Tag Archives: trust

5mm: On gratitude

My mother in law left yesterday after staying with us for a week. She is a delightful human being, and I always enjoy having her at our house. After school yesterday, Isaac and I were sitting at the table having snack. He wanted to write a letter to Grandma, so he dictated, and I wrote. It went something like this:

“Dear Grandma, I wish I was so fast. Faster than nothing! So that I could just speed away if another Nascar was coming toward me.” (At this point I suggested that perhaps he could thank Grandma for coming and for the much stuff she bought him.) “Thank you for my Bumblebee and Grimlock toys. Maybe next time you can get me that big Optimus Prime toy and…” Um, excuse me??

I explained to my dear one that in a thank you note is not appropriate to bring up the things the giver did NOT give. He didn’t really get it, but luckily, I was the one writing.

We struggle to teach authentic gratitude to our son. He’s American, growing up in a country that even in this difficult economic time, does not compare to many places in the world. Plus, for all practical applications, he’s been an only child for all but 6 months of his life. He’s one of only 3 grandkids on Brad’s side and is an only on mine. The kids gets a lot of stuff. By Dr. Ray’s standards, we definitely don’t filter enough of it out.

Ingratitude is ugly, isn’t it? Nobody likes a brat. That’s why we are striving to at least give Isaac the right words to seem grateful. So then I read this from I Believe in Love today: “The most cruel ingratitude is distrust”. Ouch.

How easy it is to get caught up in myself, and my busy schedule, or my weaknesses or fears or whatever and fail to trust Jesus. He does nothing but pour himself out for me, willingly becomming a victim to repair all the things I am tempted to despair over, and I reward him with mistrust. Doubt of his goodness. I am my son, at Target, holding the toy in my hand and whining for the one I didn’t get.

So, this day, I will try to remember, when I am tempted to try and chart my own course or go it alone, that Jesus really does love me. He really does have a plan… I just have to let him work it out in my life. I have to not be a brat.

Jesus, I trust in you.

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What a Waste

I am pretty sure I will spend a good deal of time in Purgatory for the amount of food I have wasted.  I don’t mind throwing away the dregs of an Easter basket or cheese doodles and processed cupcakes left over from the grandparents’ visit.  These can hardly be considered food in the first place.  What strikes at my conscience is the times I am forced to throw away a quarter pound of expired lunch meat that I forgot about or a half of a bag of browning broccoli from the warehouse club that I neglected to prepare in time.  Then there are the hotdog or hamburger buns left from some event that mold before we have hotdogs again, or the worst- the dumping of the tupperware from the back of the fridge that is full of, now what was that?.  During the gag-inducing fridge purge I always pray for mercy.  I ask Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who would have gladly served my forgotten food in its better days, to intercede for those who go hungry around the world and in my own town.  And to win me the grace of better meal planning and discipline so that next time I clean the fridge I don’t fill the trash can to overflowing.

No one buys food at the grocery store with the intention of tossing it, or prepares a meal with the intention of putting it in the back of the fridge for three months and then flushing it.  But many of us do just that.  I read a women’s magazine article that stated Americans typically toss 10% of the food they buy.  The stat sickened me.  Not only for the fact that someone went through the trouble of growing or raising that food, or the fact that someone  is hungry right now for lack of food, but for the irony of the fact that I often stand in front of two products trying to compare cost per ounce to save a few bucks.  What good is it to double my 25 cent coupon when I am throwing away 10 dollars worth of food in one cleaning spree?  To waste food is just that: an all around waste.

If we are good at wasting valuable food, we are even better at wasting something more valuable yet: suffering.  At this point you may be thinking, “Suffering? I thought she was going to say ‘time’, or ‘talent’ or even ‘last month’s rollerover minutes’.  What good is suffering at all and how does one waste it?”  I’m glad you asked!

If you’ve read my blog before you may have heard this before, but it bears repeating.  Suffering is a deprivation of a good that one ought to have.  It doesn’t have existence unto itself, much the same as cold is the absence of heat or darkeness the absence of light.  We suffer when we do not have health or companionship or physical necessities.  Note also that we only suffer the lack of things that are proper to us.  I do not suffer for lack of wings, for example, since I ought not have them.  Lop off my leg, however, and suffering will follow. 

 Bear with me for a moment, and let’s follow this line of thinking to the end.  Think about the best good there is.  That would be God, the source of Goodness itself.  The worst suffering then, would be to be deprived of this, and for eternity.  That is called hell.  The means by which we go about bringing this worst suffering upon ourselves is called “dying in unrepentant grave sin”. 

