On a recent bushwalk, my daughter was afflicted by a bad mood just as we had clambered up to a spectacular cavern. While we were all marvelling at the natural beauty, she kept her gaze steadily downward, refusing to look up. It seemed illogical to deny herself a single glance at the grandeur surrounding us, only to stare at the dull earth beneath her feet or clamp her hands over her eyes lest a single glimpse should tempt her out of her mood.
Upon reflection, it reminded me of the times when I am so immersed in the anxieties and workload of everyday life that I fail to appreciate the treasures God has placed before me—the wonder of a child’s smile; the warmth of the sun on a winter morning; the meal lovingly prepared by my husband; or the amazing sunrises and sunsets that God paints in the sky every day.
How often do we distract ourselves from our cares with an overload of banal screen time? Endless varieties of movies, series, reality TV shows, sport, social media and computer games compete for our attention. Yet there never seems to be enough time for prayer, family activities and home duties. We so often lament that we don’t have enough time to interact with friends in real life. Yet even our time with friends or family is often centred around a screen, or everyone has a screen in hand.
Perhaps it is time to turn off the screens, pull out the earphones, and cast our eyes upwards to embrace the glory that the Lord offers us every day. Let us give thanks to God and invite him into our daily engagement with the real world surrounding us.
Genevieve Swan teaches Religious Instruction and Natural Family Planning. She lives in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia where she cares for her five children.
Read the extraordinary story of Cintia who was miraculously saved from the clutches of suicide. Joyful Lips I grew up in a middle class family in Brazil. My father was a paediatric surgeon who taught the students before he moved into Health Management and my mother is a nurse, so there was plenty of money for every material thing—good schools, a beautiful house, delicious food. My father had two families to support, since it was his second marriage, so he worked a lot and so did my mother. Sometimes I didn’t see her at home for two or three days because of the shifts she was working. We had someone working in our house to help care for us and do the housework, but I really missed my parents. When I was sixteen-years my father betrayed my mother with another woman and they separated. I felt even more abandoned and frustration boiled up inside me as I felt so helpless. Even though we still had every material thing, we were not happy. Although my brothers and I had been baptized, we had not been catechized. Occasionally, we would attend Sunday Mass but because we didn’t really understand what was going on, we found it boring. We believed in God, but we didn’t have any relationship with Him. Regular prayer and an understanding of our Catholic faith were missing. My friend and I were lamenting our lack of good friends and the need to build something better in our lives when my brother’s friend said, “Oh I know where you can meet lots of young people who could be good friends because they follow God. They’re from the Catholic Church. Maybe you could go to Mass or a retreat there.” My friend and I liked the idea, so we went. It was very different to what I’d experienced before—a lot of young people joyfully sang beautiful music and praised the Lord. Then, I heard a guy praying and saying many things that really applied to my life. All the things I had held inside—the emptiness, the sadness and the thirst for God that I hadn’t understood. I hadn’t realized that it was God that I was looking for. When I attended a four day retreat in this community, it was the first time that I really experienced God. I spent four days crying a lot as I heard so many basic elements of the faith explained for the first time. For the first time I felt the presence of God, so I started to read the Bible a lot and pray every day in my room alone. A Difficult Terrain My parents had always emphasized the importance of gaining a good profession so I could get a good job, have money to buy my own things and be independent. I took all this very seriously, but I also felt so emotionally empty, always looking for something. I didn’t know that God could help us in this way. Because I felt so frustrated with my family situation, when a guy from school asked me to date, I jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Because no-one had taught me God’s way and I did not have anyone to guide me. I soon found myself enmeshed in a really difficult relationship. We started to do many things that were not good. He started to control everything in my life. Initially he went to church with me but he used that to manipulate my mind. He would use words he heard in church or the Bible so I would be submissive to him and do everything that he wanted. My formation was so lacking that I didn’t understand how wrong he was and he started to draw me away from the Church. Because I trusted him, I lost everything. He cut me off from my family and friends and even disrupted my university studies. After four years in this relationship, I was in a really bad way, feeling crushed by all the pressure. Finally, I started to pray again when I was alone. I said to Jesus, “Three years ago I felt real love from you, but I’m so sad now. What has happened?” I begged God to help me with the many things that were troubling me. I surrendered everything