Image A Mission from God

Last week, I was blessed to attend the annual Heartbeat International Conference, held in Chicago.  The theme was “On a Mission from God,” inspired by the classic 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”  We all received dark sunglasses for fun, and I swear I saw Elwood greeting people at the door!

I attended many of these conferences while I was working at Women’s Care Clinic, and I have continued going because I always learn something new.  Not to mention, I just love these people!  Seriously, this is a happy bunch who are committed to helping women in need, treasuring babies unborn and born, and encouraging men who feel unprepared to be dads. It’s tough work, but it is all done in love.

At the opening session, Jor-El Godsey, President of Heartbeat International, spoke of the incredible significance of being in Chicago this year. I confess that, due to my level of excitement, I was thinking he was referencing the fact that Chicago is home to the World Series Champion Cubs baseball team!  But quickly I knew he was speaking of far more important things.  Illinois has recently passed legislation requiring all medical professionals to provide abortion referrals to anyone who asks for one.  This is clearly a violation of conscience rights.  Some pregnancy centers have filed suit; I hope many more do as well.  But Jor-El made a powerful statement about our situation in Illinois:

This gathering is a declaration that we will obey the laws of God over the laws of man.

 

Our culture is growing increasingly secular, and so any “Mission from God” is mocked or attacked. Opposing voices describe Christian pro-lifers as judgmental, ignorant, and brainwashed. The notion that faith and reason can, and should, coexist is lost on many people.  But this conference was filled with professionals such as physicians, lawyers, and counselors who do combine faith and reason on a daily basis. Many individuals in the movement may not have the same credentials, but they, too, combine faith and reason when they take their incredibly relevant life experiences into helping women experiencing unplanned pregnancies.  I have been involved in the pregnancy help field for more than 20 years now (gasp!), and I have seen more and more training provided for people in all roles. Conferences, webinars. And it is quality training.  We love what we do, but we take it seriously.  We serve a Mighty and Excellent God, therefore we should always serve with excellence. We also serve with joy! (Cue the sunglasses)

I remember in late 2006 when the local ministry was wrapping up our preparation for “medical conversion,” that is, to add ultrasound.  I was on the phone in the evening with a someone who sees the world very differently than I do.  When I told her about our upcoming visit and review from Focus on the Family for the Option Ultrasound Project, I talked about the added medical policies and training we had to complete.  She seemed surprised.  I told her that using an ultrasound machine is not a game or a gimmick; it is a real medical procedure that would be done by real medical professionals.  This fact did not fit the “pro-choice” narrative she had heard so many times.

Of course, the added benefit for us at Women’s Care Clinic and all affiliates of Heartbeat International is the element of faith in a Loving God!  We believe He created each person uniquely. Yes, some pregnancies happen in unfortunate circumstances, but God knows the identity of every child.  Whether conceived through the love of marriage, the after-school misbehavior of teens, or even the violence of rape, God knows and loves every child. Every mother. Every father.

Every. Single. One.

So we do this work…this mission…because we are called by God to reach out and protect unborn babies.  We are called to support mothers and fathers.  We are called to do this in His Name.  The One True God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever and ever!  Amen!

 

Image It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Today, I had a lot to do.  Much of that is due to not getting things done last week.  But at some point, I just need to catch up!  I am heading to Chicago tomorrow to attend the annual Heartbeat International Conference.  So, I needed to do laundry, pack…plus make some calls regarding next week’s Volunteer Luncheon for the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.  I also wanted to send some belated birthday cards, but alas…they will be even more “belated.”

Within my busy day, I had a scheduled meeting with a friend at Mad Goat Coffee…a favorite place to meet up!  We talked about work and family for over an hour, and realized we need to get together again soon.  We met through my work at Women’s Care Clinic years ago, and I am grateful that we have stayed in touch.  Bruce had dropped me off at the coffee shop with my scooter, since he had to go to work.  This meant I got to scoot home on an absolutely gorgeous spring day…my first long scoot of the season!

