God or Coincidence?

Ever turn on the radio and hear a song that speaks directly to you? Or may be you pick up a book and the message is just what you needed to hear? Or you hear someone say something and you feel it’s directed towards you even though they are talking to an auditorium or church full of people?  What do you think, coincidence or God?

Many years ago, I was on my way to do one of the hardest things that I have had to do. My children are most important to me next to my faith. On this day, I knew I had to tell them the one thing that I never wanted to have to tell them, something that would affect the rest of their lives. I was on my way that day to see my therapist so that I could tell my children that their dad would not be coming home. As I was driving, the song “Lord I Need You”, by Matt Maher came on. At that moment, I just cried because I did need God. I needed him to not only comfort me and give me the courage and strength for this moment but I needed him to comfort my children. That song gave me a peace that prepared me for this moment of pain that awaited each of us.

This isn’t the only time a song has come on at just the right moment with a message that guided, comforted me or gave me reassurance about a decision.  In fact, just today as I was leaving Mass “Come to the Table” by Sidewalk Prophets came on just as I was thinking about some things in my past that feel my heart with shame and discontent about myself.  As I listened to the lyrics of the song and knew I had just went to the table to receive Jesus, I was comforted knowing that I have been set free and this is no longer a part of who I am.

I also love how books,  devotions or the readings for the day, speak directly to me regarding something that I’m dealing with or discerning.  One evening, my children and I were reading a children’s devotion and as we read it, my daughter looks at me and says “How does he do that?  How does he know what happened today?  Did he just swap the pages?”  I had to chuckle a little as she was questioning God’s method of talking to her through this devotion on an issue she was having with her friend.  It was a very good teachable moment on being open to hear God and how he speaks to us through things we read, things someone says, what we see or even a song.

I believe these moments, when something speaks to our hearts in whatever way it may be, that it can only be attributed to God, not coincidence.  He knows exactly what you need to comfort you or to guide your decision.  If you are open, you will hear him at just the right time and just the right place.  If you need direction, he will guide you.  If you need comfort, he will console you.  If you need peace, he will provide it.  If you need love, he will embrace you.  The form he uses may be different each time.  Be aware.  The next person that approaches you may be someone he sends to help you with something you are struggling with.  The next song you hear, may bring you peace in a situation that has brought you discontentment.  A book you read may guide you to discerning an important decision or direction in your life.

Tune in to everything and everyone around you, he is speaking to you at this moment.  Are you open to receiving the message God is sending you today through your radio, through your friend, through your children or spouse, through the Bible or words in a book?

 

Finding love and forgiveness

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 Colors of My Journey

As I sit in the still of the day, my thoughts stream through my mind like an array of colors. Each color represents an aspect of my life. They signify the many challenges, joys, successes, and heart aches that have transpired through my life. I didn’t always realize God’s presence in the mist of this rainbow of colors. As I sit listening to the sounds of the water falling drop by drop and feel the breeze of the wind touching each inch of my face, I know that God was there through every step as these colors emerged in my life. He was watching as I took my first breath, my first steps, said my first words and He just smiled. He was present when I was tempted by the enemy and disobeyed my parents, as He whispered I forgive you and I love you. He was listening when I said my first prayer and He thanked me. As I grew into a woman, He marveled in the person He was creating me to be. He was tugging at my heart when I didn’t realize it. When the clouds were dark and the storm whirled in, He sent me help in the form of a friend. She comforted me and guided my spirit, just as He asked her. An ember He added to spark my soul, warming my desire for Him. This is the time that I would begin to grow in a love so great. I was unaware of what was happening, as I walked this journey trying to survive a life that seemed tough. As the time passed on, my determination bore fruit. My successes grew larger, a degree, marriage, a home and a daughter. Each a joyful gift that He placed in my care. I still had no clue that He was still preparing me for something more, a struggle and a growth as the river flowed through the colors of my life. He lit a flame from the ember that He implanted. It warmed my soul for so much more. I thirst and I hungered to know Him more. I knew He had a purpose for me that was larger. I searched and I pondered, looking here and there. He enlightened my soul and the colors seemed brighter as my relationship and my spirit with Him strengthened. He was still preparing me for events to come. He was laying a foundation, steady and strong to endure an event that was the greatest struggle of them all. He held my hand as I endured the storm of storms, guiding my path by each step that I made. He cradled me when I felt I couldn’t go on any more and strengthened me with His love to continue the journey. Today I look back and I see each color vibrant and bright as the flame from the ember continues to burn and my faith in His presence continues to grow with joy, peace and happiness.

