Tag Archive | Gratitude

Ascend

 

Our treetop hearts

bend and sway

in these strong winds.

 

Yet, our faithful roots

are sturdy,

strong, and deep,

and have no end.

 

We’re lined up,

row after row,

straight and tall

sustaining

lifelong friends.

 

If one should fall,

we hold her up

and help her stand

stable again.

 

Our prayers unite, 

and bind up the hurts,

lifted up

and upon the winds,

they ascend……

This was a poem I wrote today while admiring the trees in the park ūüôā I was thinking of all of the friends God has blessed me with in my life, and how He holds us up in so many ways. The following is a very beautiful song with amazing pictures of the Scottish lankscape. Enjoy and God bless ūüôā

Love is a Gift

Anna and Nana

 
Authentic love is not a vague sentiment or a blind passion. It is an inner attitude that involves the whole human being. It is looking at others, not to use them but to serve them. It is the ability to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and to suffer with those who are suffering. It is sharing what one possesses so that no one may continue to be deprived of what he needs. Love, in a word, is the gift of self.
 
~ Blessed Pope John Paul II
 
 
 
Grandparents
 
Grandparents bestow upon their grandchildren
The strength and wisdom that time
And experience have given them.
 
Grandchildren bless their grandparents
With a youthful vitality and innocence
That help them stay young at heart forever.
 
Together they create a chain of love
Linking the past with the future.
The chain may lengthen,
But it will never part….
 
 

Fall in Love
Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907‚Äď1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

– See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love/#sthash.nTKtSwvu.dpuf

 
 

Grateful for Grace

This weekend my daughter Lauren is receiving her First Reconciliation. As one¬†of her Catechist teachers, I am so excited and grateful to be sharing this experience with her! As Catholics, we believe that an abundance of God’s grace is received during this holy Sacrament (outward sign of God’s grace and love) . Speaking¬†out loud¬†our weaknesses and wrongdoings¬† to a representative of our Lord is a very healing and freeing experience.

There is something about hearing your sins spoken out loud to another that makes you feel so much more accountable and deeply¬†sorry for hurting others and God. I told my students that it feels like getting a car wash for your soul.¬† Afterwards your heart is made clean and you feel so much joy and love from our merciful Father!¬† I said, “You know how you feel when you get up on Christmas morning and you are so happy you can hardly stand it? Well, receiving¬† God’s Grace and forgiveness after Reconciliation feels a lot like that. You feel so much lighter, and brighter, and you have a new sense of hope in your heart to try to love others, yourself, and God even better than before!

It can be painful to honestly look at our actions and motives for doing what we do in certain situations or relationships. Sometimes we see things that we don’t want to see. Sometimes we struggle with the same sins over and over, and we need to continually pray for God’s guidance. It is important for us to realize that we are not alone in our struggles, and that God’s mercy and love¬† is always present, no matter what. Through Reconciliation¬†we receive the strength and courage to become who we are meant to be!

Confession is an act of honesty and courage; an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God. It is an act of the prodigal son who returns to his Father and is welcomed by him with the kiss of peace. 

 ~Blessed John Paul II               

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. Taken at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 

 

Blessings in Disguise

We had my mom’s bi-annual care conference the other week. I met with mom’s nurses to discuss her progress and plans for future treatments.¬† We were told that she would not benefit from anymore physical therapy sessions in hopes of her walking again. So I made the decision to “wean” her from therapy, as insurance no longer covers the sessions. It was a final “letting go” moment¬† in regards to letting go of the hope that she would ever walk again.

 Although I feel sad that mom will probably never walk on her own again, I try to focus on all of the many gifts that God has given us throughout this difficult journey. I suppose that is a primary  struggle of life. To pray for the eyes to see the blessings and angels that God mercifully sends our way in order to make our hearts lighter and our journey brighter, especially when it feels very difficult to do so.  To continue to pray for the faith to see that sometimes He gives us things that we need for growth, rather than things that we think we need or want.  To pray for trust to see that our trials in our life are perhaps, in certain ways, blessings in disguise.

A very huge gift was how mom ended up getting into the place that she is in now. I had initially hoped that she would get into Waverly Gardens, but that center and others that I interviewed would not take her, mostly because of her addictive behaviors.  I finally got her into a place that had a locked memory care center floor, which agreed to take her after many interviews and reassurance gained that she would not be a flight risk.  Within 6 months, I knew that this was not the place for mom. I began to fervently pray for God to help us find  a new place for her to live. Within 3 months, mom ended up needing to have surgery again on her right hip, as it had never healed properly.