As I was heading home, I noticed the numerous red bud trees in bloom, and azaleas just getting ready to pop open. I love spring flowers!  I turned on to my street, and saw a neighbor working on a project in his yard with his teenage son.  I had to scoot past my house to say hi and visit for a while.  His wife came out with their puppy; both of whom gave me a joyful greeting.  We visited a while, but shucks, I had to get going.  There’s a suitcase to be packed!  I went down the sidewalk to my driveway, when the neighbor across the street waved hello.  Another friendly chat began, and I was treasuring the blessing of friendly neighbors.  I don’t get out at much in the winter, so these springtime spontaneous visits are an absolute joy!

Sometimes, despite my plans, God clearly has other things for me to see and do.  Today was a great reminder to embrace the good things and people who are just outside my door.  After a rough winter (health-wise) and a fairly difficult Lent, today’s series of visits felt very rejuvenating.  Simple things can make all the difference in the world!

I hope you have nice neighbors.  If you do, be sure to say Hi more often.  Even if you don’t have “nice” neighbors, say Hi…maybe your kindness will soften their hearts!  Pray for them, and with them.  Treasure them.  If we all did this more often, we’d have more beautiful days in our neighborhoods.

Image Alleluia! He is Risen!

The celebration of Easter begins, for our home, with the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night.  In the early years of the Church, Christians would read the story of our salvation, sing psalms, and pray from sunset until sunrise.  In our modern day, we just gather for about three hours!  Scripture passages include the story of creation, the Exodus, prophecies from Isaiah, and the beautiful Gospel passage of the empty tomb.  Jesus Christ is risen…He is risen indeed!

At our local celebration, seven people were brought into full communion with the Church, and I got a bit teary-eyed!  I sang in the choir, and as I sang the verses during Confirmation, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.  There is so much richness, so much to treasure in our faith!  How wonderful that seven people have now made a commitment to Christ and His Church!

My prayer is for these new members to feel welcomed by the Body of Christ; to be embraced fully into community.  I also pray that the zeal of these new members  will light a spark in those who may have become lukewarm.  May the joy of the newly baptized inspire us to live as people who truly believe in the power of the Resurrection!  Death and sin have been conquered!  Light has pierced the darkness!  The gates of heaven have been opened to all who believe Jesus Christ is Lord!

Happy Easter!

Image Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection

I read the following reflection at my Lay Dominican meeting this weekend. (St. Mary Magdalene Chapter, St. Albert the Great Province)  We take turns sharing reflections, usually using the Sunday Gospel reading.

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This weekend, the Church will once again hear the remarkable Gospel passage of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  This miracle is only recorded in John’s Gospel.  It is the last miracle before Jesus’ Passion, Death, and His own Resurrection.

We all know the story: Lazarus is a friend of Jesus, as are Mary & Martha who sent word to Jesus.  In fact, the scriptures say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  Their close relationship must have made his delay appear very strange to his disciples.  Generally, when a loved one is ill we try to see him as soon as possible.  But Jesus tells us the reason for the delay: “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  We have the benefit of hindsight.  We know what Jesus meant, but how confusing was this to his followers?  Jesus had already cured many people of illness, why not do it again?  Here, we see that Jesus is letting everyone know there is something much greater ahead.  Perhaps some of the disciples were mindful of the words of the prophet Ezekiel, which we find in our first reading:  “I am going to open up your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people…”

Throughout this Gospel passage, we see how the faith of the disciples is both deeply challenged and demonstrated.  When Jesus finally says it’s time to go back to Judea, many are concerned about His safety because people there had tried to stone him to death. Yet, Thomas, who generally gets a bad rap, says “Let us also go to die with him.”  Martha meets up with Jesus as He was heading to Bethany, saying her brother would not have died if Jesus had arrived sooner, but then proclaims, “But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  The remarkable faith these two disciples exhibited should be an inspiration and model to us!