So if it wasn’t before, it’s clear what suffering is.  And we all know that it touches every one of us in various ways at various times in our lives.  But, how could it possibly be valuable?  The answer is that on it’s own, it is not.  There is nothing inherently wonderful about loneliness, hunger or pain.  We detest and attempt to avoid it.  This is part of our defense mechanism.  But think about the minor, or even grave, sufferings you are willing to endure for a greater good.  This is evident in everything from cleaning out a child’s cut to undergoing chemotherapy.  If it’s necessary for the life or well being of those we love most, we will put up with just about anything.

This is what Jesus was thinking when He left heaven to live in suffering and poverty for 33 years only to have it all end by being subjected to the most humiliating and barbaric death on the books.  It was necessary for those He loved most.  You and me.  He understood that the worst of all sufferings for you and for me (hell, remember), could only be prevented by His life, death and resurrection.  By His death, Jesus offers the just penalty for sin, in its perfection.  He also loves the Father, in His flesh, with perfect love that we in our fallen state could not attain.  Jesus’ suffering had great worth, as it attained for us the best good– heaven!

This is where our suffering gets its merit.  Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect, but in His mercy, He leaves it open for us to participate in “what is lacking” in His own suffering.  There is room on that Cross for my deep losses and my daily irritations.  These, offered in union with the Passion of Christ, can help bring about the mission that He came to accomplish: our sanctification.  Wow.

Have you ever thought about why Mary was told at the Presentation that a sword would pierce her heart? Lucky for me my Mariology professor had.  For 33 years, she was holding that phrase of Simeon’s in her heart.  For 33 years pondering the untold suffering her son would endure.  Why would God do that to her? To prepare her, for one.  But for another, I think, because God knew she wouldn’t waste a moment of that suffering and He knew how much we would need the graces that she would merit for us. 

But how much more like me and my fridge are we usually than like our Blessed Mother? How many conversions are still waiting to be won because we responded to a difficulty with despair or anger instead of offering it as a gift back to Jesus?  Fr. Elbee in his book, I Believe in Love says, “In the apostolate, the price of souls is suffering, offered in love.” And sometimes it is the daily trials that we waste the most.  I know in my own life, my deepest sorrows have been easier to offer up than the trial of finding that my husband and son have just eaten popcorn over my freshly vacuumed carpet, again

 So, in this most busy time of year, let’s try to see our sufferings as a treasure chest of grace waiting to be released into the world.  And, for heaven’s sake, eat that meatloaf before it goes bad!

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When We Reach the End…

I pronounced it this weekend: This will either be a fantastic week in our household, or else a supremely crappy one.  Brad and I both had irons in the fire, so to speak.  Both of us were to find out about jobs we’d applied for, and we were watching with particular interest for the “early this week” deadline on the job he’s been hoping for.  If he were to get the job, the holding pattern our life has been in lately would come to an end and we could finally move on with the umpteen projects that were waiting on that.  If the answer came back unfavorable, we would face the bleak reality of probable prolonged unemployment, or at the very least uncertainty, since there is not much else out there for us youth minister types. 

Add to this tension my discovery on Sunday that my wallet was gone and that it was most likely found by some unsavory citizen in the grocery store parking lot.  And then there is the upcoming anniversary of our daughter’s death.  Talk about edge of your seat.

Yesterday at 7am, the store called. Someone had turned in my wallet.  Dare I hope that more good news would follow?  No call came from Prospective Parish.  But every time the phone rang, we both jumped a little bit.  It was Father’s day off, right?

Today, Tuesday, Brad “volunteered” at his former place of employment, as a favor to his lovely wife, at our summer program.  He is a manic message checker normally, so when he answered in the affirmative to my question, “so, have you been checking messages every ten minutes?” I knew he was not exaggerating.  Hanging around at the church while our teens did service projects.  Lunch. Walking around the zoo.  Waiting for pickups.  A few calls, but not the anticipated one. By this time, it was 4:40 and we were resigned to another day of waiting.

Then, in our minivan, two minutes before arriving at our home, the cell phone rang again.  It was Father. And as we pulled in the driveway, I turned off the car and listened.  “Yes, this is he. Oh, hi, Father. Great. Yes, I could come in tomorrow. 2:30? Okay, see you then.”  In that minute-long seemingly casual conversation, we were released from this particular, 6+ month long trial.  Just like that. He got the job.

We literally jumped up and down in our driveway.  Finally, something to celebrate! This time God said “yes” to what we wanted, too! Instead of a party for something we know in our hearts is good, but is sad and awkard and kind of sucks, we can actually invite people to our home to celebrate something that makes us happy.  Hooray!