to Jesus again and promised Him that I would live His way not my way. I wanted to be free and trusted that if God died for me, He would save me. I didn’t have the strength to break off the relationship, but my boyfriend got a job in another city twelve hours away. Finally, I was able to break off the relationship because he was too far away to come after me. It was like a miracle because I hadn’t been able to do that for so long. Lean Over the Edge However, I still held a lot of pain inside from all I had been through. One day, it all felt too much. I couldn’t support any more of this anguish. Suicidal thoughts tortured me and one day I gave in. I went to the window and prepared to jump out to commit suicide. I wanted to take my life away, but fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to simply jump. I leaned out further and further letting my weight take me over the edge. Suddenly, I felt a big hand in my chest pushing me back. I fell back on the floor and started to cry because I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way. God had given me a second chance. He saved me and I didn’t understand why. I cried out, “What do you want from me?” Then I felt Him saying, “Turn on the TV.” When I turned on the TV, I saw a priest talking about why we shouldn’t give up on life. Tears welled in my eyes as his words penetrated deeply into my heart. I listened intently for an hour as he ardently preached about the gift of our lives. Over and over again he emphasized, “Your life is important.” I finally understood why Jesus saved me and I needed His help because I couldn’t do anything alone. My mother noticed my tears and asked me if I needed help. I finally admitted that I did. When I started therapy, I was able to return to my studies. At the same time I understood that I needed to come back to church. I desperately needed Jesus. Because He saved my life and gave me a second chance, I promised that I would trust in Him and learn to do whatever He wants. In 2009, I spent a year in the Palavra Viva community in their evangelization school. Within a few months, God revealed my vocation. He spoke really deep in my heart and asked me to be a consecrated woman. I felt confused since I had always hoped to marry because I love children. I started to discern if this call to consecrated life was real. Finally I had people that could help talk to me and guide my vocational discernment. When I understood that my calling did lie in consecrated life, I said “Okay, I will do it”, even though I didn’t fully understand. In 2011, I professed my first commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 2017, I made my definitive commitments and came to Tasmania where I live out my vocation today. I am just a limited human being with many, many sins, but if I trust in Him all will be well.
Too often we are keen to jot down the resolutions; but fail to keep them. How about having a twist this time? Drifting to Nowhere At this time of year, the feeling that my life was adrift was an annual occurrence. The end of one year and the beginning of another, inevitably led me to contemplate the changes I wanted to make in my life and within myself. However, a few weeks into the year, New Year’s resolutions took on less importance. The energy these intentions gave me on December 31st and through January would inevitably begin to wane. I always wanted to move forward in the quest for holiness and better myself, but so often I just got stuck. Although the good intentions were still there, knowing how to make it happen and stick to them, often eluded me. Figuratively speaking, I felt as though I was stationary or drifting without direction. Knowing my love of words, God has a way of speaking the language of my heart. One evening a few years ago, as the annual post New Year rut was weighing on my heart, a poem seemed to flow from my heart like an answer to my prayer. I, Myself and Me There was a ship that sat Amid the still deep sea, The only souls that came aboard were I, Myself and Me We sat and watched each sunset With silence, not a sound. I thought there was a whisper And got up to look around. A presence filled the air that night. That nobody could see. Its message was intended for I, Myself and Me My voice then broke into the night I said to Myself and Me, “How can we just be sitting here? We’ve lost our destiny!” I told Myself to take the helm And set a course for Me. I seized hold of the captain’s wheel To steer us through the sea. The ship it made no motion. I still sat amid the sea. We had the will to make her move, but could not…. I, myself nor me. A whisper sounded once again, And said these words to Me “Call to the wind and ask for help, It’s power can set you free!” Me, Myself held hands with I We bowed on bended knee. We asked the Spirit in the wind “Blow us across the sea!” We felt a shift, a motion, Our course what would it be? The ship it turned within the wind, To glide most effortlessly. We knew not the direction Or how rough the sea would be. We had to trust the Spirit To lead I, Myself and Me. Just a Call Away The first draft of this poem flowed from my pen so quickly; I could not write fast enough to keep up with the message God wanted me to contemplate. You see, for a great part of my life I considered God as my very own wonderful insurance plan. Decisions concerning my life were mine to make and if something didn’t go quite right, I’d call on Him to get me out of a bind. I would call on Him as I would an insurance agent. I always knew He was there, but it didn’t seem right to burden Him with