Have you allowed your peace to be swept away?

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” John 14:27

Have you ever woke up in a great mood, ready to take the day and then life began and it all went downhill? You struggled to get your children out of bed. You found yourself cleaning up a mess of spilt milk. Then you realized you are late for work. Rushing out the door, you forget your keys and spill your coffee on your blouse. I’m sure no one has mornings like that, except me.

I use to live in a more open area of the suburbs. I loved waking up before anyone and going outside on my porch in the stillness of the morning to pray and sit in the presence of God. There is something so peaceful about the newness of the day before the sun begins to rise and everyone is still asleep. The birds begin to sing welcoming the day. The air seems fresh and new. I could just feel and breathe in the peace of the present moment. Everything seemed to be in perfect harmony.

And then, my day started. All that peace I just experienced goes tumbling down as I begin to rush through my morning waking everyone up, getting lunches made, and preparing for the unexpected events of spills. My peace from my moment in the stillness of the glorious morning God set before me has just vanished.

Why? Why do we allow our peace, the peace Jesus plainly tells us he gives us, be taken away? Do we confuse the peace of Jesus with the world’s definition of peace?

When Jesus tells you he gives you his peace and it’s not of the peace of the world, he is telling you that his peace is within you. It’s the peace of harmony of all things working within you, with him at your core. It’s the morning peace on the porch, where everything is perfect and new. It’s the present moment of trust in him that he is with you and whatever the outcome of any circumstance good or bad, it is the best outcome for you. It’s the peace that produces everlasting joy and happiness because you have a trust in the greater outcome of all things in life. This peace is you knowing that God has harmonized your life as he does the morning setting of nature. But so often the expectations or how the world defines peace creeps in and when you lose that type of peace, anxieties, frustrations and anger surface. If you center on the peace of Christ, then none of the things of the world – good or bad – can take away your peace. Peace of Christ be with you always.

Have you been pruned lately?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit and every one that does he prunes’ so that it bears more fruit.” John 15:1-2

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What does it mean to be pruned?  Why is it so important to prune the branches on the vine?

To harvest a bountiful, delicious crop of grapes, pruning is super important. If the branches aren’t pruned enough, the health and the quality of the grapes would suffer.  When pruning the branches, the old wood is removed so that the new can grow and flourish with delicious, tasty grapes.  Pruning is typically done in the winter, when things are dormant to prepare for the new growth.

When Jesus shares this parable, and uses the personification of branches and vines as us and him, what does this me for you and I?

Many people who know me know that I like to analyze things in my life to determine the roots of my issues and my sins, where I can improve in my life and relationships, to see where I’ve grown and what was the contributing factor in my growth. I think this is an important aspect of healthiness in my life. In doing so, I see my past as a part of me, in that it refines me but doesn’t define me. When I read this parable that Jesus tells his disciples, I relate the unfolding of my life, the pruning in me. I know that in all the storms I have whirled around in, he was removing the things that hinder me in my relationship with him. He was removing the things that did not bear fruit or did not bear healthy, plentiful fruit.  This process each time prepared me for new growth that flourished inward and outward producing useful fruit for the kingdom of God. The amazing thing is that in most cases he did this when I was dormant in my faith. How about that? I’m a true branch in the grape vineyard.

Sometimes there are things in your life, habits, relationships, sinfulness that cause impediments to you being greater in your journey to holiness. These obstructions or things that hinder your growth need to be removed as much as can be so that the “new wood” can begin to grow and produce beautiful, healthy, delicious fruit.

