The Question

I’ve been reflecting on something for a few years now. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain when asked and yet somehow it seems pretty simple. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it, but wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. The question is this: If God allows suffering, and we sure know he does, how are we supposed to be happy and full of Joy, and free, when more-often-than-not our suffering is a tremendous burden weighing us down? If God promises to wipe our tears and turn our sorrow to dancing, how does that help us now?

The scriptures are full of human suffering and people crying out to God. In the Old Testament, the people looked to God for real help in their distress and received His consolation before they truly understood the promise of Eternity. In the New Testament, Jesus himself reassures, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” He knows the exact struggle of living, the human condition as it were. And He provides Himself as the antidote. I find this beautiful and reassuring and uplifting. I call upon this verse often and remember Jesus doesn’t want me dwelling on my sorrows or trials because there is real work to be done. He is here. He is Alive. He is present. He reveals Himself in a thousand ways, most especially in His body living here with me. The church militant, slogging through the muck with me, who by simple acts of faith and love, reveal Jesus. Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, so does the body of Christ reveal the Head. I know He will make good on every promise! Still though, those promises seem a long way off. Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain until then? We could certainly choose to live as if it were, but that’s not our only choice. There is happiness, freedom, and Joy despite suffering, and I believe His promise begins right here and now.

In a very basic way, my kids called this to mind the other day. They were grievously upset, devastated really, when we had plans to go to the church fish fry and at the last minute I had to cancel. They had been looking forward to it all week long, making plans with their friends who were also going. They had certain toys to bring and share and had arranged where they would sit and ‘hang out’. At ages 6 and 8, this was big on their social calendar. I would fill pages if I described the day that ultimately ruined our plans, but suffice it to say, I did not cancel lightly. They cried and moped and in their little world, they suffered. They were mad and couldn’t fully understand. They tried to bargain and beg and my heart broke at their disappointment. I couldn’t even stay home to distract them with fun and games, but what did I do? I promised them something fun to look forward to. I promised them that it would all be ok. I knew with the wisdom of an adult and a parent that they wouldn’t truly be harmed by not going to the fish fry and hoped it wouldn’t take any time at all to do something else fun and be distracted. Sure enough, by the time I got home they had built a massive fort and played for hours with seemingly no memory of their earlier disappointment.

Similarly, I think this is one of the ways Jesus meant we should become like children. With utter trust and love they believed and accepted my promise. They took my advice to do something different and had fun anyway. Not the same perhaps, but they were fine.

At the most basic level, Jesus would never let us suffer unless He knew we would be ‘fine’. He’s promised that it will be better than we could have hoped and in the meantime He’s given us so much to do!

I think of His earthly parting with Peter. He knew how devastating His loss would be to his disciples. He probably understood that their grief, fear, and uncertainty might paralyze them for a time. He knew all they would ultimately face in this world full of troubles and in the face of it all, He asked just one question, “Peter, do you love me?”, so simple that it took no thought at all to answer, “Yes Lord.” “Then feed my sheep”, Jesus said, knowing that He would be making all things new. Peter couldn’t have truly understood, but with the faith and trust of a child He declared his life for Jesus. Three years of coming to know Jesus meant a radical transformation that culminated in one simple question and answer.

So back to my question: Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain? The people in the Old Testament did not buy into that and constantly looked to God as their refuge and hope. Jesus’ promises give me great Hope for my eternity, but if I’m simply waiting in agony for that time to come, then I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know Jesus at all. If I’m not letting Him transform me in a radical way by spending time with Him and getting to know Him, then how can He offer me consolation? Without the transformation, I miss the call inherent in all suffering. Only when he asks the question through the lens of my suffering does it have deep meaning. “Karen, do you love me”? I know the cost of the answer already and by His grace I give it without reservation. “Of course, I love you, Lord.” What else is there? I can wait for the promises of Heaven as long as you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life walking beside me right here and now.

“For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to ‘springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17)

People Of Praise

People of Praise

I am always amazed when a part of the Mass jumps out at me and seems brand new, even after hearing it thousands of times. This week, I had praise and worship on my heart. I was wondering how I could do a better job at making my children grateful for all the little things we have grown accustomed to and take for granted. I sincerely hope they will never grow up to echo this prevalent thread of entitlement and victimization that runs rampant through our culture. I was thinking the antidote to that has to be a heart full of praise because when that’s the case how can there be room for anything else? Well, apparently the church and her 2000 year-old wisdom thinks so, too. I heard a part of the Eucharistic prayer this week for, what seemed like, the first time! Listen to this part of the Mass:
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give Him thanks and praise.
People: It is right and just.

