How much do I love the?

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.  Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  In this way the love of God was revealed to us; God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love; not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:7-10

Have you told yourself you love you lately?  If not, take a moment and do so.  And then take a moment and ask God how much He loves you?  How did He respond?  Did you find the answer unexpected?  What about when you told yourself you loved you?  Did you find that difficult?    

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.  Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:  The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God.  This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being.  For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence.  He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.”

Love seems so natural and so simple yet we struggle with it.  We probably struggle with loving ourselves more than anything.

WHY?

I think we are the hardest critics of ourselves.  We see every fault, every failure.  We know every hurt, every negative word said to us.  I think these things aid us in the inability to truly love ourselves, to truly love the person God created in us.  We fail to see the person God sees in us because of the awesome critics we are.  So if you truly listened to God once you asked Him how much He loved you, I’m sure you received a very different answer than you expected.  Sometimes, we just don’t have the capacity and the ability to see how unconditional God’s love is.  It is a hard thing to grasp because of our sin and what we see within us.

I want to share a personal story of a young woman who knew God, yet didn’t have a friendship with Him.  She had not allowed Him to companion with her for many years throughout her life.  Her vision of God was as a disciplinary, one who saw her faults and was displeased with her.  One day, she found herself lost.  She looked up to the Heavens and began to pray.  As the days went by, she began to notice this growing desire for something.  She began to read books about God and her faith.  As she read and as she went to Mass, her heart began to desire more.  As the “bread of life” was raised before her eyes, she felt this ache in her heart.  When she approached the Eucharist, she felt this grave anticipation and hunger as her heart began to beat faster.  She had received Holy Communion for years and had not felt this deep desire to consume the Host of her Lord.  As she consumed it and drink the blood of Christ, she felt this warmth consume her and immediately a tear fell from her cheek.  In that instant she realized the love that her Heavenly Father had for her.  Every Mass thereafter, she longed to receive Jesus, to feel herself being transformed through the love He has for her in the sacrifice He made for her and does each time she goes to Mass.  This desire continued to grow throughout the days, the weeks and months.  She found herself almost daily at the foot of the Host, soaking in the very presence of Jesus in Adoration.  His comforting embrace in her sorrows of her days were her “refuge and fortress.”  She couldn’t wait to rush off to go have lunch with Him, to soak in His love that radiated in the silence of her heart when she was before Him in the chapel.  This love grew beyond what she could ever have imagined.  He was present when she was weak, when she needed comfort from her tears.  He gave her strength to endure the days ahead and courage to follow Him.  He protected her and calmed her fears and lifted her up on eagles wings to fly over the sea of despair into the heights of the mountains.  As she saw all that He was doing in her heart and in her life, she began to place her trust in Him.  Her life, through suffering, flourished in love as she had found her first true love and entrusted her life into His hands.  She had discovered a loving friendship that had been pulling her from the day she was born that would fulfill her greatest desire of communion with Him into an unimaginable happiness – through her joy and pain.  She knew this flame of love would never burn out.  It may be a little dim at times but will always be refueled through the thirst and hunger that is always fulfilled in the love of her Heavenly Father and the sacrifice of her Lord as she receives the grace from the “bread of life” and “the fruit of the vine.”

God meets us where we are and when we are open and ready to receiving Him.  Sometimes that time is in the midst of a trial in our lives.  When that time comes, a true love story is sprouted.  It is an unimaginable love that grows beyond anything you have experienced.  If you haven’t opened your arms to receive the love God is waiting to share with you, today may not be a bad day to start.  Blessings always.

 

Refuge in the rubble

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.  Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea.”  Psalm 46:2-3

Have you experienced the summit of the mountain and suddenly your world begins to shake and you find yourself in the midst of despair?  Or may be you feel your life has always been shaken and you just want a break from the quake that is ever present?

Our life can be shaken by so many things.  It can be loss of a loved one, terminal illness, divorce, addictions, a miscarriage, an unexpected birth – the list goes on and on.  When the rocks start tumbling, where do you run to?  To whom do you turn?

