Olympics, Race, Marathon

“persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” Heb 12:2

Like many others around the world, I have been completely enamored with the Olympics. Watching these incredible men and women use their God-given talents to the max is nothing short of inspiring. For some reason I have noticed more than usual attention given to Christian athletics who have displayed their faith either by word or by action. Maybe I’m just paying more attention. Again, extremely inspiring.

There are also numerous videos on youtube from this Olympics in Rio and from past Olympics. One of the videos that caught my attention was “when Switzerland’s Gabriela Andersen-Schiess finished 37th in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon at the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Games. Her refusal to quit the race despite the exhausting conditions and suffering from dehydration led to an iconic Olympic moment as sheer determination saw her over the finish line.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBasZWjd92k 

As I watched this runner, more than once, stumbling to make it to the finish line, and as I listened to her interview about her desire just to finish, about her knowledge of where she was going and her need just to make it to the finish line, thoughts of our lives as Christians came flooding through my mind. The idea that this woman had run this same race many times, the idea that she had finished this same amount of miles, made me stop and think how important it is for us to continually and consistently practice our faith. Our life is nothing short of a marathon. Every day that we practice acts of charity, every day that we take time to pray, every day that we strive toward sainthood, we move a little closer to our reward of eternal life with Christ. We should, like these athletes, put our blood, sweat and tears into our workout. We should, like these athletes, leave everything out on the playing field so that at the end of the day we can truly say we gave it our all. We need to practice over and over everyday so that when the going gets tough, when we are completely drained of all our energy, when we experience true dryness and our body fails, our mind and our heart will take over and we will persevere to another day. There is no doubt that we will stumble. There is no doubt that we will be tempted to quit and to jump on the easy ride with everyone else. There is no doubt that we will feel the pain of the struggle. But, what we know as Christians, what we know from the example of Jesus Christ himself and of the Saints who have imitated His life, is that the reward is well worth the struggle, well worth continuing the journey.

In the interview with this amazing athlete, Gabriela mentions that when she arrived inside the stadium, she was cheered on by the crowd. How important it is for us to support one another in our lives of faith! She mentions that there was a Doctor behind her as she struggled through the last lap. How important it is for us to have spiritual help from our priests, our deacons and other spiritual directors! She mentions that she realized that she would never have another Olympic opportunity so she knew she had to cross that finish line. How important it is for us to take every opportunity set in front of us as if it’s our last!

Practice. Persevere. Push hard. And like these great athletes, leave it all out there. Everyday. Finish. With our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Baby Birds, Leaving the Nest, Last to Leave

As I was working outside this morning, I noticed this little nest of baby birds in my front tree. The more I look at the photo, the more I love it. How precious this new life! How precious all life! The first thought that came to my mind was that they seem to be a little late in the season. Seems we usually have new babies in the Spring and early Summer. Guess I’m thinking they will be late leaving the nest, last to get out into the real world before Fall.

Today I took my last child to register for her Freshman year of High School then put her on a bus for Freshman overnight. Last week my son started his Junior year of High School and in two weeks I will take my daughter way up north to begin her Freshman year of college. My two oldest are finishing graduate school while my third is working on career decisions and college classes. And, of course, we have our first wedding next March. Leaving is just on my mind.

Seems that whether they are the first to leave the nest or the last, whether they keep up with the rest of the world or go out on their own a little later, whether they come back for a while or stay gone forever, they all, at some point, have to learn to fly. They all, at some point, will take what they’ve learned inside that nest and they will go out and make lives for themselves. They will build their own nests and they will be responsible for themselves and most likely others. They have been fed and nourished and they will learn to feed and nourish their own.  And we must encourage them to go. No matter how difficult it is to have that empty nest, they need to move along so that as the seasons change, they do not get held down by the storms of life, they do not get washed out or eaten up. We must encourage them to spread their wings and to take that first leap. We must teach them that God will be with them and that when times are tough or seem impossible, they can turn to God for help and He will always, always be there. We must encourage them not just to keep the faith but to spread the faith.

On this day of leaving, on this day of letting go, on this day of changes, I pray these baby birds fly. I pray that while leaving the nest, they take with them all they’ve been taught and they know how much they are loved. I pray that even the very last to leave receives all they need to make it in this world, to weather the storms and to thrive.

