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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Beyond the Suffering

When our son Mikey was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago I was terrified. I was terrified that he might die. Plain and simple. A life lived without my child was just unthinkable. His life was, and continues to be, infinitely valuable. We were told there was no cure for his cancer but we scoured the earth anyway to find some glimmer of hope that could save our child. We clung to the only shred of hope we could find in modern medicine and it wasn’t much. One child had survived this. One. So we treated our son, our treasured baby, in the same way, and we HOPED. We hoped in medicine and protocols and surgery and doctors. We hoped for one end and gave little, if any, thought to the suffering that might result. The truth is, there was no choice that didn’t take us down a path of suffering. We understood that, deep down, from the very first. We couldn’t spare Michael and we couldn’t spare ourselves. The only thing we could do was love him and love his life and take care of him in the very best way we knew how. That included modern medicine. We also knew deep down, that if God wanted Michael to live, he would use doctors and medicine to bring about healing. So we learned to pray and begged God for that.

It was painful and difficult to watch his little body decline and go through such trauma. He endured surgeries and medications and being stuck in the hospital when he wanted to be home playing with his siblings. The chemo robbed him of the ability to walk and his days were spent in a constant state of nausea and vomiting. We did everything within our power to make him comfortable, to distract him, to keep his spirits up, and help him Hope in a future where he would feel good again. Most days he would lie there, desperately quiet, and I imagined him just begging God to let it be over. When we needed some reassurance that he was okay, he would selflessly smile and say, “It’s a beautiful day”. When we started to lose hope, the comfort was always that he was still with us. He was still breathing and as long as there is life, there is hope. It never crossed our minds, not even fleetingly, to put an end to his suffering ourselves. That would have taken the hope of life away from us, possibly for eternity. I shudder now to even think of the sentiment so prevalent in our throw-away culture that does not value life and really does not value suffering.

That suffering was a vehicle, of untold Grace and life unending.

Naturally, I needed to cope with watching my child suffer. It hurt so much. In my prayers, begging God to spare him, He led me instead to Mary. I pondered her journey again and again, trying to learn from her the way to endure. I felt as though I was walking that road to Calvary right next to her. She was quiet and accepting, abiding in something that eluded me. I was crying out, scared, alone and desperate. She stood at the cross without flinching and absorbed every blow to her son with quiet dignity because she hoped in something not of this world. She hoped in the one thing that rendered brutal suffering powerless. Resurrection. She surrendered and trusted and hoped in a Love so powerful that the suffering and the death became the treasure. Suffering is a treasure that has the power to transform our scared and desperate hearts into hearts full of Trust and Love and Hope.

It was an agony to watch my baby suffer and a difficult road for a 3-year old to walk. Even as we prayed for his rescue every day, I lived an agony that transformed me. We suffer many things in this world for lesser gains. God knew, like the perfect parent that He is, that He was giving me the opportunity to choose Resurrection. Mary knew it too, from a lifetime of grace and learning that culminated in the cross. I learned it from a beautiful little boy, a heart full of a mother’s love and a deep understanding that every breath of life has the potential to overcome death. I don’t look back on Mikey’s journey as a nine-month battle of suffering. I look back and remember every day that I loved him. I remember every moment that I held his chubby hand, quietly enjoying the weight of it in my own. I remember reading to him and singing to him and trying to keep him entertained, and I remember the reward of his beaming smile when I succeeded. I remember washing and dressing him and praying with him; inhaling his unique scent. He told me one day that he needed a sword. He said it was his job to help St. Michael the archangel and I remember the determination with which he said it. I remember him teasing his brother even from a hospital bed where he clearly did not have the advantage. He knew his role as big brother well without ever having been taught. I remember him doting on his infant sister, Laura, and him wanting to care for her and protect her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. No, I don’t look back and see only suffering. I see a million moments of living and loving that I would never trade. More importantly, I understand now how those moments, good and bad, were at work in this mother’s soul. God had plans to prosper me! And Michael. I couldn’t possibly have known all the plans the Lord had for me. I still don’t, but I trust Him.

When Michael breathed his last, I was no longer terrified or desperate.  In those moments of death and devastation when I felt utterly empty, I learned the most important Truth of my life.  God revealed His presence and I knew with a peace that passes understanding that I had all I truly needed. I had learned to pray, not merely for the end I desired, but the end that would bring the greatest good for all of us and I was filled with the deep Joy of knowing my baby was face to face with his creator and had fulfilled his purpose in this created world. His suffering taught me Love in a way I never could have learned it otherwise. I was re-created in Christ and could never have seen that coming. Mary knew it though. God makes all things new.

