Take My Yoke

This past weekend we heard one of my favorite Gospel passages:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:29-30)

There was a time, about eight years ago now, that I came to know this scripture intimately. It comforted me then, bringing me through a long dark hour, and reminds me still that my trust belongs to God.

So how exactly do we take Jesus’ yoke?   

When Mikey’s health was spiraling out of our control from a brain tumor, I turned to Jesus as I knew Him then. The situation was too big for me by far; my baby boy was dying. At the start, I cried out to Him, begging Him at any cost to heal my little one. I saw nothing beyond the deepest desire in my being to keep my sweet 3-year-old in my arms.  Jesus was always there, steady, solid, nurturing my hope, and yet, not making any promises about Michael’s health. He was answering so many of my prayers and giving me things I didn’t even know I needed, even if He couldn’t say yes to my one big request. Trust is not built in a relationship simply by receiving all that is asked for. Trust is built when one does all that one says he will do. God revealed himself in a million ways: through His word, in deed, and through His body, and what I came to know of Him was a depth of fidelity, honesty, capability, and love, that I had never known before. I turned to Him in every moment of need and He stayed close. He walked with me, day in and day out. When doctors were at a complete loss, Jesus wasn’t. As medicine continued to fail, my soul was nourished, refreshed, and full of Hope. One day He brought me to my Father; I will never forget those moments. We were flying away on a Make-a-Wish trip with our huge family, strollers, wheelchair, gear, and medicine, leaving behind all of our care and support team. Disease had become the familiar and we were embarking on a trip to the unfamiliar. I had some moments of terror as we were boarding that flight, understanding that we were leaving behind what little control we thought we had. Then we were up, up, and away, and as I looked out over the disappearing world below, to the vastness of the skies, I suddenly knew the awesomeness and Love of my Father. He created the skies, the earth, and all that is in it. All belongs to Him. We weren’t actually leaving anything behind that was out of our loving Father’s hands. That flight brought our little Michael to Mickey Mouse, but it brought me straight to the giant arms of Love, care, and protection. Jesus knew exactly what I needed. It’s not so scary to be little and helpless when you are cradled in Daddy’s lap. I knew I could trust Him even though He wasn’t promising that my own baby would be healed.

Only five short weeks after that trip, our beloved boy lay dying. I begged Jesus for the grace Mary had as she walked to Calvary.  He knew my desperate need and sent our Lady herself to be with me and comfort me. I really saw and understood Mary for the first time as we gathered around Michael in his final hours and there is no doubt that her grace abounded.  Peace descended upon the room as Mikey gave up his breath and we sought Heaven as never before.

Jesus knew our deepest need better than we did. 

How do we take Jesus’ yoke?  It’s really so simple.  We love Him. We seek to know Him until we can abandon ourselves in Trust, holding no piece of ourselves back.  We take His yoke when we can say that, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, “I belong to Him whom my heart loves.”

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Discipline

Are you more disciplined that a 1st grader?

As my 6-year old is discovering, first grade is a big year. He has new and increased responsibilities and expectations that are proving tough for a little boy with tons of energy!  He would much rather be dressing-up and playing superhero or playing Mario Bros on the Wii than practicing reading or spelling.  He would definitely rather play on the gameboy or the Ipad or go outside and shoot hoops than think about tomorrow for even a minute. We’ve been working on some strategies to help him get organized and stay focused but there is just so. much. distraction.  What I don’t understand is that he loves reading when I make him do it, yet it is never his first choice.  He loves being able to spell words and is proud of his ability to figure it out and understand. I can sense his feelings of accomplishment and empowerment and excitement and his smile speaks for itself.  The time we spend together is rewarding for both of us.  So why isn’t he looking to read with me from the moment he walks in the door?

The concepts of discipline and obedience are challenging for most adults so it’s not surprising that they are difficult for a 6-year old.  He is being given clear and true expectations and goals and knows exactly what the consequences will be should he choose not to obey.  I think this is where we, as a society, struggle. Who or what should we be obedient to and why?   What consequences might we face?  We live in a world that preaches relativist attitudes and absolute Truths are easily hidden.  We are taught to think of ourselves as our own sole authority.   As obscure as the idea might seem today, there is a more supreme authority than this trinity of self (me, myself and I).  Even if our consciences are formed enough to recognize God and his laws as supreme and absolute, discipline and obedience are essential to living that faith.

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is far too easy to let the busy schedules and demands of day-to-day life keep us from doing what is essential for our souls.  Furthermore, the essential is so obscured that a soul no longer even knows what it is longing and striving for.  We seek and work for worldly ideals that can never satisfy, all the while avoiding or ignoring the nourishment we really need.

And it is only by filling ourselves with God that we can navigate all of it in the first place.

Think of all the ways you nurture a relationship with your spouse, or child or parent or friend.  God deserves the same care times 10!  That relationship is the only way we can successfully battle the storms of the day.  It doesn’t always have to be a big effort either.  Sometimes it is momentary silence in His presence, adoring Him, other times it is the simple honest communication of our moments.  Or how often do we call a friend with our need to ‘vent’ instead of ‘venting’ to God? He should be the go-to shoulder we cry on since He’s the one with all the answers anyway.  At times you may have a few quiet minutes that can be put to good use.  The other morning I had about 5 minutes until wake-up call and wanted to ‘hurry up’ and get my prayer time in.  I spent about 3 minutes trying to empty my brain of the considerable to-do list ahead, 1 minute ordering God to please hurry and just give me a little something to bless my day and finally for my last minute I shut-up and got out of my own way long enough to open my Magnificat to the morning readings.  As I read those few words of scripture I swear I heard a choir of angels sings as I slowly felt my whole being come alive.  The living word spoke to me in the exact way I needed that morning and I was renewed and ready to slay dragons for the Lord ( in my kitchen and laundry room at least!)  God worked a little miracle in my soul in under 1 minute despite my somewhat rude behavior.  Imagine saying to a husband or friend, “hurry, you have exactly one minute to be with me so make it good”.  But He did and managed to put a smile on my face for the whole day.