God promises to be our refuge, our fortress, our strength, yet most of us still struggle.  I have been reading a book called “A Friendship Like No Other”.  One of the key points in the book is having a relationship with God, with His Son, just as we have relationships with those before us in the flesh.  In order to have a friendship with someone, you have to converse.  As your friendship grows and trust grows, you begin to share more with that person, perhaps in some cases you share deep thoughts and feelings that you don’t share with others.  If your friendship is stable and strong, you are comfortable talking about moments when you don’t agree, moments you become angry with each other over a disagreement.

What about with God?  Have you felt angry with God when life throws a curve ball and all the rocks begin to crumble, crushing you from the inside?  Do you feel comfortable telling God you are angry with Him, that you don’t understand His ways, that they are too difficult and you can’t follow His ways.  In Matthew 19:16-22, a young rich man approaches Jesus and ask what he needs to do to have eternal life, Jesus tells him to go sell his things and then come follow Him.  The young man goes away sad.  The author of “A Friendship Like No Other”, William Barry, proposes a question, what if the young man stayed and had a conversation with Jesus?  What if he told Jesus how difficult it was to sell all his things, that he just couldn’t do it and he needed help?  Do you think the story would end differently?  Do you think a friendship would have been sprouted if he had stayed and told Jesus just how he felt?

What if we are totally honest in conversation with God, just as we may be with a friend about our life situations that shake our world, turning it upside down?  In the song by Micah Tyler, “Even Then”, in the pre-chorus he sings “Where could I run to?  Where could I go?” and in the chorus when he talks about our world being shaken and the waters rising, he ends with “no matter how it ends You’re with me even then.”  If we are honest with God about our feelings, if we tell Him everything and then ask Him to help us to not be angry, to understand, to follow Him, even then He will stand with us, give us all we need with love, compassion and mercy.  He will carry us through the rubble no matter how long the journey takes.  He does this because His greatest desire is a relationship with us.  He longs for our friendship.

I ask you, dear friends, is your relationship with God a friendship?  Can you converse with Him, just as you do with your best friend?  Do you listen for His response, receive Him?  If not, start today to tell Him everything that is on your mind.  When you can’t pray, tell Him you can’t pray.  When you are busy and you don’t have time for Him, tell Him you don’t have time for Him.  When you are angry because He didn’t answer your prayer, tell Him.  When you find it difficult to accept the things around you and you struggle with following Him, tell Him.  He loves you no matter where you are in your relationship with Him.  As you are more open with Him, your friendship will grow and when your world is shaken, you will know that “even then”, He’s with you clearing the rubble and carrying you through.

In your struggles, when the boulders seem too heavy to move, always remember that with “God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Heart of the matter

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

Have you been struck with unforgiveness?  If so, have you looked at the weeds surrounding your heart?  Do you want to de-weed your garden planted within you?

For some reason, I feel a great desire to write about “love”.  It seems everything I have been reading is about love.  The daily readings have been about love, a few devotions I have read, and a book on friendship with Christ.

It is difficult for us to love when our heart is “of stone”.  Typically, our hearts become rigid and crystallize into a hardened substance that prevents love from being able to filter through when we have been hurt or lost trust with someone and we can’t forgive them or won’t forgive them.  In Ezekiel 36:26, God tells us He will give us a heart transplant by removing the heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh.  The only way He can do that is if we create space for Him to do so, chiseling a small crack in the stone by forgiving those who have hurt us, those who have betrayed us, those who have trampled our pride or caused pain and discontent of some sort.

Forgiveness is hard because we often feel that person isn’t deserving or that it is justified to be angry or upset with that person.  What we don’t realize is that the pain doesn’t go away until we forgive.   The anger and bitterness is what crystallizes our hearts to the point of separating us from “LOVE”, from God.  When forgiveness surfaces, breaking even a tiny pinhole in the stone, God is able to do His work and renew the heart of stone with a heart of flesh, literally melt away the hardness and de-weed His garden within you.

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I personally have wrestled with acts of forgiveness with people who have hurt me, betrayed me or dampened my pride.  What I have discovered is that when I have allow myself to break the wall of unforgiveness, my spiritual being becomes victorious, joy flourishes and in that joy I find love and a closer union with Christ.