We don’t have a choice about suffering as it will surely find us, but we do have a choice to make. We can pick up the cross and walk the very narrow road, or try and go our own way.
When I get my turn to stand before my God I’m not sure I will say, “Yes Father, it’s been a rollicking good time. Let’s do that again.” But, I will definitely say, “Yes Lord, it was all very GOOD. I got to know You here.”

The Final Hour

For the past several weeks I’ve been wishing someone could just hit a fast forward button.  Even if it is a little irrational I don’t want March 2nd to come.  In some strange way it feels like Anna’s final hour is about to happen again only this time we know it and it is frightening.  I’m not sure why I feel this way when obviously the worst has already come and gone.   I think the anticipation is far worse than the day will actually be and part of me wishes we could just skip through.  I’ve been keeping busy, keeping distracted, keeping exhausted.

I’m not at all sure what is so frightening.  Perhaps it is fear that the suffering might change or get worse but then I have to ask, “So what if it does”?   I don’t think it’s possible that it could be as hard or as awful as March 2, 2013.  And if I’m honest, I wonder, “Is it really the worst thing”?  Here I am. Alive and well.  With fruit to show for my troubles. My Surrender comes more readily, my Trust is more certain, my Faith is stronger and my Hope is a force to be reckoned with.

Why are we so afraid to suffer?  It’s hard but we embrace so many things that are hard and we do it for mere worldly gains.  Truly when the pain is the worst I throw myself before God, into Him.  I live more intimately with Him and that is not a bad place to be at all.  In that way my suffering brings my greatest Joy.

March 2, 2014 will simply be day 365 without Anna, no better or worse than the day before or the day after. I know there is much to gain and be learned in these weeks of fear and anxiety and sadness and overwhelming loss.  I know this time of trial is fleeting.  And because I am called to live in the world my time of living purely and deeply in the heart of my God is fleeting as well.

For the past year I have been confronted time and time again with thoughts of how fragile and temporary this life is.  Sometimes I carry on business as usual without giving it a thought and other times I cannot escape the simple profundity of that truth.

Anna left the house on a Friday evening and called goodbye.  I didn’t drop what I was doing to give her a long hug and a kiss goodbye.  To her that would have just been awkward.  (And it wouldn’t have been enough of a goodbye anyway)   How could we not have known it would be her final hour?  There was no sense of it.  No warning and ultimately no final Earthly goodbye.  She walked out the door full of life and hasn’t walked back in.

“But about that day or hour no one knows…” (MT 24:36)

I know for a fact she had every intention of walking back in.  And waking up in the morning.  And taking pictures of her first clients for her budding photography business.  And seeing friends.  She had a journal next to her bed.  Was she about to write in it or had she already?  I don’t dwell on all the things she left undone.  That list is too long to wrap my head around.  But it does always lead me back to the same thoughts.

What if this were my last hour?  Am I ready?  Am I  afraid?  Am I excited?  What if today I meet God face-to-face?  How am I living for Him?

Anna's friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with "Live a Little"

Anna’s friends and sister all wear a piece of the puzzle engraved with “Live a Little”

Anna’s famous last words have become “Live a little”.  She used it as her senior quote in the yearbook and it’s become a mantra among her friends.  And I can’t think of anything more appropriate to describe Anna’s philosophy of life.  She wanted to Live and by all accounts she certainly did.  She found the fun in every situation or made her own.  She was kind, generous, loving, intelligent, compassionate, talented and the pain of losing her brother gave her a unique perspective of the fragility of life. She simply wanted to ‘Live a Little’.

I can’t help but wonder in her final hour if that philosophy served her well?  Was she living for HIM a little?

Certainly no one wants us to ‘Live a little’ more than God does.  After all He is the creator of “living”!  He sent His son for exactly that purpose.  In Jesus’ own words

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

Jesus wants abundance for us, not mere existence.  He came and served and suffered and died so that we might live life to the full.  He knew human suffering well.  He experienced it himself even before the cross, and rightly wants us to know that our suffering is not because of Him or the Father.  Our trials are because of the enemy, but God’s plan for us is living!1961644_10152266045058678_732702104_n

