Grief and Joy

Something was different this Advent and Christmas for me. I am not sure if it is because I have been working with people who are grieving or because God just peeled back another layer of my own life. Whatever the case may be, Advent 2017 has been all about God’s Word being revealed through the eyes of a griever. I’ll save this for another post, but I think Our Father is a griever, not in a human way, but in a divine way. He grieves that His beloved sons and daughters do not yet know Him and trust Him completely, and yet, He still loves us unconditionally and waits for us. I am a griever in a very human way. I will be one for the rest of my life here on earth. I am a griever not only because I lost my husband two and a half years ago, but because I am experiencing earthly life as an imperfect person who still questions God’s plan even in the light of my faith. In fact, we are all grievers. We are all grieving something. It may not be death, but it could be divorce, marital discord, rebellious teenagers, aging parents, financial insecurity, and the list goes on. You don’t have to look very hard to see that you are probably grieving something. Before we all fall into despair over the realization that we are all grieving something in this life, there is hope! In fact, I would say there can actually be joy, even in the midst of grief. Please don’t think that I am downplaying the intense pain of any kind of loss. I know first hand the feeling of despair, discouragement, disappointment and excruciating pain from loss. Finding joy can just seem laughable as a griever.
And, Joy, by definition is “great happiness or intense pleasure.” How in the world do we find THAT as a griever?

In today’s first reading, St. John the Evangelist, reminds us what the Old Testament has already told us that from the beginning that we were created by a God who loves us not because we are good, but because He is good. God has revealed to us that His covenant is True, that His Spirit is working in us and that His Son came for our salvation. The disciples have experienced it, they have seen it,and they have watched God’s Word become visible in the flesh. St. John shares this Good News with us so that we, as the disciples of this day and age, can live in friendship with this same Triune God who loves us so “that our joy may also be complete.” The disciples are our witnesses to this amazing God who says to us if you would just “follow” me, I will bring you joy in this life and the next. They are witness to the joy that can come from following Jesus, even in the midst of trials. So, too, we must be witnesses to those we come in contact with everyday! How? We do it the way Jesus did it. Its seems so simple to say, yet, so challenging to do. We do it by putting our trust in a Father who has only our best interest at heart. We put our trust in a Father that loves us more than anyone will ever love us. He didn’t create us to torture us with sorrowful lives, but, He also never said His way would be easy. We have to know this about life. We also need the testimony of those who walked through trials with His Son for real.   And, we need to experience His unconditional love for ourselves. St. John is telling us that they have experienced it. They have experienced the mercy, the healing, the peace that comes from following Jesus. God created us out of love to live a life that follows a path to happiness, not the world’s path, but His path, even unto death. In Jesus’ case, this meant death on a cross.  Our grief, to be sure, is part of our cross.  For so many of us, we have tried it the world’s way to avoid grief and suffering and have been disappointed. Do we have anything to lose to try to walk with our Creator through our grief?

The Gospel today (John 20:1a and 2-8) is usually one that we hear around Easter, but, today we only get the first part of the story–the empty tomb. Today the Gospel ends at the tomb where “the other disciple who Jesus loved…saw and believed.” I can’t help but think that today God is trying to make a point to all of us whom He loves. How often do we run to the tombs in our life? How often do we see the garments of Jesus at our feet in the midst of our trials and grief, yet, we still don’t believe that He is really with us? I know I do. How often in our grief do we think that Jesus has just been taken from our sight to be found no more? This is a lie. Our great joy comes from knowing that whatever we are walking through, He walks with us, He weeps with us, and we are never alone.

Today God has spoken to us through St. John to tell us that He is with us in the trials and grief. He wants us to get to know Him like a trusted friend, like a trusted lover. He, alone, will bring us to a place of eternal joy. He will see us through all of our trials. And, when He does, let us tell everyone we meet of the wondrous work He has done in our lives!

