Ready and Unashamed

Gathering my children and cleaning up the spilled popcorn, I was leaving another game when I met another mom from my daughter’s new basketball team. As usual, we compared family notes: what we do, our husbands, how many children we have, et cetera. I stumble a bit with that number. Having lost a son suddenly in 2015, I say “nine” and then add the caveat of having lost our oldest son, Michael.

 Perhaps it’s too much information, requiring the other person to give a response, and it’s sometimes a little awkward–in this case, I could tell she was moved, blinking as her eyes filled up. To ease the feeling, I smiled, reassured her that “it’s all good,” explaining that Michael had a brain malformation and every day was a gift. This eased the tension and we moved on.

Truth is, it is all good and we can smile at his death, but the fact that he had a brain malformation anyway isn’t the reason why it’s okay that he died. We counted every day–even the day he left us a gift not because of that, but because of the hope we have in Christ!

I  memorized it, you probably did, too. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope” (1Peter 3:15). I blew it. Jesus and the promise of resurrection is the reason for my hope. May I not be ashamed of my hope of heaven and the resurrection–yet there I was ashamed to give that reason for my hope.

I profess this belief in the creed and I really do believe it with all my being. Jesus’ victory over sin and death that opened the way to heaven is the reason we can rejoice and claim victory even in what seems like a loss. This is my faith. This is my hope. How hopeless our world can be, but this hope does not disappoint and I should be ready and unashamed to give my reasons for hope.

Who do you say that I am?

I just read a recent address of Pope Francis to a group of Jesuit seminarians, but one thing he said I can’t get out of my head. It’s from a scripture passage we are familiar with; when Jesus asks his disciples (Matthew 16:15), “but who do you say that I am?” I’ve always read that passage personally with an emphasis on my response to who Jesus is in my life, but Pope Francis turns it for disciples and begs us to listen to what Jesus names us henceforth.

“You are the Christ” – “You are Peter” (Cf. Matthew 16:16.18): as for Simon Peter and the first disciples, the whole vocational journey hinges on a dialogue of love, of friendship in which, while we recognize in Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of our life, he gives us the “new” name, which encloses our vocation, indicates our mission, which the Father has always known and protected. The discovery of our new name, the word that best describes us, the most authentic, passes through our capacity to give little by little a name to the different experiences that animate our humanity. To call things by their name is the first step towards knowledge of oneself and, hence, to know the will of God for our life.

So I ask  Jesus, the Lord, the Christ, the Messiah, Son of the Living God, “who do YOU say that I am?” When I declare the LORD, what new name does he give to me and how does the discovery of that name guide my life’s vocation?  Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, now I look to Jesus and ask, “Lord, who am I? Who do you say that I am?” He answers and says, “Blessed are you, Alisa, my daughter. And I tell you, you are FAITH and on this faith I will build my Church…”

Faith He called me. He called me Faith. What will he build on my little faith? What does he want me to do in faith, with my weaknesses and flaws, brokenness and sin? But He called me FAITH meaning that He has given me the capacity to trust him for what I don’t have. I can already see the fruits of my new name and wonder how else he wants to build his Church through my little faith.

It’s at once frightening and invigorating!!  Today and every day I’ll ask Jesus how he wants me to build his church on my little faith.

In each aspect of my life as a wife, mother, homemaker, manager and minister, He calls me to dream big and wonder where I can go beyond my fears and failures and simply have and be FAITH.

Prayer for the Group

Prayer for the Group

Our parish has a vibrant group of involved women who have organized under one umbrella we call the Women’s Guild.  It’s only a few years old and we’re still working out a few things. In an effort to keep us focused on our purpose, I volunteered to compose a prayer to start our meetings. My first consideration is how the the mission of the group aligns with the Great Commission to “go make disciples of all nations.” If a disciple is one who never stops knowing, loving and serving God more, then the commission is to a life abiding in Christ and sharing with others how to do the same to become a fruitful disciple wherever your path leads you.women'sretreat

Everything our group does, then, serves this purpose–to know God more, maybe through a Bible study, book club or even a movie group that tries to see where God or his truth, goodness or beauty is present or sorely absent. We love and serve God more by taking care of His creation, His Church, our own bodies and by lovingly offering the works of our hands to those brothers and sisters in Christ who have material needs.

