Please pray for our family today

Please pray for our son and his wife and baby.

I just received word that our son’s wife, who is 27-weeks pregnant, has gone to the hospital with spotting. This, as most of you probably know, indicates that the baby is in some distress.

Mom and baby are doing okay for now, but we have a specific prayer request that I’d like you all to consider praying on our behalf: It is that mom and baby are able to hang onto one another for at least another 10 weeks. This will help assure the baby’s chances of making it and being healthy.

By way of just a bit of background, this is the 3rd pregnancy for them. Their first baby miscarried. Their second child was born at 22 weeks and only survived for a few hours. I wrote here about the wonderful miracle that happened even in the midst of that tragedy.

Thank you so very much (in advance, for I know you will all do what you can to help) for your prayers.

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

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Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.

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Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

Meditation 9 – What we ask in faith, God provides

Do you dread something painful? Is there in your soul a vague fear, which seems unreasonable, and yet torments you? Trust fully in My providence. I am here, I see everything; I will not leave you.

I’m such a weenie! I’m still concerned about that dinner party. It’s tomorrow night and it has me losing sleep worrying about silly stuff. Have I put out new hand towels in the guest bath? Did I remember to get new candles? I need mercy from my own silly self! There must be something more worthy in my world to be concerned about than having dinner with an atheist family member?

[Well, and it’s much less him and his belief or non-belief. I’m probably more concerned about my behavior. My words and actions. Is it possible that relaxing some might produce better results? Or that I should be more concerned about his soul than my words? But they might be connected, right? (Editor Angel – Lord, can I come home now?)]

Also, my personal thanks to W. Ockham over at Teilhard de Chardin for this post on our discussions with atheists.]

Still, our gracious Lord, asks that we bring Him even our little worries, so that our faith will be bolstered each time we see His hand at work in our lives. I’m looking forward to a having a wonderful miracle to report soon!

Here are a few more of today’s musings…in no particular order:

I try to say a little prayer each morning for our grown children that they will have a safe commute to and from their work. My daughter reported that she was almost run over as she was crossing in a fully lit crosswalk earlier this week. The driver was looking directly at her as he sped through. Later in the same dark walk to her off-site parking, she was concerned about a man who was lurking around the parking lot. I try to think of these occurrences not so much as evil and harm lurking about, but as God’s loving protection surrounding us everywhere.

I worry that our grandson’s parents have not yet had him baptized. I pray the Lord watch over him, understand his innocence, and regardless of his formal baptism, call him to be His own. I worry, too, that I might have some active role to play in this. If I do, it has not yet been made clear to me. So I pray for guidance.

I worry that I don’t understand why so many of the saints sought out suffering and pain in an attempt to feel closer to Jesus, to share in His suffering. I understand a bit better others who do not pray for relief from suffering, but rather ask for strength sufficient to endure the suffering given them.

I worry about how to respond to street people who ask for money. Police and retail owners caution against giving them money, saying these intended acts of kindness only encourage more aggressive and, in some cases, more threatening behavior. How does one discern the difference between a truly needy person and a healthy person preying cynically on the good intentions of the rest of us?

We have a friend who carries a pocket full of coins and small bills in order to give a little something to others each week. If we don’t carry around a bit of cash, won’t we too often end up missing an opportunity to help someone in need when God touches our hearts?

We can always lift our fears and worry up to God. And relief is directly related to our level of faith in Him, in His greatness, in His judgment of what’s good for us and those we love.

This lesson was most potently demonstrated for me over time as our children were learning to drive and taking the car out by themselves for the first time. As they were leaving for their first date. As they ventured out on their own lives, insisting, right or wrong, to make their own decisions. No longer could I be with them 24/7; no longer was I in full control.

But, with some situation presenting itself on a near-daily basis there for a while, I got lots of opportunities to practice, and as my prayers were answered, small and large, and as I learned to pay attention, to be conscious of His answers to my prayers, my faith grew. Through it all He’s taught me that my relief can be nearly immediate. I ask; God provides.

The question is not how great God is. The key is the strength of my faith in Him.

