I know that we have all heard stories in the Bible when God speaks to His people. Sometimes we are not sure how that was manifested: a feeling, a message spoken through someone, a voice booming down from the sky. Almost every month I come across at least one person—a friend, an enlightened blogger, a televangelist—who uses the term “God spoke to me,” “God spoke to me and told me you need to sign over your yacht, that vessel is keeping your soul in the devil’s grip!”
I sometimes wonder how God actually spoke to them. I have experienced many ways in which God is very clearly leading me, directing my path, and speaking to my heart in a way that just somehow perfectly answers the questions before me; it is usually a moment of true wisdom and understanding. He has also spoken to me through someone completely oblivious to my predicament, 22 Shalom tidings September/October 2018 someone who says exactly what my soul needed to hear at that moment.
One time, I literally heard God speak to me. I heard His voice. No, I do not need to seek out a psychiatrist. It was ten years ago. I was changing my two-year-old son, Christian’s, diaper. My older son was three years old, my daughter was one, I had recently miscarried my fourth and was newly pregnant with my fifth little one.
As I peeled back Christian’s diaper, I gasped. There was blood. I checked for lesions and soon realized the bleeding was coming from something internal. He had also developed a fever, so I was worried about a possible infection. I took him to a medical clinic and they sent us to the emergency room (ER). An ultrasound revealed he had a tumor on his right kidney. They were quite certain it was what is called a Wilm’s tumor: cancer.
The tumor and his kidney would have to be surgically removed. He also had a blood infection—unrelated to the cancer and the source of the fever—and they could not operate until that was resolved. For two weeks I lived at Sick Kids with my son. My two other little ones were being cared for by various family members. It was so painful every time they would call to inform me that the toddlers were not adjusting well to my absence and, yet, I knew Christian needed me more. He was terrified by every poke and prod, so confused by everything that was happening to him.
One day, my mother-law called to say that my one-year-old was very sick. She was not able to keep anything down and had been lethargic for days. She would need to go to the ER. My husband dropped her off to me and I sat holding her in the waiting room. I was so worried about her. Already small for her age, she looked especially fragile. When it was my turn to speak with the attendant, he began to ask me a bunch of questions about my daughter: “When did the fevers begin? How much had she been drinking? How long had she been lethargic?” Every question was painful for me, as I mustered out a feeble “I’m not sure. I haven’t been with her.” Then I fell to pieces, stammering, “My son has cancer. He’s up on the eighth floor right now recovering from surgery. I haven’t been there for my little girl. I’m so sorry but I can’t answer your questions.” I could hardly get the words out as tears streamed down my face.
Up until that point, I had been so strong. I had not even cried and I had resided in a state of calm and trust, feeling that somehow everything was going to be okay. Suddenly, the reality, the magnitude of all I was facing was hitting me full on. The world seemed to drop out from beneath my feet. I thought of my baby girl, my sick little boy, my other baby boy at home who was feeling completely abandoned by his mother and I felt like the biggest failure. The world was pressing down on me. I was too weak to stand and kept thinking that if I could not handle this how would I be able to care for the little one still growing in my womb. I could not take the oppressive, crushing weight of it all. I could not breathe.
Then, all at once, it was lifted. Everything was taken up off my shoulders and I felt like I was being carried, enveloped, and inexplicably wrapped in peace. That is when I heard the voice. I heard it as though it was being spoken aloud. It was clear and powerful. I felt each word resonating in my heart. I knew no one else could hear it. I knew it was from within but it was real, almost more real than anything I had ever experienced.
He said, “See this is how it would be if I were not carrying you.” I breathed in His graces and once more I was calm, serene, and unafraid. From that point on I seemed able to meet each demand with grace. My daughter soon recovered from her illness, I was able to return home to my three-year-old son and, after six months of chemotherapy, Christian was completely cancer free (he is a healthy twelve-year-old now). I gave birth to my daughter, Mary, a month after his last dose of chemo.
