On Making Plans

If all had gone according to plan, I would be arriving in Rome today with my husband and our friends Katy and Todd, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversaries. On Monday we would have boarded a cruise ship, which would have conveyed us across the waters to the single most important item on my bucket list: a guided tour of the Holy Land. All the while we were planning it, my heart raced to think of what it would be like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to visit the place where heaven truly touched earth.

This was my plan. As it turns out, God had a different plan. And so, this year Craig and I hosted Thanksgiving for a small group of family and friends, while Katy prepares to take the last round of chemo. They had tried to get us to go on the trip anyway … but I had made a pact with God. “Just make her well. The trip will wait until we can go together.”

Of course, it’s a bit foolish to bargain with God, who I am sure sees how it all turns out, and even knows whether we ever get to make that trip. All our plans, seen on that scale, really don’t matter. One of the most important lessons we need to learn in this life is that there is precious little that we can control ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to learn to trust.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Day 6: Dreaming

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Today’s theme is “dreaming.” Our dreams can teach us many things: What we wish for, and what we fear. What we hope and what we dread. What we need and what we regret.

Several years ago my husband and I were going through a particularly trying time with the kids. Sometimes we would escape the challenges of the day by imagining where we might be in a year, in five years. Deliberately turning our minds from the potential landmines before us, we would dream together of what life would be like, where we would go and what we would do. Happily, these positive thoughts buoyed us up and got us over those rough patches. These small bits of happiness were a mercy, keeping us in hope.

mother-teresa-13If you are cut from a more pragmatic bolt of cloth, perhaps you derive your mutual sense of comfort in another way. For Mother Teresa, it was all about obedience — doing everything for love of Jesus. Every moment of the day she continually adjusted her sights not on her immediate circumstances, but on her Lord, waiting for her there in the chapel. She did not always feel his presence, but she knew with every ounce of certainty that he was there. She often quoted the assuring words of Francis de Sales, who said: “Prayer opens the understanding of the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love — nothing can so effectually purity the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections.”

When was the last time you dreamed (or prayed) with your sweetheart? Why not find a quiet bit of time today, and try it?

Are you finding this Lenten series helpful? Is there a friend who might like to join you on this 40 Day Challenge, to strengthen her own marriage?

Book Whisperer: Favorite Books on Prayer

Book WhispererThis week in Confirmation class we talked about the Rosary, and about how prayer is an important part of Christian life.

Here are some of my favorite books on prayer and the saints….

33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael Gaitley. This “do-it-yourself” retreat is a wonderful introduction to Marian devotion (including the Rosary) and Christian contemplative prayer. We used this little book last year at Ascension, and it was a wonderful experience.

groeschelI Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ by Father Benedict Groeschel. This massive work is surprisingly accessible, and represents a decade in the life of one of the most beloved and respected Catholic teachers alive today. I am grateful to Ignatius Press for publishing it, and keep it on my “fire shelf” of important books for easy reference.

The New Rosary in Scripture: Biblical Insights for Praying the 20 Mysteries by Edward Sri. Dr. Ted Sri is a popular speaker and theology professor at the Augustine Institute. This book, published by Servant Press, is an especially thoughtful gift for Christians who are curious about this classic Catholic prayer tradition.

What are YOUR favorites?

Advent Begins: A season of tiny lights

advent wreath 2Happy Advent!

“Blogger Mom” Sherry Antonetti, suffered a miscarriage this week. This energetic mother of ten is walking a “valley of shadow” that is unknown to me. A car accident when I was eighteen caused such extensive internal damage, my doctor informed me I would not be able to have children. (The only silver lining to this was that my then-boyfriend, an Argentinian jackass, dumped me the minute I came out of I.C.U. because “You’re not a real woman anymore.”)

In a way, the knowledge that pregnancy was not in the cards for me made it a bit easier when I got married. As much as I would have liked to have a child, knowing it was not possible gave me the freedom to check that particular dream off my “wish list” and find a new dream with my husband, which we could envision together.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that the pain of the not-quite-realized dream has a special place in the spiritual life. Those of us who never buy a lottery ticket, do not experience the let-down of those who splurge on $20 in tickets without a single hit. That tantalizing possibility causes us to hope in God’s goodness . . . the excruciating aftermath leads us to trust in his mercy.

As we enter the season of Advent, we recall the most extraordinary of all of divine interventions: the Incarnation, the moment in history when God definitively intervened in human history, to remake a future infinitely better than we’d imagined for ourselves. “O felix culpa …” O happy fault, that won for us so great a Savior.

This year, as we enter the Church’s new year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon those moments when we experienced a tiny point of light, a brief moment when possibility turned into disappointment. The angst of childish choices. The agony of free will turned on end. The inexplicable shadow of nature at its worst.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts,

Which even now, we receive from Thy bounty,

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health,

As long as I shall live. Amen.

