Who is Observing your Normal?

My family has been confronted with the fallout of sudden death in the last several weeks, and I’m left pondering my own mortality and the legacy I leave my family. Will what my family observed in me encourage them onward in their faith in our LORD? St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy words that get right to the heart of what I’ve been thinking.

I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
that dwells within us.

II Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14

St. Timothy was a protégé of St. Paul’s, believed to be a teenager when he first came under the spiritual leadership of St. Paul. The two letters to him are full of encouragement and guidance. What St. Paul had learned himself about living The Faith, he passed on to a future spiritual leader. His hope for the young Timothy was that as he observed his norm, as he put it, Timothy would follow in his footsteps of spreading the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

The letters St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy may be read in just a few minutes, but, boy, oh boy, the spiritual nourishment contained in them can be feasted upon for a lifetime. The big takeaway for me, especially at my age and the role I’ve been honored with within my family, parish, and community, is that my “norm” better be worth observing!

The Holy Spirit has given each of us the privilege of stirring into flame the gift of God in others’ lives. I regularly need to sit with Timothy at the feet of St. Paul to receive the Holy Spirit’s power to do this well.

Firstly, I’m not to be a coward about how I demonstrate my faith and trust in the LORD before others. I have one husband, six children (I consider my daughter and sons-in-law my own after this many years), and 16 grandchildren, and quite frankly, I am most concerned about what they observe in me. I pray that they see in me the courage and humility to allow the Lord’s power to be in control of all my thoughts, words, and deeds. I do not want them to observe me elbowing my way into their lives, bossily taking over and trying to fix or change what God’s holy Spirit is already accomplishing in his good time and in his good way.

Secondly, I am to pray. St. Paul’s instruction about this privilege doesn’t show up until the second chapter, but in reality, it is the first thing he tells Timothy to do.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…. so that [you] may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 

I Timothy 2:1,2

Notice that St. Paul emphasizes how much prayer determines how we live our life. I desire to be a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and neighbor that leads a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. I want that to be my legacy! No matter what relationship we have in others’ lives, the LORD has tasked us with bearing witness of our love for and trust in him before others, and we do that best through prayer. I wonder if the quality of our life in God is determined by our quantity of prayer in all things?

There’s a difference between praying with confidence and praying with doubt. Could it be that when we worry about all matters that concern us (and the many that don’t), the less peace we enjoy? Could it be that worrying about the outcome of every little thing that concerns us in the life of our loved ones robs us of the witness of peace, godliness, and dignity?

What the LORD is faithfully showing me as I pray more and insert myself less is that it’s my responsibility to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. Do I still worry from time to time? You bet! But I don’t stay in the mindset very long before the Holy Spirit reminds me that I’m not him! You know what I’m talking about, wringing our hands thinking we are junior Holy Spirit and if we worry enough we can actually control things.

LORD, Teach us the norm of listening to you. Forgive us for striving with our own words and opinions before the observers of our lives. Teach us to pray so that we may see your will and purpose accomplished in the lives of our beloved.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.


O Jesus, I Surrender Myself to You, Take Care of Everything!

The Surrender Novena* was written by Fr. Don Dolindo Rutolo and handed down to us in the praying tradition of The Church. I’m sure you are familiar with it as it seems to be the go-to novena for so many who struggle with surrender, I being among them. A few years ago, I learned that Fr. Rutolo was a contemporary of St. Padre Pio, this gave me pause as St. Padre Pio is another saint who stocked me. Through a fortuitous encounter during a long recovery from a surgery that went very wrong, my priest introduced me to St. Padre Pio. Since that time, I often pray the Surrender Novena with St. Padre Pio, for he lived a life that demanded surrender to the LORD’s purpose at great cost. Today I would simply like to share with you one of my journal entries during one of the many times I have prayed this heartening novena. Pray with me as I pray with you, friend.