I know that God almost never speaks to us with a clear, audible voice. He does not usually work that way. I was already madly in love with Him, I had already placed my life in His hands, but much of it stemmed from the gift of faith. Everything up to that point was simply a sense of His presence, a continuous knowing that He was with me and a state of amazement, time and time again, as I experienced personal miracles and direct answers to my prayers. Faith is such a precious gift given to His children and I never needed a physical voice to confirm the reality of who He is: a loving Father who desires to work for our good, for love of us. He left a profound mark on my heart that day.
I wanted to share this story because so many people close to me are really hurting, finding it hard to surface, drowning in life’s trials. I wanted to share His message that if we place our lives in His hands, He will lift us up, pulling us out of the suffocating anguish.
He may let us experience a taste of it, a moment (or sadly a period of greater duration) where we are overcome by distress. It should only serve to help us understand how greatly we need Him, how lost we would be if it were not for His great love for us, and His desire to draw us back up into His arms. This message is not some crazy, religious platitude. He has remained constant and faithful throughout the ages, His voice ever clear, cutting through the chaos.
© is the author and illustrator of the Catholic children’s book series “Little Douglings,” which promotes the sacraments and the culture of life. She is the mother of 11 children ages 14 and younger. Be sure to check out her site at littledouglings.com where she blogs about her adventurous life with her big Catholic family and shares the humor and joy in her comic series: Holy HappyMess.
What are you looking for? What do you desire? Are you happy? No matter who you are, these are questions every person ponders. No matter what your race, gender, socio-economic status, or belief about life, death, or what happens thereafter; if you are human, we share these questions in common. None of us can escape the expectation that our lives are supposed to make sense and satisfy us deeply. Even the most jaded reader has felt the pain of disappointment when life did not feel like a story that was leading to something meaningful. You cannot always articulate it, but you have surely had the feeling. Think for a minute about the last time that you invested in watching a movie or reading a book that let you down. It is even worse when you get to like the characters, or the settings, or even elements of the plot. You are left frustrated by how the author or director wasted the potential that was already there. It could have been better, you think. It should have been better. A good ending can save a story. A bad ending, no matter how good any single part of the story is, will ruin the whole experience. What is true in big screen stories is also true about our life story. Deep down, we have this sense that our lives are meant to have a happy ending. Our relationships with friends, family, work, food, money, etc.—all of it is meant to be a part of a bigger story. No matter what happens on any given page of the story, if we know that there is a happy ending waiting, if we can trust that the author of our story knows what He is doing, then we can see our way from one chapter into the next with hope. Some of us live life trying to avoid those questions at the beginning because we are afraid that there are no real answers. It can feel like a world of endless opinions and marketing tricks. A world full of salesmen and nothing that is worth buying. So we can live day-to- day, engaging in the hard work of distracting ourselves with pleasure to avoid pain, with soundbites to avoid searching, with stuff to avoid substance. Yet, no matter who we are, the questions remain: What are you looking for? What do you desire? Are you happy? If our lives are like a story, there is nothing worse than to live life without knowing confidently how our stories will end. What happens at the end of a story not only makes a good story great, but it also makes painful and broken stories, beautiful, meaningful and powerful. At a particular place and at a particular time, a man named Jesus stated not only why we are unhappy but also what will make us happy, forever. It is a bold claim, but it gets crazier. Jesus claimed that He Himself is the source of all happiness and that He wants to satisfy our deepest desires. He did not just claim this, He acted on it. He went out transforming lives of very broken people. Jesus spoke into each person with passionate interest, investment, and no agenda other than their own good, especially to those on the fringes of society—the diseased, abused, criminals, prostitutes, tax