on in my life.  It was my escape, my refuge from my life.  I felt so at peace in my prayer time.  In other words, my moments in prayer FELT GOOD.  They were shear moments of me conversing with God about how He was moving me internally at the time.  At the time, He was helping me move through a key time in my life, so I think that I needed to feel this refuge and fortress from my life -this inner peace, comfort and protection.  So when the clutter hit, it through me for a loop.  It didn’t feel peaceful or comforting – it was far from GOOD.  I know today, it was God inviting me to deal with the things that were cluttering my life, not just my mind.

Over the years, I still feel uncomfortable when a ton of things fill my prayer time that I don’t intend to bring to prayer.  I want my prayer time to be peaceful, to just bask in the presence of God.

As I have grown in my faith journey, I have come to realize that this is me placing God in a box.  When I am frustrated with the clutter, I’m not happy with inviting God to do some of the conversing.

Prayer is a key part of our relationship with God.  In fact it is the kick of flavor in our recipe of our faith journey.  Just as in our earthly relationships we have to allow the other person to do some of the conversing.  We can’t always monopolize the conversation or we won’t really have a great relationship with that person.  When we control or monopolize our prayer time, it is no different than taking the steering wheel from God in our life and directing what we want in our relationship with God and not what He may be inviting us to.

Listening is necessary in any relationship, especially the one we have with God.  Next time, you feel distracted in prayer, listen to what God is inviting you to bring to the conversation and deal with in your life.  It could be the next best thing in your life, a golden opportunity in your journey of life.

I love this song “King of the World” by Natalie Grant.  It speaks volumes to me when I’m trying to control my life, especially what goes on in my moments of prayer.  May God always be the King of your world.

 

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.

white flowers
Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

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.

crucifix grayscale photo
Photo by Peter on Pexels.com

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?