Good always wins

“I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

I’m sure everyone has watched at least one Disney princess movie, if not several.  Each is a story of love and each has some version of good and evil.  What I love about these movies is that good always prevails in the end and most of all LOVE.

LOVE can be easy at times and it can be very challenging.  Have you had those relationships where it was very easy to love the other person?  They made it so easy because they loved you back with a selfless kind of love.  What about those challenging relationships?  Some of these can be within our own families.  It can be a mother, a father, a sibling, a spouse, a child, or a good friend.  They may have hurt you in some way or their form of showing love was demanding and selfish.

I think when Jesus was giving this commandment to love one another as He loved us, He may have had these difficult relationships in mind.  I can’t remember where I read this but in this piece I was reading the author was comparing what it would look like for us today to resemble what Jesus did on the cross.  Would you every consider volunteering to take the place of a man who is about to be executed for murdering your child?  Consider what Jesus did for each of us.  That kind of love for another is pretty hard to swallow for probably all of us – to take the place of another on death row who murdered your child.

Truly let that sink in for a bit in alignment with this very commandment Jesus gives us to love one another and the very action Jesus did by giving His life for each of us, who was on death row for our sins against our Father.

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I’m not a saint by any means but I want to share a personal story that helped me to realize what Jesus meant in relation to me when He said “love one another as I have loved you.”  After Mass on Sunday and hearing the nice homily that the deacon delivered, I went about my normal business.  Later in the week, I attended a banquet with my daughters.  It was my evening to have my daughters.  My daughters saw their dad and went to tell him hi and returned to my table.  After sitting for several minutes, waiting for our table to be called up to get food, I caught a glimpse of their father on the other side of the cafeteria alone.  I whispered to both my daughters to go sit with their dad until our table was called up for food.  Now, this may seem like a normal story to most people and you may be saying I don’t get it.  What I want to share is that deep down I knew that my ex would never do this for me.  His actions have repeatedly been quite the opposite – and this past week was proof of the repeated offenses.  My actions were a result of Christ within me and not a result of me as my selfish human form.  It was Christ’s love that flowed through me to give me the grace to turn the other cheek and show love to a person who has hurt me deep within, who has left very deep scars and continues to inflict me.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the connection between my actions that night and the reading and it brought some peace to me.

I won’t pretend it’s easy to respond in love to those that hurt us or someone who just makes it difficult to love them, because it isn’t.  It is expected of us.  Even those individuals are God’s children and He loves them just as much as He loves us.  To love like Him, we MUST love those that we may feel don’t deserve our love.  Look at the cross, we didn’t deserve God’s love either, yet He freely gave it to us.

Choosing to do what Jesus would do will always bring light in the darkness.  GOOD ALWAYS WIN – just as in the Disney princess stories.  So the next time you are faced with the challenge of showing love to someone who has made it difficult for you to love, take that initiative and act in loving kindness just as Jesus would do for you after you committed your worst sin.

The masquerade

He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall. They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. Isaiah 40:29-31

Have you ever been to a masquerade ball? Do you feel like sometimes life can be like a masquerade ball, you are masked on the outside with something that is totally opposite of what’s on the inside?

I’m sure many can say that they have at least once or many times said everything was fine when someone asked but in actuality it wasn’t.

Often it seems like social media is a masquerade ball. Each of us can hide behind the things that we post, keeping our inner vulnerabilities hidden or portraying that everything is amazingly awesome when we are completely broken apart.

The masquerade ball I wanted to unveil is the one that traps us within. It’s the one where our reality seems trapped behind a mirror and we take control instead of surrendering to God.

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My daughter has been watching Once Upon a Time. If you aren’t familiar with this series, it’s a somewhat twisted combination of a lot of the Disney fantasies. A spell is cast and all the characters find themselves in another world trapped in a town and have no recollection of their former life. I think sometimes life can seem just like this series. We are trapped in a world that is not the one we are meant to be in. Perhaps the spell or the illusion is masked by sin or the ideals of the world we live in.