collectors, and more. Jesus’ whole life was driven by a desire to restore people to their deepest identity. He called out the very actions, thoughts, and lifestyles that kept them—and keep us—locked in a state of misery. He was not afraid to speak the truth that we so often do not want to hear. But the truth is that we do not want to hear it because, usually, the people who speak that way to us, do not really love us. They point out a problem, but leave us in guilt, shame, and in the end, they leave us alone when we do not become good. But that is how Jesus was different. He spoke in ways that no one ever had. He acted in ways that people never saw. His words were charged with power, love, and with authority. That is what everyone noticed when He was around. Authority: the word means “author’s rights.” Authority implies authorship. This is why when Jesus spoke, it was as if He was personally aware and intimately connected to each person’s story. He did not sit back and watch events unfold. Rather, He entered into them as if it was His duty. So, not only did He speak, but He healed the sick, raised the dead, and set people free from fear, grief, and pain in ways that were miraculous. That defied what our experience tells us is possible. He inspired everyone around Him to dream again about the impossible! So here it is—Jesus claimed to be God and then He set about doing the very things that a good God would do. This is why so many people followed Him. He changed everything. He healed their broken history and showed them the truth of their destiny. He still does this today. This is why so many people keep following Him still. He did this in my life. He invited me to look at what I was really searching for, for what I really desired. He invited me to be honest and authentic with my heart. He asked me to take a risk on Him. He wanted to convince me of who He is and who I am. He said that I am not just haunted by the desire to be happy, but I am actually made for it. He says the same about your life. This is not a sales pitch. This is an invitation to test your desire for real unending and unlimited happiness with an invitation to encounter Jesus Christ. He makes big promises, but those of us who have encountered Him and follow Him witness with our lives that He is good on His word. He is still at work, active, and still speaking into lives. He is still performing signs and wonders. He is still doing exactly the things that you would expect God to do. Sure, it is hard to trust and to follow Him. But take a look at the stories of people, real people, who have spent their whole lives loving Him, being loved by Him, and loving others the way He loves. I bet that you will see that nothing that they surrendered compares to what they have gained in following Him. I bet that you will see in their lives stories like yours. I bet that you will see that Jesus is the type of author who does not wait until the end for the story to get good. He can start on any page, including the one you are living right now. If you are interested in learning more about this, visit your local Catholic Church. There are a lot of people who are ready to share more with you. If you are open to this, right now, pray the following prayer daily and the eyes and ears of your heart can be open to seeing and hearing His authority in your life: Jesus Christ, You said, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” I want to know if You are who You say that You are. I want to know if You can take my story and show me how You want to be a part of it, challenge it, transform it, and complete it. I ask You to forgive me and free me from anything that keeps me from living the life You desire for me. So for any and all sins, all those things that do not lead me to You, I am sorry. I give You permission to be the author of my life. I want to know more about You. Bring me to people and bring people into my life who can help me learn about You. Amen. If you said this prayer, I invite you to search for a copy of the Bible (in your local Catholic bookstore, online, on the Truth & Life app) and start reading the Gospel of Luke to learn more about Jesus. As you read it, ask questions, jot down notes, and record what happens. If we are open and make room in our hearts, God has a surprising way of speaking to us through the Bible. Also, to help guide you, find a copy of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” There is so much in there that will guide you forward. Starting in the Prologue itself, you will encounter a God who is very much a seeker—kind of like you and me. If you have started this journey and want a little encouragement along the way, you can reach out to me. There is nothing like getting to know God’s story for your life by hearing His story in the lives of others!
