faith


Suffering with Others brings Peace and Grace 5

Earlier this week, for Holy Week, I shared a few thoughts on Uniting our Suffering with Christ’s and Why We Suffer and How to Respond.

As I concluded, what I’ve come to learn about suffering is that I may never understand why God allows us to suffer but I do know we have control over how we respond.

The only way to get through suffering is by embracing and offering it with Christ’s offering.

But how do we do this precisely?

First, Pray.

Jesus, I give this to you. Take this [my sickness, this challenging child, my job, my marriage, etc.] as an offering with your suffering. I unite myself and my pain with yours. Please give me Your strength and Grace to bear it for you and with you.

Second, Pray of Others and their Suffering.

When we experience acute pain, in the moment it’s impossible to really focus on anything else except for the terrible pain we are feeling. When we are going through a challenging time in our lives, though the pain isn’t physical, it can still consume all of our thoughts and make it impossible to focus on anything else.

So how do we get away from that? Turn to others. Join your suffering with their suffering.

Whenever we turn our focus to helping others, it doesn’t exactly take our own pains or sufferings away but it takes our sacrificial offering and turns it into something goodLOVE.

One day last week over Spring Break everyone had reached their limits on patience and things were starting to unravel – especially me. So I said,

Ok kids, get your shoes on, we’re going for a walk.

Almost as soon as we got out into the fresh air and warm sunshine, our spirits lifted. We decided to walk down to the assisted living and nursing home maybe ¼ of a mile down the road and visit our “Park West friends” as we like to call the residents we visit there.

About two years ago we started visiting the nursing home residents as part of a Visiting the Homebound Stewardship opportunity through our parish.

It has taken time for us to get used to it – old people can be scary to little kids (and adults!) but we’ve come to really enjoy our visits there because we see how much the residents enjoy seeing us.  And we’ve learned a lot of through going also.

We brought some hand-made cards friends of ours made and asked us to share. The cards had cute doodles and kind messages like, “Have a Nice Day” or “Happy Easter” and we went around bringing one to each resident we saw.

Each time we did, an amazing transformation occurred. When we first walked in to see a resident lying asleep on their bed looking as if they couldn’t move on their own, as soon as we came in and they saw the kids’ bright faces (and wiggly energy), their eyes fluttered open, their faces lit up, and some of them even sat up as if they’d never been asleep. We left each room with a smile on everyone’s faces.

We came to visit one man who, as soon as he saw us come in, pulled the blankets off and shot up and immediately started talking with us, obviously pleased to have visitors. Rex told us all about a condition he suffers from called MRSA. He told us how a few months ago painful blister bubbles spread over his whole body, even the bottom of his feat, and how the liquid inside is poisonous so if it gets on anyone it would spread the same ailment.

Leprosy

He confirmed my thoughts by saying it’s known as a type of modern-day leprosy. Thankfully his ulcers have abated and we were in no danger of becoming infected.

We sat there a while as he recounted his ordeal and told us how he had endured the worst pain he had ever experienced in the whole of his life. He looked about 75 or so and was a big burly man who looked like he might have served in the military so we could only imagine how bad it must have been.

We visited a few other residents that day, all of whom had their own stories of pain whether they shared them with us or not. As we passed out the last “Kindness card” as we called them, we left feeling filled with Grace and renewed spirits.

I could have stayed at home that afternoon and wallowed in boredom, self-pity and selfish discontent. Instead, we stepped away from our own “suffering” and stepped into the suffering of others and we were greatly blessed by it and hopefully so were those we visited.

Today, on Holy Thursday, begins what’s called the Easter Triduum – “The summit of the Liturgical Year…from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.the Three Days of Christ’s Passion and Death.” (USCCB, emphasis mine)

On Holy Thursday, even as Jesus knew the tremendous pain he was about to endure, He began by providing a meal (the Last Supper) to the Apostles and He humbled himself by washing their feet.

Over the next ‘day’ he endured great suffering. Along the way others stepped onto the path with him and helped him in his suffering.

As we walked home from visiting our home-bound friends that day, I thought about everyone we visited and remembered how their faces lit up and smiles spread across their old-wrinkly skin and hid their sad and lonely faces. And this filled me with a certain peace and happiness that I’ve been missing. I especially thought of Rex and told the kids when we got home,

Today, we visited a leper (in a way) just like Jesus did.

They all nodded and then, just as quickly as the moment came, it evaporated and the kids were off chasing and yelling at each other in the yard.