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks Lord, holy father, almighty and eternal God… And so, with all the Angels and saints, we praise you…”

It is not merely right and just to give thanks to God, rather, it is our duty and our salvation, and not just when we feel like it, but always and everywhere. These are the words spoken every single day, in every Catholic church in every corner of the world. Perhaps they have become so routine that their meaning doesn’t always register, but I was blown away by their wisdom in that moment. This is what I need to instill in my children. This is what I myself need to live more fully. It is right there in the holy Mass, which is a direct result of the scriptures and the deposit of faith (the teachings given directly by Jesus and his apostles). It struck me once again that there really is nothing new under the sun. A heart full of Praise is not merely a timeless antidote to the problems of the day, but it is a call to action that serves to keep God at the heart and center of our being. I think it is an action that has been overlooked and has gradually lost importance in our time and culture. We feel entitled to a rose garden, even though we were never promised a rose garden. We were only promised that all would be fulfilled in Heaven and all that we have that is good is from God in the first place. Nothing is our own doing.

So, as we face the storms in our lives and the mounting storms in the world, we need to keep Praise ever on our lips. When I am asked how I cope with the tragedies I have experienced, my answer is faith in God, the promise of Eternity and praising He who is sovereign over all. When I am asked for advice and prayer in a difficult situation, my first thought is to Praise God. In any difficult situation, especially a painful circumstance, I say, Praise God in it. It doesn’t mean you have to feel joyful or in the mood to praise, it means you should be obedient to the command we are given in scripture. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus ». (1Thes 5:18)

It is our duty and salvation to praise God. We are created to spend Eternity praising God alongside the choirs of angels. It is our duty now, so that when we are saved it will be our Joy. While it is certainly not the only thing we will do in Eternity, it will be something so infinitely fulfilling that we can’t really grasp it in the here and now. For the time being, we have to practice and learn to let praise flow out of us. When times are good that isn’t so difficult, but when times are difficult is when we need to call on this fundamental command. It is only in living a spirit of Praise that we cease to live a spirit of complaining, fear, anger, discontent, victimization and woe-is-me. The absence of this praise is often the absence of trusting that God is sovereign over the situation.

Always and everywhere we should Praise God. To be sure, this is a radical call. It’s one thing to be thankful to God for Life and Love in any season, but it is another to actually be thankful for our trials. Still, no matter the situation or circumstance, always and everywhere, we should first and foremost be thankful. Do we Trust God that our sufferings and trials have a divine purpose? Do we have the humility to let God be in charge instead of making our own angry demands? We have got to learn to be a people of Praise and Thanksgiving, because anything less means we are not giving God His due, in every circumstance, including the horrific, sad and terrible. When a loved one dies, for example, praise and Thank God. If you don’t know what in the world you would be thankful for in that situation, then I humbly suggest that now is the time to figure it out.

I am thankful for the hope and belief that my children and my mom are in heaven and beholding the beatific vision as we speak. I am thankful for all that will be accomplished through their death that could not be accomplished in their lifetime. I am thankful that I need and rely on God and His grace to stumble through the dark hours. I am thankful that He loves me enough to allow me to be refined and tested in fire. I trust Him and thank Him that I will emerge better than before. I thank Him for all the ways my life is made better because I knew and loved those people. I am thankful that death never has the last word. I am thankful that we will be reunited and they are now preparing a place for me and the rest of our family. I am thankful for the trial and the suffering and the fire because to God, I am gold, and strong enough to withstand it.

There is never a wrong time to give God praise and the really beautiful thing is that praise is a gift we give to Him, yet it is we who benefit. God does not need our praise. He doesn’t have an ego that needs inflating or reassuring. He allows us to praise Him and in so doing we are transformed! Our hearts, minds, and words become more united to God and less united to the worldly attitudes that surround us.

Let us pray for one another in this important endeavor. May we become a People of true Praise!

Praise-the-Lord-FB.001

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

( Psalm 9:1-2) I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 19:1) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

(Psalm 7:17) I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

(Psalm 44:8) In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah

(Psalm 147:1) Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

My Year of Faith

Eight months.

It seems impossible but it has truly been 8 months since that Fateful Friday night.  I waited up for Anna that night as I did every time she was out.  Usually around 11:30 I started texting her, just to make sure she was on target for curfew.  She was always patient and pleasant with her answers but I knew she wanted more trust and independence.  And since turning 18 in January we had tried to give her exactly that.  The thought that very soon she would be out of our house and out of our grasp entirely gave us courage to start letting go. So 8 months ago I waited up until midnight and then made the decision not to contact her.  I knew she would be on her way very shortly.  I said goodnight in my heart and left her where I constantly leave my children when their welfare is out of my hands, in God’s very capable and loving ones.  No sooner was I sound asleep than the phone was ringing us awake and the horror of the moments that followed has not faded since.  Not at all.  And yet in those moments before comprehension completely dawned Heaven intervened. I may never be able to properly describe it, but God was at work in those moments, powerfully, keeping the horror at bay until it could be borne.