During this Octave of Christmas, let us share, with joy, our faith in a Father who love us beyond measure that He brought us a baby in swaddling clothes to be our Savior! And, I would say, there is no grief in that.

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Re-routing….finding the way home

My Catholic church started something new last week—it’s called Re-Routing. What a perfect name! I could use some good, old-fashioned re-routing in my life. Re-Routing is a 14-week series that happens during the homily at Mass, with a deeper dive on Wednesday nights for those who are interested.   I have to admit, I was hesitant at first.  I have always told my self that I am accountable for my own relationship with Jesus.  I still am, but, I have realized I can’t do it alone.  I need the Body of Christ. The goal is for our parish to become a missionary parish full of missionary disciples. And, we become missionary disciples by selling out for the One that has given us everything, including the key to happiness, love, mercy and the promise of eternal life. That sounds amazing and daunting all at the same time! How do I do this in the culture that we live in? Besides that, how do I help a house full of teenagers get to know a Jesus who doesn’t text or have an instagram account? I need help! I’m all in for this Re-routing journey. I have nothing to lose and I’m dragging my teenagers along the best I can. Take a look at our parish website: www.olgcparish.net and click on Re-routing.   I hope you will join me in this journey, whether you belong to this parish or not. Please share your stories, your ideas and your prayers. My church wants to re-route a parish—I want to re-route a culture who sees no need for Jesus.   Jesus wants his world back, but it will only happen if we make the decision to bring our families back to Jesus. We can do this together.

My prayer journal after the first week of Re-Routing:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for all the blessings you have given me. Thank you for all the trials you have seen me through. Even when I am convinced that you are not always present in my life, I can read through my prayer journal and realize that you were always there—always. Last night, we talked about our experience at Mass. I remember a time in my life when Mass wasn’t an experience—it was a “chore” as my son puts it. I am so sorry, Lord, for not understanding your Presence, for not even taking the time to care about your Presence. Instead, I just showed up every Sunday, counting the minutes for the hour to be over so I could get my “feel good” that I did what I was supposed to do. I am so sorry because I didn’t know You. I didn’t care to know You.

My journey to you has been long, but you have waited patiently for me. I don’t know if I could have ever experienced true joy in my life without you—not  just “good times” that leave me feeling empty once they are gone, but true joy that stands the test of time and brings peace.

Thank you, Lord, for opening my eyes, for opening my heart, especially at Mass. Thank you for the heart to experience with awe all that you have done for me personally. It hasn’t always been like that for me. But, now, when I see you nailed to the cross for my sins, I want to cry in overwhelming gratittude.  You must really love me to do that. How could you do that for me? I am so unworthy of that kind of love. Lord, help me to surrender to that kind of love and mercy everyday. Help me to surrender my children, and my life to you.

I love you, Lord. I love you, Father, please, hold me close, especially when I forget who you are and who I am. Amen.

My Teenagers

The night after my deeper dive with Re-routing, I gathered my teenagers (one on face time because she is away at college) for fifteen minutes of family time. I asked them to give me 15 minutes every night to just talk about Re-routing or just pray or just connect. We talked about their experience at Mass. They were honest. I bit my tongue. But, I have opened a dialogue and they are willing participants because just as I want something more, so do they, in their own teenage world. We decided to each pick a day to pray for one another and we would text our prayer for each other (Hey, I need to enter their world!). My daughter asked her friend to join our family prayer time, but her friend responded via face time, “no, that’s okay, you go do your nun stuff.” This is the culture we live in—Jesus isn’t for regular people—only priests and nuns.

Please share your ideas to help engage your teens and kids. You might just help someone else. A great book about the Mass for adults, and maybe even teens, if you can get them to read it is “What Happens at Mass?” by Jeremy Driscoll. It’s short and changed the way I understood and participated in Mass forever.

That Voice Inside the Mirror

Have you ever walked in front of the mirror and caught a glimpse of yourself, and asked, “Who am I?”  It happens to me many times, but last night, I heard, “You know the answer.”  Sometimes, I am not so sure of that voice inside the mirror.

