Gratitude – A mountain of graces

“Gratitude is the thing that brings us the most grace…I have learnt from this experience; try it, and you will see. I am content with whatever God gives me, and I show him this in a thousand little ways.” St. Therese of Lisieux

Do you desire a love with God that is beyond anything you could ever imagine?  If so, I want to invite you to focus a little on gratitude.

Have you extended gratitude to God for all things – the small stuff, the big ones, the joy, and the suffering?

I’m sure each of us find it easy to give God gratitude for the joyful moments in our lives.  But what about those moments that are tough, that hurt within us, wash our faces in tears?  These moments are a bit more challenging to offer gratitude to God.  I’m sure 90 % of the time we question God in these circumstances.  I’m definitely guilty as charged.
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St Therese tells us that gratitude brings us the most grace.  St Ignatius of Loyola also tells us in his prayer of gratitude that when we are filled with gratitude for all things, we will love and serve God in all things.  My dear sisters and brothers, that also means our pain, our suffering, the things we don’t like or appreciate, and the moments we aren’t feeling appreciated.

Think about that for a moment.  Imagine how you felt when someone did something nice for you and you extended thanks to them, appreciation for what they did.  I’m sure it brought joy and love into your heart as well as theirs.  Do you think the love and joy was filled because of their act of kindness, your act of gratitude or both?

If God is the creator of all things and is present in all things, do you think He is present within the moments that hurt, anger, and disappoint?  If God allows you to suffer, do you think He loves you less?  Do you think He is more present in those moments – those when you need His strength the most?  I’m pretty certain He was present on the cross, the greatest moment in history that endured the most suffering.  By our Christian faith, we do offer Him thanksgiving for this, the moment He laid everything down to save us.

Why wouldn’t we offer gratitude for even those not so fun times when we are at our worst?  If we offered gratitude during the rough circumstances in our lives, would we feel more loved instead of disappointed, lost and unloved.

I want to circle back to my first question at the start of the blog…. Do you desire a love with God that is beyond anything you could ever imagine?  If you answered yes, then why would you not try offering gratitude in all things, even the worst moments, just as St Therese and St Ignatius suggest?  What do you have to lose?  Face with the person who angered you?  What about a love so great that satisfies every ounce of your being beyond anything you could fathom – THE LOVE EXCHANGED BETWEEN YOU, YOUR CREATOR, YOUR REDEEMER, AND YOUR SANCTIFIER?  Give it a try, you may be surprised at the graces you receive.

 

Unbinding through desolation

“We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.” St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ever feel like running into a closet to get away from everything in your life? To get away from all your struggles, the pain, the noise, family drama?

I had a friend who once shared a story with me that as a grown adult she literally wanted to escape the noise and the demands of family life and went into a closet and was careful not to breathe heavily, hoping no one would find her.

As she told me this I laughed but I think we can all relate to that moment when we just want to hide from the world.

In theses moments, sometimes, we may also feel the absence of God or a desire to give up on Him. It is important to recognize these moments. St Ignatius teaches us of two movements in the interior spiritual life, consolation and desolation.

Consolation are periods when we are on fire, on a spiritual high (after an ACTS retreat for all my ACTS sisters). During these times we can’t contain what God is moving within us. We literally want to tell the whole world and want them to be a part of it.

Consolation is an awesome experience but I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to talk a little bit about desolation. Desolation can be crucial to our spiritual journey, although it is more critical to recognize it. During these movements in our spiritual journey, we really begin to deal with areas that in turn will produce great growth in our spiritual journey.

I’m not an expert on either desolation or consolation but I guarantee you I’ve been on both roads many times…. kind of like that roller coaster I once wrote about. My spiritual director once told me that consolation helps us to prepare and move through the desolation that will come – like the coaster you need potential energy to give you the kinetic energy to keep that roller coaster moving up and down.

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Today I find myself in a period of desolation. At first I didn’t recognize it, but it became very prominent when I wanted to just retreat from everything, even my prayer life and community of friends.

As I work through my own desolation, I have been uncovering darkness found in my deepest wound that has rooted itself in sin. God has revealed to me that this wound I have buried is not allowing me to move forward, that it is binding me to my past and from my happily ever after. It is a deep source of unforgiveness and unlove. It has created weeds such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and exhaustion. This is the junk I mentioned in my last blog filling my vessel preventing me from being able to shine the light of Christ onto others.

So how am I handling this period of desolation? Through spiritual direction and my own experiences, small bits of wisdom from God, I have learned a few steps or techniques to journey through desolation. When I begin to feel this way, actually when I recognize these feelings, I know I do have to retreat. I have to retreat into solitude with God. It is essential for me to find time to pray. I do this by carving time, whether I want to or not to pray at home or go to Adoration. In prayer, I am completely open with God about what I’m feeling which eventually leads to asking for graces I need in that time. I also try to find days that I can go to daily Mass, to receive Jesus and be fed. Both help me to sort and discover the roots of what God is inviting me to dig up or fertilize into something fruitful. If I uncover sin at the base of this root or a resulting weed through this process, confession is another stop for me.

I think each of us will go through both consolation and desolation. Some of us may experience it as a result of God inviting us to see the consolation period as a gift and to invite us to discover Him in a new, fresher light and not necessarily from a dark root or sin.  Each of us may have different techniques to walk through it.  What’s important is that we identify it and take the necessary steps to journey this interior spiritual movement and grow closer to God.

Whatever may be the cause of desolation for you, will you be prepared to tackle it and grow leaps and bounds in your spiritual journey?