Mother Teresa Canonization, Weeds

Last week Allen and I were in Chicago at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show bouncing back and forth between promoting my new book, Talking to God, and buying beautiful, new merchandise for the bookstore. In almost every booth we witnessed the excitement of the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4th. When asked my thoughts on Mother Teresa, all I could think of were the parables over the past couple of weeks about the weeds among the wheat. For some reason, Jesus’ explanation to allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat for fear of pulling up the good while trying to get rid of the bad, reminded me of many holy people who dedicate their lives to taking care of the less fortunate, the sick, the poor, those many may consider problems. Mother Teresa was the perfect example of not just allowing weeds to grow along with the wheat but of believing that those who may be considered the lowest could be nourished and changed into something good. Who is to say that the sick and the poor and the lowly are not the wheat itself and those who walk around them are not the weeds who choke their possibility of becoming something beautiful? It’s just food for thought. The week and the Gospel readings made me think about what and who I am surrounded by on a daily basis. The merciful Mother Teresa who worked tirelessly for others, who saw in each person the face of Christ, who herself struggled spiritually, understood that Jesus was not just talking about allowing people, good or bad, rich or poor, young or old, to live together equally, but that we should help one another to be something more, that we should nourish one another and build each other up so that when the final sickle is wielded, we are not cut along with the others we did not bother to try and help. She understood that we could well be the weeds. We, who go to our jobs daily and work hard for a living and provide for our own families, may well be the ones who choke the possible goodness of the less fortunate. Every person is a gift. Every person deserves a chance. Some we may feel have squandered that chance but who are we to judge. Those may be the very persons that Jesus put in our lives to save us. What better way to close the Year of Mercy than with the canonization of one who was Merciful? What better way to continue the work of mercy than to emulate our great Saints, our wheat, those selfless people who knew that all mankind deserves the chance to be saved, to live a better life, to be fed and nourished, to rise above? Weeds and wheat growing together to the end. May we somehow learn to strengthen one another, to plant and to feed and to grow together so that in the end the wheat fields are full of the goodness that God intended.

St. Mary Magdalene

I finally got my side view mirror fixed! I can change lanes without turning my entire body around and my children will once again ride in the car with me. Life is almost back to normal (whatever that is).

When my father was sick in the hospital for weeks, I sort of took it for granted that I could move in and out of the parking garage without thinking much about what I was doing. One night as I was leaving, I whacked my mirror on one of the poles. Man. Like the situation was not upsetting enough in itself!

My dad died in November last year and I just now took the time to replace the mirror. As I got in the car and headed for home, I heard(?), I imagined(?), I understood my dad to send me a message. “Now, stop straining to always be looking in the rear view, in the past. Live for today. Do not worry about yesterday.  Move forward.”

Today, as we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, we hear Jesus say, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Hmm. This message made me think about the message from my dad (so to speak). I think, he wants me to move forward, to live my life without worrying about the past. Maybe even to let him move on…but I know that’s a stretch to believe that I would get that kind of message. But, thank God for the faith to even believe that a Scripture passage could give us such comfort about the one we love who has gone before us. Thank God for the faith to believe that as I drove home and could not control my emotions that maybe my dad was trying to tell me to let go of the past. Even if the message for us today is to stop hanging on to “things”, to go to confession and relieve ourselves of our problems so that we can move forward. Even if the message from Mary Magdalene today is to share with others the Risen Christ, to go to our brothers and tell them that it is all real, He has Risen and He dwells among us. Even if the message is merely to believe. Even if all of these things…we should be grateful for the moment, for the opportunity, for the truth, for our faith. On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, we hear Jesus ask, “Whom are you looking for?” Let’s face it. Everyone is looking for a Savior whether they realize it or not. Stop looking in the past. See clearly without straining. Live fully this day. He is right here in our midst. Believe and live.

Pennies from Heaven

He came in a little before 5, as we were about to close, saying that he had found a penny on the ground, looked up and saw our Pennies from Heaven sign. Then, as if from nowhere, he mentions that his mom died and we extend the traditional, “So sorry.” But he continues to tell us that as he found the penny and read the sign he could feel her presence and understood that she wanted him to come into the store and buy something. The girls and I were moved. He kept wandering through the sale asking what it could be that she wanted him to purchase. He was from out of town and had limited time to shop. We didn’t mind waiting. We too wanted him to find his answer.