As we go through these days I just can’t help but be reminded of these days last year.  It truly seems like yesterday we were in the same spot with a high school senior.  Waiting anxiously everyday for those college acceptance letters and planning college visits for March and April.  The drama department at Westhill is getting ready to put on their musical production. Last year it was Footloose and Anna had fun designing the poster for it.  Just like last year, the boys and girls basketball teams are making a sectional run and the seniors are excited to cheer on their team. There are so many plans being made for the near future and it’s such a fun and busy time for Seniors.  Lacrosse starts soon.  Spring break.  College.  Senior skip day.  Yearbook.  Ball.  Graduation.  Anna was riding on the high of earning Four Gold Keys at the scholastic art awards and her work was on display at OCC for the month of February.  She was busy getting her portfolio together and was able to take it in person for a review at SU where she received high praise and constructive criticism.  She had been accepted with scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design and was on top of the world about making that dream come true.  Then and now, there is so much living going on and it’s good.  It was an exciting time for Anna last year and this year feels much the same for Nichole.  Business as usual.

Only there is a new awareness about all of it. We will all have to face a final hour.

In this hour before the anniversary of Anna’s final hour I turn to my Mother Mary as I so often do for her example.  During her own son’s final hour she walked beside him, every painful step.  She endured until the end.  She loved, prayed, wept.  This son she thought would be a great King was murdered with criminals.  Her hopes for a savior for her people apparently shattered.  And Mary trusted.

Oh Yes I will take a page from Anna’s book, my beautiful daughter.  I will Live a Little.  For Him.  With Trust.

I am Thankful

Last weekend we attended our oldest daughter’s high school graduation.  It was a lovely celebration honoring the class of 2013.  Except for us, there was no graduate.  I didn’t have a camera at the ready or flowers to give or anyone to meet for photo ops afterward.  The classmate who was tragically killed in a car accident several months ago; that would have been, should have been, our girl walking across the stage.  She was remembered and honored and greatly missed by her entire class and it was all very moving as I tried desperately to keep the tears in check.

It was suggested to me, not for the first time in the last 5 years, that I could and should be angry.  I’m told that it would be okay to yell and scream and rail at the Universe and at God.  He’s a big God after all and can take it and will still love me despite it.  5 years ago we sat helplessly by our 4-year old son as a brain tumor and chemotherapy ravaged his little body.  For 9 months we watched him suffer and then die.

I had no anger then and I have no anger now.  I’m not saying the thought hasn’t entered my mind.  Saying good-bye to two of my children simply doesn’t seem fair.  I didn’t want to do it and I still don’t but here I am living this cross.  Anger might seem the logical solution and a very human one, but I can assure you that it only serves to compound the grief.  Anger only begets anger and self-righteous indignation that I’ve been wronged somehow and deserve retribution.  Anger is never from God and can bear no fruit from God. Our crosses surely can.  We were not promised fairness but we were promised the ultimate retribution – Eternity – where our tears will be turned into dancing.

The graduation ceremony was especially difficult because it was a celebration of earthly achievement and necessarily included a large degree of looking forward to the next big venture in the lives of these young adults.  We have no earthly thing left to look forward to for Anna.  All our hopes and dreams for our daughter have been fulfilled and for that I am so thankful, but in bearing the day-to-day grief and loss that is ours, it is so necessary to ‘take captive every thought’ and banish the what-ifs and ‘what should-have-beens’.  They are no longer reality and can serve no purpose, but still the thoughts come and it takes work to focus on what is before us and what is above us.  Being at the graduation forced us to focus on what was behind us already.  It was hard work to banish the bitter and angry thoughts and sense of total loss and unfairness and replace it with the sure and true knowledge that Anna did graduate.  She has already moved on in the ultimate way.   She has collected the scholarship, a full ride!  It took work to remind myself of all the reasons I am thankful.  It took work to recall the tremendous grace God gives me every single day.  I reminded myself that never do we hear of Mary being angry or speaking out in any way as she followed her son to his crucifixion.  She accepted and abided.  She trusted and surrendered.

And what about Jesus and all the human emotions that must have threatened to overwhelm Him in light of what He was facing?  We know in the garden that there was sorrow to the point of death but we have no idea if he battled anger or bitterness.  If He did He never gives it a voice.  He prayed and pleaded for mercy and grace. He acknowledged that His Father’s Will should reign supreme but He still had some hard work to do to overcome the cross that was before Him, ‘for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’.  He prays and pleads some more and sweats blood before he comes to the point of utter surrender, the point of being able to face what lies ahead and know the only way out will the be ugly, brutal and bloody way culminating in the ultimate surrender of His 33 years, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  Sometimes we have to endure the garden and ‘watch and pray’ with Jesus.  That is how I spent the days leading up to the graduation, praying for the grace to not only endure but to effect good in my soul; the grace of total surrender.