All the events of this past year have been on my mind and heart very strongly of late: The good, the bad, the tragic, the miraculous, swirling in my mind, present and real. I’m not a big fan of dwelling on the past, preferring instead to look ahead with Hope.  Still the thoughts surface, coaxing me.  To what?  I’m not sure.  It’s as if this past year isn’t finished with me yet.  There is still much to learn perhaps so I’ve been pondering.

And then I heard a speaker the other day remind us that remembering can be useful and good.  Looking at where we are versus where we have been can really highlight how God is always at work.  He quoted the scripture  “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

One year ago we were working diligently to bring Sergei home from an institution in Russia.  Those chubby cheeks and blue eyes beckoned across land and sea and barriers I never thought we could dare to cross but our hearts were full and sure.  We had gotten through the homestudy process and all the initial paperwork and 50 hours of parent training and of course paid the necessary fees along the way.  I was starting online Russian language lessons in the hopes that I could navigate more easily on our trips there.  It was all a great distraction from the torturous thoughts about where and how our sweet Sergei, and thousands of orphans, are living.

DSCF0244

At the Vatican waiting for the Pope to arrive

One year ago we were getting ready to take our older girls on a trip of a lifetime to Italy, courtesy of Grandma.  The promise and excitement of new adventures was high!  We all took a few Italian lessons and were looking forward to experiencing places we had only seen on television or in books, not the least of which was the Vatican.  I remember getting the confirmation invitation to the audience with the Pope and feeling overwhelmed with excitement.  Pope Benedict XVI had just opened the year of Faith and spending a week in Rome felt like a great way to spiritually get involved.  Our Holy Father’s intent was for the year to be a time for the faithful to learn more about their faith through reading papal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It struck me that we can also learn so much about our faith by hearing witness of others who are living it and so I had planned on this blog to gather faith stories to share throughout the year.

In general, at this time last year, we were filled with the holiest desire to follow God’s will for the building of the kingdom and fulfilling our heart’s desires.

We had an amazing trip to Italy and enjoyed a very special time with our girls.  Experiencing the Joy and awe and wonder through their eyes was such a gift.  I can see Anna so clearly walking the streets of Capri, and in open-mouthed wonder with her camera in the Basilica’s and churches, at Trevi fountain lit up at night,

What did you wish for Anna?

What did you wish for Anna?

and then dressed and radiant for the Papal audience simply because she knew how special it was for me.  She was in her Glory, or at least as close to it as I ever witnessed.  The memories are painful and bittersweet.  She was so alive and so vibrant.  I am so thankful that we had that time on that trip for many reasons but mostly because I had a glimpse of what she must feel like now in Heaven, her true Glory. I can picture her Joy and awe and wonder and that is a gift of untold worth.

God is always at work.

Only a few weeks later we found out we were expecting our little Olivia. We were a little amazed and certainly overjoyed and I love to gross our kids out and tell them we brought home a lifelong souvenir from Italy! HAHA.   And then came a bombshell for the adoption world. No sooner had we re-committed ourselves to bringing Sergei home and updated our homestudy and obtained the necessary approvals, that news of a Russian adoption ban broke.  The days turned into weeks and then weeks into months before the reality of that sank in for us.  We are still coming to terms with the fact that we will only ever be able to love and pray for him from afar.  And on March 1st, instead of being halfway around the world, we were home when our phone rang that Friday night.  I am thankful for that great mercy.

God is always at work.

I’m remembering New Year’s Day 2013.  The Holiday celebrations were over and our household was busy getting ready to head back to school and work.  We all went to mass after dinner and I had the overwhelming sense that there was no place more important for our family to be, at that moment and in the year to come. It was an incredibly peaceful interlude, like the calm before the storm. I obviously had no idea what was to come but knew in my soul that our family would be facing challenges and that we would need Jesus to do it.

God was at work preparing me I guess.  I left that mass to face the new year with courage and faith and hope.

Jesus we trust in you… Lord, wherever you lead we will follow.

The months following Anna’s death were a time of extreme closeness with the Lord.  It was a time that ‘oneness with God’ held new and profound meaning, a time when all of this life seemed to fade away and Eternal Life was brought to the fore.   I remember this exact phenomena from the months after Michael died, of being here but not really being here.  Of going through the motions here but truly residing in the heart of Christ.  It wasn’t a challenge or something I was striving for, it was simply survival. I wrote a bit of my experience during those first months here and here though no words were ever adequate enough.  Slowly the world around me crept back in and continues to do so.  We are called to be here for a divine purpose but it feels cold and cruel after such intimacy, as if I’m being ripped out of Jesus’ embrace and thrust back into the world.  Of course the spiritual unity remains but simply put, duty calls.  The unity is shifting though the relationship is stronger for having been tested. The race of Life marches on and seasons change but I can say with certainty that God has walked every minute of it by my side.