Our mission is to build fellowship and community among the women of the parish through spiritual, social, and charitable activities.

All these things are a part of our life’s mission, but the purpose of the Women’s Guild is to emphasize that we are not alone in these efforts and that God is present as we are present to each other. May all the works of our hands give glory to God!


Women’s Guild Prayer

Leader will divide group into two sides for scriptural reading and invite members of the group to reflect personally on the gifts listed: love, hospitality, gifts, speech, service. Before you begin, invite the group to take a deep breath and know that where two or three are gathered, the Lord is in their midst. Come Holy Spirit, inspire this meeting…

All: In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Leader: Lord Jesus, we thank you for bringing us together today and dwelling among this community of sisters in Christ. We ask you to bless this gathering of the _____________________ Circle of Women’s Guild. Grant, we pray, that filled with the Holy Spirit, we may grow in love and knowledge of You, and with haste, bring your Presence into the world by the works of our hands.

Leader: A reading from the first book of St. Peter (4:8-11)

Side 1: Above all, hold unfailing your love for one another.

Side 2: Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.

Side 1: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another,

Side 2: as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

Side 1: Whoever speaks,

Side 2: as one who utters oracles of God;

Side 1: whoever renders service,

Side 2: as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies;

ALL: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

pause for brief silence, ask, “what do I do that gives glory to God?” Thank God for that and share a brief praise report with your Guild sisters.

Leader: Glory be to the Father… (all follow)

 

Good Friday

This is it. The journey of Lent has come to this. The Cross. I thought I was carrying a cross the whole of Lent, but my sacrifices were just training. I’ve been drinking only water during Lent, forgoing a morning cup of coffee and a glass of wine in the evening. Mere luxuries, but difficult to let go of. Even this morning, I miss the aroma and flavor of a morning cup. Giving up at Lent is training for taking up the cross set in front of me. The cross in front of me is my opportunity to love.

Maundy Thursday–I told the kids I didn’t know what “Maundy” meant so Brianna, my 17 year old daughter, looked it up on our way to the Holy Thursday mass. Maundy means mandate or command, which begged the question, what did Jesus command durning the Last supper? The answer came in the Antiphon to the Gospel.

I give you a new commandment, says the Lord:
love one another as I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

I have long considered myself a disciple, but I understand more than ever that the cost of discipleship is love and the cross. It’s a cross that I’ve hewn for myself, out of my stubbornness and self interest; this cross is loving others in my life who I’ve neglected or put off or taken for granted. My lenten training denying myself with the Lord’s help has strengthened me to be able to pick up this cross. It’s now it’s  a way that I can walk with Jesus, where we can come close together. What a blessisng. This cross. This walk.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Today I choose to “pick up my cross and follow” Jesus.

Jesus chooses to come near me when I choose to be his disciple. His student. And what does Jesus teach me today?  To face the troubles face on. To take the blows. To trust the outcome isn’t death but life. Jesus I trust in you. Let’s do this.

Rent for Lent

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)

The word keeps coming back to me; rend. It means to tear in two, violently break apart. Why fasting, weeping and mourning? Rend.  How to return to the Lord, your God? Rent. How to give the Lord your whole heart? Rend. How to break bad habits? Rend. How to pray and fast and give? Rend.

Somehow it seems the Lord wants us to tear and break in two our hearts, He asks us to rend our hearts and return to Him. The Lord wants me broken. God wants me and all my brokenness to come to Him and trust him to carefully make me whole again because it’s in the broken places, the rent spaces, that God’s love can come in.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (Psalm 51)

My rent heart is my acknowledgement of my offense. For me this Lent, it’s where I put my own comfort before love and service to God and family and where I’ve become spiritually “flabby” and undisciplined. I yearn for God to create in me a clean heart, ready and able to be renewed. A rent heart that needs God’s rebuilding, and not my own. I yearn for the joy of God’s salvation in Jesus, the joy of Easter. I know Easter’s joy never leaves, but the act of yearning is a grace to help me to widen my capacity for joy when Sunday comes and my mouth proclaims the Lord’s praise.

So God, this Lent I bring you this rent and torn heart of mine. I bring you all the promises I cannot keep and the problems I cannot solve. I give you my weakness and my littleness. I bring them to the edge of the desert with your son, Jesus. We will together walk, talk and resist temptations. Together we will wander and question and resolve again. Give me a willing spirit, God, and return me to you and your rich mercy where I am whole again.