I was so sorry to hear that my boyhood hero recently died. His name was Roger Bannister or Sir Roger Bannister as he later became known. I had seen him run several times, but sadly I was not present to see him break the record by becoming the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. When I did see the event on the news I was thrilled to see him fall into the arms of his coach Franz Stampfl as he broke the tape. Stampfl was one of the world’s leading athletic coaches of the twentieth century. He was simply a genius who trained more than 360 Olympians. He was my coach as well—our sports master invited him to be our athletic coach. It was from him that I learned far more than mere athletics. Although I did not realize it at the time, what I learned from him would help me immensely later in my spiritual life. TRUE CHRISTIANS ARE LIKE ATHLETES Saint Paul likens Christians to athletes who spend their time building up their spiritual muscles through daily exercise just as athletes spend their time building up their physical muscles. That is why the word asceticism comes from the Greek word for athlete. There can be no successful Christian life without an ascetical life. What I learned from Stampfl would be of immense value in my future. The first thing I learned from him was that if something is really important to you, you will find the time for it. If you do not, or you cannot, it just means that despite what you may say it is of no consequence to you. He used to say that if you are unwilling to find the consistent and daily time for athletics then please do not waste his time because you are going nowhere. I can understand someone saying that athletics or sports are of no consequence to them, but how can a human being say that love and loving is of no consequence to him? Life without love is not only purposeless, it is dry, drab, boring, colorless and ultimately worthless. If love is offered to you everything else must take second place or you will miss out on the most important thing in life. That is what is offered to anyone who wants to take their spiritual life seriously. LIFE IS FOR LOVE NOT RUGBY FOOTBALL When I was a young man, my cousin James told me that his girlfriend suddenly dropped him. It seemed she did not love him anymore. When I tried to discover the reasons why, I found that all his Saturdays were taken up with playing rugby and his Sundays recovering from his efforts. For the same reason, he liked to take Monday evening off, sitting in front of the television. On Wednesdays, he went to the gym to start getting back into shape again and on Thursday evening he liked to treat himself to a night at the cinema. Apparently, she rarely came because she did not like westerns or war films! Friday night was taken up with pre-match training and of course Saturday was match day. Although she sometimes came to watch him, she rarely saw him for long in the evenings because he was usually detained in the bar with his mates, especially after away games. That only left Tuesday night and one night a week is simply not enough. If someone loves you and you genuinely love them, then you must have time together to give and receive what is more important than anything else on earth. It is the same with the love of God. Without daily quality time for God in prayer, we simply cannot receive the only love that can permanently change us for the better. My cousin saw the error of his ways and he has been happily married for fifty years. God is loving us continually, but if we do not find time for the prayer where we learn how to receive His love then we will get nowhere—nowhere, that is, that really matters. CHRISTIANITY IS FIRST A MYSTICISM NOT A MORALISM The spiritual life seems to have become so complicated over the years that you almost feel like you need a couple of degrees in theology just to understand it, much less attempt to live it! Yet, it is essentially simple, so simple that you need the simplicity of a little child to see it. There is only one thing that is necessary and that is love. Not our love of God, but His love of us. In other words, Christianity is first a mysticism not a moralism. It is not primarily concerned with detailing the perfect moral behavior we see embodied in Christ’s life and then trying to copy it, virtue by virtue in our lives. That is stoicism, not Christianity, and it is doomed to failure. Christianity is primarily concerned with teaching us how to turn and open ourselves to receive the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus. The more we are filled with His love then the easier it is to return that love in kind, as the divine suffuses and then surcharges human love so that it can reach up to God and out to others. Then and only then are we able to love God with our whole hearts, minds, and whole beings and to love our neighbor as Christ loves us. READ FORWARD AND NOT BACKWARD The trouble is that we make the same mistake with Christ’s life as we do with the saints. We read their lives backward. We read about their rigorous ascetism, their superhuman sacrifices and their heroic virtues and believe that the only way we can be like them is to do likewise. If we would read their lives forward instead of backward then we would see that they were only capable of doing the seemingly impossible because they first received the power to do it in prayer. If we try to be and do what they did without first receiving what they received in prayer, then our brave attempts will inevitably end in disaster. True imitation of Christ or any of His saints means copying the way they did all in their power to receive the Holy Spirit who inspired and strengthened them with His love, to do what is impossible without it. That is essentially all we have to do. That is why the spiritual life is so simple, if only we had the simplicity of a little child to see it. ASCETICISM MADE EASY Ascetism for a beginner is quite simple: do not give up anything you like or enjoy except when it prevents you from giving quality space and time to God in prayer each day. If you think it is so easy then try it and stick to it. You will soon find it is not quite as easy as you thought. Do not let first enthusiasm fool you into heroics you will never sustain. When you have persevered for long enough you will gradually begin to receive and then experience the love that will enable you to do what is quite impossible without it. When one falls in love and begins to experience being loved there is nothing one would not do or any sacrifice one would not make for his lover. In fact, one positively looks for things to do, the harder