 Amazingly, the Care Center the hospital  set up for her to do her rehab in was Waverly Gardens. It was after mom stayed for a few days that they began to see that mom was not going to be a flight risk, so we signed her up long-term. It was a huge relief and burden lifted from my shoulders.  I should add that a huge gift was when I immediately got her into the brand new beautiful wing of the Center, which usually has a wait list!

Another gift in this difficult struggle has been the fact that my mom is now totally and completely chemical free, except for a few prescriptions for depression and anxiety (and who isn’t on those these days anyway?!) and for other minor health issues. She is so much less anxious, nervous, and irritable than she used to be that it is like night and day. I no longer dread our visits. Instead I look forward to visiting her with my kids. And my kids love running around the place and getting their ice cream in the deli!

Some days, like this week in particular, I struggle with pronounced melancholy when I remember all that my mom was and could have been. I think it is partly because my two daughter’s birthdays are in the next few weeks, and celebrations always remind me just how much is missing in our family. The start of the fair reminds me of all¬†the fun times mom and my family had going to the State Fair every year. Some years we would go 2 or 3 times. Of course, we enjoyed gorging on all of the greasy goodies, just like almost every one else.

It helps to remember all of the gifts, or the “silver linings” in the dark clouds of loss…no matter how dark things are or not. Those bright spots are God’s grace shining through…guiding us and loving us.¬† I think of Psalm 94 “When I said, “My foot is slipping!” Your loving kindness, God, held me up.” And it is prayer that helps us find those bright spots. It is prayer that breaks open the dark clouds for the bright spots to find us! Those are the true blessings in disguise.

 

Inbetween

¬†I have been thinking lately of a quote that I heard recently, “Balance is somewhere between heaven and hell”, and how I yearn more and more through Al Anon recovery to peacefully live in the middle place. Growing up as a child of an alcoholic becomes a constant balancing act. You learn to live in the land of intense extremes, due to the many effects that the disease of addiction has on the family.¬† And now that I am an adult child of an alcoholic, I realize how those coping strategies that I developed as a child have carried along with me into adulthood. These coping skills have partly helped to form me into the strong, resilient, loyal, and¬† faith filled¬†person that I am, but they have also formed some not so adaptive patterns of behavior.

For most of my life, I have moved in and out of alternating worlds of extreme darkness and light. I have fluctuated between intense periods of anger & fear,¬† and love & forgiveness (which often led me to enabling, as I would often hide or dump out mom’s alcohol attempting to get her to “stop” drinking). I have fluctuated between intense worlds of joyful exhilaration and hopeless sadness. I have fluctuated between wanting to live in a non-conflict rose-colored glasses world of denial and a painfully honest world that sheds light on all of the brokenness.

At times I struggle with being my mom’s caregiver, as I sometimes carry these angry & resentful feelings around like a weight around my neck.¬† I focus on working the steps of Al Anon and applying my faith through prayer and meditation, which have consistently been the strategies that have helped me the most to find peace and serenity. Mom is doing wonderful these days. She has made somewhat of a ¬†turn around, as she is starting to walk again and is generally more happy and settled in her care center. I am very grateful for that.

I focus on having an “attitude of gratitude” and “replacing my guilt with gratitude”, which is a very beneficial spiritual concept. Being grateful helps me to recognize all that I have, and helps me to not focus on all that I don’t have. Gratitude helps me to recognize how truly blessed I am and how God has carried me along every step of the way throughout my life. My prayer this week is for God to help me learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable in this uncharted world of “in-between” where It is painfully human‚Ķ certainly not perfect, yet still joyful‚Ķ..and very very REAL!

We Shelter Each Other

A church in Mykonos, Greece

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey (Constantinople) It was the largest Christian church in the world for nearly 1,000 years (500-1400)

Inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom)

 

A Greek Orthodox church in Mykonos, Greece
Ar Scath a Cheile a Mhaireas na Daoine are old Irish words that mean “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Within our faith community, we shelter each other, to care for one another and embody the love, peace, and hope promised by God and found in the Life of Jesus.(Jars of Clay, Shelter Album)¬†¬†¬†

My Daughter Anna's Baptism in 2008

A community is a unified body of individuals, who share a common bond and connection. Within my¬† Catholic community, we gather to share our stories; our joys, triumphs, and our sorrows. We gather together in joy and thanksgiving to receive God’s life and grace;¬† through His Word and his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. Our church is our shelter and our harbor in times of difficulty,¬†as is stated in Isaiah 4:6.. “It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day,¬†and a refuge and hiding place from storm and rain.” And we are brought together in Christ as stated¬†in Ephesians 1:23…”The church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”