Mending the path, uncovering the treasure

“For God who said, ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ.  But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-10

When you were a kid, did you run around the neighborhood? Perhaps played in the nearby creek or hopped over rocks and broken paths?

When I was kid, we lived on a naval base and I remember running around the neighborhood by myself often to the nearby creek.  I guess you can say from my childhood I was discovering God through nature, yet unaware of my discovery.  The creek would have stones laid throughout, creating a broken path.  I would walk or hop across the rocks, carefree and childlike.

 

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Today, I sometimes find the path I’m walking on broken.  Unlike when I was a kid, I don’t walk this path carefree.  I walk it with heavy burdens.  If I don’t recognize it and continue to walk the path the burdens fill the vessel God has given me to hold His treasure, the light of Christ, within.

In my last blog, I wrote about the importance of going to confession and how sin can cover our hearts in darkness and can continue to manifest that darkness within us, separating us further from God.  I also find connections of this and carrying heavy burdens.  When our burdens fill our vessel, it hinders our ability to carry the treasure God gives us and therefore we are unable to shine the light of Christ outward to aid in building God’s kingdom, something we are each created for.

I don’t think the broken paths are necessarily bad.  I believe they are there to draw us closer to God.  Where we may get into trouble is when we don’t see this as an opportunity to look within and see what God is wanting to mend on that broken path.  Some may continue to let the brokenness linger and the burdens grow, further filling the vessel with unwanted “junk”.

I personally don’t want to carry these burdens and I’m certain if you are reading this you don’t either.  I encourage you to consider the invitation that God may be presenting to you when you are walking on the broken path and carrying these burdens.  Is He asking you to pick up the stone, hold it in your hands, examine it and ponder your feelings surrounding it?  Is He asking you to then hand it to Him and let Him fill the gap, the brokenness it has created with His treasure, His love, His grace?

Sometimes when I’m faced with brokenness in my path, I look back at the times that God has filled these gaps and filled me.  Sometimes the path seems more shattered.  When I allow this brokenness to linger, I find myself spiritually empty.  The vessel fills up and God has no space to shine His light within.  Personally, recognizing this is crucial for me because it has tremendous affect on other areas in my life.  I don’t think wisdom is found from the intellect of math and science.  It is found through our journey and awareness of how all things affect each other.  What I have discovered is that when my vessel is full of junk, it can have an affect on a number of things, including my relationships with other and my relationship with God.  The last thing I am able to do is be a spiritual light for others to help build God’s kingdom.

What steps do we take when we find our path broken?  What does that invitation look like?  It may look different for each of us and different during the different seasons of our lives.  Some things I think that help to discern clarity of the invitation is to start by looking within to see what the feelings are, find quiet time to spend with God asking Him to reveal these feelings, to overturn this rock and give you direction.  Perhaps that direction may lead you to confession, to forgiveness.  May be it’s just God helping you to understand what it is, refining you and refueling you.  In some cases, it just may be down time, rest in Him that He is calling you to.

Whatever you may be faced with today or tomorrow, accept God’s invitation in those moments to uncover the relationship He desires with you.

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.

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

 

A path covered in crosses

“For I hold you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God.  And I say to you. ‘Don’t be afraid.  I am here to help you.”  Isaiah 41:13 NLT

Do you sit and imagine places you will travel?  Roads and trails you will walk?  Perhaps, you sit and dream about walking along the beach on a quiet morning as the sun begins to rise?  Or you imagine walking near the streets of Paris?  Whatever your dreams are, do you imagine a walk with your Lord?

I long for moments I can spend with God, especially in nature.  Nature is where I connect the most with Him.  It’s where I feel I’m open the most to hearing Him and seeing Him in the things around me.  I learn so much about myself and the things in the world that affect me within through watching nature.

Earlier in the week, I was walking around the pond at work and I just asked Jesus to take a walk with me.  Funny thing about it was that He reminded me that He has been walking with me, EVERYDAY.  He reminded me of these little visible signs of His presence in my life – crosses that I see along my path.  These aren’t just any crosses.  These crosses are my crosses.  They are the ones He has helped me carry in life.  They each have a story.  Some of the stories are harder and more painful – I think those are the tougher twigs.  Some are quite small, most likely the pine needles I see in the shape of a cross.  Some have been really hard to carry, they have been buried or embedded within – these are the ones found in the concrete.

img_5399Somedays, I may only see one cross in my path, others 20.  When I see these crosses, my heart leaps for joy and my face morphs a smile.  WHY?  Because I know that each of these crosses has a story that has led me closer to God.  Each has created a greater dependence on Him.  I know this is how to discover trust in God, accepting my crosses with joy.

Of course many of these crosses have come and gone but some still linger.  Today I struggle with the one that is embedded in the concrete.  This cross is one that will reshape me within.  It’s the one that bears the greatest level of pain.  It’s the one that will give me the greatest peace of who I am as God continues to pour into me.

I love hearing songs, reading Bible verses, or reading books that talk about God not being finished with us or Him writing our story, creating music from the chaos, reforming us from the dust.  It is truly in these crosses that God is rewriting our story.  He is rewriting it to align with His story, His plans for us.

The greatest message I could ever tell in my story is trusting in God’s Divine Will and discerning what His Will is by aligning your life to His Will.  Are you willing to allow Him to rewrite your story by accepting your crosses, allowing Him to carry you through them?  I invite you to stretch out your hand and ask Him to take it and walk this journey with you.  And if you happen to see a cross in your path, remember your crosses that He has helped you carry.

May you be filled with the Holy Spirit and your desires align with His desires.  Blessings!

 

 

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