When Life Happens and Leaves Us Partially Blind

IMG_0052This is Loo. She is a purebred Shih Tzu from a “designer” pet store here in the midwest. She came fully loaded with a chip so we could track her. She came with “official papers” to prove her lineage. We paid top dollar for Loo. This once-perfect dog has become a representation of my life!

When my ex-husband and I decided it was the right time to adopt a dog, we had researched for months to find the perfect breed. We wanted a non-allergenic dog that wasn’t a barker, that was kid-friendly and that would be ok with cats or hamsters in the house. We decided on a Shih Tzu. 

We jointly named her as we had done all things together. My ex had lived in Waterloo and we decided we’d name our dog “Loo” after his hometown. The name fit her perfectly (except on those rare occasions when the vet called her “Low”). 

This affectionate, top-dollar, lovable dog represented my life. I seemingly had it all — a husband, two beautiful daughters, and a home on a golf-course lot. It was the “top of the line” as far as I was concerned. 

But sometimes life happens and leaves us partially blind.

My marriage wasn’t as perfect, I’m the first to admit, but we always survived. We struggled with the pain that infertility brought into our marriage. We teeter tottered back and forth between different religions. We had a different set of values that became apparent when life’s BIG decisions had to be made. We remained together.

But one day, after 20 years of marriage, I was attacked. Just like Loo’s encounter  — the attack came from what I thought was friendly territory. I learned I was not safe on my own turf. I was betrayed, injured, torn apart and it was painful.

There’s so much more to tell of this story, but the end result has been the same … life goes on … if only with one eye. God was there to pick up the pieces. I am ok. I was wounded, but I continue to heal.

“O LORD my God, I called out to you for help, and you healed me.” ~ Psalms 30:3

It’s been 5 1/2 years since my husband left and I am still finding my way. At times, I feel like I only have one eye because the process of moving on has been extremely slow. I find myself bumping into obstacles along the way (breast cancer, health issues, employment) but my trust keeps building as I accept what life has imposed on me. 

Slowly, but surely, I am accepting what God has allowed. I am learning to say, “not my will, but yours be done”. I abandon myself to having only “one eye” and trusting that my heavenly Father will take care to lead me. Inspired by the love of my family and friends, I see where God can make good out of everything that happens to us in life. 

After the “incident” when my dog was attacked, I found out how much my two daughters really loved this dog. Their steadfast care for their pet is never ending.

The same has been true for me. God has shown me his tremendous love through his many blessings. I never knew there was so much love to be had from our heavenly Father. His love and his grace has allowed me to move on, to see myself through His eyes and realize he has a plan for me. He is there. 

Hope & a Cup of Coffee

Every morning the first thing I do is get myself a cup of coffee and sit and read the Bible. I do this before I do anything else because this is where my hope comes from. 

Last Sunday morning, after my cup of coffee, I went over to a friend’s house for a Pilates class. My friend is in the process of getting her certification to become a Pilates instructor and I am one of her students. I am getting free classes so she can earn her practice hours toward certification. 

cup of coffeeAfter the class, we chatted a while and then I left and knew I needed to run by the grocery store. I couldn’t decide which grocery store to go to but decided on the one closest to my house. As I took in the freshness of the Sunday morning drive and enjoyed the scenery with few cars on the road — it suddenly all ended. Right next to me one car over sat my ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Ugh!

Really, Lord? You allowed this to happen? You allowed me to see the man I was married to for 20 years cheerfully smile with his (much younger) new girlfriend sitting next to him? Where were they going at 10:30 on Sunday morning? Had she slept over at his apartment? All these thoughts ruined what I had just had my mind on — the beauty of the scenery and nature on this street. 

Was this coincidental or had God placed them there just at this perfect moment for me to encounter? What was on God’s heart that he wanted me to know? I was sad because since the divorce I have concentrated on getting my career re-started, I’ve spent almost 2 years getting over breast cancer and I’ve raised two daughters. I have not had time to develop a relationship with a boyfriend — nor has God brought anyone into my life. 

How I wish I could turn back the hands of time by 6 years. How I wish I could go back to being innocent and naive before the affair, the cancer and the death of my mother. But I can’t. 

The next morning, I got up and fixed myself a cup of coffee. I knew I had to read my Bible because without that, all would be lost. I follow the daily readings from the Catholic calendar and here is what I read on Monday morning: 

“Jesus answered them and said, Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” John 6:26-28

That was my message. God wanted me to know that I am to know him and that he will never perish. He is eternal life. All the things of this world will end but he will remain. I am to set my sights on him.

And this is where my hope comes from … hope and a cup of coffee. 

Learning About “Sacramental” Living

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT*,  came to Holy Trinity recently and was the guest speaker for the annual woman’s retreat put on by The Daughters of Isabella. The topic for the retreat was Having a Sacramental Vision of the World.