Weekend Ponderings: Persevering Through Pain

A couple of times here I’ve written about a good friend of mine who is battling leukemia, and has a teenage son with extreme special needs (in and out of mental hospitals, etc.) who is making their home life unbearable. She and her husband have tried every legal venue to get their foster-adopted son the help he needs, and because of the danger he poses to the younger boys they have exhausted every possible lead in order to find him another place to stay. All to no avail. He is still there, causing havoc.

Now another brother has been hospitalized for depression. And my friend is once more in the hospital — through her transplant seems to have “taken,” the side effects of her treatment have left her in constant pain, unable to eat or do anything else.

Yesterday when I saw my friend’s husband, my heart broke for him. He is a man caught in a desperate situation, with four boys who desperately miss their mother and fear their older brother. It is understandable that the poor man feels overwhelmed, despite the fact that so many friends are reaching out to them.

As he stood there, giving me the details on the most current difficulties the family is facing, I suddenly got an image of Jesus carrying his cross, step after painful step. The torture must have been unbearable … and yet, somehow he bore it. Somehow he found the strength. Somehow he kept going. People came alongside him, to assist him — carrying his cross, wiping his face. But no one carried him. For that, he had to lean hard on the Spirit.

And so, I prayed with my friend, that God would give him a measure of the same Spirit that strengthened Jesus in those final hours. I asked that same Spirit to defend and protect the older two boys, both of whom belong to God.  I do not understand why God hasn’t given this family a “way of escape.” Every door has been closed to them.

But in a remarkable, and totally unique way, they are being given an opportunity to imitate Christ. In particular, imitate the way he persevered despite the pain, remaining faithful to the God he knew had not forsaken him.

As Christians, we are often eager to share our testimony of victory, of triumph, of celebration. And yet, the paradox of the Gospel remains:  His strength is revealed most perfectly in our weakness.

Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.

Prayer for Catechists (when the year is almost over)

Yesterday was the last day of religious education classes — my fifth graders and I went out side to play “Baseball Review.” I lobbed questions (gently), one at a time … and if the “batter” got it right, s/he took a base. If s/he gave the wrong answer, the question was given to the “catcher” on the other side. If the catcher got it right, the first player was “out.” If not, the “batter” got another question.

I was amazed to discover what answers they got right — and what questions they missed! After months and months teaching about prayer and the sacraments, they could name the sacraments, and could come up with eight out of ten of the commandments. However, they couldn’t tell me the name of our pope — or name even one of the Joyful or Sorrowful Mysteries. Hmm… more work still to do!

Suddenly I found myself empathizing with the hundreds of religious sisters from decades past, who labored to teach thousands of Catholic schoolboys and girls the mysteries of the faith (and watched helplessly as those students left the Church later in life). The kids could recite the Catechism … but had they caught the Spirit?

It’s an unfortunate reality for parents and catechists alike: Our influence in the lives of the children entrusted to our care is not something we can wholly control ourselves. They may look up to us, and on a good day they may even appear to be listening to us … but what they recall is altogether a different matter.

For good or ill, children are watching us. Learning from from what we say … and especially from who we are. If we do our jobs right, years from now when they are grappling with issues of faith, they will remember our carefully prepared lessons. They will also remember us as men and women of faith who showed them the love of God.

An authentic religious education does not stop with the mind. It perseveres, until it reaches the heart.

Prayer for Catechists as We End the Year

We have run the race, we have finished the course.
We have guided these children, gathered before us.
Our worksheets completed, our workbooks read.
Our rosaries prayed ’til our fingers bled.

And now … It’s all up to you, Holy Spirit.
We release these little souls into your care,
Knowing they are safest there.
Make them good, and pure, and true.
Show them how much they are loved by you!

Taking Time to … Breathe

This morning when the phone rang, I wished very hardthat I had been able to find my Daytimer yesterday. That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised when my friend Pat Gohn (left) asked me if I was ready to interview for her podcast “Among Women.”

I wasn’t, not exactly. My husband was conducting business in the living room, and when I moved to the bedroom to conduct the interview he started moving around, getting ready for work. If I’d remembered, I have shoveled out my office enough to talk to Pat in peace and quiet. As it was, all I could do was … breathe.

Do you ever get like this? Feel like you’re going through life in auto-pilot mode, one step ahead of the lions? With kids to feed, home to clean, posters to make, meetings to attend, columns to write, e-mails to answer, books to read, and much else to do … Taking a moment to breathe seems like inexcusable luxury.

But that is exactly what we need to do sometimes. Breathe, so we have the resources to keep running.

Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhew!

Today at AnnArbor.com, I’ve posted a little article about another important way to keep perspective, at least at our house. It’s the family rules: 30 minutes of together time every single day. No computers. No agenda. Just … together. Talking. Singing. Even grumping. It’s all good.

In the interview with Pat about “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories,” I talked about how we can never hope to have a relationship with God if we don’t spend timein His presence. It would be like running into Grandma’s house, shouting at her from the door, “Hi-Grandma-how-are-you-I’m-fine!” and running back to the car. That’s not the way to build a relationship.

So, c’mon. Breathe with me now.

Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.
Make me aware of your presence, right here and now.
As close and as warm as the air I breathe.
Fill me, calm me, and strengthen me. Amen!