God will prune you, remove the “old wood” so that he can refine you into the person he has created you to be. You may walk through fire or have to cross a raging river as part of this refinement; but in the midst of it, he will be right there with you in the fire and in the river, carrying you through it all. “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

The fruit you will bear are the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control
  • Charity
  • Generosity
  • Modesty
  • Chastity

When God is pruning you, he is strengthening you and perfecting the fruits of the Holy Spirit in you so that you can grow closer to him and establish a deeper friendship with him. These healthy crops will bring you closer to holiness, closer to sainthood, your ultimate destination.

Have you been pruned lately?  Are you being pruned today? Open your heart and allow God to prune you in all areas of life.

Can you imagine a world full of ripe fruits of the Holy Spirit? Wow what a world that would be!

Where there is love

“Where there is love, obstacles disappear, thorns are turned into roses, crosses into pearls.”  Before the Altar, Concepcion Cabrera De Armidarose-blossom-bloom-red-rose-87469.jpeg

In our life, God gives each of us a tool – His gift of love.  Love is not just a feeling, it is an action.  Love is the basis for trusting in Jesus and accepting God’s will.  Trust in Jesus is absent without love.  Concepcion Cabrera De Armida explains it perfectly in her meditations Before the Altar,“ where there is love, obstacles disappear thorns are turned into roses, crosses into pearls”.  Filling our soul with Jesus’ love allows us to trust Him, to detach ourselves from the things of this world and rely on the will of God.  This love is an infinite love that pours out and satisfies all desires of the heart.  With that satisfaction comes a renouncement of self and reliance on God.  Concepcion Cabrera De Armida also states, “where there is love, the heart is filled with the most sublime aspirations, with irrepressible zeal and fiery ardor, with a thirst for purity, a hunger for martyrdom, endless crosses and an unlimited confidence in God.”

What does it mean to fill your soul, your heart with Jesus?  Can Jesus occupy your heart if it is filled with self-love, pride, egotism?  One must renounce oneself, surrender to God, void the heart and soul so that only Jesus can occupy it.  Allow Him to come into your heart and occupy it completely, to reign as King in your heart.  You will be consumed with a love that is larger than anything and God will reveal more to you.  He will give you more trials with more victories.  He will show you areas in your life where you have relied on yourself versus Him.  

This is where I found myself many years ago, embracing this love.  As I embraced it and consumed it, releasing myself, God revealed much more to me in my life.  He revealed areas that I knew I had to change.  The struggles came and the strength overpowered them.  There were times that I would reflect on a situation and wonder how I was able to react the way I did, how I was able to overcome it.  In many cases, it wasn’t me.  It wasn’t the way I would have normally reacted.  It was larger, it was an act of a consuming love, a greater confidence in God.  It was Jesus reigning in my heart as King, His heart beating in unison with mine.  He was the center of it all. 

Love is the foundation of it all.  It allows you to trust in God and let Him provide the strength to lift the burdens of your crosses you bear in your life.    

How does love provide this foundation to trusting God and carrying you through your struggles?  Concepcion Cabrera de Armida speaks of three dimensions of love in her meditation of charity in What Jesus is Like.  She states that we must first love Jesus with all of our heart and soul.  Most of us have this love for Jesus.  Where we begin to struggle is to allow Jesus to love us, the second dimension of love.  Once you have established a love for Jesus, then you can open your heart by your own will to allow Him to love you.  After you have allowed Jesus to come into your heart and love you, then you are giving up your own will to that of the Father.  Jesus wants you to look at Him, gaze upon Him and see this reflection of love He has for you, embrace it and exhibit it.  By soaking in His gaze and reflecting His love, you must completely empty yourself and then you will see the Father through Him and will your life over to Him.  By loving Him and allowing Him to love you, you will surrender to His desires.  This leads into the third dimension of love, to surrender the soul to only pleasing God.  By surrendering the soul to think only of pleasing God, you will resemble Jesus.  Jesus came into the world to seek your love and to surrender His love to you.  By resembling this dimension of love, your eyes and heart will be fixed on God and you will “live in God”.