Meditation 5 – Pray for us

Have you no plans to interest you? Tell Me all about them. Do they concern your vocation? What do you think of? What would you like? Are you planning some pleasure for your mother, for your family, for your guardian? What do you wish to do for them?

This fifth mediation before the blessed Sacrament made me oddly uncomfortable. Do I have plans about which I’m concerned? Some event I’m planning for family?

I found I didn’t want to think about it. I moved instead to clean some dishes left over from an earlier dinner with friends and put them away. I noticed the silver probably needed to be cleaned and polished it before the next weekend’s company. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and began reading others’ blog postings, hoping for some inspiration. I re-read the meditation once or twice and began a couple of sentences about something that seemed mostly unrelated.

And then it struck me.

Well, yes, I do have an upcoming event that concerns me…that dinner party next weekend. And no, I have not yet asked for God to take my apprehensions into His care. In one part of my mind I uncharitably figure God’s to blame for getting me into this situation to begin with. (Editor Angel – Oh, dear!)

A bit of back story will probably help. Even as I write, I can feel my own resistance to the whole subject. How to describe this? (Editor Angel – Stop this procrastinating, Just write; edit later!)

My husband and I have been estranged for several years from his brother. There wasn’t anything in particular that prompted the estrangement — no triggering argument or incident. Just years of this sort of competition of wills.

Just one example: An atheist, my brother-in-law nonetheless always participated in our family Christmas and Easter gatherings, especially after their father passed and their mother was most-often with us for the holidays.

For several Christmases he would decorate the tops of his gifts to us and our children with little rubber ducks. Potentially cute, but instead of the yellow, smiling duckies that we all remember fondly from our childhood, his rubber duckies would be red and black, sporting a devious smile and devil horns. Better yet, they came in varying sizes, so my pre-teen daughter at the time could make little families out of them.

Whoopee! I had a choice of being a wet blanket or acquiescing in a pretty aggressive, but non-verbal tug-of-war in my own home.

The duckies quietly disappeared.

After their mother passed a few years ago, it just didn’t seem we had enough in common to bother getting together with him and his partner. It was a relief for me, actually, to be able to forgo gatherings, where I would have to work to avoid being pulled down by the undercurrent of tension that always seemed to threaten.

So, I guess my resistance is laced with equal parts guilt and simmering righteous indignation. Even I can detect the not-so-latent hostility I’m still carrying around.

As I have been called over the last year to a different level of commitment to Christ, though, I have felt a need, if not yet a desire, to make more of an effort. One minister I heard preach years ago said God has given certain of our family members to us as sandpaper gifts; they’re there to help smooth our rough edges. Still, I don’t know if a real relationship is possible or even a good idea.

But, maybe he’s evolved somehow over the last couple of years. Maybe my prayers for him and his partner to be touched by God have found some traction. Or maybe we can enjoy a simple evening just discussing our favorite new recipes, how all the kids are doing, our travel plans for the year, our favorite new books. Safe topics. Non-personal topics. Maybe.

But, is there something further I would pray for if I had real, honest-to-goodness faith that God was a mighty God, capable of any and all things?

I know I can’t give up God in order to satisfy my brother-in-law, so I guess I could pray for Him to take all of us and our relationships into His care and to show us His way. To make us a miracle.

Oddly (maybe), this following prayer was what I wrote at the beginning of this reflection, those words that I earlier didn’t think were related to this topic:

Our God — father, brother, companion — who walks with us, sits next to us, patiently awaiting our attention, who is always available to comfort and guide and protect us, who understands our humanity — hold my hand. Lead me. Steady my steps when I falter. Strengthen my heart when fear and anxiety creep in. Help me to know Your love so fully that I cannot keep it in.

I’d appreciate your prayers for us this week, too, as we all prepare for this upcoming visit. (Editor Angel: There now. Was that so difficult? Well, yes, actually, I feel just a bit naked, all things being equal!)

Meditation 1 – God loves generous hearts

The Catholic Church has a pamphlet that I find tremendously comforting.

It’s titled “A Meditation Before the Blessed Sacrament.” Consisting of 14 meditations, it encourages our prayers and meditations. (Your local church likely has copies available).