The great Mystery of Jesus and the reason His Sacrifice means so much is because God became man so that he could enter into our suffering with us. He comes to us, takes our cross and says,

Here let me take that heavy load from you. Let me carry it for you. You’re not alone anymore, I AM [is] with you.


Uniting our Sufferings with Christ’s 3

A couple weeks ago, I picked a friend up to drive her out to a mini retreat we were both going to for the day with a group of wonderful women from our parish.

My friend (I’ll call her Jane) can’t drive anymore because just a few months ago she became suddenly very ill and can no longer drive.
She was hospitalized in the Fall because she had started having terrible pain throughout her whole body and couldn’t move. She was there two weeks before the doctors finally diagnosed her with Polymyositis, a rare auto immune disease that attacks and weakens the muscles and can cause permanent tissue damage.

Jane told me she had never been in such terrible pain as those couple weeks of agony. She couldn’t even dress herself, she told me it was so terrible. Thankfully, after some treatment and physical therapy, she’s able to move around better now but uses a walker to walk and still needs a lot of help.  With the Polymyositis, she also developed painful ulcers on her hands and has to wear special gloves. I joked with her that she was becoming like Padre Pio.

My friend Jane has had a rough time but even her own physical pain is not so much compared with the emotional  pain she’s gone through watching her daughter’s son, her grandson, go through the trial of battling pediatric lymphocytic leukemia for 10 years now.

While I drove, Jane opened her heart to me and shared how she wishes she could take her grandson’s place so he didn’t have to suffer anymore.  She has offered up her own pain and ordeal for him and her daughter, hoping to unite her own suffering with him and hopefully help alleviate his pain. She said she knows that if she accepts this for and with Jesus it is better than becoming depressed and bitter. At least in this way, her suffering isn’t meaningless – it has a purpose. 

Jane said she hopes that her illness can somehow help bring others closer with Jesus so they will see how He helps her and see that He can help them also. I told Jane that even if she isn’t healed physically (which we still hope for) she is already bringing people to Jesus by her example of acceptance and offering of her suffering to Christ. That’s the real miracle. Jane has figured out the answer to suffering and how to respond to it:

The only way to get through suffering is by embracing and offering it with Christ’s offering. 

Today, over at my other virtual home, CatholicMom.com, I share my thoughts on suffering – Why we Suffer and How to Respond.

I shared some very wise insights on this by Bishop Barron that shine a different light on The Problem with Suffering.

As we begin this final lap of Holy Week and remember the Agony and Passion Christ suffered it’s a good time to think about the great example he gave us about how to respond when we go through physical, emotional or any type of struggle.

Yesterday’s second reading from St. Paul puts it best:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Second Station of the Cross: Jesus Accepts His Cross Pictures of the stations at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria, IL taken by Timothy & Julia Robinson.


Miraculous Spirals {Santa, Fe, NM} 2

Alright, one more stop and then I’ll finish going on and on about my recent road trip “Pilgrimage”.

After our $18 “just 6 miles from the interstate” hole-in-the-ground Meteor Crater detour, we were back on the road out of Arizona and into New Mexico.

As we drove along through the Arizonan desert, massive Mesas stood guard between the fast-pace life of the Interstate and the great frontier desert beyond. Flat lands ran on and on for miles until they ran head first into the giant plateaus, pleaded for safe passage and then continued on and on through the desolate desert.

Ok, someone PLEASE tell me – are these Mesas or Plateaus or just really tall Boulders?

Doesn’t this one look like a giant toad monster? See it’s nose and straight lined mouth?

Finally, we arrived in Santa Fe, checked into our hotel and then drove into the heart of the downtown area known as “The Plaza” and walked over to the famous Loretto Chapel. 

The Loretto Chapel is known for the “miraculous staircase” – or the “St. Joseph’s Staircase – that goes up to the choir loft.

You can read more about the story behind this one-of-a-kind staircase here. Basically, the Sisters of Loretto and their all-girl-school students, for whom this chapel was built, needed a staircase to get to the choir loft. During those times, most chapels had a ladder up to the loft but the nuns did not feel it was safe or “appropriate” for them to climb a ladder. So they prayed a Novena, asking for St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf and help them find someone to build them a staircase. Long story short, a stranger came in one day, built the staircase, and then vanished – leading to the legend of the story that it was St. Joseph himself who crafted such an elegant and mysterious staircase.

It remains today as a sort of architectural phenomenon since it contains no visible support beam from top to bottom, the type of wood used is a mystery for the area, and the carpenter used neither nails nor glue to construct it.