I was given a glimpse of that grace on the night of Anna’s accident.  In the foggy distance of my sleep I heard the words no parent ever wants to hear, “Karen, Anna’s been in an accident with a bus and she is dying.”  As the angels were escorting our first-born child to the glory of her new home I went to my knees in my own Gethsemane.  “PLEASE Lord let this cup pass me by.” And “Mary I beg you to be with my child as you were with your own”, all the while knowing she has always belonged to God.   And in the most critical moments of her 18 years of life I could offer her nothing but my surrender.  Somehow that offering seemed liked the deepest and truest love I could give her, “Father into your hands I commend her spirit.”

I have no time to waste being angry with God and I refuse to indulge in it for even a moment.  I take it captive and beg and plead for mercy and grace when I need to and instead focus on all the reasons I am thankful. To do anything else is to deprive myself of all that God has in mind for my growth.  The only way to the end result is sometimes a slow and gentle pruning but sometimes it is a brutal and bloody road.

And don’t get me wrong, as a mother to many, and living in a world that sometimes feels like it’s gone mad, I’ve done my share of ‘table turning’.  This anger, however, is born from authentic love for the body of Christ and a desire to promote Truth, not the selfish emotion that only serves to promote my own pain.

I am thankful for the strong and faithful Man God has put beside me.  He answered that late night call, that is probably every parent’s worst nightmare, and has been solid and steady every second since that moment.

I am thankful that even as I begged and pleaded with God for my girl to be ok that He gave me the grace and the strength to surrender to His will and His plan for her.

I am thankful that my Mother Mary walked this road before me and now walks it beside me.

I am thankful that I was able to walk into the hospital and hold Anna’s lifeless hand and feel true and deep Joy for her.

I am thankful that we now know she died on impact and she did not suffer.

I am thankful that when disease ravaged our beautiful little boy, God restored him to perfect health and wholeness in Heaven.

I am thankful that in my weakest moments I have found strength by the power of Christ living in me.

I am thankful that nothing is wasted; not the pain, the sorrow or the difficult process of healing for my family.  God is using it all to mold us and shape us for His purposes and for our good.

I am thankful for the mass and the sacraments and our Lady and the rosary and the body of Christ and the tremendous wealth of resources of our Catholic faith.

I am thankful for the will and the grace to choose Truth over the lie, to choose Love over Anger

 DSC_2048I am thankful that the agony of the garden and the pain of the cross can never win and Life awaits us all.

At His feet

It’s such a happy and joyous time of year if you are a parent of a senior in High School. The culmination of years of planning and working and testing and playing and accomplishment is happening in many ways as the school year winds down.  The seniors are enjoying lots of festivities and award ceremonies leading up to Graduation and ultimately moving on to the next exciting phase of their lives.  Parents get to revel in successes, organize the celebrations, re-live the glory days of our own High School fun and generally take pride in our kids.  For our family the anticipation started last Fall with SAT’s and the first college acceptance and it was gradually building until a friday night 3 months ago.  On March 2, 2013, we had to abruptly change course with all of our plans when our daughter Anna was killed in a car accident.

We have changed courses and accepted what is before us but these days are still hard. Even as I celebrate and rejoice on behalf of all the other kids, my heart aches without my own.  It’s a strange place to be because I can’t say she should be here.  She shouldn’t obviously.  I can’t even say I wish she were here.  I would never wish her anywhere but exactly where she is.   I just miss her.  All these moments of celebration are moments that scream at me “you lost so much”.

And those are the moments that I am reminded of my place.  The place where Hope springs eternal and Love conquers death. The place of wisdom and truth where our beautiful Mother meets me in my pain and sorrow.  It is the place from which the whole of my life has purpose and meaning. I belong at the foot of the Cross, the only place where the joys of the world pale in comparison to the triumph of Eternity.  To sit at the feet of Jesus is to remember that I have not lost.  Truly I have gained.  Anna has gained.  Teach me your ways Lord.  Turn my tears into dancing.  At your feet, with your Mother, I will learn. This is the day You have made for me, by your cross and resurrection, so I will rejoice and be glad in it.

When I sit at His feet I am reminded of the reason for my Joy and it has little to do with Earthly celebrations and accomplishments. When I sit at His feet my purpose is renewed. Basic, elemental – I am His.  Mary is quietly by my side but her example speaks volumes.  I am here to do your will Lord.  I am here to live out your purpose for me come what may. I am here simply to receive all that you have poured out for me; Mercy, Love and Healing.

