Gladys Aylward: A Heart for China

Last week I had the chance to speak to a group of local women — and my mother, who had never heard me speak in public until then — about a group of women I’ve come to regard as my spiritual mothers: Women whose example led me, as surely as Moses led the Chosen People to the Promised Land, to where I am today. They (clockwise from upper left): My confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael; Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers, widow of Oswald Chambers; Gladys Aylward; Mother Teresa; Elisabeth Elliot; and Corrie. ten Boom. (I’ve linked each of their names to my favorite books by or about them, in case you’d like to learn more.)

Like Moses, most of them did not “cross over,” as I did, into the Catholic Church (Mother Teresa is the only professed Catholic among them). And yet, each of them left an indelible stamp upon my spirit through their lives and writings.

Tonight mom and I finished reading the book about Gladys Aylward, the British missionary to China (1902-1970), whose story was retold (with great liberties) in the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. After twenty years preaching the Gospel to teems of people suffering under Communist oppression, she felt the Lord call her back home. At first she was incredulous — she had by that time become a Chinese citizen, dressing like them, eating like them, even thinking like them. And yet, she said,

“England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all-important — the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual…. I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God has done for me” (The Little Woman, 136).

This was nearly fifty years ago, and yet not much has changed. The “underground” Church of faithful Christians continues to suffer and to struggle, and even to die.

Pray with me for the Holy Father, for the Christians in China … and for all those on the front lines, who seek to ease the suffering of the “least of these” who continue to suffer simply for naming the Blessed Name. Mother Gladys, pray for us, that we might not be afraid to stand with your beloved people.

Another much admired figure, from the Civil War era at Notre Dame, I’d like to write about one day: Sister Angela Gillespie.

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The Poor Rich

Today’s Gospel message has me thinking about how Mother Teresa used to speak of the poverty of the West, how we are so willing to give our money — but find it difficult to give of ourselves. Perhaps it was for this reason that Jesus said (Mk 10:17-27):

“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.

camels-gateThe “eye of a needle” referred to a gate outside Jerusalem, that was built for the city’s protection when under siege. The entrance was so low that a fully laden camel could not pass beneath it – rather, the animal had to be completely unloaded, and bend low to fit beneath.

Isn’t that a wonderful image of Lent, when we are called to divest ourselves of the luxuries of life in order to follow the Lord with humility, in obedience, and out of love — just like Saint Teresa of Calcutta?

Are you looking for a way to build up your marriage during Lent? Be sure to sign up for my “40 Day Challenge” by subscribing to my mailing list (on the right). God bless!

BOGO offer for CatholicMom.com Readers!

cm_logo_final_vertical-copy_300Thanks to Lisa Hendey and Barb Szyskiewicz for helping to spread the word about “The 40 Day Challenge” over at CatholicMom.com!

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God bless you!

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Teresa-21For those who are unemployed or self-employed, figuring out how to spend time wisely can be a real challenge. There is always more to do than time to do it. And so, last week when my friend Jennifer Fulwiler had an online “web event” to launch the paperback edition of her memoir  “Something Other Than God, I logged on and asked Jen how she manages to do everything she does: She homeschools her kids, hosts her own radio show, writes books and keynotes at practically every major Catholic gathering across the country.

Her two-word response was deceptively simple: prioritize ruthlessly. “When I wanted to write a book, I had to set aside everything else except my family. I couldn’t attend every church function or do the other things I wanted to do, because there wasn’t time. I had to prioritize ruthlessly to get it done.”

I knew she was right. Door-testing takes time. Once people heard I was looking for work, I suddenly had a L-O-N-G list of invitations of (unpaid) things well worth doing (and likely couldn’t have done had I still been employed). This weekend, for instance, I helped to host the Franciscan profession of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity here in Mishawaka, whipping up large pans of my signature chicken and rice dish to feed nearly 200 people. I also baked enough gingerbread to make 10 houses with the YDisciple group at church. It was fun, and it got me out of the house. On the other hand, if I got in the habit of doing these kinds of grand-scale projects, what would it do to the job hunt?

This morning I was on Relevant Radio, talking with Kyle Heimann about my new book  Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Servant’s publicity team, Kennedy-Brownrigg, has done a great job of lining up interviews for the book, and so I am talking about Mother Teresa a lot these days. This morning, I got to thinking about how she had to prioritize ruthlessly as well. With thousands of lepers lining the streets of Calcutta, how did she know which ones to help? How did she find the strength to EXPAND her work to other countries, given the level of need right where she was?

I found a nugget of insight in her book One Heart Full of Love, in which she describes what it was like to accept an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge. At first she protested. “You know full well that I have not studied theology. I just simply try always to live it out.” And yet, ultimately she accepted the honor. Why?

In reality, the event was a gift from God. And it was not just for me personally but for you, for the sisters, and for our poor. We must appreciate and accept it with all humility of heart, so that we can offer it to Jesus. After all, it belongs to him. All glory and honor are his. We must let Jesus use us as he sees fit. In that way, every aspect of our life of prayer, of fundraising, and of feeding and clothing the poor complement each other. They cannot be separated. One cannot be done without the other. None of them can be done without prayer. Your generosity and your sacrifices must be the fruit of your prayer life. (p.67-68).