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I wasn’t sure what to make of this topic. Somewhat recalling the definition of a sacrament from the Baltimore Catechism (clear back in the 70s), I briefly thought this topic didn’t make sense. I was taught that a Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. A “sacramental” is a sacred sign which bears a certain resemblance to the sacraments.

I still wasn’t convinced I understood the subject.

Sister eloquently began her talk by explaining that everything in life has meaning and can be related to Christ.

I agreed.

She said she would provide 7 aspects of sacramental living to convey her point. I was good with that because anything that can be explained with 7 bullet points seemed organized and easy for me to understand. I hope you agree!

Sr. Anne Marie’s first point was that everything in life has meaning. St. Ignatius of Loyola described it this way:  “All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know Him better, love Him more surely, and serve Him more faithfully.”

St. John Paul believed that every encounter was providential. He stated, “As soon as I meet people, I pray for them.” The outward sign of me praying for those God puts in my path is sacramental. That made sense.

Sister’s second point was that Christ is at the heart of the sacramental life. Is Christ our measure of reality or is Reality TV our measure of reality? I love this example because many years ago The Bachelor used to be my measure of falling in love. I’m so glad I can now say “used to be” as in the past tense.

The third point is that our bodies are sacramental. What our body does affects our soul. Are we using our bodies as temples unto the Lord or are we carelessly giving away our love and affections to whoever comes our way? Do we believe that deliberately getting drunk or eating too much is fun or is it an abuse of the body we were given?

Her fourth point — meals are sacramental. Mealtime is an icon, or a sign, of nourishment. Earthly bread nourishes and sustains our bodies. Christ, the heavenly bread, nourishes and sustains our souls. How can we make our meals more meaningful? Simply praying a blessing before a meal can call us into communion with Christ.

The fifth point: the poor among us are sacramentals. Many, many times throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us that it is our responsibility to take care of the poor. Can we find a family living in a Third World Country who needs as little as $30 a month from us or is that not even on our radar?

Time is sacramental. This was her sixth point. Is the time we have on earth “our time” or God’s time? Do we care? Is the way we spend our time on earth important to the life we will live in heaven? Do we fully understand when we hear “God’s timing is not our timing”? Does it effect the way we react to our situations in life?

The final point was that the world is an enchanted place because of this reality of sacramental living. Typically, we think of an enchanted place as only being found in Disneyland; however, with the eyes of Christ, we can see our own world sacramentally.

The world of Christ is captivating when we realize simple things like the power of prayer, our Guardian Angels, the Trinity, the Eucharist and all that our faith has to offer. When we put on this vision, and think about The Mystery, we can begin to see the miracles.

It makes sense. Having a sacramental vision of the world creates in me a heart of love and a heart of thankfulness. Knowing and accepting that everything has meaning — even my heartaches in life — helps me to know God is in control.

 

Help me, O Lord, to have a sacramental vision of Your world. Please give me the graces I need to see Your place in my life. Show me Your Son in the people I meet. Help me to care for Your poor —even when I see myself as poor. Teach me to make good use of my time. Make known to me the enchantment of this life when all I see is boredom in the day-to-day tasks of living. I ask all these things through Christ Our Lord. Amen. 

* Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity

 

The Power of a Song

Six years ago on Thanksgiving morning, I started what would become a new tradition with my father.

It was, in fact, merely an accident that I was at my dad’s home six years ago on Thanksgiving morning. I was supposed to be on a white-sand beach in Florida with my husband and our two daughters. We had made arrangements and paid for our trip in advance. Our family, along with my husband’s parents, and his siblings, had planned a leisurely beach vacation for the week of Thanksgiving in 2012.

That trip would never become a reality for me. What should have been a week filled with sun and sand with my family was a week that initially left me alone, anxiety ridden and miles apart from my two daughters.

The week of Thanksgiving, I was in my hometown and my children were in south Florida with their father and their grandparents. We were at least 1,000 miles apart and this was the first time we had been separated for this length of time. My youngest daughter called me daily crying and wandering why we were not together.

The true story was that weeks before Thanksgiving, the unraveling of my 20-year marriage occurred. My husband admitted he had secretly been seeing another woman and he was in love with her. If he had been more careful on our home computer, his indiscretions would have remained a mystery. But I somehow had to believe God’s hand was responsible for what was revealed.

“For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mark 4:22)

As if that bit of information was not enough to shake my world, I was diagnosed with breast cancer just days after he moved out of our home. I could not believe God could possibly allow this to happen. What was His plan? Never in a million years could I have imagined my life could be this hard and this painful.

I had been betrayed — by my husband and by my body — at the same time. My faith was deep, but I had never encountered this kind of suffering. I knew God was faithful and He could be trusted, but perhaps that was just superficial thinking on my part. My knowledge of God was in my head, but not in my heart.