An instant can change our lives for good or for evil.  As the evil moments have for us, this one also made me think about heaven.  Being suddenly set free from this burden made me think of how crabby I was last night under the stress of all this.  How many times I cried out in frustration and anger that God would allow such a trial after I felt I had already reached at least a decade’s quota worth.  In my joy, I felt a certain regret for not weathering the suffering as well as I could have.  I am left wondering if I gained all the merit God held out for me in this trial, now over. 

Here’s how that relates to heaven.  If this is a sense I get from some relatively mild trial, what will it be like at the end of my life, when in an instant I am released from the burdens of sin and death and sorrow, and every tear truly is wiped away.  Will that joy, too, be tinged with regret for the missed opportunities to have trusted more, loved deeper and given more sacrificially?

Someone recently quoted something (that’s good source citing, isn’t it?), that made me picture our trials as God coaxing his little one to climb one rung higher on the playground so that he could brag about how high the child jumped.  Or perhaps God putting his kid into Honors Math, even though the child struggles, so that his full potential could be realized.  He makes us go through hard things not to punish us or to be mean and vindictive, but because He is anticipating with delight how proud He will be of us (and us of ourselves) when we accomplish that which we did not know we could do.  He’s there through the whole trial.  He knows how hard it is for us, but that it will turn out okay.  He is waiting to brag about us… and in His waiting He is already proud of us. 

So, as we accepted the times when God “takes away”, we will accept the sweeter “give” that is ours for now.  And I will not be too hard on myself for not handling the waiting perfectly, since as St. Therese says, our weaknesses just make Him love us more.  But I do want to remember this feeling of relief, this perspective from safety, so that it may deepen my confidence and trust in Him for the next time He asks me to take a big leap.

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Lessons Learned From Yardwork, pt 1

Last summer my daughter died.  The summer before that, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy.  The summer before that I was in my third trimester of pregnancy.  The summer before that I had a child attached to my hip that would eat all the grass he could get his hands on.  All this to say that this is the first summer when none of those things apply, and as a result I find myself somewhat available to actually do some projects around the yard that I’ve wanted to get to for, oh, four years.  Mind you, when I say “projects” I am not one of these people who builds retaining walls or puts in their own patio or something.  My current endeavor is removing landscaping rocks (aka “weed holders”) and replacing them with transplanted hostas from other parts of the yard. I think I might get crazy and buy and plant a shrub or two as well.

Today was a perfect day to work on the task at hand.  Cool, dry and I was home alone with Isaac anyway, and heck, kids need fresh air, right?  I was pretty proud of myself, too, for devising a way for my eager preschooler to help.  I had him get his rather large dump truck, and showed him where to dump the rocks.  Then I would load it up, and he could drive the truck over and dump actual rocks onto a pile.  Genius!

For about fifteen minutes.  Considering this was about three times longer than he usually stays on a task I desire him to complete, it was pretty good.  But there are a ton of stinking rocks in that rock bed, and to be honest, he was actually helping at the time he quit!  After that, he piddled around, clipping things with the garden scissors (though not my highest priority weeds), throwing the rocks into a nearby bush, requesting my participation in a stick fight, and generally just being kind of whiny.  My helper was not super helpful to say the least.

I couldn’t help but think that this is often how we are with God.  Or, at least how I am.  I begin with a burst of excitement to “help him” somehow further the Kingdom, and when it starts getting mundane or even slightly uninteresting or frustrating, I start to whine.  Or I get a better idea, to go do something else.  Nevermind if it is actually something God wanted me to do.

If you haven’t read Uniformity With God’s Will by St. Alphonsus Liguori, skip your Starbucks tomorrow and buy it (it costs about as much as a grande coffee of the day. Or better yet, buy it and read it at Starbucks. It’s not long).  He talks about just this thing.  To be really effective in living out our Baptismal call, we need to be doing what God wants us to be doing, not just some nice stuff that strikes our fancy.  St. Alphonsus goes so far as to say that we shouldn’t just accept God’s will, but want what God wants.  I’ve read this little book many, many times and fall short every time.  It is a tall order, because uniformity is not something we “muster up”, it is the action of grace at work in our lives.

On the retreat I was on in February, at the height of my pity party and despair over the effectiveness of my ministry, a fellow retreatant received a word from the Lord for me.  She said, “God wants you to be his useless instrument”.  She explained that this did not mean that I was useless, of course, but that I only needed to do what was asked of me and not worry about the rest.  In theory, I can imagine how freeing it would be to really live that kind life.  That life of uniformity.  Like John XXIII I could say every night, “It’s your Church, Lord, I am going to bed!”  So, as we continue on this path of uncertainty about jobs and family and whether I can keep a transplanted shrub alive, I am praying for grace to align my wants more closely with God’s.