In good times and bad, the measure of what is to be done is the same: all is the fruit of prayer, done for love of Jesus. The harder tasks keep us humble and trusting. And the “fun” things need not be written off as distractions, so long as we can offer them to God (that keeps the true distractions at bay, such as the big-screen time-suck in the living room). It becomes easier to prioritize when I ask myself not, “What do I want to do today?” but “God, what do YOU want me to do today?”

Excuse me, now. A little angel is calling me to go clean the carpets, a little prelude to the Thanksgiving celebration ahead.

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life

mother-teresa-13In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!

I’ve posted these lessons at the “Extraordinary Moms Network.” It was such a privilege reading through dozens of books by and about this great lady. I found myself relating to her in surprising ways! (Like me, she became “Mother” in her middle thirties, and like me she HATED getting her picture taken.)  Here are links to the eight lesson in the post series, which will run from September 4 through September 11.

Lesson #1  The Power of Loving the “Other.” How I “met” Mother Teresa while on a cross-country bus in Mexico, trying to discern my own vocation.

Lesson #2: Always Take Mary with You.  What would you do with an unlimited train pass? If you’re Mother Teresa . . . you take Mary with you.

Lesson #3: God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small. The sole survivor of last year’s murderous attack of the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen remembers the miracle.

Lesson #4: God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. Do you feel self-conscious about praying in public? Let this encourage you!

Lesson #5:  Faithful Love Sweetens Life How prayer is the “secret ingredient” of a peaceful life.

Lesson #6: God Transforms Our Pain Have you ever wondered what God was thinking when he allowed this or that to happen? Seeing how God used the pain of Mother Teresa’s life to bring healing to others spoke to me about this.

Lesson #7: God Measures “Success” Differently One day when we stand before God at the end of our lives, God will measure the value of our actions very differently than we have a tendency to do here on earth. How will you measure up?

Lesson #8: Joy, Like Love, Is a Choice. From broken hearts to natural disasters to national tragedies, how we choose to respond can be life-giving for ourselves and others.

Saint Teresa, thank you for the gift of your life to the whole world. Pray for us, your children, as we continue to follow your example of joy in suffering, trust in darkness, and humble service to all. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

Thanks for reading!

Where has Heidi been?

Hello!  Did you think I’d gone away?  It’s been almost a month since the last time I posted, which as you probably know is not the best thing for a blogger to do. Tends to diminish traffic considerably.

However (and I suspect many moms can relate to this), there are times when life kind of takes over and squeezes out all the “extras.” This, compounded by the fact that I’ve been dealing with some things in my own life that — until I had processed them a bit — I didn’t feel ready to write about.  Even now, I’m not sure it’s “soup yet,” but as someone pointed out to me recently, I tend to be someone who processes things best in writing. So here goes.

Some weeks ago, I met up with a young woman and her five adorable children. The “how” is less important than the fact that she and her family have gotten me thinking a great deal about how we as a society treat the poor and marginalized in our society. On the surface, “Sherry” is someone who made some bad choices early in life, which are still weighing her down.  She has no job, few resources, no car . . . and her friends and family have precious little to spare.

She loves her kids. She dresses the warmly, and feeds them even when she herself is not eating. She has shown great ingenuity in finding public resources to pay for food and shelter. But without a car, even the simplest task such as registering the children for school becomes an exercise in frustration. Her two cousins moved closer to her, to help her out . . . but neither of them has been able to find work, and one of them is still trying to get his GED.

Now for the part I’ve been trying to figure out:  What does charity (in the best sense of the word) look like in this situation? My own resources are not infinite, my time is also limited … and, as cute as they are, these children and their family are not my responsibility. So, what is the Christian response?

Surely not, “Well, she made this mess … let her clean it up herself!” (I’ve heard that one already.)

Possibly, “Let her ask you for what she needs.” (Which allows her to control her situation — but could create an unhealthy dependency.)

Possibly, “Just be a friend, and listen.” (This is easier than it sounds, when you find five children living in a trailer with empty cupboards that reeks of feral cat urine.)

This is a situation long on drama and short on answers, I know. Even as I write this, I keep coming back to the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus always expressed a preference for the poor, the fatherless and the outcast. He especially loved the children.

At times like this, I wish I could sit down with Blessed Mother Teresa (our priest gave a homily about her life today, tying it in with the parable of the mustard seed and the faithful servant). When she looked around and saw those hundreds of children who could not be adequately cared for, how did she prioritize?  In a word . . . she kept her eyes on Jesus.  Each day was an opportunity to dispense moments of grace. She could not solve the problem entirely. Some could argue that she was unable even to put an appreciable dent in the need.

But oh, how she loved. “Do small things with great love,” she’d say.

Lord, let me be like that.

Remembering Blessed Mother Teresa

Today (September 5) is the feast day of a woman I feel sure is the rightful patronness of adopted and foster children: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“Do not let the children die. Send them to me,” she was often quoted as saying. In each of those poor, suffering faces she saw “Jesus in distressing disguise.”

Some time ago, I wrote a series of posts on her life, based on the book Come Be My Light. You can read the first one, “Come Be My Light: Thoughts on Spiritual Motherhood,” here.

Otherwise, today I’ll keep it brief:

Blessed Mother Teresa, who now intercedes for us before the throne of grace, please continue to pray that more hearts will be softened and shaped by the plight of the poor and helpless of our world. May we find room for them all — and, by doing so, diminish our own spiritual poverty.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of the Poor, pray for us.