My favorite Bible verse is Isaiah 40:31. I love this verse because it’s a constant reminder of where my strength comes from when I am weary and restless. Like a spell bound world, sometimes I feel like my weakness is trapped behind the mirror of what I perceive as strength to others and in some cases to God. In other words, I don’t allow myself to really be unveiled. In many cases this leads to me trying to be in control, not allowing any defenses down and be vulnerable to support – Jesus carrying that cross for me. I will do this until I absolutely become restless and weary. In these moments I think the tornado starts to whirl around me and I get lost in the center of the darkness.

Let’s draw some focus on the part in Isaiah where it says “they that hope in the Lord”. It is this hope that is the rope in the well that we draw this strength from.

Exposing ourselves, stripping away the mask, whatever it may be that is separating us from God, allows us to grab on to the rope of hope and draw in this strength to truly face the things we need to.  I can go another step further and call the threads of this rope that bind it – trust in God.  This well is the living water that we draw in, refreshing and strengthening our spirit.  It’s the nourishment we need for the journey but we first have to leave the masquerade party and be vulnerable.

When you feel like life is beginning to look like smoke and mirrors, try unveiling the mask of whatever is preventing you from being stripped and bare before God – allowing Him to do His amazing work in you and through you by strengthening you.  Shatter the mirror, exposing whatever is trapped behind the illusion and grasp the rope of hope, drawing your strength from the well of life giving water – Jesus.

 

Managing expectations, not disappointments

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – the reading during my wedding ceremony.  It seems forever and a day but I remember the voice of the person who read it.  As my dear friend read this reading during my wedding ceremony, many dreams and expectations filled my head.  Love was this GREAT EXPECTATION.  It was supposed to be exactly like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Why?  Because God said it was.

I’m sure no one else has done this – had GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Towards the end of my marriage another set of verses filled my head as they were repeated to me often, Ephesians 5:22-23 “wives should be subordinate to their husbands…. for the husband is head of his wife.”  Everything in between and afterwards was strategically omitted during these reminders of the Word of God.

I don’t want to dwell on the details of my past.  The important thing I want to point out is I started my marriage with expectations of this blissful marriage with no problems, with an image of love as in 1 Corinthians 13.  And I ended my marriage with grave disappointment.  My ex-husband is human and I am human, neither of us are God and the marriage could never be perfectly blissful, with the perfect love of 1 Corinthians 13.  In a relationship, both individuals should definitely strive to uphold God’s definition of LOVE but we are not perfect.  We are going to miss the mark sometimes and that’s ok as long as we respond to the missed mark with this definition of LOVE.

My marriage seemed to be the exact opposite of what I think God intended in the covenant of marriage.  Towards the end of the marriage when I kept hearing the verses from Ephesians 5, I thought something was wrong with me.  I was broken and therefore my marriage was broken.  I was failing at fulfilling what I thought the expectations (key word) God had in Ephesians 5.  Part of that could very well be my own fault as I was ignorant to what God really meant in Ephesians 5 – perhaps because most of the message was missing when it was told to me over and over again and I accepted that as it was.

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Ok – now, I’m hoping to tie both of these things together.  I want to first focus on expectations and disappointments.

We wrestle in our lives with disappointments because of our expectations.  If our expectations aren’t aligned with accepting God’s plan, His Will in our lives then we are greatly disappointed when something happens or doesn’t go the way we planned or we prayed for.  I’ve blogged a lot about God’s Divine Providence in our lives and sometimes it involves bad circumstances in our lives to bring the beauty or fruit.  If our expectations are anything other than what God has in store for us, disappointment rears its ugly head.

What often happens when we become disappointed?

We start pulling away from God.  We start questioning God’s motive in our lives and whether He is a good God, a loving Father.  Our faith starts to suffer.