Here’s the thing. This morning, as I contemplate the encounter, I realize that what matters, what we learn from gifts like this that God obviously has a hand in, is not what the man was sent to purchase but that the man was sent to witness to the fact that we should all be aware of the signs He sends. We should all be open to the idea that nothing happens by chance. Everything and everyone we encounter has a purpose. All is grace. All is gift. That man at that moment experienced a close moment with his deceased mother and shared that moment with the young girls in the store and they in turn experienced the truth that there is so much more to life after life. That man at that moment shared the faith of his mother and the rewards of a life well lived for Christ. That man at that moment turned a simple sign, a penny (what some people consider worthless), into a Godincidence. His message seems clear. Stay awake. Be aware. He dwells among us and He has gifts to give that make a difference to us and to those we encounter. It may seem like something minor, something simple, just a penny, but it can turn into something worth so much more. Maybe riches…of the Kingdom.

Day after Day

Are we tired of the same routine day after day? Do we even realize that we may be in a rut? Are we really living or are we just following the path of least resistance? One of the most difficult challenges in life is to go against what everyone else is doing. It’s so much easier to just “go with the flow”. Relax. Enjoy the ride. We may be shocked at the number of times we say when we are younger and we hear when we are older “come on, everyone’s going, everyone’s doing it”. And yet, we hear today, “how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Have we found that narrow gate, that constricted road? Are we truly living? Is what we do every day living the life that God has chosen for us? Let’s think about our day. Are we living a purposeful life? At this point, do we even know? Is this what Jesus means? Have we even scraped the surface? As we pray throughout the day, as we make simple decisions, maybe even at this point just automatic choices, let’s really consider, Is This Choice Taking Me Down the Path That Truly Leads to Life? Is this really what is intended for me? Today, maybe we should mix it up. Contemplate making decisions that go against the grain of this life and lead to new life. Do something different. Surprise our family and our co-workers and our kids. Journey the road less traveled and live. It’s not as simple as it sounds but the end result seems like it may be worth the effort.

Perfection, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Faith

When the rising sun hits the outside wall of the church Chapel just perfectly, the beautiful stain glass window is projected through the Chapel doors onto the wall behind the altar. As we can see, the image clearly tells the story of life and death, the beginning and the end, and yet it tells so much more. Mary and her Son are sectioned off from the angels and yet their lives are fully supported and heralded by the Holy Spirit and the angels. Jesus’ left arm seems to disappear into His Mother’s garment. They are in perfect communion, in sinc. Their lives are as one from the beginning to the end, guided by the Holy Spirit as they follow the will of the Father. “Yes Lord.” “Thy will be done.” The perfect answers. The perfect examples. Plastered on the front wall because of perfect timing. 

In our weakness, they are our strength. Their love holds us up during our times of crisis. They want us to be in sinc with them as they give their entire lives in obedience to the Father. “By the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit”, they give us light so that we can see goodness and can in turn do good. This image, projected by the light of the sun, gives us hope, tells our story and leaves us to trust as Our Lady trusted, to have faith, to believe that there is more. As the sun rises and hits the window at the perfect moment, so too does Her Son rise in glory and perfection.

What do you see? The images of the men? Our reflection in the story?

Visiting, Taking Time, Shining Light

Funny how things happen. I fully intended on using this picture of the display in St. Mary’s for a blog about my book, Visiting Mary, because quite frankly the summer is a great time to take the opportunity while on vacation to visit the many Shrines and Grottoes that we have in the U.S. But I became immediately distracted with the idea that the picture I took was just too busy looking, too distracting. Which, coupled with the Gospel readings this week, prompted me to realize how easily we are distracted by the busy background of our lives. If you’re like me, you may take the readings from Scripture and try to focus on sharing God’s message throughout your day, whether to your family or your friends or your co-workers or complete strangers. We try to take what we believe His message is for the day and live it out, shine the light, not leaving it “under a bushel basket”. We try to live the Commandments and the Beatitudes. We may leave our morning prayer time or morning Mass and think, “I’ve got this. I can do this all day long. I am focused and today I will simply be kind to everyone I meet. I will love God and my neighbor.” Then, bam. Life causes distractions. Our focus is blurred by the busy background. We can no longer see what’s really important. The next morning we start all over again. And the next morning, again. And little by little we realize that life is just busy. The times when we cannot see Jesus or His Mother against all the background “stuff” is the time when we probably need them the most. The times when we cannot hear Jesus or His Mother against all the noise is the time when they probably should be heard the loudest. If we stay focused, we can see light. If we listen, we can speak truth. If we keep Him in our hearts all day, we can truly love. The ways of this world keep us hopping from one “thing” to the next. The ways of God keep us centered on what’s important.