God commands us to love one another.  In fact, Jesus gives us this as the second greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36-39.  Love is crucial to our Christian faith, because if we don’t have love, we become separated from God.  If we cannot forgive our neighbors or ourselves to allow love to overcome our heart transforming it from stone to flesh, then we become lost in the weeds that surround our heart.  God created us to desire Him.  He has written it within our hearts (Catechism of the Catholic Church 27) and it’s what draws us closer in relationship with Him, to a friendship with Him.  It is through the love of God we were created and through the love of God, the sacrifice of His “only begotten Son” that we exist through all of eternity.

St Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.  A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.”  To fulfill God’s will for us to help each other reach the gates of Heaven, we must first have love, love of self and love of one another.  Let God’s desire for you written within your heart, flourish and nurture the seed He planted when He created you.

I will not be shaken

“I keep the Lord always before me.  With Him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.”  Psalm 16:8

Are you aware of God’s constant presence with you?  If He was sitting next to you, whispering to you, would you hear Him?  If He stood behind you and gently pulled a strand of hair to get you attention, would you notice it?

Over the summer, I bought my girls each a tree frog.  When it was feeding time, I went to feed them live crickets.  In doing so, I removed the top lid from the terrarium and placed it on the ledge the terrarium was seated on.  I had only noticed one frog when I began to place the crickets inside.  I just figured the other frog was under the moss.  When I went to put the lid back on, as I picked it up I noticed something had fallen off the lid.  I quickly realized it was a frog.  I screamed and jumped backwards, dropping the lid.  Yesterday, I was met with a similar fear of a small reptile.  As I was eating breakfast with my kiddos, my daughter began to get my attention and was pointing down at the table within one foot of my plate.  When I realized that she was pointing at a lizard, I jumped and screamed creating quite a bit of excitement and adventure in catching the lizard.

You may say, what does the presence of God have to do with tree frogs, lizards and a screaming woman?  Actually it has an interesting perspective and parallelism.  You see, in either case – the instance with the tree frog and with the lizard – I did not see the small creature right away.  I was not expecting either to be within my personal space and when I did notice I was very startled.

It can be the same way with God.  When we are not attentive to our relationship with God, we may not recognize His presence or His call to something He is wanting us to do or say.  When we finally realize God is there, we may become startled, especially if He is calling us to something and we are headed the other direction.  On the other side of the coin, we may not have a relationship with God and are shaken by many things in our lives, especially in moments of struggles.

The very essence of it is that God is always with you and it is your attentiveness to your friendship with Him that is the key to all things in your life.  God has paved the road in front of you.  He has constructed the scenery along the path and He is directing you.  It is your awareness of Him along your journey that creates the peace in the adventures of the joy filled moments and the painful moments.  Being aware that God is on the journey with you carrying your baggage when they are too heavy and running carefree along the countryside when there are none to carry prepares you so that you won’t be surprised, but filled with peace and excitement.

woman wearing blue and white skirt walking near green grass during daytime
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Although He is always near, God does not force Himself into any of our lives but if we nurture a relationship with Him and know He is “at [our] right hand, [we] shall never be shaken.”  Even in the biggest trials along our journey, we will not be overcome.

Are you nurturing your friendship with God, tuning in your awareness to His presence?  Will you notice when God taps you on the shoulder or whispers to your conscience?   Are you prepared for the unexpected or will you be startled?

When the unexpected comes to visit, fear may stop in to visit as well but it can turn into peace knowing that God is present guiding you in all things.

Just say YES

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Luke 1:46-47

Have you had intentional or unintentional moments when you did not say yes to God when He called you to something?  Have you brushed that feeling off, that little nudge to help the person on the side of the road or the homeless person at the corner?  Perhaps you keep telling yourself you will write that book, talk to your friend about going to church or serve in that ministry you keep being asked about?  Sometimes I think procrastination and fear of stepping out of our comfort zone are Satan’s favorite in keeping us from saying YES to God in the moments He is calling us.