The Life He started in my womb almost a year ago has come to fruition and is a living, breathing crying!) reminder of how real God’s work is in our lives.  Our little Olivia is like a healing balm to this family. She brings Joy, day in and day out.  As we mark 8 months of this earthly process of grieving and healing, it is easy to see how far we have come and yet the road ahead stretches endlessly on.  How will we navigate 8 more months without her and then another 8 after that?

If I’ve learned anything from pondering the events of this past year it’s this: Through trials and joy, through life and death, God is present and at work.

In a few weeks, the year of faith will come to a close.  As I reflect back and ask myself what I did with my year of faith, I realize the answer is simple.

I did the same thing I will continue to do in all my years of faith to come.

I simply walked the road with God.

This is good….

A recent Godversation

ME: The situation is just too difficult.  I just can’t help

GOD:  Whatsoever you do to the least of my people you do to me

ME: I’m hardly talking about the least of your people

GOD: anyone in need is the least of these

ME: I have too much on my plate already

GOD: I will never give you more than you can handle

ME: I’m afraid

GOD:  You’ve already gone where many will never go and you know I

go before you always. Try Again

ME: I don’t know how to help

GOD: Give

ME:  How much?

GOD: As much as I’ve given you

ME: I have a family to take care of first, I can’t just give everything

GOD: I take care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, how much more will I take care of your family?

ME: I’m tired

GOD: My yoke is easy and my burden is light

ME: Do you have an answer for everything???

GOD: I allowed the questions didn’t I?

YO GABBA GABBA

I was sitting with my toddlers watching Yo Gabba Gabba recently and this quirky little jingle came on about listening.  It was cute and catchy and the message was that we should listen to the world around us.  I was ok with it all until the following visual filled the screen.  It was one of those moments that raises the hackles on the back of your neck.

Yes we want our kids to be good listeners. It’s a great virtue.  But what exactly is riding in on that big purple wave pouring into the highly impressionable and vulnerable mind of my child?  In teaching them to listen to the world around them what exactly are they hearing?  I was left feeling very unsettled as my imagination went crazy with the endless possibilities and combinations of pollution that could possibly be pouring in.

I know how hard I have to work at filtering out the trash.  I go to great lengths to avoid that which could lead me away from the true source of light and life and am very careful about the purple ‘wave’ pouring into my own mind.  It’s a conscious decision and effort on my part and it’s not always easy!  Our society surrounds us with opportunities to watch garbage on tv or listen to music that demeans women and portrays distorted ideas of sex,  or read slanderous gossip in magazines.  I think about being in high school and sneaking in the latest issue of Cosmo and absorbing all that well researched ‘truth’.   I shudder to think that the only Theology of the Body we really had was from a smut magazine loaded with lies and designed to lead impressionable youth directly into sin.

So what about my kids?  Not only are they not consciously and willfully looking to avoid that which will defile their innocent minds, at times they actually fight me on it.  They are often lured in by the attractive facade that always adorns that which is evil.  The evil one is very skilled at his work and especially where our children are concerned.  He doesn’t exactly advertise the true consequences awaiting our most vulnerable, but rather hides and lies and deceives.

John 8:44 “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

He is the Ruler of this world and cunning in his deception so he can lead as many souls astray as possible before he is thrown into the pit of fire forever.

John 12:31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” 

 So we as followers of Christ are called to be in this world but not of this world

John 15:19 “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”


We are commanded to put on our armor and prepare for battle

 Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand   firm against the tactics of the devil.”

So that we might transform the world by being vessels of Christ’s light and salt of the earth!

Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? … You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden…  Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” 

As parents we are engaged in battle on behalf of our children, God’s children,  so we can raise up a faithful generation for Him.

What goes in will come out!

The good news is that God has already promised that we will win!  He has already conquered sin and death but the story must play out.  He has clothed us with power from on high and pours out His Grace in abundance.  Our advocate the Holy Spirit is always at work in our hearts and minds and lives, guiding us to all truth.

"The Body of Christ"

“The Body of Christ” (Photo credit: Susan WD)

Holy mother Church is steadfast and provides safe harbor from battle.   She has been lighting the way for us for over 2000 years and continues to be a beacon of light through the sacraments.

I will likely fail at sheltering my kids from all that is evil in this world but with God’s help, with our Blessed Mother’s Loving example and with perseverance and vigilance, I have Hope as a parent.

The voice of evil can be overcome and ultimately will be silenced.

Lord strengthen us as parents, that your voice might be the loudest in this noisy world! Amen