 

Will to Love

It’s 5am. My time; my time to wake and take my sweet and bitter cup to my lips; sip and send sleep away and pray. I take and read God’s word for me and I let him guide my prayer with the words of Psalm 40, “Here am I Lord; I come to do your will. Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.” I close my eyes and allow some of the words to float to the surface of my thoughts, “will”–what is will? a decision, God’s will of love and mercy. “Obedience”–ab-audire means to hear or listen to. Then I hear them, the sound of little feet gently padding up the stairs; then I see them, the sleepy eyes shielded from the gentle light of the reading lamp. My seven year old son curls up beside me as I read and ponder the day’s readings, he warms my side and covers my feet with his blanket. My heart swells, my feet warm and then it comes, I hear it. “Mom, can you make me some hot cocoa?” (cue vinyl record scratch) My face wretches a little as I look down on his, my mind makes a thousand reasons why I should NOT be making this boy –who is plenty old enough to make his own and certainly doesn’t need the extra sugar–a cup of hot cocoa during my time with the Lord! I look away, sigh, then remember the words I was just contemplating: “will,” a decision, love and mercy, “obedience,” hearing and doing.

What decision will I make in that moment of intrusion?

I have a choice, love and mercy or a selfish grasp at my time? “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me” and not only open ears, but eyes open to see a way to grow in love right here, a mouth open with a smile to lovingly obey this little request and a heart open to love more than I want to at this moment of time. My time? There is no time that I have that I wasn’t first given, there is no reason to sit and pray other than to transform me into a more loving person, to grow the love that started when he was conceived. Here’s my chance. Here’s my decision. Here is where God’s will of love and mercy comes crashing into my will, my comfort, my time, my decision. I choose love. A tiny sacrifice of love; what is love anyway, but a decision to suffer a little bit for someone else. “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”img_4307

My Beloved

Happy New Year! I know, it’s already over a week into this new year, but with all the holidays and solemnities that the Church recognizes, today we hit the ground ready to grind away at all our well-laid plans for the new year. Today, the Church gives us the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord where Jesus goes to John the baptist seeking baptism and he comes out of the water to the sound of a voice from heaven declaring, “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is recognized as the launch of Jesus’ mission as the redeemer, the son of God, pleasing to him and sent forth to save the world from sin and separation from God the Father. By our baptism, too, we are pulled into the water with Jesus, die with him and rise with him, but not only that. We are given his Spirit, the Holy Spirit within us, indwelling and forming us into the shape of God’s own sons and daughters, holy and beloved adopted children of the Father who looks at us, at all our potential and says, “this is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”(Matt. 3:17). Knowing who we are in relation to God is the foundation to discerning our purpose in life; with a firm foundation of who we are, we can set off on our life’s mission as Jesus did.

I guess I never thought of it like that before. That our life’s mission is intimately tied to who we are, we must remember that first and foremost, we are beloved. This was certainly a starting point that led me to action like never before, thanks to a little insight on vocation and planning from Simplified Organization, I abandoned my study of the theory of goal-setting and my plans to set goals and just set to paper to lay out my mission for the year ahead. You may know how it is; some days, many days, spent at home with little ones can just slip through my fingers and the messiness and busy-ness can clutter my mind and clamp my tepid efforts to accomplish anything; then three o’clock rolls around and I’m scrambling around to keep up the appearance that my day wasn’t wasted on board books, baths and social media. But I am also God’s beloved with whom he is well pleased, why don’t I act like it? Why do I feel so useless and disappointing sometimes? Maybe because I’m not living up to the potential that God sees and has given me; so this year, I resolved to reach for my potential. I thank God for my ability to so resolve, to be determined, to try through difficulties and reach for who I am as beloved and pleasing to God.

My first step in the process was to ask, who am I? What are my roles? Then based on that information, build a plan for improvement in each of those areas so that I can be a more intentional and fruitful disciple. Let me tell you who I am and what I do in each of those roles (the verbs in each role I’ve underlined):

  • Daughter of God: I belong to God. I seek first his kingdom and righteousness.
  • Wife: I love and honor my husband.
  • Mother: I teach and form my children.
  • Person: I take care of my body and social life.
  • Homemaker: I organize and improve my household.
  • Minister: I encourage and inspire others to a deeper relationship with God.
  • Landlord: I provide and manage properties.