What if Mary procrastinated or just didn’t feel comfortable saying YES when St. Gabriel told her she was chosen by God to carry and deliver His son.  What would that story look like?  Would the Bible end at the Old Testament?  Would Christmas even be a day of celebration?  What about Easter?  What about us?  What would life be like for us sinners?

I think it’s interesting to look at salvation history if Mary had not said YES, if she had not trusted God and His plan for her.  Seriously, could you imagine the fear she must of had, being so young and told that she would be the mother of God’s son?  The fear of potential shame of being pregnant and not for the one she was betrothed to?  In our world that’s a scary thought and would be considered a heavy burden.

jesus christ figurine
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In this perspective of Mary’s YES, I think about the many times that I have said NO out of fear or I procrastinated something that perhaps God was calling me to do.  I wonder how much richer life would be if I said YES and trusted God at least 75% of the time when He is nudging me.  I honestly wish I could just kick FEAR to the curb and didn’t make so many excuses of why I don’t have time to do something except put it off.  As I’m writing this, I’m procrastinating writing two other pieces because I’m afraid of what others may think about it.  In fact, my plan as my day started in prayer was to spend my day writing.  I found so many menial tasks to do today and didn’t pull my laptop out until 8 pm.  At that point my mind is restless and ready for bed.

Some time ago, I noticed an elderly man on a chilly morning sitting near the curb in front of a department store.  I felt this nudge to give him some cash and then began to talk myself out of it.  I could feel this sense deep within me to help him out.  I drove by where he was and lowered the window.  Gave him the cash I had.  The smile on his face and the words of blessings that he spoke told me that this was a God moment.  I’m not sure what that little bit of cash was able to do for this gentleman but that wasn’t for me to know or understand.  I was only to say YES to the feeling in the pit of my stomach to do something that would make some difference in God’s plan.  What if I had just kept driving?  Would God have nudged someone else?  Would that person have helped him out?  Would that poor elderly man been able to get something warm to eat or drink?  What if this man was the face of God calling me, calling you to compassion and mercy, love and kindness?

When St. Gabriel came to Mary, did she know or understand God’s plan?  Or did she just trust that God knew what He was doing and she was His humble servant?  I’m always astonished by Mary’s model of trust.  She is one of the greatest example of trust alongside Abraham in my opinion.  This Christmas as we celebrate, let’s take a minute to thank Mary for her YES and ask Jesus for the courage to resemble the trust that His mother had in accepting God’s plan for her, for Him and for us.  Without her YES – would we be celebrating Christmas, would we celebrate Easter, would we have eternity to look forward to?

A Christmas twinkle that never burns out

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

lighted candle
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Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the decorations, the atmosphere and the excitement of all the children.  There are times, when Christmas seems rushed, running around trying to make everything perfect but at the same time missing the moments.  At other times, their is sadness, painful reminders of the past or loneliness that fills the air.  I think each of us can relate to some of these seasons through our life journey this time of the year.  Yet, we each know that the season of Advent is not about the decorations, the presents, the rushing, the perfection, the pain, the sadness, or the loneliness.

It’s a season of waiting, waiting for Christ.  

Interesting that in the midst of all the preparations so many of us go through that the focus of the season is to wait.

So, let’s explore what this “waiting” may look like? 

Perhaps it’s a time of stillness, a time of anticipation, a time of readiness.

In the waiting are we preparing our hearts?  Are we excited in a joyful anticipation?  Have we made space, reviewed the areas in our lives that are too busy, preventing us from sitting with Jesus?  Are we hopeful that the darkness in our lives will be brightened by the light of Christ?  Are we open to seeing God around us?  What about welcoming change within us to be a good and faithful servant?

