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.