In each of those areas, I made three types of goals: Growth Goals, Concrete Goals and Habit Goals stating the target and the reason why. Here’s an example of one of my habit goals as a homemaker: I will tidy the house before leaving for school so I can have a peaceful and focused day. Doesn’t that sound great? I’ll tell you what, it feels great, too because God wants me to be peaceful and focused to be able to reach for the abundant life he has in store for me. By taking the time to reflect on who I am and what I want in life to be fulfilled, I  could then plan my steps to get there. This has been the best part of the process, because I’m planning on fruitfulness. I’m tired of winter. I’m done with planning and ready for living.

My love lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.

For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone.

Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.

The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. (Song of Songs 2:10-13)

I’m ready and willing to live a life of fruitfulness knowing I’m called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish his mission for me. So here I am, rising out of the waters of baptism (again) and setting off to do his good work in my heart, in my house and in the world for God’s greater glory. AMDG

Hope Restored

I finally picked up the newspaper that was left abandoned by the gate to our country home down the road. When I opened it up to scan it for something of interest to read, this headline struck me.

fullsizerenderIt struck me because at this time last year I had just lost my oldest son. Our Michael died on December 21, 2015 due to complications with hydrocephalus. There were (and still are) many, many tears. It would seem I had no reason to hope at the close of last year, but we as a family resolutely and defiantly did hope despite our deep loss. We had faith that no matter what came our way, God wants us to hope in Him and not our own feelings. Did you notice how deflated people felt at the close of 2016? People were sort of punch-drunk with the loss of so many Gen-X cultural icons and they were hung over by the time 2017 rang in. But, “my hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Ps121) and not in the survival of loved ones, not in prolonging living, not in acquiring more stuff, not in even being healthy. My hope is in the Lord.

I read Pope Francis’ General Audience: On Weeping and Hope from Jan. 4 where he recalls a prophecy of  Jeremiah who says, “there is hope for your future”(Jeremiah 31:17) despite your tears, devastation, your exile, your disappointment, your loss, your bad day, your crappy year. Despite it all and through tears, there is hope.

“The tears generated hope. And this is not easy to understand, but it is true. Many times in our life tears sow hope; they are seeds of hope.” Pope Francis

I challenge you to look for and pay attention to the new growth that tears have watered. Every ribbon pinned on a lapel is a sign of someone’s hurt and hope through struggle but not everyone marks their hurt with a ribbon.  Truth is, every one has a story of hurt and loss and struggle and that’s precisely the broken place where God’s healing grace can come in and our tears mingled with his are the rain of springtime that will yield its flowers in time.

Lifted Up

Hello world, it’s little me. I’m little because not only am I small in stature, but one of my favorite images of the Christian life is coming to Jesus like a little child. The “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux resonates with me, too.

I always wanted to become a saint…Instead of being discouraged, I told myself that God would not make me wish for something impossible…I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. It is your arms, Jesus, which are the elevator to carry me to heaven. So there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must become less and less.img_3952

I’m here to share some of the things that rattle around in my head and I think would be great to share with others. When I write in the margins of books with multiple exclamation marks, when I give an “amen” or an emphatic head-nodding “um hmm” or when I pause a lecture or the daily mass readings to follow a tangent with my kids in the car, or when I start to write a talk in an old spiral notebook, I think maybe this blog might be a better place to get my thoughts out. Usually my thoughts are about discipleship, being loved by God, being inspired by the Holy Spirit and being redeemed by Jesus. I try to live a virtuous life and teach my kids, but as the adage goes, so go I; “those who can’t, teach.”

My life-verse comes from Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides;” as I try to trust God more and more, I notice more and more ways that I find God and his kingdom in the details of my day. I’m also forced to contend with the ways I’m not seeking his kingdom and righteousness. To be honest, I’m a little afraid that y’all will find out I’m no little saint but a big hypocritical fraud and say nasty things about me, my feelings will be hurt and I’ll just pout and go back to writing in that recycled science notebook. But here I am anyway, shoving off on this little journey up and up, lifted higher to the cheek of Jesus where I can just be buried in his healing embrace.