The Loretto chapel was sold by the Sisters of Loretto in 1968, deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel and then sold to a private owner in 1971 and remains today as a privately owned museum open to the public for viewing the staircase and sometimes for privately held weddings.

My brother and I were one of the only ones there that day with just a few others since we came during the winter and about 15 minutes before they closed (oops!). Now, if anyone knows me well, you’ll know I’m a bit of a natural skeptic – meaning I question everything so that I can somehow analyze it and try and comprehend. This is also a good time to confess that I’m not sure whether I believe St. Joseph himself actually came from Heaven to build this staircase. I’m sure he could – he was quite the carpenter after all – but I’m not sure why he would if God could just send another great carpenter who was still alive in our world.  (I know, I’m too logical for my own good.)

So as far as the question of whether or not the staircase itself is a miracle? Well, honestly it doesn’t really matter.

This is what matters: The Sisters of Loretto prayed for a staircase – and they got one. Sometimes a simple answer is miracle enough.

But here’s why this staircase still fascinates me.

It’s a spiral!

And you all know I LOVE Spirals – thank you Mr. Fibonacci. 

I wouldn’t say I’m very good at Math but I LOVE Math. It’s the great “language of God”. To me, I’ve always thought of Math as the most intricate, complex, impossible-to-decode enigma that, if we could solve, would lead us right into the unfathomable awesome Mind of God. Which is why it’s too bad I’m no good at Math.

However, I can still appreciate the deep symbolism of the Spiral. The recurrence of the Fibonacci Sequence in spirals throughout all of nature and architecture throughout the world and history is like one HUGE gigantic clue to the great Mystery of our universe and its ingenious Creator.

Another cool thing – this particular staircase shape is known as a “Helix Staircase”, which, of course, reminds me of other well-known doubly intertwined helices that we ALL have inside of us – our DNA! And we all know how amazing our DNA is. (Right?) If not, just stare at this for a while –

(and that’s just one of trillions of cells in our body)

We all have mini “Loretto staircase” miracles inside of us – fashioned by one super-amazing “Carpenter”.

And I’ll bet if we measured the curvatures of our DNA helices and compared it to the curvature in the Loretto staircase we’d find some very interesting similarities – which can only occur if there is a similar source…(It was all I could do not to go out and buy a tape measure and take my own measurements of the staircase while I was there. Kidding…kind of.) And I’m sure if we could somehow graph our life journeys, they would resemble a spiral also. 🙂

Ok, I could go on but if I had any chance of hiding how huge of a Math and Biology nerd I really am it’s too late now so I’d better just stop.

After Loretto, we sauntered to the Plaza square, passing open-air markets with hand-made arts crafted by the locals. We sat on a bench and silently listened to a local man narrate his life story on his accordion. I sat there, taking in the scene and listening to the harmonic sounds of the music, intertwined with the ambient noise of passerbys chatting, children giggling, and cars slowly rolling by.

As the sun waved it’s golden magic over the Plaza square, we got up, added a few bucks into the basket, and walked down to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis.

Since Mass was about to start I couldn’t take any pictures inside but I wish I could have because that Basilica is a work of art combining all the elements of the mixed Native American-Mexican-Spanish-Anglo cultures and history of the Santa Fe region. The parish atmosphere was dynamic, electrified with an obvious excitement and devotion for Christ and the Sacraments and the Eucharistic liturgy was moving and healing.

After Mass, we relished in the local cultural cuisine of Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen where we both had their famous Blue Corn Enchiladas served with “carne adovada”. It was slightly spicier than I usually like but it was too good for me to care.  (Joel, if you’re reading this and you’re ever in Santa Fe you would LOVE this place and it would be a great addition to your “Mmmm Mondays”.)

The next day we left the beauty and intrigue of the mountains and mesas and returned to the simple beauty of the Kansas flat lands and the warm embraces and kisses from my family – who apparently really missed me!  All in all, it was a wonderful get-away that provided me much-needed time to just take a drive and be myself for a few days, process some of my thoughts, and enjoy time with my brother before he goes off and starts a new life and family of his own soon.


From Shore to Canyon {A Pilgrimage}

Continuing with my mini “pilgrimage” across the southwestern United States

After a lovely day touring LA, we woke up before the sun on Friday morning and packed up the rest of my brother’s belongings into the back seat of his 4-door car (good thing I packed light!), we started our journey from LA to the Grand Canyon.

My brother’s apartment was close to the the Playa Del Rey beach so we took a teeny detour so we could drive along the shore road before heading East out of the city. The early morning waves performed a rhythmic dance and whispered a quiet farewell song as we bid the ocean one last adieu. (I had to restrain myself from telling him to stop the car so I could run down and dip my feet in it . I pretended I did instead.)