and the more exacting the better, to enable him to show the real quality of his love. What was impossible to a self-centered egotist only a short time before becomes not only easier but also his/her greatest pleasure. It is exactly the same in the spiritual life. The exemplary behavior, the extraordinary self-discipline and the heroic sacrifices made by a person who begins to experience the love of God are not the result of an arrogant stoic trying to make himself perfect. They are the actions of someone desperate to express his love in behavior that could not be maintained for long without the love that sustains it. All the little pleasures and pastimes that were thought indispensable before suddenly become dispensable, with the greatest of ease. FIRST THINGS FIRST Virtues that were noticeable by their absence before are born of the love in which they are contained and communicated to those open to receive them. This happens when the love of God strikes a human heart. It strikes it as a simple ray of light strikes a prism. Then, just as that light is diffused and transformed into all the colors of the rainbow, the love of God is diffused and transformed into all the virtues and gifts that are needed to live and love as Christ Himself did. This happens automatically as the love of God suffuses our own imperfect love, making it possible for us to love God in return, along with the neighbor in need, in all we say and do. In short, first seek God and His kingdom, which is love, and everything else you want or desire will be given to you.
Most of us are regular church attendees and we participate in church-related and spiritual activities. Nevertheless, how well do we know the Lord whom we worship? We say with our tongue that He is almighty, powerful, gracious, loving, caring and so forth. But when we face an adverse situation in life, how do we react? Do we get anxious? Do we feel like God does not care? Do we get angry and frustrated towards God? Does it feel like He has abandoned us? I believe the reaction we generate when we face a difficult situation will help us realize exactly how much we trust Him. In any relationship, how much we trust a person depends on how well we know that person. The more time we spend with that individual, the more we begin to learn about that individual's character, including his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and so on. Our understanding of that person’s character helps us to determine how much we can trust that individual. Just like that, how well we know our Savior can play a significant role in evaluating how much we trust Him. In order to understand our Lord’s character, we need to spend more and more time with Him. It is crucial for us to meditate on the things that He had to give up in order to come down to earth and become like one of His creations. Think about it: the God who created heaven and earth, the God who is full of glory and honor decided to shrink into our likeness so that He can endure all the trials and difficulties of the earthly life that His sons and daughters experience. Furthermore, we need to contemplate the painful and most humiliating punishment He had taken upon Himself so that we would be saved from the eternal punishment we deserve. If we are measuring God's love based on the materialistic blessings He has given us in this world, we will be disappointed and angry at God when we do not receive those things or when we lose them. On the other hand, if we realize the value of our soul and learn to understand His love based on the great sacrifice He has made for us to redeem our souls, then we begin to understand how much He loves us. Dear readers, Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to leave everything behind and come down to this earth and accept a painful death for our salvation. He shed even the last drop of His blood to redeem us. Because of that sacrifice, you and I have been granted access into Heaven. It is also important to remember that God is our Creator and He loves us more than anyone else in this world. We do not like anything bad happening to our loved ones. We will not deliberately do or allow something to happen in our loved ones’ lives that would harm or destroy them. Considering that we—weak and sinful beings—would not want anything awful to happen to our dear ones, do you think our heavenly Father, the God who created us, would allow something to happen in our lives that would harm us? He will not. It is not in His character to do anything to hurt His children. He is love in its fullness. If God has allowed an unpleasant situation to happen in our lives, He has a great and good purpose behind it. Many of us likely have heard this analogy: if one of our children has to go through a painful medical procedure in order to recover from a life-threatening illness, we would allow them to go through that process— no matter how painful it is to see our child suffering. That child may be crying and begging you not to let him go through that process. However, since you know that it is necessary in order to sustain his life, you would allow him to go through it with a heavy heart. Just like that, our heavenly Father is not rejoicing when we are going through hardships. His heart is heavy and sad when He sees His children suffer. But sometimes, He has let us go through certain sufferings in life to sustain our precious soul. He knows that if He does not allow us to experience certain adversities that our soul will forever be lost. As an individual who lost her sight in a car accident, I truly believe this suffering that He allowed has been the greatest blessing in my life. In spite of the difficulties and challenges I face as a blind person, I am able to see this physical impairment as a blessing because this blindness has become a great eye-opener for me. Because of this condition, God gave me the grace not only to realize the value of my soul, but also to see how much I am loved by Him. When you come to realize these truths, it will become easier to carry the crosses that God has allowed in your own life. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Saint Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Like Paul reminds us, make every effort to concentrate on that eternal glory that is waiting for us in Heaven. Let us shift our focus away from our trials and tribulations which are temporary and, instead, put our focus and trust in a loving God who is much, much bigger than any storms we face in our lives. Always remember that our God can turn any tragedy into a great victory when we put our hope and trust in Him.