As Jesus speaks to Martha, he tells her, and us, more about his very being.  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life…”  He speaks these words firmly, and asks her, “Do you believe this?”  Of course, God knows our hearts, but it is critical that we affirm our belief in Him, especially in difficult times.  Martha believed because she knew Jesus personally; He wasn’t just an amazing guy, not just a gifted preacher.  She had encountered the Person of Jesus.  And she was about to witness a miracle that would affirm her belief, and reveal to others Who Jesus is…the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Healer, the Redeemer, the Lord of all Life & Love!

As the passage continues, John tells us that Jesus wept.  Christ is fully divine but also fully human.  He experienced the sadness of grief, and joined in the sadness of everyone gathered at the tomb that day.  I love this brief verse, because it highlights such a beautiful truth.  Jesus does indeed know our sorrows and hurt, and He weeps with us.

It is surreal to ponder this fully human, grieving man who is Jesus, shift gears…as the Son of God.  Was there a hush in the crowd?  An anticipation of something spectacular?  Were there doubters there as well?  Despite her faith, Martha was concerned about the stench from the tomb; she truly did not know what was about to happen!  There were many disciples there that day, who heard the prayer of Jesus to the Father. He wanted people to hear, and see, and believe!  Lazarus had been dead for four days.  There was no doubt that he was dead.  What could possibly be done?  With a simple sentence, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus showed that he not only has command of the crashing waves, not only has power to cure disease, but literally has power over sin and death.  Imagine the amazement…the awestruck faces…the tears of joy. “Do you believe?”

We know now that many rejected Him, despite what had to be the most remarkable event they had ever witnessed.  We know from the following verses that some witnesses went to the Pharisees…who then began to plot to have Jesus killed.  This miracle was truly a pivotal point in our salvation history.  As Dominicans, we will meet up with those same doubters within our families, at work, on Facebook.  There will be people who will complain that God doesn’t heal fast enough, that the stench of human suffering is a sign that He doesn’t care.  Some will witness miracles, yet work so hard to deny them.  Yet, just as the Gospel writer John was inspired and led to write about this miracle so we may believe, we must proclaim Jesus as well.  Pray for the right words; pray for open hearts; pray for the conversion of souls.

To end, I will share this text that I discovered while researching reflections on this Gospel passage.  I had been completely unfamiliar with St. Andrew of Crete, but I hope to learn more about him, because this is beautifully poetic:

“Lazarus, Come out!

As a friend, I am calling you; as Lord I am commanding you…Come out!

Let the stench of your body prove the resurrection.

Let the burial linen be undone so that they can recognize the one who was put in the tomb.

Teach them how all creation will be enlivened in a moment when the trumpet’s voice proclaims the resurrection of the dead.”

St. Andrew of Crete; Homily 8 on Lazarus   (8th century Archbishop)

 

Photo credit: © Cunaplus | Dreamstime.com – Garden Tomb Photo

Image The Journey Begins

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the beautiful liturgical season of Lent.  Like many Catholics, my forehead is covered with ashes and my stomach is pretty much empty.  I struggle with fasting every year.  It’s not that I eat big meals (except when Bruce cooks!) but I do snack a lot during the day.  Days like today bring to mind how much I rely on snacking for comfort, and even to fill time.  Something to work on during these 40 days.

I have somewhat grandiose plans for Lent 2017.  I believe it’s because the first two months of this year have not been as fruitful as I had hoped.  My physical health issues impacted my ability to concentrate.  But with a new month, and a new Lenten journey, I have a new burst of motivation.  I rarely do well with New Year’s resolutions, but I do better with my Lenten commitments.  I. Am. Determined.