And so on Thanksgiving morning, I woke up and faced two facts: my marriage had ended and I had cancer. I had two paths I could take: mope around and complain or attend morning Mass with my father. I decided to go to Mass. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was working in my soul that morning, leading me down a path to peace.

Before Mass began, the congregation sang Over the River and Through the Woods. I had not sang that song since grade school. It put me in a better mood. Then the homily drew me in to what was really important: my relationship with Christ and an attitude of thanks.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Suddenly, I was so thankful to be at Mass with my father. I was thankful that Christ was in my life. A sense of calm came over me. After the homily, the priest announced we would sing one of his favorite songs that he chose to sing every year. Ironically, the song was called Song of Thanksgiving! The refrain had me in tears —

“Love that’s freely given wants to freely be received. All the love you’ve poured on us can hardly be believed. And all that we can offer you is thanks, All that we can offer you is thanks.”

Peace settled into my soul and God’s love transcended my life’s situation through that song. God freely gives me his love and he wants me to receive it! Sitting in Mass, instead of on a beach, was going to be just fine because Christ was with me. It didn’t matter where I was if I had Christ in my heart. That message came through loud and clear that morning.

This was a true gift from God. He showed me compassion by inviting me to Mass with my father. He offered me peace with a song. My fed me with the Eucharist.

I knew after Thanksgiving week I would have to go back to my home, face the marriage problems and face the cancer. I knew I would need to keep my eyes on Jesus by attending Mass, going to confession, being in Adoration and even receiving anointing of the sick before my surgery.

It’s now been five years since my bi-lateral mastectomy and I’m cancer free. I have received a divorce and an annulment in the Catholic Church. And I’ve attended Thanksgiving Mass every year since 2012 with my father. The Song of Thanksgiving is my favorite part and always brings me back to that moment of tenderness.

Now, I can say most sincerely that God is faithful. In know in my head and in my heart that Christ is truly the Prince of Peace. It took years and lots of prayer to forgive my ex-husband, but it is what Our Lord asks of me. I am thankful.

Ways We Pray

Are there different ways to pray?

At a recent Wednesday night women’s gathering at my church, a group of us were talking about prayer. Before our session began, we wrote our prayer requests on small pieces of paper and placed them in decorated containers that became the centerpiece of our table. At the end of the evening, we ended our night by lifting our hands over our “prayer centerpiece” and asking God to accept our intentions and bless them.

beach-1868772_1280We had started the evening with a prayer that many of us had memorized and we ended the evening with 15 minutes of silent prayer amid candlelight — each of us individually talking to God in our hearts. This made me think about the different ways we communicate with Our Creator. Whether it be memorized prayers like the Lord’s Prayer, a quick acknowledgement before meals, or impromptu prayers for others, there are many different ways to pray to God.

When we pray, or talk to God, we are nurturing our relationship with him. This is no different than talking to a dear friend and sharing our innermost thoughts, our fears, our accomplishments or our desires. We are building relationship with the One who created us. We are making ourselves known and letting God into the private parts of our heart and soul.

Why does it matter what type of prayer we use as long as we pray? Relationship is a two-way street. We cannot always be the ones doing all of the talking. Like any good friendship, there must be some listening. If I never quit talking, I can’t hear what my friend wants to share with me. This holds true with God. I will sometimes talk and I will sometimes listen! My form of communication will not always be the same.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church groups prayer into five different forms and I’ve given an example of each:

  • Blessing and adoration, i.e., Lord, I love you and adore you
  • Prayer of petition, i.e., Lord, help me and keep me safe
  • Prayer of intercession, i.e., Lord, heal my friend of her illness
  • Prayer of thanksgiving, i.e., Lord, I give thanks in all circumstances of my life
  • Prayer of praise, i.e., Lord, I exult you and sincerely know you’re my Father

There are many examples of prayer in the Bible. One of my favorite examples of differing styles of prayer is demonstrated through Moses. Moses prays to God at the burning bush, “Here I am” (adoration). Moses prays to God to intercede for Miriam, “Please, heal her” (intercession). Moses argues in prayer! He says to God, “Now, if I have found favor with you, please let me know your ways …” (petition).

Jesus too shows us many types of prayer during his life on earth. He prays for people (intercession), with people (petition) and in thanksgiving while He was eating with the apostles. Many times we see him go away for longer periods of time to pray before he has to make big decisions. In the book of Luke (6:12) Jesus spent the night in prayer before he chose his disciples.

In our relationship with Christ, we will encounter many different types of prayer depending on the situation. Knowing this can help us develop a deeper relationship with him. If we realize that sometimes we will talk, sometimes we will listen, sometimes we will plead and sometimes we might even be angry, then we can be free to grow in our prayer life. It’s all communication and it’s all part of our relationship with God.