And it is easier here to remember that there is a time for every purpose under Heaven.

There is a time for rejoicing and celebration.

There is a time to sit at His feet.

Loving this New Year

I went to the doctor for an early sonogram a few weeks ago and the minute the tiny life in my womb appeared on the screen, with it’s heart furiously beating, I started to weep.  The awesome miracle before me just overwhelmed me to tears.  Life so powerful and so fragile confronted me and my angel Gabriel, in the form of modern technology, proclaimed “Behold, you shall bear a child!” The sonogram tech saw my reaction and said, 2013-01-05_18-28-13_259“Awwwwww, is this your first?”  I replied, “No, it’s the 9th little person I’ve been gifted with.”  (Her jaw hit the floor at that!) I think she was a little perplexed by my reaction though.  It should be no big deal after seeing it so many times right?  For her it’s become commonplace, old hat, “seen one little jelly bean on the screen, seen them all”, so she didn’t really ‘get’ me.

Perhaps my reaction could be attributed to pregnancy hormones.  Or perhaps the timing of Advent and preparing for the Christ child to come had something to do with it.  Or maybe it’s simply that Life is a brand new miraculous gift each time it is given and by the grace of God I haven’t been blinded to this beautiful truth like so much of society that would just as soon deny the truth before their very eyes; that Life is Life.

And now the Christ baby is here with us once again.  Truth and light and Love and LIFE have arrived anew.  The mother of all Truth and all light and all Love and all Life has once again brought this precious child into our midst in the most adorable and desirable way.  She gives us a tiny baby in all His innocent splendor; a tiny baby to love and cherish and hold and squeeze and smell.  I don’t think there is any smell in the world like the smell of a newborn baby.

Just thinking of the Holy Family isolated in their little corner of the world, rejoicing, adoring, bonding together over this precious baby from Heaven evokes feelings of love and

English: Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and child ...

English: Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and child Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

tenderness for those first days with our own babies.  Days that are nothing short of Holy and gazing upon that tiny new face always feels like we are gazing on the face of God Himself.  All the hopes and dreams and aspirations and the sheer curiosity of what this newest little member of the Kingdom will become are held deep in our hearts as we enjoy every tender moment of newness and innocence.

Love does not get more pure or more true.

The infant savior, Emanuel, has come to us in the purest and truest form of Love.  A newborn babe without adornment or pomp.  Life simply and powerfully present.  Life that draws the world to see it and want to participate in some way with it.  If the story ended right there it would be a pretty amazing story.  God has come among us in the humblest way, naked and squalling and helpless with no expectation or pretense.  He came as all babies come, to love and be loved.

Too soon the world will come knocking.  Wise men will seek and will find Him.  The poor and the lowly shepherds will be given a first glimpse.  Enemies will be out for blood.  And the savior will be suckling at His mother’s breast, safely ensconced in her heart and in her arms, blissfully unaware of all that is going on around Him, simply doing what He came to do.  Loving and being loved.

This is all that God asks of any of us.  To become like little children.  To Love purely without pretense or agenda.  To be lovable as a newborn.  To look at one another as God sees us, worthy and precious and a miraculous gift.

As we embrace this perfect baby and continue on our Journey with the Holy Family, may we never lose sight of the simplest and purest Truth.  Love was born and Love remains.

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed 2013

Testimony:Cradle to Grave

Written by Anabelle, Age 37 in AL

From Cradle To Grave Catholic With Detours in Between

CradletoGrave

(That’s not me but my daughter. My photos are too orange to publish.)

I don’t have a memory of the most important day of my life.  But I know it happened because of acid-oranged photographs with my godparents, a Baptismal Certificate with my name on it, and no one tried to stop me when I received First Communion.  The seal of Catholicism was a cornerstone for my formative years, nurtured by a daily communicant mother who scuffed holes in her pants from kneeling pilgrimage-style across Church aisles; above-reproach principal who sang vibrating soprano-key for the daily 7:00 AM Mass; teachers who marched us to confession regularly; and a staunchly Catholic extended family with reunions that were marked by Baptisms, Church weddings, and funeral parties that always served garlic peanuts appetizers and roasted pig for the main course.  Being born into a predominantly Catholic country where public transportation was decked out with Jesus/Mary emblems and dangling rosaries on the rearview mirrors, was a support system that fostered my spiritual infancy and kept me on the straight and narrow.