What is it like to resemble this dimension of love, the goodness of Jesus?  This was another question that pondered my thoughts in the struggles in my life.  How can I resemble Christ – love as He did?  He graciously, lovingly, selflessly carried His cross for mankind.  With every thorn in my life, I weep, I complain, I ask God to take it away.  Is that the solution?  Does God want me to resemble Jesus in these moments?  Does He want me to rely on Him, embrace His love and allow it to overflow during my darkest hours?  How can we resemble Jesus’ goodness to forgive, to love unending, and to be compassionate to suffering?  It is an act of self-sacrifice. 

What does this self-sacrifice look like?  It is emulating Jesus’ compassion, His love and forgiveness to bear the crosses you are given just as He did.  It’s accepting these crosses in your life and asking for strength to bear them.  In What Jesus Is Like?, Concepcion Cabrera de Armida mentions an analogy of the striking of a harp and picking of the petals of a flower to a good soul.  She states that the good soul is like a harp and a flower.  “When it is wounded by criticism and torn apart by ingratitude, it can only respond with harmony and the perfume of goodness.”  This is what Jesus’ soul is like.  He radiates with self-sacrifice and kindness even though He was/is persecuted by mankind.  Through all the trials you experience, you are called to do the same.  You must seek kindness, compassion and love in each moment versus anger and pride.  You must humble yourself, holding true to God, seeking His guidance and strength in each moment of persecution.  Through these acts of love, kindness and humility, He will shower you with His love and He will carry you through any circumstance, big and small. 

Who’s the Author of Your Story?

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“My days were shaped before one came to be.” Psalm 139:16

Are you like me and try to predict the end of the story as you read a book or as you watch a movie?  Anticipation builds as you read or watch and you have a hunch of what is going to happen.  How do you feel when the author surprises you with the ending?  Catches you off guard – you were not expecting it to end the way it does?

When I look at my life, past, present and future, I often think of it as a story.  My past is written, my present is being written as I type, and my future is yet to be written.  But is that really so?  Or is my present and my future already written?  Often I find myself, not only trying to predict the future in my story but also to force it the way I want it to be, the way I think is best for my happiness and well being.  And often, the author of my story, God, surprises me with the outcome.

Many years ago, I was struggling in my marriage.  There were lots of things that were not healthy in my marriage.  In my mind, I could save it.  If I was submissive and agreed to everything, things would be ok.  That ended up being momentary fixes.  Then I thought, well if we seek counseling that will help, or if I reach out to these people, they could influence the situation and all will work out.  After exhausting all my humanly possible solutions that I thought would make the marriage work, I prayed to God asking him to fix it all, fix the disorders so that our marriage could be healthy and happy for our family.  The disorders were fixed.  They were removed when it became clear to me how unhealthy it was.  This was definitely not the outcome I was expecting in my story.  It wasn’t the ending I thought was best at first, nor what I was trying to create.  It was the story that God created.

I know this is God’s story.  The fruits in my spiritual life were abundant and glorious from the pain and the struggles of my marriage.  I often look back at this time period in my life and I can see God’s hands swooping down and picking me up.  I can still feel the love of Jesus as I rested in his presence.  There were things that happened that some may call a coincidence but I call the pages of my story, hand written and authored by a loving Father.  When I hear the song “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave, I hear my life through the lyrics.  “You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go… You would hear Love that never gave up… You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine… If I should speak then let it be of the grace that is greater than all my sin, of when justice was served and where mercy wins, of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in.  Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”

Sometimes it takes us a while to realize that we aren’t the author of our story but God is.  He has already written our story and it sits in his divine library.  We try to be the editors all the time and when we do things get all out of sorts.  If we just trust that our story needs no editing, it would be an easy read with unending joy and happiness as each page turns.  Today as you struggle, think of it as an adventure or a climax in your story that has the best ending.  The author always knows the best ending for his story.  And so does your Father, the author of your story.