I’m going to reflect on one meditation from this pamphlet each day for the next couple of weeks. As I do, I’ll post each one on my Meditation page.

The first meditation says:

My child, you need not know much in order to please Me; only love Me dearly. Speak to Me as you would to your mother, if she had taken you in her arms. Have you no one to recommend to Me? Tell Me the names of your relations; of your friends; after each name add what you wish Me to do for them. Ask a great deal: I love generous hearts that forget themselves for others.

The first consolation I received from this meditation is the message that I need not know more than a little child in order to be pleasing in God’s sight. What a relief! I think little children have an easier time pleasing God than we grown-ups — or “grumps,” as adults were called on an old episode of Star Trek back in the 1960s.

Here, God encourages us to be generous to others in our lives and reminds us of others we might consider, who may be in need of His favors.

It reminds me that God can’t work miracles through anyone who has shut him or herself off from family or friends or community. It’s through our own generosity — of wealth, certainly, but also of our talent, time, affection, and spirit — that God blesses us and through us, our world.

Miracle of answered prayer

My daughter caught one of these darn bugs that are going around this winter.

We get particularly concerned about her because these bugs can often trigger her asthma. So, when she called to tell me she was at Urgent Care one Sunday night, I was immediately lifting her up in prayer, asking that God strengthen her systems against the infection.

The UC doctor gave her a prescription that seemed to help a bit at first, but I could still hear her labored breathing as we spoke on the phone. She insisted that her workload didn’t allow her to stay home and rest, or to take time for Urgent Care again. Her regular doctor was booked. As much as I might applaud her work ethic, I worried about her need to take time to care for herself and get well.

Finally, after a couple more days of concern, I stopped and engaged more directly with God, more impeachingly [Editor Angel: is “impeachingly” a word? hmmm, don’t know. It should be.] I acknowledged that I didn’t know what my daughter needed to get well, but that He did…does; that I have no control, no real ability to help, but that He did…does; that all I can do is pray for His help and intervention with her.

Amazingly, (I don’t know why I am continually amazed that God answers my prayers. It is after all, what He said He’d do) within the next few hours, she texted me to say she had remembered a prescription that her regular doctor had given her for just such a situation and that she had begun already to take it.

What causes one faith-filled prayer for healing to be answered and others to seemingly be ignored? I don’t have that answer.

I do know that these everyday acts of healing are some of God’s miracles in my world. Thank you, Lord!

The miracle of feeling awestruck by God’s beauty

Being awestruck by God’s creation involves at least two miracles. The first miracle is the beauty and magnificence of God’s creation.

Spiritbath, in this post “…hello dear universe,”  shared the beautiful Vimeo video from Christian Mulhauser, in which he uses time lapse photography to capture the Milky Way and other scenes from the Island of Maderia.

There are several miracles embedded here that led to my own personal miracle — the miracle of time lapse photography, the circumstances that led Mulhauser to desire to be a photographer, the technology used by internet sites like Vimeo, which allow a photographer to share his work with others around the globe, and Spiritbath’s openness to being awestruck by the beauty captured in Mulhauser’s video.

The miracle I want to reflect on is the miracle of God’s grace that allows us to be awestruck by the beauty His hand has created. I think it’s under-appreciated.

When I read the header on Spiritbath’s blog post I originally clicked through to the video thinking, “I know what this is going to be. I’m sure it’s beautiful, but don’t have time for looking at this sort of thing today.”

Earlier in the morning I had prayed that God would grant me the grace to recognize His hand working in my life, to see those small everyday miracles, which can change one’s outlook.

Without really thinking all this through consciously I realized somehow that I might as well have been thinking, “I don’t feel like being touched by God right now.”  [Editor Angel: You don’t FEEL like being touched by God?! Really? I thought you were past that kind of behavior? If not now, on a weekend at the beginning of a new year, when you’re essentially on vacation…then WHEN?! ]

Hmmm, and so it goes. So here I am, down on my knees begging God’s forgiveness…for what? My lack of appreciation? My faithlessness? My laziness? And yet, doesn’t life roll like this sometimes?

Everyday we have a choice about how and whether we allow God to touch our hearts.