Thankfully it didn’t take long to get out of the city, probably because we were headed out instead of in and, because there were two travelers, we got to use the carpool lane! We started listening to The Einstein Prophecy, the audio book we’d downloaded from Audible (click here for a free trial), as we drove out of LA through some beautiful mountain and valley areas and then cut through the dry Mojave Desert area and right into Arizona.

Driving through the dessert was interesting – I certainly would not want to get stuck out there alone. We were now far from the soothing ocean waves with no signs of any large bodies of water for miles. After a few hours we traded drivers and I listened to the Family Physics episode on This American Life (It was interesting enough but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it) while I drove the rest of the way in the afternoon.  I can now say, “I drove to the Grand Canyon.”  🙂

As we turned onto the Grand Canyon highway, I was surprised to see how wooded it was – not deserty as I had imagined.

We finally arrived at The Grand Canyon Visitor Center and walked along the sidewalk path up to Canyon. The area still looked more like Colorado and it was hard to believe the Grand Canyon could be anywhere close. But as the path continued and got closer I heard the sound of loud wind – much like the sound of waves from the ocean we had left behind just that morning.

And then the path ascended just slightly, the trees parted, and there, stretching out for miles and miles  – there it was.

A deep silence filled my soul as I gazed over the vastness stretched out in front of me. Of course I have known about the Grand Canyon for all my life but I hadn’t really expected I would ever see it in real life. So seeing it there, right in front of my very eyes, was like looking into a mirage. Surreal. 

I sat on the wall and swung my feet around to hang over the edge…and then I looked down and everything started moving – so I decided I should probably not look down and get back on the other side of the wall.

Now, for most people, coming to see the Grand Canyon, or even to hike in it would be a pretty awesome experience. For me, standing there in front of this geological wonder, held a deeper significance.

All of my life, as much as I can remember, my dad talked about visiting the Grand Canyon. It was a life-long dream of his to see it. Being an English-man, he’d dream of hopping on the Amtrak train and heading West and the maybe he’d rent a car – or ride a donkey knowing him and funny sense of imagination – until he reached it. My dad and our family traveled to many great places throughout his own life and our family life but the we never quite made it to the Canyon.

Until last summer when he accompanied the same brother to California and they made sure to make time for a stop at the Grand Canyon. At the same time they were there, my husband and our family were traveling also in Colorado when my dad sent us a text message with a picture of him at the Grand Canyon.

Long at last, he was there. I remember looking at the picture of him there. He was so happy to finally be there and for some unexplained reason (at the time) I teared up. My heart suddenly filled with a mixture of happiness for him, mixed with an edge of sadness I couldn’t quite place. Then, strangely, a thought came to my mind – “Now, he can die in peace knowing he finally got to see the Grand Canyon.” The strange thought zipped out as quickly as it had come and I waved it off wondering why I would even think that.

God knew. And even then, He was preparing me for what would be fulfilled in the few months after that.

So, as I stood there and as we walked along the Canyon path, stopping to take it all in, I knew I was walking along the same path my dad had taken not even a year before. I wondered,

Dad, what did you think when you saw the Canyon stretched out before you like this? How did you feel?

Small.

We all think we are so big. Our problems and struggles, our work and accomplishments, our existence.

Flying over the mountains and desert on my way to LA, everything looked tiny. Now, standing in one fractional sliver of the total area of the Canyon, I felt smaller than a seed.

Yet…not insignificant.

We stayed and walked along the path as the lazy afternoon sun slowly slumped lower behind the canyon rim, dragging the last of its golden rays over the canyon as it went.

I think I know now a little of how he must have felt there, what he might have thought. Thoughts without words.

I was inexplicably thankful I could stand where he stood, walked where he walked. That my eyes could imbibe of the same magnificent view his had, inebriated in Glory.

We stayed just until a soft purply-pink hue gently brushed across the sky and the last of the sun’s rays kissed the tips of the canyon tops goodnight before blanketing the canyon in shadow.

As we left, I whispered one last prayer over the canyon, scattering a part of my dad’s memory over the great abyss and carrying the rest with me.

Dad, I miss you so much. But in a way, being here, I feel I have found a part of you that I can now hold in my heart forever. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me this Peace. 

Grand Canyon Last Sunrays - Explored!

My husband edited and posted this picture on Flickr and it got over 7,000 views and made it onto the Explorer! Who woulda known.