Really I had all that I needed to grow in the fullness of my faith.  But my Catholic identity waned in a liberal Catholic law school when I reached the age of adulthood.  Oprah Winfrey’s ‘wisdom’, popular culture world views, new age novelty, immoral entertainment stole the truths that were deposited in my soul. I began to live in the prevalent narcissistic philosophy of ‘I/me/mine first” and accepted the whopping secular lie that in order to impress others, my spiritual life must be kept under the wraps of designer fashion and accessories.  I was the average dissenting/cafeteria/lukewarm Catholic.

On the brink of my graduation, the Year of the Holy Spirit, I unexpectedly pilgrimaged to Banneux, Belgium to an approved apparition site of Our Lady of the Poor.  There, I rambled on a litany of self-absorbed prayers:  help me pass the bar exam, marry a blue-eyed man, travel the world over, find the right shade of copper lipstick for my new dress etc…  But My Blessed Mother must have begged God for my conversion of heart because when the bar results were released, I was .02 % short of becoming a new lawyer.

There’s nothing like a dose of humility to make one see with clarity.  And the truth of what I saw was this:  I needed to ask God what He wanted from me instead of telling Him what I wanted Him to do for me.  The life that I’d built for me myself and I was shallow and unfulfilling.

With tail between my legs, I boxed up all of my leather purses and flirty perfumes and moved back home to recapture the peace of my childhood years.  I also kissed dating goodbye (thank you Joshua Harris!), joined a Charismatic prayer group that taught me about Jesus & the Bible, sought spiritual direction and re-discovered that a conscience living in a state of grace is where peace reigns.  This state of grace was the gift I received at Baptism, I could receive again at the Sacrament Confession. Being a cradle Catholic left it’s imprint in my soul that long before I was a student, lawyer, sister, friend, or any other label, I was a first and foremost a Catholic – a child of God and daughter of the Church.   That privilege was bestowed on me by faithful parents and the destiny to become a faithful Catholic woman was a path ingrained in me at Baptism.  I didn’t have to look to law school, to TV, to Oprah, new age or to the secular world, to find who I am and who I should be.   My identity was there in my faded photographs and Baptismal certificate.

The laws of Catholicism, the Sacraments, the devotions, and traditions drew me back into the Church started by Jesus Christ and this time, I was no longer a robot walking through rules and regulations.  I was in love with Jesus in the Eucharist, awed by a loving, forgiving God in the Confessional, captivated by the Blessed Mother and her rosary and longed to impress and become part of the communion of saints. Through the example of virtuous Catholics, I realized that being a lukewarm Catholic was worse than being a mediocre teacher/writer/lawyer/wife/mother/sister/friend and that in order to be the  best teacher/writer/lawyer/wife/mother/friend/sister, I had to become the best Catholic I could be.   I don’t mean a holier-than-thou-know-it-all but someone who stands firm in obedience to the Church Magisterium, who is willing to defend her from persecution, who prays for the conversion of my brothers and sisters, who strives for Mary’s sanctification and embraces Jesus’ Divine mercy when in sin.  A disciple of Christ who constantly studies the faith, repents, changes, inspires, corrects, evangelizes, and stays silent when necessary.

Hebrews 8:10 is the summary of my spiritual journey: “But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

 Obviously, not me either.  It is sadly, my fifth baby.

Obviously, not me either. It is sadly, my fifth baby.

And wouldn’t you know it:  I DID eventually move across the world to sunny California, practiced immigration law with some travel perks, married the blue-eyed man of my prayers, and settled in a friendly Sothern state with peaceful cows and generous chickens as my neighbors.

Catechism and reading the saint’s writings have encouraged me to write novels, articles, and even blog about the Catholic faith I now hope to pass on to my children and take with me to the grave.

We cradle Catholics tend to take our faith for granted and look for answers elsewhere but in the Church, but if we really studied Holy Mother Church’s true teachings and seek God with a humble heart, we’ll find that everything we’ve searched for was right under our noses, poured over our foreheads, tucked under the Baptismal caps, and clothed on us in our Baptismal gowns.