PS: Going back to Isaac for a minute… it would take a lot of trust and discipline for him to keep loading rocks for a few hours.  He’s a kid who is uninterested in our house’s curb appeal.  If he were to keep at a task he found brain-numbingly boring, it would have to be because he trusted my vision for the project and loved me enough to know that I was keeping him on task to complete something great, even if at the end of his little part, he didn’t see any results.  (Okay, theoretically. Stay with me.)  How much more so with God.  It helps to see the big picture of what we are doing for him.  For instance, a volunteer who bakes cookies for a youth ministry event realizes she is “sweetening” the kids up so they might be more open to hearing about God.   But even in times when we can’t possibly imagine how what we are going through helps anything, we need to trust the One who can see the whole project, and understands exactly what our part is in that project.  And in order to trust this One, we must believe that he loves us and has our best interest at heart.  Let’s all pray to be convinced of that love in a deeper and deeper way.  It makes all the difference in the world.

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“When God closes one door, He opens another”

Here’s a look at another common phrase we often use.  As I said in the last post, I think it’s worthwhile looking at what we are really meaning when we say things.  Plus, I like to overanalyze everything. Sometimes you get a twofer.

This phrase has been used on us a lot lately as resumes and interviews have amounted to a growing stack of rejection letters.  It’s meant to be encouraging, a way of reminding us that God has a plan and that He will take care of us.  And for the most part, it is true.  But is God’s will and providence as simple as him opening and closing doors and us stepping through them? Yes and no.

I have stressed in previous posts that suffering does not come from God, and it doesn’t.  It’s a result of sin.  Then why did the saints all see every event, good and bad, as coming from the hand of God?  Because in allowing sin, suffering and evil, God does not just throw up his hands and watch the free-for-all run amok.  He allows bad things in a measured way.  Even the worst sicknesses, losses or injustices can be seen as God’s will because he allows them for our greater good.  He wills not the evil, but the good that can be accomplished in and through us as a result. 

So we can take comfort in the fact that, no matter whether cutting our job was a good or bad decision, it was allowed by God, and is therefore his will for us. It is God who has closed the doors of jobs we may have wanted.   Fr. Walter Ciszek, in his book, He Leadeth Me, has come to rescue me again from self pity on this point.  I’m at the end of the book, and he’s just been thrown out of a town for finally getting to minister in an effective way to God’s people (after 23 years in prison and work camps in Soviet Russia.) Fr. Ciszek says:

 “It was humility I needed: the grace to realize my position before God- not just in times when things were going well, … but more so in times of doubt and disappointment, like today when things were not going the way I would have planned them or wished them.  That’s what humility means- learning to accept disappointments and even defeat as God-sent, learning to carry on… secure in the knowledge that something worthwile is being accomplished precisely because God’s will is at work in our life and we are doing our best to accept and follow it.” (p. 178)

So closed doors are definitively God’s will for us and our peace comes from accepting them as such.  What about open doors?  These are trickier.  When we are given the luxury of many wonderful options, such as in choosing a vocation, many look for a “definite” from God.  A lightning bolt that will signal it is time to ask the cute girl from Calculus out on a date.  But in the face of open doors, I think God respects our free will more than we sometimes think.

When given more than one option, we are free to choose any that is morally licit, that fits our needs and obligations, and that appeal to our natural talents and preferences.  When we wait around for God’s explicit command to do something, it is often an indicator of our fear of choosing the wrong thing, or a conception of God as an evil judge who will smite us if we choose the option he didn’t want.  God doesn’t play games like that, though.  If he gives us more than one good option, we should pray (which is really important!), weigh the outcomes and then simply choose.  He will be happy with the outcome!

So, as we continue to wait for doors to open around here, we are most at peace when we realize that we are not “waiting for God’s will to unfold in our lives” (as I’ve said many a time!).  His will is right here, right now.  In the hallway of humility. 

Happy Pentecost! Holy Spirit, let me know only your will.

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Lessons learned from St. Gianna (Molla)

gianna_sainthoodApril 28th Feast Day of St. Gianna Molla
Our Gianna’s first hospitalization, even though it was her healthiest, was by far the hardest for me.  During later ones we would have the slim hope of transplant to focus on, but during this one, as they tested the heck out of our little girl, we were coming to grips with the truth. Inside what looked like a normal baby was a liver full of cells that couldn’t make enough energy to keep her alive.  Our baby was going to die. Again.

St. Gianna Molla kept me company during those few days, as I had just received a biography of her for Mother’s Day, a week or two before.  There were two things that stood out to me in this particular account of her life. 