Luckily for Andrew it is my job to help him stay on track and meet his responsibilities until he is mature enough to be self-disciplined.  It is for his good that I turn off the television, and the wii and take away the Ipad.  Left to his own devices he might never choose to do actual work.  Then he would never become a good reader, and consequently wouldn’t learn all that he needs to learn.

The church acts in this same capacity for all of us on behalf of Jesus.  It is her job as ‘parent’ to lay out the absolute truths we are to live by and uphold the authority Jesus gave her so we can know exactly who and what to be obedient to and consequently what disciplines to practice.  By trusting in her almighty wisdom and being obedient to her prescriptions for our spiritual life we have a better chance at staying on the narrow road.  At a minimum we are obligated to go to mass on Sundays and holy days and meet Jesus in the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.  We can further meet Jesus through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  We can call upon our Lady who leads us to her Son through the meditations of the Rosary.  The lives and writings of thousands of martyrs and saints have so much to teach us.  Prayer groups, praise and worship service, adoration chapels, along with countless ministry and outreach programs are active in churches everywhere and are a great way to feed a hungry soul and serve the Lord.  All of these things take discipline however.  We are busy and surrounded by so much noise all the time.  The demands of keeping up are high.  Choosing an hour in adoration or a half hour meditation on the sorrowful mysteries is not always as easy and glamorous as chatting on the phone or watching something great on TV, but God never disappoints and our efforts for Him will be met with reward.  I can tell you that when I choose God over some other enjoyment or pleasure, I am NEVER disappointed.  I NEVER feel as though I have missed out on anything.  I NEVER feel empty and unfulfilled.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jer 29:13

God has a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Like my first grader’s desire to play, people often relate the sentiment that they want to enjoy their life, not worry about spiritual ‘work’. Certainly God wants us to enjoy our life!  He filled the world with goodness and beauty and light precisely for our enjoyment.  It is a simple matter of priority and recognizing that there is a time for all things.  There is time to spend with the Lord and time to spend in the world and time to spend with the Lord in the world.  Our relationship with Him will lead to the ultimate enjoyment but it takes discipline to choose, again and again, to drown out the noise of the world and seek Him.  It takes discipline to be obedient to the Supreme authority that has ordained this same discipline for our good and ultimately for our enjoyment.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)

*As the election approaches may God Bless our Country and may we all vote in obedience to God for the good of all mankind.*

Reflections from the Garden

There are lots of reasons I love to garden.

#1 –  Earthworms are very cool (they may even warrant a future blog post!)
#2 – It definitely counts as some sort of workout since body parts always hurt the next day
#3 – All that Vitamin D does a body good AND I get a great tan.                                                                                              #4 – It’s a legit excuse to tell the kids we’re having cereal for dinner tonight. (The organic and healthy kind of course!)
#5 – The kids love picking and eating the stuff we grow which means they actually eat some veggies from time to time.
#6 – No one wants to help do all that work so it’s peace and quiet time
#7 – No one wants to help do all that work so it’s peace and quiet time
#8 – No one wants to help do all that work so…. (you get the idea!)

But most importantly it’s time in my day that I get to spend with the Lord.

All that being said however, I am by no means a gardener.  I just happen to have a piece of land in which I dig and plant and water and nurture and harvest but it does not mean that I actually know what I’m doing!   Who knew it would turn into such a place of refuge and solace and prayer?  Who knew it would fulfill an elemental need to be in touch with God’s Earth?  I really had no idea how much I would love the garden when I took on the task last spring.  I love it and God teaches me through it.

I was thinking about the idea of gardening in the days of old – as in before the days of hoses and sprinklers.  How did gardeners ensure that their crops would be adequately watered so as to produce fruit?  Especially the full-out farmers who relied on said crops for sustenance and livelihood?  I’m sure if I did a little research I would find various creative and ingenious ways that farmers have watered crops throughout the centuries but for the most part I think it’s safe to say that before the days of modern irrigation, farmers were forced to rely upon the providence of God for the growing of crops.    They prayed for and waited for rain.  And if the rain didn’t come they didn’t have crops. Right?

So in my own little garden I thought about the idea of not hooking up a watering system and simply relying on God for whatever needs my little plants might have.  I immediately rejected that idea for all the standard reasons we use in our modern society; “God helps those who help themselves” and “God gave us brains to invent ——– so He must want us to use ——–“.  As quickly as I first rejected it though I decided to give it some more thought.  After all I do profess that I trust God in all things.

It occurred to me that, as someone living in America in suburbia in 2012 with all our modern conveniences, I’m not sure it’s possible to trust God in all things the way the people in the Old testament had to really trust God in all things.  We simply don’t have to rely on Him.  We have hoses and sprinklers and faucets and elaborate underground systems that bring water instantly.

And while I’m certainly not suggesting that we give up our modern technology and conveniences,  I do think it merits reflection at the very least.  Do our plans include trusting God only when we’ve exhausted our other means?  When we fall short is God our plan B? or plan C? or any plan at all?

We have advanced tremendously since the fall of Adam and Eve and have become masterful at self-reliance in this dog-eat-dog society but are we better off in our relationship with God?

Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise, as in Gen...

Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise, as in Genesis 3:23-24, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are a people driven by success but are we driving ourselves right out of paradise?

I think I would rather fail with God at my side than achieve any success without Him. To have Him, to know Him, to love Him is truly the ultimate success.

Lord God bring us closer into a trusting relationship with you. Amen