I felt a very keen sense of shelter and love within my church community the other week,when I was able to take my mom to Ash Wednesday mass. It was a very momentous occasion for us, because I hadn’t been able to get my mom to mass at a church in four years. This was the first time since her illness begam¬†that mom was well enough to be able to sit through a full mass. I have been able to occasionally take her to catholic services at the chapel in her care center, but it is not the same as attending a full Catholic mass in a church.¬† I had dreamed of going to mass with her again… especially an all school mass, where my kids attend catholic grade school. So, when I finally got her there, it was a very big deal for me!¬†¬†¬†

On Anna's Baptism day at the hospital

I can’t explain how emotional it was for me to sit next to her while listening to and singing “On Eagles Wings”, which has always been a favorite church song for both of us. It brought back memories of when I would play the song¬† on my flute as a young girl in our porch, with my mom standing in the kitchen listening (and probably secretly hoping I would get bored with it , as¬† I would get a little “obsessed” with my playing when I found a song that I loved to play !) Every so often during the mass, I would look over at her, and she would flash me a beaming smile…obviously thrilled to be sharing mass with me and my daughter Lauren. I choked up a few times when I heard her trying to sing, as she garbled out some of the verses of the song. It was a very healing experience for all of us, and a memory I will always hold dear.

Recently I heard a speaker at our parish faith formation night tell us, “We don’t “have” to go to church, we “get” to go to church!”¬† Sometimes I hear people talk of how they don’t “get” anything out of a particular church service. Ultimately, the real purpose of going to church should be to praise God and to show Him our great love and immense gratitude for all of the many blessings that he has given us!¬†

¬†I think of people in war torn or communist countries where there is no religious freedom.There are people in this world who don’t go to church, because they are not ALLOWED to go.¬† It is against the LAW to go and celebrate their faith with their community in public.¬†¬† I can not even imagine what it must feel like to live in such an oppressive place.¬† I have heard of a¬†group who lead a¬†Worldwide Marriage Encounter Christian retreat in China, who had to memorize the whole entire curriculum, as they had to destroy any evidence of holding any sort of Christian event.¬† They needed to hold the weekend retreats while hidden out in the jungles, or in remote areas, where they could not be easily tracked. Talk about having dedication and a deep¬†passion for spreading the Good News!

I think of how important it is to belong to a supportive and loving church community, especially during very difficult times in our lives, like when a loved one dies or is very ill.  Our church friends hold  us up, keep us afloat, and help carry us to shore when we feel so consumed and adrift with our intense pain and loss. I was very much reminded of this during the 6 funeral services that I attended during the last 10 months this past year. 

One of the funerals was for my dad’s best friend who had passed away after a long courageous battle with cancer. My father gave his friend’s eulogy, which was such an honor for him, as he was his friend¬† for nearly 40 years.¬†I sat there feeling so very emotional and proud of my dad. I knew that it was very difficult for him, as his friend was not only his friend, but he had also become a father figure for my dad.¬† My dad’s friend was 15 years older than him, and as a result he became sort of a mentor for my dad throughout the years.¬† This was especially true since my dad lost his own father suddenly when my dad was only 19 years old.¬†I was very inspired by the high level of deep respect, love, and admiration¬† my father shared with his friend.¬† I was so inspired by the deep faith of his friend, and the very loving support from his family and friends.¬† At no other type of service is it more apparent just how essential it is to have that kind of love and support in a faith community!¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

I myself have been lifted up time and time again by the rosary prayer group that I am involved in at my parish church of St Odilia in Shoreview, Minnesota.We are a group of young moms, who usually gather once a week¬† to share our joys and struggles, and to¬† pray together.¬†We pray for God’s grace and love to heal, protect, and strengthen others that we know who are hurting in our community and our world .¬†We pray for each other and the various hurts that we ourselves battle through.¬†We pray for the safety and well being of our families and our children. We then pray the holy rosary together, which involves contemplating on the sorrowful and joyful events of the lives of Our Lord and his Mother Mary.¬†The rosary allows one to get a very personal sense for what Jesus went through for us…and it allows you to focus on and pray for specific virtues during each meditation throughout the prayer. It has been a very powerful prayer method for me and my group of friends!¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

The home of The Blessed Virgin Mary in Ephesus, Turkey (it was later turned into a chapel)

I want to end this blog post with a passage from Max Lucado’s book “Fearless”. It is about the importance of¬† being a part of a loving Christian¬† church community!

Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship.¬†He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many.¬† When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries…When we mix, mingle, confess, and pray, Christ speaks.”¬†(reminds me of Romans 12:4-8 ūüôā )¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

“The adhesiveness of the disciples instructs us.¬†They stuck together.¬†Even with ransacke hopes, they clustered in conversant community.They kept “going over all these things that had happened.”(Luke 24;14)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

Isn’t this a picture of the church–sharing notes, exchanging ideas, mulling over possibilities, lifting spirits?¬†And as they did, Jesus showed up to teach them, proving “when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:20)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

“And when He speaks, He shares his story.God’s go-to therapy for doubters is his own Word.¬†“Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to (Romans 10:17).¬†¬† So listen to it!”¬†¬†

The rock on which St. Paul preached to the pagan Athenians in Athens, Greece

¬†The following is a¬†beautiful song called “Shelter” by Jars of Clay (just click¬†the Youtube icon at the bottom):

We Are So Blessed

The other day, I ran into the daughter of a resident who lives with my mom in her nursing home.¬† She is an amazing woman.¬† At the beginning of my mom’s stay, I had seen her helping out so frequently at meal times, I began to think that¬† she worked there!¬† But, it was more than just the amount of time that I saw her there that impressed¬† me, it was her¬†warm rapport and loving compassion that flowed from her as she interacted with the residents.¬† She knew each of the 15 or 20 people by name, and she seemed to know each one of their unique personalities and individual needs.

 We started talking about our moms,  about why they are there, and a little bit about our family histories up until this point.  She expressed how she and her mom have had a rocky relationship for much of their lives together, but that she feels so incredibly blessed now to be caring for her.  We talked about how at times, giving that gift of unconditional love can be very difficult to do, especially if there had been unresolved issues or resentments in the relationship.  Giving that sort of selfless love  can be hugely painful, and sometimes requires  a gigantic amount of sacrifice, but ultimately,  it proves to be enormously rewarding  and life giving  in the end. 

I think of another conversation in an email that I had with a friend recently.  She was explaining how she had  taken care of her father for 3 years before he finally passed away from cancer this past fall.  She talked of the difficult burden she carried  of being  the only one who knew  the secret of how long her father had left to live, as her father did not want anyone else in the family to know.  She was even told to keep the secret from her mom, as well.  She expressed how very challenging it was during those 3 years, but yet, she truly feels that it was an incredible  blessing and a huge gift to be able to share in that journey with her father up until his passing.

 These examples cause me to remember what Jesus taught  in the Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5:1-12) .

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of¬†heaven.

Blessed  are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

When your parent is so sick and vulnerable, you feel very helpless and lost at times, not knowing what to do to ease their troubles or pain.¬† You find yourself being freed from certain expectations and attachments, such as letting go of long held dreams of the way you wished or hoped your life could¬† be together.¬† You become spiritualty poor in the sense that you begin to fully realize just how much you desperately need God’s grace to guide you every step of the way.¬† In that state of spiritual poverty, you know that you can not do it alone, and you realize what an amazing blessing and¬† gift it is that you don’t have to!

This week I feel blessed, because mom has started physical therapy again, in order to help her possibly walk someday.  We had tried physical therapy with her for 18 months, and this past October I had to make the painful decision to stop her therapies, as she was consistently very uncooperative and shown to have made hardly any progress during that time.  At this time, she is very cooperative and willing to work at it, so we are giving it another go!  Time and God willing, mom will be able to hopefully walk again someday, which would be no small miracle!!!

Two years ago,¬† I was very blessed to travel to Ephesus, where Paul the apostle preached and was believed to be imprisoned.¬† It is also the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was believed to have been taken to live out her last¬†years with St. John, who was a very close friend and beloved disciple of Jesus.¬† Visiting Mary’s house was an amazing blessing for me, as I have a very strong love and devotion for her!¬†(below is a pic I took in Rome, a mosaic of Mary)

The following passage is from Ephesians 1:3-14.  I had read somewhere how a bible study teacher had used this passage as a prayer exercise with her students that seemed very personal and powerful.  I encourage you to insert your name in the blanks of this passage….and hear Paul speaking directly to you!!

 Spiritual Blessings in Christ

¬†Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed ________in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose _______ in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined ________ for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will‚ÄĒto the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given¬†¬†_____ in the One He loves. In Him_______has redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of her/his¬†sins, in accordance with the riches of God‚Äôs grace that He lavished on her/him. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to when ________ believed, she/he¬† was marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,¬†who is a deposit guaranteeing her/his¬† inheritance until the redemption of those who are God‚Äôs possession‚ÄĒto the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:3-14, modified)

In Christ….we are so blessed!!

¬†God’s blessings are dispensed according to the riches of his grace, not according to the depth of our faith‚Ķ..so‚Ķ..we don’t give up.¬† We look up.¬† We trust.¬† We believe.¬† And our optimism is not hollow.¬† Christ has proven worthy.¬† He has shown that he never fails.¬† That’s what makes God, God!!¬† (Grace For the Moment, Max Lucado)