When my husband passed away last year, two months before his 50th birthday, I promised him and myself that I would not go back to a life of craziness. But, here I am sitting right in the middle of it–3 kids, one dog, sporting events, band practice, church meetings, school meetings, work,  volunteering , taking classes and maybe dinner and some sleep.  Two days ago, I celebrated my 49th birthday (the age of my husband at his death), but it really was not a BIRTH day.  There was no new life in me.  My home is in chaos as I watch my son eat french fries and cereal for dinner because I am writing a paper.  I crawl into bed, finally, with laundry and books sharing the other half of my bed.

I wake up in the middle of the night to write this blog because my head is spinning, and I am pleading with God to make it stop. I thought I knew who I was.  I was the daughter of the King, the wife, the mother, supported by the hands of God even in the midst of my struggles. And, now, I fight this new part of my identity, this widowhood that plagues me like a disease. There is a new branch in my tree of life that is trying to grow, but my broken branch of no longer being a wife is weighing me down.  When my husband was still here and we went through  hard times, I often wondered if marriage was my true vocation or had I possibly missed a call from God to religious life?  God has shown me, over and over again, that marriage was my vocation and  right now, this new emptiness can only be filled by His Son.  I think they call this an identity crisis.  I will struggle in Jesus’s name, until I find my place again as a child of God, as the daughter of the King.  No man, no degree, no house, no job, can fill this void.  When you get right down to it, I have 3 things that I call my “Jesus Struggles,” with “struggles” being a noun, not a verb. How do I  continue to seek God in my new state of life?  Who am I to God (and who is He to me)?  And, What does God wants me to do now? These are my struggles as a widow, but they could be anyone’s struggles.   Let’s pray for each other as we let God redefine our lives to be the person He called us to be.

“When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”-Mother Teresa, now  St. Teresa of Calcutta

Hello world!

Hello world!  Is anybody out there?  Starting this blog is something like trying to search for answers to life’s toughest questions.   Who  am I?  I thought I knew who I was–a wife, a mother, a friend, a child of God.  So, now that I have been stripped of my title as “wife” I feel like I no longer exist.  How can this be when clearly I do exist? How can this be  when I am still the same person–or am I?  I can’t make sense of it.  In February of 2015, I was a wife, and poof, in May of 2015, I became a widow –just like that!  I wasn’t prepared for this.  My husband, Brian, died of cancer, on May 14, 2015.  The cancer was everywhere.  I was prepared to battle the ups and downs of marriage for the rest of my life as his wife.  I was prepared to wrestle with Jesus over everything that came our way, including for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  I could deal with heart transplants and muscle disorders and pushing people around in wheelchairs into my retirement.  I planned on it.  I was armed and ready for muscle disorders, not cancer.

Sooner or later, cancer touches all of our lives.  When you hear someone has cancer, we all think, “oh, how sad.”  When I would hear someone had cancer, I would say, “oh, how sad.”  I had no idea what I was saying.  It’s not sad–it’s devastating!  It’s nasty!  It’s relentless and unforgiving! Cancer knows no limits–it affects infants, and grandma’s, spouses and siblings, it takes them all and breaks hearts and homes. Cancer changes everything.

I didn’t plan for widowhood–not at age 48.  My plan’s were not God’s plans. How could He do this to me?  How could Brian do this to me?  My selfishness creeps in. I don’t do well alone. I need my counter- balance.  I need someone to challenge me, to pull me down, when my stress level is high.  Someone to make me laugh, when I want to cry. Someone to make me mad, and then make up with me.  Someone as imperfect as me who loves me for who I am. I have forgotten that I was and am a child of God long before I was a wife and mother.

This is my blog. These are my “Jesus Struggles”–the things I struggle with Jesus over.  Be gentle with me, Jesus.  My days of wrestling with you are just beginning.