As I watched Mulhauser’s video, I felt my own heart softening, my spirit lifting. And, as though, the sun was shining down, I felt His warmth wash over and through me.

What a blessing. What a miracle of grace to feel awestruck by God’s beauty.

Thank You, Lord. And, thank you Spiritbath and Mulhauser and Vimeo.

Seven steps to a deeper faith

I prepared a little mission statement and annual plan for this blog for 2014. It goes like this:

Mission: In 2014 I want to achieve a deeper understanding of God’s purpose for my life.

Objective: To achieve this I will document here life’s little miracles as they happen to and around me.

Kind of formal, but mission statements can be that way. Obviously these will be miracles that happen to me and to people I know. But, I’d like to hear from you, too, and to share your miracles, as well.

Why miracles? Let me first give some examples of what I’m talking about.

Early in 2013 my husband and I were climbing into a cab to the airport. We were headed out of town for a New Year’s get-away. As we climbed in, his cell phone rang. Our son was calling to tell us that he and his wife had made an emergency run to the hospital in the middle of the night and their baby girl had just been born…several months early.

By our Lord’s intervention we were able to return to town and see and hold her for a few minutes of her short life. We were able to grieve with and comfort her parents as she passed. And we were all able eventually to begin healing some of our fractured family relationships and deepen our faith.

Later in the year, our son passed along to us a book by Father James Martin, The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything. The messages in this book and several others by Fr. Martin spoke directly to my heart (see other of my descriptions of these here and here).

These miracles were big ones for me. They were obvious and easily identifiable as miracles as they were evolving, right then and there. But, life is full of little miracles every day…convenient parking spots at just the right time, answers to prayer, serendipitous phone calls, chance encounters….otherwise infuriating traffic slow downs that result in missing a police speed trap. We don’t always pay much attention to them.

So, what do I mean by noticing these miracles? And what purpose will this serve?

First, I want to recognize these little miracles and acknowledge them. Sometimes our lives seem to move so fast. Things happen, and we don’t stop long enough to understand or appreciate the gifts that we’ve been given.

Next, I want to savor these little gifts from God, considering all the aspects of their influence and effect on my life.

Then, I want to write them down, so I won’t forget them. Because if these experiences, these little miracles, are memorialized somewhere permanent, I can cherish them later and savor them over and over again.

I want to give thanks for them and allow myself time to feel a sense of gratitude for how gracious and loving our God is…even when we’re not paying attention or asking Him for His help or intervention.

Finally, I want to share them with others. Recognition of how God is working in our lives strengthens our faith. Others’ understanding of how God has worked in our lives can strengthen their faith. Having the opportunity to help strengthen another’s faith is still another miracle. All are gifts from our Father.

In his book Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints, Fr. Martin imagines Jesus (as one who is fully human and fully divine) only gradually coming to understand His mission on earth.

“But even after his stay in the desert, there still seems a lingering reticence in Jesus to embrace his mission. For what is traditionally considered as his first miracle seems a distinctly reluctant one. There he is at the wedding feast at Cana when the wine runs out…When his mother points this out to him, in effect, suggesting that he do something, Jesus says, somewhat caustically, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (John 2:4). In other words, what does this have to do with me? I’m not the person you want! I’m not yet the person I am called to be! Here Jesus may still be grappling with his mission, with his vocation, and with his true self….

…he tells the steward to fill large earthen jars with water and serve the guests. But it is not water that comes out of the jars, it is wine. It is his first miracle.

I have always wondered if Jesus himself wasn’t surprised by his first miracle…

…The fruits of one’s ministry and one’s life are often astonishing, and the hand of God can be seen as clear as day, even when the results are simple ones. How much more surprising, then, might the miracle at Cana have been for Jesus!”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

“The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

Similarly, the little “signs” in our every day life attest to our Father’s love and affection for us. So, too, do they invite our belief. So, too, might we bear witness to His presence and work in our lives by sharing these experiences with others.

Miracles, recognizing them, acknowledging them, understanding them, savoring them, memorializing them, cherishing them, sharing them with others, all help to deepen our faith. In deepening our faith we deepen our understanding of God purpose for our lives.