Why I Go to the Adoration Chapel

I’ve been spending at least one hour a week in Eucharistic Adoration for 5 years. For some of you, 5 years may seem like no time at all. For others, it may seem like an eternity. I’d like to explain how Eucharistic Adoration has helped me develop a deeper relationship with Christ and how it has brought about peace in my world.

At the age of 50, I found myself at a crossroads after my husband and I separated. I had been married for 20 years and had two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The separation lasted 3 years and 6 months before we were divorced. Circumstances out of my control kept the divorce from happening quickly. Needless to say, I was quite lonely especially on weekend nights.

During the times my daughters would go visit their dad, I felt very disoriented about what to do with my time. I had not spent much time alone in over 20 years. I needed someplace to go and just be with God. That’s how I started going to the Adoration Chapel that was in our parish. Because the chapel was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I could go in no matter what time of day it was. It became my refuge.

At first, I was spending many, many hours in the Adoration Chapel. My head was spinning because I had been blindsided by the separation. The real purpose of Eucharistic Adoration is to come sit and love Jesus by acknowledging his Real Presence. I don’t know if I was coming to sit and love Jesus as much as I was coming because I had no where else to go. And it was free.

I quickly discovered the most important part of being with Christ was the silence in the Chapel. It was here that I could remove myself from the noise of my world and sit in peace. Silence is observed 24/7 in an Adoration Chapel and this gave me time to think. “Silence is God’s first language,” said Saint John of the Cross. I wanted to understand God’s language and why my life looked this way.

Prayer seemed to flow freely when I would come to adore my Lord. Prayer is simply talking to God. I found the surroundings of the Chapel made it much easier to talk to God because I was focused on Him. When I prayed at home, I was often distracted. When I prayed in the Adoration Chapel, my mind was centered on speaking with my Creator. My prayer life began to grow.

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Stained glass window inside Adoration Chapel

About a year into making visits, my heart began to yearn for this time with Christ. I felt His presence, I listened for His voice, I wrote in my journal and I was at peace. I realized that it didn’t matter what attitude I came in with — I always left with an attitude of love. Now that was a real miracle.

In the last 5 years, there have been periods where I have spent an hour a day in Adoration. Then there have been times I’ve only been able to go once a week for an hour. If I had my way, I’d be in Eucharistic Adoration an hour a day, 7 days a week. The silence, the prayer, and the contemplation have all mellowed me. It’s become a way of life so enjoyable and peaceful that I find myself longing to sit in Adoration on a daily basis. And that has definitely brought me closer to Christ!

 

Remember the Year of Faith?

word-907384_1920When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith and that it was to begin on October 11, 2012, I never realized how personal this would become for me. You see, just one day before, I had uncovered evidence that my 20-year marriage was over. And on October 12, 2012, my husband moved out – never to return.

Just like that, it was over. A year and a half of dating, twenty years of marriage, four residences, two adopted children, two cats, two dogs and, yes, it was finished. My life flashed before my eyes. It was said and done. How could this be and how could I not have had a clue?

This realization took me years to comprehend. I had married under the assumption this was going to be for the rest of my life. My parents had been married for 51 years before my mother’s death. My ex-husband’s parents are still married today. I saw no evidence of this looming as part of my future with this man.

Pope Benedict claimed that the Year of Faith was a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.” That’s exactly what it was for me – a summons to keep my eyes fixed on Christ. The world had hurt me and healing would come only from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I received love from my Church, my parish, my priests and my deacons. I truly believe God opened my heart that year to receive His grace.

I made it a priority to be at Mass each and every Sunday and all Holy Days of Obligation. I went to confession frequently, I spent countless hours in Eucharistic Adoration and I prayed daily. I read the word of God. In retrospect, I spent the Year of Faith as a student of Christ, believing that my very life depended on it. And, really, it did. My life does depend on this faith because some days, it’s all I have.

Pope Benedict XVI explains in his Apostolic letter on the Year of Faith that we must recognize the “interweaving of holiness and sin.” This is true both for the Church and for myself. I had to spend time, both in prayer and in confession, admitting my faults in the marriage. It took me a few years to have mercy on myself, my ex-spouse and on his girlfriend. The Father holds out his hand of mercy to everyone.

It has now been close to four years since my ex-husband left our marriage. I still struggle and I have had to re-think my purpose in life. I am no longer a wife. I chose instead to think of myself as a daughter – a daughter of the King. I will rejoice in this thought and pray that my faith will continue to grow. What strengthens my faith? In his book God Is Near Us, Pope Benedict says, “the Church of the suffering” gives us our hope. Christ achieved it all for us on the Cross.

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.” John 6:27