You can never fail to notice us at Mass, whether it is on Sunday morning or during the week. We fill the front pew on the right-hand side with our chaos, noise, and disarmingly cheeky smiles. Our youngest tries to escape from our pew, and the church, while Mass is going on and spends the time after Mass trying to get back into the church to run amok. Hubby and I have not listened to a homily from start to finish in almost ten years. Despite our regular attendance at Mass, we do not seem to be getting any less noisy or less distracting, especially now that our eldest is an altar server and our almost two year old considers it vital to point and call out his brother’s name on a regular basis. Additionally, our second youngest likes to ask, loudly, from the offertory onwards: “When is Mass going to be over?” Because, of course, when you are four, the highlight of Mass is putting your money on the plate and once that is over, well, what is left? As you can imagine, I have conscientiously tried to find that elusive secret to keeping five children under ten manageable at Mass. I have scoured the Internet and tried to implement the strategies employed by mommy bloggers who have had more success in this area. Except, of course, they have not because we all struggle to make it through Mass with small children and not lose the plot altogether. Some weeks you think you have made a gain and the next week disaster is putting it mildly. God in His wisdom has allowed this to be the case. If there is one thing I have learned about this vocation it is this: parenting is full of chaotic, messy graces but they are graces nonetheless. For us, Mass attendance falls somewhere into the humbling category of why are they having more kids when they obviously cannot control the one’s they have? For a mother with a choleric temperament and a tendency toward pride, you know this hurt—but that is the point. Our parenting chaos and challenges are the path to our sanctification; if it was an easy road we would all be saints already. Perhaps the reason there are so few married couples canonized by the Church is that it is easy to lose sight of God among the piles of dirty laundry, childish disobedience, and self-deprivation. It is too easy to think that our daily challenges have nothing to do with His presence in our lives. Our challenges are different. For some the generosity of being open to life is tempered by infertility or the loss of beloved children; for others that same openness might result in a large family that results in an overwhelming workload. The support, or lack thereof, of our extended families can make these burdens seem even more insurmountable. These challenges are our chance to pick up our cross and walk alongside Christ. Now, it certainly does not sound as inspiring as the lives of the saints and martyrs that we read. I know I would certainly much rather read about the life of someone like Saint Edith Stein than a fellow mother struggling in the trenches of her vocation. Yet, how many of the saints implore us to do small things with great love? What if every small act I undertake, as necessitated by the demands of my vocation, was done out of great love? If I consider all of the tasks I perform each day—and add in the unexpected dramas that family life can throw into the mix—and look at each one as a paver or a stepping stone, how far would they reach? There is no doubting that they would reach a long way. I know I am not alone in feeling as though the demands of a big family are almost never ending. Right now, those stepping stones are not leading to anywhere in particular. They are packed haphazardly in a big stack, collecting dust and dirt, while the paving project experiences continual delays. If, however, I complete each of these tasks with a great love for God and my family—offering each one out of love not a grudging obligation—then that pile of stepping stones is repurposed. Each one is carefully placed next to the one next to it, increasing in length. Perhaps one day the project will be complete, my humble stepping stone path will reach all the way to heaven where I will be welcomed with open arms. That, my friends, is worth toiling for.
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