Lent has three main elements: Prayer, Fasting, and Alms Giving.  I don’t always focus on all three, but after listening to the homily tonight at Mass, I realized I need to.  I usually do well with the first two, but not the third.  Hmmm…

I made a new prayer journal, and will ask for prayer requests weekly on my Facebook page. I had taken a break from this activity for a while and I feel the need to begin again. Praying for my friends is a great honor, and brings me joy.  Added to that is a beautiful journal from Blessed is She, a wonderful online community of Catholic women across the country.

I fast from things and activities more than from food. (Well, there is always some yummy snack I set aside for the season!)  Over the years, I have had some incredible things happen through this spiritual discipline.  I’ll write more about that later this week.

Thinking about alms giving gives me pause.  Bruce and I already support our church and some ministries…as do many other Christians.  We are not special in that sense.  But perhaps we are being challenged to do something extra, even just once.  And perhaps it is not a call to be generous with money, but with our time instead.  Definitely worth praying about!

Of course, all of this is to help me focus more on my relationship with Jesus.  Worldly comforts can distract us; sin separates us.  It’s time to clear the clutter from our spiritual lives so we can see and know our Lord better.

How do you walk through the season of Lent?  Share your thoughts below, not to boast but to give each other ideas.  Maybe your idea will help someone experience a Lenten journey like never before!

 

Image Get up Early? Not Me!

I have been looking at some daily prompts shared by writer Jeff Goins in a Facebook group, My 500 Words.  I started late, due to my post-holiday funk and fatigue.  But I have been happy to write more regularly, even if I’m not publishing all of it online.

One of his prompts caused me to giggle and roll my eyes:  “Get Up Early.”

I often look to Scripture for encouragement, but when I have a certain though in my head, a singular verse can sound quite funny.  I did an online search for the word “morning” in the Psalms, and found this:

All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

Psalm 73:14

Ha!  Certainly the full context of that verse matters for a meaningful reflection, but I laughed when it popped onto my screen today!  Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows I am not a morning person.  When I was working full time, my paratransit bus would come to pick me up around 8:15 in the morning, and I often scooted down my driveway onto the wheelchair lift around 8:18 before they drove away.  Hungry, because I never had time for breakfast, and possibly still with damp hair, I would apologize profusely to the driver. If I was ready on time, the driver and I would actually laugh and shout “It’s a Miracle!” or some other jubilant cheer.

My husband and I sing in a small choir at church for 8:30 Mass each Sunday.  We don’t have a very formal warm-up, so guess what.  There are mornings when we show up around 8:28.  In fact, our previous pastor often ran late (he isn’t a morning person either) and I actually started counting on the extra 3-5 minutes!  Imagine my disappointment when the new pastor started Mass on time!

The reality is that I am a night owl.  I usually get a second wind around 9:30 or 10:00 at night, a burst that leads me to make a few birthday cards or write a blog post.  Now that Bruce works second shift, this is even more true.  I might put on some Pandora or a series from Netflix for a bit of background noise, then I try to pull out my creative juices.  If my mojo is missing, I have been known to chat online with some of my stamping friends from around the country.  I like to stay up at least until Bruce gets home around 11:30, and sometimes even then I am still working on something.  Once I decide to call it a night, it is usually after midnight.

Added to my night owl tendencies are my health issues.  Sleep apnea requires that I use a c-pap machine, which I pretty much despise.  Arthritis and muscle weakness means I often wake up in pain at different times of the night.  I rarely feel truly rested when my alarm goes off.  If I have something scheduled, like my monthly Lay Dominican meeting, I can and do roll out of bed early.  But most days, I hit the snooze alarm at least twice.  I’m not necessarily cranky (though perhaps Bruce would disagree)…I’m just a very slow riser.