A few days ago, there was a heavy fog present as I walked along the pond at work.  I always look for God’s presence as I walk around this pond.  It gives me a peaceful start to my day, a hopeful anticipation of what God may reveal to me throughout my day.  During these walks,  I listen to the sounds around me, open my eyes to see all that I can take in and I just talk to God.  On this morning, I thought about the limited view that I have, the dark areas that have not been uncovered, not illuminated.  As I circled around the pond, I noticed a white pelican.  He walked cautiously into the shallow end of the pond’s edge, rapidly dipping his bill into the water in search of food.  I wondered if he could sense the feel of where the fish may be or if he just randomly dipped his bill in, in hopes he would scoop up some fish.  I think this is kind of what Advent is.  It’s that stillness, being open to where God may reveal Himself to us.  Yet, it’s also a time of anticipation and hopefulness of what God has in store for us that we cannot yet see.

It reminds me of the crosses I often see, many times I see them along my path during my morning walk.  Each time I see a cross, I smile as I know that God is opening my eyes to see His presence in my life.  When I come across a cross that has been formed by two twigs, pine needles, or branches, God is shining light upon the darkness in my own life, my crosses.  But He isn’t reminding me of the pain, He is reminding me of His presence in my journey as I carry these crosses.  He is opening my heart and my mind as I wait for Him to reveal what He wants me to see, hear, touch or smell during my walk.  He is showing me hope in the cross, reminding me how He has carried me or has lifted the weight and the burdens of these crosses.  But most of all He speaks to me within the transformation from the darkness through His love.

This Advent as I sit and wait for the coming of our Lord, I’m reminded that Jesus came humbly as a baby, born in a stable and died humbly through an unconceivable love.  It is the cross that was His destiny and it is through our crosses that we will reach our destiny, our journey home.  During this Advent, I pray for humbleness, stillness, peace, an anticipated hope and joy, knowing that life may have moments of darkness but that darkness can never overcome the light that Christ brings into this life when we are open to receiving Him.  Blessings and Merry Christmas!  May Christ shine His light upon all areas within you as you companion with Him.

Have you performed open heart surgery on yourself? – God is waiting

“When you look for Me, you will find Me. Yes, when you seek Me with all your heart, I will let you find Me and I will change your lot.”  Jeremiah 29:13-14

Have you or any one you know had open heart surgery?  What about a conversion of faith from darkness to light?

What is the difference between physical open heart surgery and a spiritual open heart surgery?

In the physical sense, open heart surgery consist of any repair to the heart where a surgeon has to create an incision to access the components of the heart.  It’s not really a physical opening of the heart but an opening of the chest.

What about the spiritual sense?  What does it consist of?  I think that when we have “spiritual open heart surgery,” the heart of the spiritual self cracks open as one begins to mindfully seek God and God  begins widening that crack as He pours His light into it.  This is the heart of our spiritual conversion.

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A dear friend of mine reminded me recently that this process has to begin with us.  God does not force Himself into our heart.  He doesn’t make the incision, in a sense.  He waits until their is a tiny crack of true longing for Him within the heart and then He pours into it.  We are the surgeons that make the incision, God then provides all the instruments to repair it, transforming our lives through His light and truth.

I can pin point the exact moment when this happened to me.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, pray, thank Him or celebrate Him.  I didn’t really know Him as I know my best friend or a member of my family.  I didn’t have a relational connection with Him.  When my mind began to search for a purpose in my life and my heart began to seek God in prayer, longing for more of Him, my life began to change.  A tiny crack was opened and God began to widen that crack by pouring into me, changing me.  My eyes opened, my mind opened, and my soul longed for more as I hungered and thirst for God.  The more I longed for Him, the more He fed me, pouring people into my life, knowledge of Him, love, truth and trust.  My journey hasn’t stopped since.  The crack continues to widen and I continue to grow through the struggles and through the joy filled moments.  He hasn’t stopped pouring people into my life, knowledge, love, truth and trust.  Even when I stumble, I still know the journey is and has been amazing as my heart continues to open – opening a world of truth, miracles and wonder.  This is the spiritual sense of open heart surgery that I have experienced – as my heart has completely undergone a transformation on another level that is divine and exquisite.

Perhaps, you have experienced this transformation in your own unique way.  If not, are you prepared to perform “open heart surgery” on yourself by seeking God with all your heart and allowing Him to do the rest?  A tiny crack is all He needs to fill you with all His glorious wonder.  This Advent seek Him by opening your heart and receive the greatest gift, His friendship.