 

(Photo credits: I took the pictures but most of the credit really goes to my awesome husband who isn’t lazy like me and knows how to filter and stitch images together for seamless beauty.)


Pilgrimage {A Journey to the Shore} 5

Pilgrimage:

a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion:
any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage: (Dictionary.com)

If there was one word to act as motif for this season I find myself in, it would be “Pilgrimage”.

…or maybe transformation…or metanoia…ok I’ll stick with Pilgrimage for now.

The truth is, we are all pilgrims, whether we know it or not, we are all on our way “somewhere else”, even if we do not know where.

I know it’s an overused analogy, the “path of life”, but it’s a good one that’s easy to relate to so I’ll go with it.

When I reflect on my life, it’s all been a series of roads that widened and narrowed, diverged into trails leading into the unknown or which have led me down and up winding paths through soft meadows or jagged rocks. It’s all been one long journey, a pilgrimage.

In some parts of this journey, I’ve felt both confident and self-assured, whistling my way along, knowing exactly where I was at, where I was headed. Other times, I’ve felt desperately lost and alone, losing all sense of direction without a certain destination. When this happens, all I can do is follow. 

I’m reading a book right now, Laurus, which is, to encapsulate, all about Pilgrimage. In it the main fictional character, Arseny, reflects on his journey in this way –

Sometimes I feel. ..the road unfolds itself under my feet. And. ..I do not know where it leads.

This analogy literally met the pavement as I recently journeyed for a cumulative four days west to Los Angeles (by air) and back across five states with my younger brother (by car).

It’s the first time I flew, or traveled anywhere far, on my own for a long time, not even a toddler or infant as an extra passenger this time. Just me, soaring above the clouds as the sunrise raced to follow. Climbing higher, I could feel a weight shedding and my soul loosening. I ached for my dad, though, somehow I knew he was right there with me.

Up, up, up into the air I soared, watching the buildings and houses turn into miniature toys scattered across the plains and fields. Over snow-capped mountains stretching their peaks to meet us in the clouds and soaring over miles of dry cracks, stretch marks and time-worn crevices in the earth’s surface.  Finally, reaching the end of the new world, I escaped my sky-shuttle confinement and was greeted by the cool ocean breeze running to welcome me.

My brother showed me around some places around LA,  starting with a satisfying meal that hit the spot at HomeGirl Cafe, a cool deli cafe that’s part of a non-profit gang rehabilitation program, a quick walk-through (because parking is expensive!) of the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  a lovely stroll through the architectural gem and masterpiece galleys of The Getty Center art museum, and finally embracing the ocean’s soothing waves that have beckoned me to come back to them after many years.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA

View of downtown LA (in the distance) and Culver City

One of the Getty Center’s exhibition buildings.

View into the Getty Courtyard

I was in love with the Getty’s architectural design

Alone – or at least without my usual dependents attached – I felt I was able to just follow the road, letting my brother guide me through the city, allowing God to pull me along the path.

We made our way down the boardwalk and onto the Santa Monica beach. Unfortunately, a cold front had blown in that day and it was chili, in the 60’s as opposed to the warmer 80’s from a few days before.

Apparently this didn’t bother some people as they plunged right into the waves, hitching a ride on the waves on their boogey boards back to the sandy shore. I’m a wimp for cold and kept both my jacket and shoes on snug.


I stood on the beach, inhaling the salty air mixed with a seaweedy smell, watching the people around me, closing my eyes and letting the sound of the waves roll over me. I crouched down as one wave broke away from the group and came skipping right up to me, allowing me a quick tickle with my fingers, before the giggly wave twirled back just as fast as it came.



Though I didn’t take my shoes and socks off to dip my feet in – much to my later agonizing regret – I could almost feel the waves wash over me, coaxing and tugging me to come and play with them.  I remembered, from previous experiences on the Pacific Mexican shore, the exhilarating feeling of the waves crashing around my legs, the delicate sand sinking below my feet as the water receded, taking a part of the shore with it each time.


We lingered there a short time then walked along the shore, listening the the rhythmic waves rising and crashing, the sound lapping over me, soothing me…healing me. 

We breathed in one long breath and bid our final farewell to the ocean, unsure when – or if – we’d return to it’s embracing arms again. We trecked back through the thick sand, hiked the staircase back up the ridge, found our way back to the car and then enjoyed a overfilling meal in the twilight-lit bay of the Marina.

Stay tuned for more pictures and story from my “pilgrimage” soon.

(Photorights: I took all these pictures with my husbands’s A6000, no editing or filtering because I’m lazy.)

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