the mundane day to day decisions. It was like: I am glad my insurance agent is a phone call away, but I don’t need him driving with me in my car every day. The world told me that I was the captain of my own ship! I believed I was the captain of my own ship, but as each year passed I became aware that I did not possess my own compass. What silly thinking! Furthermore, I didn’t even know how to sail. I didn’t know the first thing about navigation or setting a course through rough waters! It was this kind of wrong thinking that left me stuck or adrift, the first few months of each new year. God was never my insurance plan. He knows the plan for my life better than I ever would. He was and is the plan! A New Twist It was important to recognise the need for improvement in my life and to desire holiness, but I couldn’t do it on my own by sheer will power. When I contemplated the words that spilled over into the poem, I felt God knocking on my heart to assure me that He was there, just waiting for me to ask Him to direct my life. He wanted to give me the plan and the means to do it. God tells us in Proverbs 3:5-8: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely. In all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes.” It took a long time, as each resolution was made and forgotten, for me to realize that I should ask God what His plan would have been for me in the New Year. As I began to align my will with His will, it became clear that I did not lack willpower. How foolish I had been. When I aligned my will with His, I received His power through me. Saint Paul tells us in Phillipians 4:13 “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” My New Year’s resolutions have a new twist to them these days. In contemplative prayer I ask God to reveal, in His time, His New Year’s plan for me. In humility I ask the Holy Spirit to lead me and make things happen according to God’s holy plan. I ask for the gift of faith, so that even in the dark waters, I will know His presence, trust that He is leading me and accept His holy will for my life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you; plans for your welfare and not your woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” Isn’t that lovely? For those of us who have the benefit of age and experience, it is clear that there are seasons and times for everything in life. This may be the time to stop drifting and this may be the season to align your New Year’s resolution(s) with God’s holy will for you. May Almighty God Bless you and speak to you in the language of your heart.
Sometimes what begins as a harmless pastime can spiral your life into a dark abyss! Finding My Destiny During most of my adolescence, I struggled to trust God and from this lack of trust came my decision to entrust myself and my future into the hands of powers that promised prosperity, love and happiness. I turned to New Age beliefs and soon found myself mesmerized by tarot cards, psychics, horoscopes and magic. At first, dabbling in these things seemed fun and exciting. Because of the New Age practices, I felt I wasn’t walking blindly anymore—I clearly saw the path of my destiny and received helpful guidance for my life. I believed the cards and psychics knew me. They understood what was going on in my personal life that I had not shared with anyone, and because of this, I believed in them with all my soul. Pretty soon, what started off as a seemingly harmless hobby became an obsession that turned me away from God. Beyond the Obsession I was constantly consulting my tarot cards, desperate to find answers to my life’s problems. I worshipped false idols--gods and goddesses- -pleading for help that never came. I started looking into spells that were supposed to help me get out of uncomfortable situations or enhance my life. Thankfully, “looking into” was far as I got, but I came very close to actually casting spells. If it weren’t for guilt I felt as I researched witchcraft, I probably would have gone through with it. Looking back, I believe this was God’s grace keeping me away from something that would have led me on an even darker path. My obsession impacted my faith drastically. Although I had grown up Catholic, I no longer considered myself Catholic. I felt that I resonated with New Age beliefs more than anything else. I told my friends and family I wasn’t sure if I believed in a God anymore. After all, if God existed, why did I seem so hopeless and lost? Why did God work miracles for others but not for me? I didn’t see myself ever returning to the Catholic faith, not after all the “truth” that I had learned about “enlightenment.” I thought Christians were the blind ones, the ones who couldn’t see the truth right in front of them, while I could see past the lies and deceit of the world. I didn’t know that I was the blind one who was walking through life alone. I was desperate for guidance and thought New Age beliefs would give me something to hope for. Come Back to Me For weeks, my tarot cards were giving me mixed messages. They no longer made any sense, nor did they apply to what I was asking of them. I felt hopeless, frustrated. My Tarot cards were my only assurance that things would turn out okay, but even they stopped working. It was like everything was spiraling, and I no longer had any control over my life. But that was just it! I was so obsessed with control that when I lost it, I felt weak and vulnerable. I soon realized that God wants us to be vulnerable so that we can learn to surrender all control and put our complete faith in Him. In the end, it was