So when Ephesians 5 kept being brought before me in some things that I felt weren’t healthy, I really began to question God and who I was.  This was embedding inside of me an image that I was a failure in my marriage, not good enough, a disappointment to my husband and to God.  Fast forward to where I am in my faith today, I have a more informed knowledge of the entire message of Ephesians 5:21-30.  As I read Theology of the Body, a wonderful book by the way, I began to put these verses in perspective.  Here is my new perspective and new understanding of Ephesians 5:21-30.  God does intend for wives to submit to their husbands and He also intends for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.  So, God’s intentions are exactly 1 Corinthians 13-4-7 in Ephesians 5.  In order to be obedient to Ephesians 5:21-30, both husband and wife have to give themselves freely to the other.  Christ loved the Church so much that HE gave Himself to His bride, the Church, by offering His life.  So in order for a husband to “love [his] wife, even as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5: 25),” he must give himself completely to his wife.  A wife in return must submit to her spouse, giving herself entirely to him.  It also says that the Church, the bride of Christ, is subordinate to Christ.  I think this is fulfilled by desiring all that God desires for us – alignment to His Will.

Going back to my own story, at the end of my marriage, I had become disappointed in myself because of another expectation.  Looking back, this is a very good lesson to me on my expectations and disappointments and it reinforces my desire to be aligned with God’s expectations, His Will in my life.

I invite you to evaluate your expectations – may be they involve your children, your parents, your spouse, your job, a friendship or an illness.  Are they aligning with God’s Will?  Are your expectations flexible to accepting circumstance that is part of His plan for you?  If so, you will have less disappointments and more life giving joy.  Blessings!

“Do not, my child, approach Jesus Christ with the hope of bending his will to yours: what I desire is that you yield yourself to him and that he receive you, so that he, your Savior, may do with you and in you whatever he pleases.” St. Cajetan

 

The journey continues

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

In my last blog, I wrote about how much Jeremiah 17:7-8 described my journey and how amazing my journey has been.

I want to start by asking if you have a unique descriptive of your journey?  Can you see your story still unfolding before your eyes?  Does your past surface from time to time, unraveling more of your path ahead?

What if the story continues to unfold by taking the deeper wounds illuminating and enhancing the new creation that God has reshaped from the dust?  What if the most painful memories were surfaced, skimmed off the top, fired up, crystallized into tiny jewels and used to ornate the outer surface of the newly formed you?

A few weeks ago, I sat in my study frozen as I held several pieces of paper that were written in my hand writing.  The only movement was the droplets falling from my eyes.  There were things written that I had forgotten about, had buried.  They were words that brought grave painful memories rushing back into my mind.  As I read the words on these papers, I felt like I was trapped back in a place I had traveled as the pain stung so sharply deep within me.  I knew I didn’t want to be in this place, yet it was something I had to do.

Going back to that place, uncovered an area I have not dealt with along my amazing journey.  I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I am totally healed from my past and then something else surfaces that causes me to look deeper, to realize I have more cracks to mend.  This was exactly one of those moments.  As my eyes peered through each page I had written and the hurt rushed in, I knew God had more He wanted me to see.  I had more work to do, there was more fruit to bear but I had to first pull up the weeds and lay down the new soil.

Our story is written, yet our journey of being refined is never complete.  The purification, the reforming is a known fact in our spiritual journey.  It is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to look deeper within and uncover the areas that need refining and/or healing.  To move closer to God’s perfect plan for us is allowing Him to shed light on the dark areas in our lives, to illuminate them and bring goodness from them.  I always like to go back and compare my refinement to the process of purifying gold or the formation of a diamond.  It takes extreme conditions to form this precious metal and valuable gem, just as it does in us.

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Next time your past surfaces and the flood of emotions roll in, take a look deep with in and see what gem God is perfecting to ornate the outer surface of His new creation in you because He is not done with you.  He is inviting you to uncover more, to move forward, closer to Him.

Just as in the lyrics of Tauren Wells song “God’s not done with you.”

There’s a light you don’t notice
Until you’re standing in the dark
And there’s a strength that’s growing
Inside your shattered heart
God’s not done with you
Even with your broken heart and your wounds and your scars
God’s not done with you
Even when you’re lost and it’s hard and you’ve fallen apart

 

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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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.

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.