Anabelle Hazard is a practicing Catholic, non-practicing lawyer, penniless novelist, happy homeschooler, and long-winded blogger at Written By the Finger of God

Storms

*In light of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I pray that all who are living through that tumultuous storm will take comfort in the strength and peace of God*

I went to a funeral yesterday.  The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny as I got in my car and left the neighborhood.  The funeral mass was at a church across town and as I got a few minutes away from home I noticed the sky up ahead was looking pretty dark.   I continued to drive along and the sky grew increasingly overcast as it seemed I was heading right into the storm. The sky got darker and darker until I was directly in the thick of it and was actually surrounded by near-blackness.  It felt appropriate considering my destination.  Very quickly a deluge of rain pelted my car and the wipers were swinging furiously.  Even though I was surrounded by utter darkness and deafening rain I could see the edge of the storm cloud up ahead and bright sun filtering through white fluffy clouds beyond.  I knew that it was only a matter of moments before I would be out of the storm and it would once again be a pleasantly warm fall day.  It was a bit daunting driving through it with very little visibility (though I live in the snow belt in Central New York so not the worst of what I’m used to!)  Sure enough a minute later I was out from under the oppressive clouds and the sky was so clear I thought it would be smooth sailing all the way to the church.  My route took me a round-about way and as I got closer to church wouldn’t you know that I was almost under that storm cloud again?  Luckily we parked and got inside the church before the rain started in earnest.

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (...

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (1633)(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Storms in our lives are inevitable just as death is inevitable.  Both are difficult and painful but are simply a part of this life.  The only guarantee we have, the only promise in terms of suffering, is the hope of Eternal rest and peace and Joy in our next life.  Not this life.

As Christians, that is, as Christ followers, we are called to follow Jesus the way Mary did. She set the example for us as the very first Christian, not merely following her son and savior to Calvary, but investing herself in His burden every step of the way.  Loving Him as only a mother could, blow-by-blow. She didn’t bow out when she was afraid or when the pain of what she was forced to silently witness must have been almost unbearable.  She steadfastly followed Jesus and took the blows in her mother’s heart as the whip sliced open the flesh she once carried and the nails crushed through the hands she once held.  With trust she stood at the foot of the cross until the bitter end.  With a suffering and sorrowful heart she watched her beloved son leave this life.

We are called to no less.  We are called to carry our crosses in the many different forms they take in our lives.  We are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary.  No promises and no guarantees for smooth sailing!

After our son died there was a temptation to feel entitled and deserving of a break from pain and suffering.  Surely after what we went through we wouldn’t have to endure more?  I caught myself in those early days living in fear of something horrible happening to another member of my family.  How could I survive it?  But I caught myself.  I knew then that no matter how much I didn’t want to face another storm that it could very well happen.  I also knew that I would weather it, the same way I weathered the loss of Michael, with faith and trust in God.  That relationship was the only way to carry on and move forward in Joy and not as a slave to fear.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We must flee to the refuge of God’s sovereignty even when it feels as though He didn’t handle our cross for us.  We do that by Surrendering and trusting that He had a good reason for allowing us to carry it.  That doesn’t mean we roll over as victims to pain and suffering, but it does mean we don’t let it win the rule of our lives.  We suffer our cross, yes, and it is often painful and difficult to bear, but we do it with the promise of Joy ahead and trust that we are learning and growing as God wishes.  We look just a little way toward the horizon and see the edge of the black storm cloud and the sun shining through fluffy white clouds beyond and let God carry us until we get there.  And when the clouds threaten again, we trust that again God will carry us through.  This much He did promise us.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:8)

This was a lesson the apostles learned in the storm at sea.  They were terrified when the storm came up and the waves were washing into the boat. Jesus was sleeping and when they woke Him in a panic He rebuked them saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt. 8:26)  And yet they were afraid.  They feared even though Jesus was right in their boat!  Jesus is in our boat too.  No matter the storm we face, we are commanded to trust in God and seek His refuge.  Even if the waves are pouring in we must understand we will never sink.  We will never perish.  Even were we to perish from this Life, if we cling to the true life-giver we will LIVE.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Just as the church served as our refuge from the storm, God is always our spiritual refuge in times of trouble.  His arms are open wide, His word is living and true, and His love for us knows no bounds.

Related reading: Seasons and Mary

Mary

Andrew and I were saying prayers together the other night and had the following conversation (He’s 6 so we NEVER get through prayers without a million questions!)

ME:  Let’s ask our Blessed Mother to pray for all the orphans all over the world and wrap them in her loving Mother’s heart.

ANDREW: Why can’t we just ask God to do that?  He is more powerful.

ME :  Of course we ask God to take care of the orphans, all the time!  And God is the most powerful, but Mary has a special kind of power.

ANDREW:  What powers does Mary have?  Can she blind the devil?