The first was of the very real pain her martyrdom caused her family.  It is easy to gloss over this in saints from eras long past, or for priests or religious even.  But here was Pietro Molla, Gianna’s beloved husband, sharing about how hard it was for him to raise their four children alone.  How hard he tried to protect his kids from the limelight surrounding Gianna’s growing popularity and her cause for canonization.  How awkward it was for him to allow his personal love letters to be published all over the world.  It was hard for him to share his Gianna with the Church, when he would much rather her have just been his unspectacular, non-miracle-working, grocery-shopping, diaper- changing wife!  Yet, he knew she was not his to keep to himself, and so he allowed the process to continue.  In 2004, He and their three surviving children (their daughter Mariolina died a few years after Gianna did) were at her canonization ceremony. Wow.

Our Gianna is also a saint, and I can share some of Pietro’s sentiments: saint-making is tough!  Especially at that moment in time, I did not want to share my Gianna with the Church.  I did not want her to intercede for people or inspire them.  I just wanted her to keep making diapers, and spitting up and wearing cute baby clothes, just like any other normal baby who lives to see their first birthday.   I love St. Gianna Molla, and I am grateful for what she did and who she now is.  But dang, she reminds me how real saints are, and that even when God is doing great and wonderful things, it still sometimes hurts!!

The second thing that struck me from that read of Gianna’s life was her unfailing trust in Providence.  Can you imagine having to decide between giving your baby life and giving her a mother? St. Gianna didn’t want to die. She loved life, and especially her family.  But she trusted God: that He was good as He claimed to be, and that He would take care of her family in her absence.  Pietro talks in that book about the times that were darkest for him and the kids and how he could feel Gianna’s tangible presence.  God did come through… through Gianna. 

And this is where we are left today.  Especially as we navigate the waters of a job search, and ponder the future of our family, we need to hold fast to what St. Gianna taught us: to trust in God’s Providence.  How grateful I am today for both of my St. Gianna’s!

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!
St. Gianna Marie, pray for us!

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Sometimes He Says Yes

The day after Easter my son asked me if he could have lunch.  At 10am.  It wasn’t because he was particularly hungry, just that he knew he couldn’t have any candy until he had eaten lunch.  In Isaac’s case, this behavior is amusing.  With grown-ups much less so.  I would much rather someone come out with their actual question or request rather than dancing around it, hoping I will offer or somehow psychically mind-read the real issue. 

And yet, like many things that drive us crazy about others, it is something I am tempted to myself, and especially with God. It is hard for me to go to Him and ask for something tangible and specific.  Instead, like a preschooler thinking he’ll out-think Him into early candy consumption, I often play spiritual games with Him.  Sometimes I think I hide behind wanting Him to do His will, so that if He chooses not to grant my request I will not be disappointed.  Now, of course it is a good thing to want God’s will in all things.  The saints were people who got to the point where they were as thrilled with rain as sunshine, sickness as health, hunger as plenty, because they knew all things came from the hand of God, and they wanted what He wanted for them.  So, in one sense, it’s good to not put in specific requests.  If we’re doing it for the right reasons.

If we avoid doing so, is it because we are in true uniformity with His will, or because we don’t believe He has time for us, or that we are important enough, or that He is good enough to grant such a request?  These are not good reasons!  God is our Father, and He wants us to ask Him for the stuff we need and want.  Just as I recognize that Isaac biting his finger for the umpteenth time is not the biggest trial he’ll face in life, I empathize that that hurts, so does God see our trials in perspective, but with empathy.  The little things of our lives matter to Him.  And sometimes He needs us to just come out and ask before He will provide something, in order to build up our faith.

This week I had been watching the weather like a hawk.  We had four groups of teens planning to go out to do yard work for parishioners, and it was supposed to be cold and raining.  It occured to me after flippantly asking others to “pray for sun”, that perhaps I should take my own advice.  Very specifically, I asked, “Lord, please let it be sunny enough that we can go do chores tomorrow”.  Saturday morning, I sat down for prayer and read from Matthew about the star of Bethlehem and it occurred to me: God orchestrated a huge, burning ball of gas millions of lightyears from earth to show the location of a tiny baby in a stable.  He can hold off some rain for a few hours.  As I finished praying, the clouds cleared and the whole day was dry enough to work. 

Could God have been glorified through a weather cancellation? Absolutely.  But I think He chose to answer my little prayer to build up my faith.  To show me that I can trust Him with the small things as well as the big.  I have started getting specific with Him in bigger things.  It is good to remember that even though sometimes He says no for our own good, sometimes He does say “yes”!

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