Look up and embrace His love

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

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

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

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

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

Eye of the storm – revealing God’s presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken and shattered – reshaped in goodness

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, say to the Lord, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”  Psalm 91:1-2

Does your life feel broken and shattered or may be it has at some point in your life?  Perhaps, you have a close friend or family member who feels broken and shattered?

It so easy to tell you there is hope.  All you have to do is trust God and He will make everything new, that His goodness will prevail.  Instead of spending one minute telling you this, I would like to share a little piece of my story that reveals this hope, this newness that comes from trusting God.

I recently took a road trip with my daughters.  I find road trips can be very awesome times with God, especially when everyone in the car is sleeping.  As I was driving along the uninteresting interstate, I found myself reflecting on my life as my playlist was rolling through.  As some of the older songs in my playlist were playing, I began to reflect on a few significant moments in my life.  I tend to like these moments of reflection on my past because they reveal how far God has carried me and how far I have grown in my faith through my past.  In some cases, it helps me to move another step forward.

As the song by Matt Maher, “Lord I need you,” began to play, my mind became very vivid reflecting on the very day I first heard this song.  This day would be one of the most difficult days in my adult life as I was driving to see my counselor with my daughters to tell them that their daddy and I would no longer be together.  I had made a decision that would change their lives forever.  My heart was broken and my life seemed to be shattered as I heard the song playing in my car that day.

When the song came on, tears just streamed from my eyes.  In that moment, I really needed God to be with me.  I needed Him to guide my heart so that I would not fall apart.  I was so broken during this period of time that falling apart seemed so easy.  This would be one of the many moments during my journey where God revealed His presence to me, giving me strength that I would need.  He knew I needed Him at that moment in the car and there is no coincidence this song came on.  He wanted me to know that I needed Him to get through this and that He was holding my hand.

This wasn’t the only song that sparked reflection for me on my road trip.  A little further down my playlist was a song by Danny Gokey, “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again.”  As a dear friend recently reminded me, this song also speak volumes to my story.  One of the hardest things I think I have had to do during my healing is to forgive myself and to love myself.  God taught me a lot about myself and He began to lead me down a path of healing as He began to mold the shattered pieces and glue my brokenness.  Sometimes I still see the scars and the broken path and I’m reminded where I have been.  This is who I use to be and it has been through the loving hands of God that I was carried through to the person I am today.  I no longer “live there anymore.”  It was His grace and companionship in this journey with me that helped me to persevere.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my adult life is that sometimes we shatter.  It’s in the shattered pieces that God reshapes our lives into something new and good.  It’s not easy being reshaped but it’s essential and possible.  It is made possible through trust, trusting God with the shattered pieces.

If you are feeling broken and shattered or someone you know is, surrender your brokenness, the shattered pieces, to God.  Allow Him to reshape you into the one He created you to be.

How much do I love thee?

 

“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)

Dying to self, realizing that all is God’s

 

“You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Ephesians 4:22-24

What does it mean to die to self and be a follower of Christ?  In this world we live in today, what does that look like?  How can I truly be as Christ is to me?  How can I, like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies, “produce much fruit,” John 12:24?

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Pretty serious questions.  I often ponder these questions in my life along with am I fulfilling God’s Will by  acting on the answers to the above questions.

Is my heart truly mine?  Are my hands and feet truly mine?  How about the money in my bank account, my possessions or the children I am blessed with?  The more I contemplate this, the more my answer is – if I die to self and follow Christ, the answer to those questions would be no, they are all God’s.

When I lay down my heart and allow it to be in union with Christ, I will love others as He loves me.  I will embrace each person as if he or she were my brother or sister.  I would pray for them as if they were a part of me.

When I allow Christ to be my hands and feet, I will feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked.  If I see one of my sisters and brothers injured, I will pick them up and attend to their needs.  I will be a true servant to each of my brothers and sisters, giving of myself.

When I accept that my possessions are not mine but God’s, given to me to use to build His kingdom, I would trust that when my brothers or sisters reach out to me in financial need, I would give what I had to give, knowing that it was God’s to give in accordance with His will.

When I accept that my children are God’s, I would have less anxiety, trusting their lives into the hands of their true Father, their creator.  I would know that the hands that created them within me will direct their paths and their journey in life.

When I truly know that all I have is God’s, when I truly die to myself, my trust and peace will reach the heavens.  I would live the life God intended and I would be fulfilling His Will, building His kingdom here in this temporary home.  I think this is what it means to me to die to self and bear much fruit, just as the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it is then that the wheat is useful.  And so we, like the grain of wheat, will feed God’s people by bearing fruits of the kingdom through our service, love, compassion, and mercy given to us to be Christ in this world that needs it.

Dear friends, is your heart God’s heart?  Are your hands and feet that of Jesus?  Are your possessions God’s gift to use to aid His people?  Are your children His, given to you to spiritually guide and produce abundant fruit in the kingdom of God?  How simple would our lives be when we accept that all that we are and all that we have is God’s and was given to us to serve and love our brothers and sisters.

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.