Jesus who saved me and returned me to the truth that I had been seeking for so long. I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps (Jeremiah 10:23). I began to hear God whispering in my heart that it was time for me to trust Him. I opened the door to the Lord, and He did not hesitate to enter in. After years of crying out to no one in particular, I received an inspiration from God rather than from my cards. God led me out in nature where I felt most at peace and He placed His loving arms around me. I looked up to the sky and God spoke to me, hidden in the clouds on that fateful afternoon. “Come back to me,” He said, and I was filled with more love than I had ever felt in my life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It only took a day for the healing light of the Holy Spirit to brighten the darkness within which had plagued me for several years. This is the beauty of God’s healing powers which illuminate even the dimmest of souls! Still, I knew that I needed to open my heart completely to the Lord so that I could experience His grace. That night, in my bedroom, I poured out everything to God. I told Him I was sorry I had strayed so far away and repented of all the sins I had committed. I told God that from now on, I would trust Him with my life. I placed my destiny in God’s hands and I gave up New Age beliefs. I fell into the arms of a God who loved me as His child. Once I felt the comfort of resting in God’s merciful arms, I began to see that I could rely on the Catholic faith with all my heart, so I no longer felt the urge to be the sole director of my own destiny. I don’t obsess about answers anymore; now I trust in the Lord’s plan for me. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
The storms of life can be downright terrifying but, when they rage, we are never alone. I grew up in Hawaii and during my junior year of high school I participated as a student teacher in an educational program that taught kids about Marine Biology. We took groups of students on a large sailboat for 4-hour excursions which included dredging for sedimentary samples on the bottom of the ocean floor, learning basic navigation, and casting a large net to gather and learn about the creatures of the sea. Part of our volunteer work included helping the hired crew sail the yacht to each of the Hawaiian islands so we could offer this excellent program to students in schools throughout the state. I vividly remember the night we were sailing around the island of Maui. Two of us volunteers were on watch when suddenly a huge storm came up. Waves washed over the sides of the boat as my companion and I struggled to keep the wheel pointed in the right direction. The trained crew came topside to help us. The winds were so strong, they were blowing us off course. To avoid being swept overboard, we had to strap on harnesses and hook ourselves to the rails. We battled the storm for several hours before reaching the calm of a sheltered harbor. I often think of this experience when I read the Gospel about Jesus and the disciples caught in the storm at sea. “He got into a boat and his disciples followed Him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but He was asleep. They came and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, ‘What sort of man is this, Whom even the winds and the sea obey?’” Matthew 8:23-27 The disciples had spent their lives on the sea, and surely they all knew people who had died in storms. They knew how dangerous these sudden squalls could be and how terrifying it is to be in a boat that is getting tossed about by the tremendous power of the wind and waves. And yet Jesus was able to sleep through that storm! His disciples had to wake him up to get His help and He seemed surprised that they were terrified. He calmly addressed the elements and restored order and peace to nature, all to the utter amazement of His friends. So they marveled, “What sort of man is this, Whom even the winds and the sea obey?” What can we learn from this episode? The year 2020 has been a stormy one in so many ways: a worldwide pandemic, natural disasters, racial tensions, economic crises, to name just a few. Many are plagued with worry and anxiety in these uncertain times feeling that the foundations we stand on are shifting and buckling beneath us. For my own family, it has been the strain of unemployment that has rocked us. My sister lost her job at the start of the pandemic and my brother had been searching for work, even before lockdowns started. Trying to find work seemed hopeless since businesses were shutting down and people were being laid off. But we called out to the Lord, “waking” Jesus up with our prayers day after day asking Him to do the impossible. And Jesus heard our cries. My brother got a job with a company just days before it enacted a hiring freeze and my sister found good-paying work as a consultant. Storms are never easy. In fact, they can be downright terrifying! But God is with us in every storm. Jesus is in the boat and never leaves our side. That is his promise: “I will never forsake you or abandon you” (Hebrews. 13:5), and that is his name: Emmanuel, “God with us.” When it seems like the waves are going to swamp you and you feel vulnerable and alone, call out to God. Keep calling out, even if it seems like He is asleep. Look with the eyes of faith and you will see Jesus in the boat with you. Remember, “There is no one like God…who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33: 26-27). No matter what the storm.
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