(insert 10 minutes of questions about fighting the devil here)

ME:  Mary has a different kind of power.  Her power comes from Her love and compassion as a mother.  And the things that are important to her might become a little more important to Jesus!

ANDREW:  Well Dad is more powerful than you Mom. (out of the mouths of babes! Haha)

ME: Yes Dad has one kind of power and I have another.  When you want something do you only ask your Dad?  Do you wish you only had a Dad and not a mother?

ANDREW: NO WAY! I do ask you a lot.

ME:  Why do you ask me if Dad has all the power?

ANDREW:  You always want to say Yes and sometimes you can make Dad say Yes.   And you do give me hugs all the time.  You are my Mommy and I love you! (at this point prayers ended and tackling and hugs ensued)

Andrew came to the point of acknowledging, though he can’t quite put the reasoning behind it, that his mother is a treasure, one he would never want to live without. Furthermore, he has a fundamental understanding that He needs me.

In the same way our Mother Mary in Heaven is a gift and treasure to us and we need her.

When Jesus told John from the cross, “Behold, your mother”, he was speaking to every human being.  We are all commanded to Behold her as Mother.  When He commanded her, “Woman, behold your son” he was commissioning her to take each one of us into her heart. (John 19:26-27)  After Jesus was stripped, and mocked and humbled and tortured and nailed to the cross; at a point before death when He had nothing left to give, He did give us one final gift.  He gave us Mary.

And did you catch the part at the end of our conversation when Andrew said, “sometimes you can make Dad say yes”??  In the great wisdom of a 6-yr-old, he recognized that I have some sway and some pull.  When his Dad might otherwise say no, sometimes I can persuade him to see it a different way.  The same thing is VERY true of God!  Why else would he allow us to participate with Him in his ministry by praying?   Why else would we think our prayers hold any power?  Our free will, whether used for good or evil, necessitates that our choices have consequences, good or evil.  He hears our prayers and allows us the grace and the gift of answering as we ask according to His divine will.  How much more does He grant graces to His humble servant Mary, the very same one He chose to deliver Jesus to the world and the very same one He gave to the world as mother?  The very woman who reigns in Heaven as a Queen.

English: Icon of the wedding at Cana

English: Icon of the wedding at Cana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The wedding feast at Cana is a perfect example of this.  Jesus wasn’t concerned with the guests having enough wine.  He must have known the family was upset or would be embarrassed, yet He doesn’t act until His mother brings it to His attention and asks Him to do something .  She knew He could and would and that it was no small thing she was asking of her son.  At her request he performs His very first miracle, thereby prematurely launching His public ministry.  A son may do such a thing for His dearly beloved mother but would he necessarily go to the same great lengths for his child?

How many times would your mother have to ask you for a favor before you would oblige?  And to what lengths would you go to make it happen?  Mother’s are afforded the unique ability to ask things of their children and any commandment fearing child will “Honor their Mother” of course.

And let’s step outside of our human intellect and ability to reason for a minute.

Our beautiful Lady has been appearing throughout History all over the world, performing

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

miracles and giving messages for ALL her children.   One apparition in particular gives us visual and supernatural proof of the nature of Mary’s exalted status as Queen of Heaven and the Woman clothed with the Sun in Revelation.  In the 1500’s, the Virgin Mary appeared in then Pagan Mexico, to Juan Diego, and told him to ask his bishop for a church to be built in her honor.  When Juan Diego reported this, the bishop required proof.  Juan Diego then asked the Virgin Mary for proof and was told to gather a very rare rose that was in bloom as proof of the miracle of the apparition.  He gathered the roses in his tilma and took them to the bishop and when he opened his tilma not only did the roses fall at his feet but the tilma contained an image, put there supernaturally.  This image is still preserved like new on the tilma to this day and scientists agree that it is unprecedented.  There are many ‘proofs’ of this miraculous event in both religious and scientific circles and I encourage you to soak in the wonder of it all if you are not already familiar.  Read about the truly remarkable scientific findings in her eyes and on her cloak and so much more. You can find the complete story HERE.

Which brings us to the point.  What was the result of this apparition?  Over 9 million Aztecs converted to Christianity.  That sounds like power to me.

Mary existed in time to bring Jesus to the world, and she exists still for the same purpose!  Oh what a treasure and a gift Our Mother Mary is.

To Jesus, through Mary

Further Reading:

from Mark Mallett’s blog: Why Mary?

On Mission Adoption: MARY