So getting up early to write or to stamp is not going to work for me. But clearly this advice isn’t a rule set in stone; it is just a suggestion.  The main idea is that any of us who want to pursue creative work must find a time that works for us and our home life, then stick with it.  We need to find time everyday to put our creative gifts to use.  Of course, we all have different factors to consider.  Health is a big one for me.  For others, small children dictate how your day goes.  Maybe your work shift changes from time to time, as it does with my husband.  It’s great to have some flexibility, but if we are too flexible we are less likely to sit down and do the things we enjoy.  And yes, it’s okay to spend time on you!  Without a dedicated time slot, we may push these fun things aside.  Then suddenly the day is gone.

Looking at how my day runs, I have some options.  I am home most of the time now, and even more in the cold winter months.  Hopefully during this month of refocusing my energies, I can decide how to make the best use of my time.  Scripture is filled with verses about all of creation praising God, and at all times of the day.  Morning, noon, night…every period of the day gives us opportunity to praise and to serve God.  Time itself is a gift from God, and so I should be a better steward.  This doesn’t mean I need to fill my entire day; rest is good too.  But as I mentioned yesterday, there is so much more I can accomplish if I trust God and focus on His calling every day.  2 published posts in 2 days.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Just don’t expect to see me before 9 a.m.!

 

Image New Year, New Post

So, it’s been a couple of months since I have written here.  I’d like to say this was a planned sabbatical of sorts, but it wasn’t.  My mind was just cluttered with some holiday projects for home and church, plus a general sleepiness I get in the dreariness of winter.  Am I awake now?  Only through the benefit of caffeine!

In all seriousness, I have been thinking a lot over these first two weeks of the new calendar year.  I realize we all need time to refocus and regroup occasionally, and that time for me is now.  While my mini epiphany coincides with the start of 2017, it’s more than that.  I look at my various projects for the church and diocese, in my craft room, and even unfinished posts for this blog.  2016 was a good but exhausting year with many things left incomplete.  My health has taken a hit, which is certainly a contributing factor.  But God has gifted me, all of us, with another day. We are not promised tomorrow, but will we do with today?

And so, I have pretty paper selected for a new prayer journal…I have a list of books I hope to read…I have two short pieces I have been asked to write for publication…and my husband and I have shifted our prayer time to coordinate with his new work schedule.  It is my hope that 2017 will be a year filled with doing things I believe God has called me to do.

I read a quote attributed to EWTN founder, Mother Angelica.  She said. “I’m not afraid to fail,…I’m scared to death of dying and having the Lord say to me, ‘Angelica, this is what you might have done had you trusted more.'”  Ouch.  If you are like me, you are well acquainted with procrastination and distraction.  You know, as I know, that we could do so much more if we just focused on the task at hand.  We could be more fruitful in all aspects of life if we learned to trust God even more.  I ask myself, how could I possibly write a book?  How in the world will I lose weight with all my mobility issues?  All the while, the psalms ring in my head…

Trust God at all times, my people!  Pour out your hearts to God our refuge!

Psalm 62:9

This has always been my favorite psalm, but I realize how much more I need to embrace the full message.  Trust God at ALL times.  Not some of the time.  Not when it is easy or convenient.  ALL times.  I need to trust that God has already equipped me with what I need to do the things He has put in my heart.  Now it is time to move forward, even if slowly.  For me that means read more, write more, exercise more, BE more the woman God has called me to be.  This is not a new year’s resolution.  This is my proclamation as a Child of God!

How has the start of 2017 been for you?  Share your thoughts below.  And let me know how I can pray for you.  My new journal needs some new entries!

 

Days of Gratitude: Cubs Win!

I really had not planned on doing the #30DaysofGratitude theme this year, because I knew I wouldn’t keep up with it.  Here it is, November 5th, and I am just getting around to writing my first post in 2 weeks.  Where have I been?  Watching and being completely distracted by the most amazing post season

#WorthRevisit: Climb Every Mountain

I have been working on a few non-writing projects, but decided to dust things off here.  The perfect way to do that is to participate in #WorthRevisit posts, linked up at Reconciled to You.  This post was originally published exactly three years ago.  I had started blogging about our Italian vacation, using my husband’s tablet