P.S.The OT reading today was Elijah trying to find God in the wind and the earthquakes but only finding Him in a whisper. At some point today, or maybe all day, may we quiet ourselves enough to hear His message in the whispers. And the message before the Gospel reading,
” Alleluia, alleluia. Shine like lights on the world, as you hold on to the word of life. Alleluia, alleluia.” AMEN.

Two Graduations, Two Diplomas, Two Roses, One Weekend

It’s a bittersweet moment when the last child graduates from Grade School, especially when we have had a 22 year run at the same school. It’s a bittersweet moment when the third daughter graduates from High School, especially when it’s the same High School attended by your grandmother, your mom, your sisters, your nieces and you, and it’s on the same weekend as the Grade School graduation. Can we jerk the emotions around a little more please?! But I must say, it was a beautiful weekend with family and friends, old and new.

Friday morning with Baccalaureate Mass brought the traditional presentation of roses from the High School girls to their parents. Pictures were made of all the graduates and their alumnae moms. Friday night brought on the conflict of the High School Graduation and the Grade School Banquet occurring at the exact same time. It was very difficult for the Grade School daughter to miss her sister’s graduation. I rushed over to the banquet after graduation and made it just in time to receive a rose and a note of thanksgiving from my youngest. Together we left immediately after the class video to meet the rest of the family for a late dinner. So busy and so much fun.

The next morning as I put the two roses together in the same vase, I realized how the High School rose was slightly more open than the Grade School rose. I noticed how the High School rose had opened just enough to let me know that a full bloom was on the way. I noticed that the Grade School rose still needed time and attention. The creation that God placed in front of me was to be cared for and tended to and yet, the need for my hand in it all would not last forever. I am blessed to be given these opportunities to experience all that the Creator has to offer, all that creation has to give, all the beauty of two roses from the same bunch growing at different rates, blossoming at different times into true beauties. I am grateful for two Graduations, Two Diplomas and Two Roses over one long and beautiful weekend.

Go To Your Room

“Go to your ROOM!” I can tell you that I heard these words as a young girl many times a week. Maybe even daily. Let’s just say that I enjoyed life to the fullest. As number 6 of 8 children, maybe I felt it was my duty to give the parents a shot in the arm. You know, add a little spark. Grease the rusty wheels. But that can’t be right because my brothers and sisters before me spent equal amounts of time in their rooms too. My parents were hopping from beginning to end. No rest for the weary shall we say. But they rarely complained and seemed to have a pretty good time along the way. 

In the past couple of weeks, I have done four radio interviews to promote “Talking to God” and in each the question has been asked, “In your book you suggest ‘making a private chapel in your heart’. How do you go about that?” And actually, I use a quote from the 17thcentury Carmelite, Brother Lawrence that suggests we should “make a private chapel in our heart where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly; everyone is capable of these intimate conversations with God, some more, others less; he knows what we can do.”  

As I sat in the Chapel this morning and for the past several weeks, I have pondered this idea. Throughout my day, I try to have this place within myself where I can go when I feel like screaming. I try to have this place where I can retreat when I am tempted. We all can have this same place where we can go when our world is ridiculous. We have a place to go instead of jumping in on the office gossip or laughing at an improper joke. This morning as I thought about this place that everyone seems to be interested in, I pictured the many times when I was sent to my room before I got into something that I could not get out of. I thought about the time when I was sent to the library in High School before I got in-school suspension with my friends. I thought of Jesus telling me that the same elements in the Chapel where I was sitting could be in my heart where I could retreat right before I made a bad choice. I envisioned Jesus telling me, “Go to your Heart room” to contemplate my actions or reactions. 

I ran back up to our Chapel to take the above picture and I was reminded of this verse. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:19  I’d say that we’re in good company as we work on “making a private chapel in (y)our heart(s).”

How about it for you? Have you ever thought about making a private Chapel in your Heart? Is it just a quiet place for prayer as mine has been in the past or is it a retreat from the ridiculous or is it a safe place to avoid sin? Is it a place where you can “retire”just as the Chapel is near the Church? Something to ponder I guess. I sure have been asked a lot.