“Jesus, I trust in you. I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” It is the surrendering that is hard, there are some things I have a loose hold on, and others things are in my death grip! I pray these words in so many moments of my day because I do trust in you–praying the words are like exercise for my soul and mind, little sprints of affirmation to loosen the tensions that can overwhelm my mind and steal my joy. Surrender is the hurdle to jump before the finish line. The problem seems to me, that the finish line seems to always move farther away from me the more that I allow your Holy Spirit to train my heart and mind in holiness and wholeness. St. Augustine rings in my ear, “I am restless until I find rest in you.”

Me, myself, and I, a dysfunctional trinity of a life lived with narrowed vision, clenched fists, and halting steps, walking the path toward oneness with you. You seem to allow me the pratfalls of hard lessons learned, but I’m still on the path. I, like the father of the convulsive son, say to you, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” I don’t know how you can make my life a life of complete trust in you, so I struggle in this place with doubt and fear, and not just a little bit of pride! I, like Jacob wrestling with you until you clear my vision, will step back on the path, limping from the struggle of surrender to your sovereign will, yet my feet will fall in step again. I will let go of the arguing spirit within me and trust you as a child held in your embrace. A child who trusts, not needing explanations from you about the how and why and when of my life. I don’t need to understand my past or control my present or see how it all ends. I am a beloved daughter in the arms of my Beloved Creator.

Jesus, I trust in you. You already know what the path of holiness holds on this day. I have no idea, nor would I want to know. I just want to walk peacefully on the path of surrender.

Jesus, I trust in you. You have created my body with a mangled spine, for what reason, I do not know. Help me to walk, quite literally, the path of healing. Like the paralytic, I answer your question of “Do you want to be healed?” with a resounding yes and a whisper in your ear, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Jesus, I trust in you. You are my portion, overflowing the banks of my doubts. Pouring out your blood into the newly discovered nooks and crannies of my soul that need to be emptied of pride! Right now, I suppose we are passing yet another fork in the path of holiness where I am forced to answer your question, “Do you love me more than this?”

Yes, LORD, you know that I love you!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Below is a link to the pdf of the novena:

Let It Be

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

–The Beatles

My first encounter with the beauty of our Blessed Mother came through the 1968 release of the popular song, Let it Be, by the Beatles. What the Beatles communicated in that song, though not exactly scriptural, began to draw me to Mary long before I converted to Catholicism decades later. The notion that the mother of Jesus could speak words of wisdom to me intrigued me.

Later in life when I was a tenderfoot Catholic I began contemplating all the words of Our Blessed Mother and I found that praying, “Let it be” could usher me into the grace the LORD has for all who will magnify Him. How so? By observing this grace-filled woman, this perfect mother, we learn how to detach ourselves from our own notions about how life should go. Let’s use the Beatles song to expand on how Mary’s fiat leads us into wisdom.

“When I find myself in times of trouble…” Our Blessed Mother knew times of trouble, she knew what confusion felt like, she knew what rejection felt like, she knew what poverty felt like. Her response to those rugged realities– “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” reveals her humility. As we learn to respond rather than to react when the unexpected throws us off-kilter we leave room in our soul to reflect on the circumstances from the LORD’s point of view as Mary surely did. In that space of reflection we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s wise counsel. Though life may remain rugged, we may more readily accept the pratfalls of life as sacred ground for our spirit to rest in the LORD’s great love for us.

“And in the hour of darkness…” Allow me to use my own experience with “the hour of darkness” to show how our Blessed Mother comes to us speaking words of wisdom. In the years before I officially converted to The Catholic Church, I devoured books written by contemplative Catholics. My spirit kindled to reading about the sacramental life of The Church, especially when the life of Our Blessed Mother was the topic. My spirit opened to belief in her intercession for me. One afternoon in the midst of a collection of grief-filled realities, I was feeling the seer of pain from an unspeakable tragedy our family was enduring. The hours, months, years were filled with dark hours! I cannot say I put Mary to the test but, somewhere deep down I hoped that she would be my Mother as I was being a mother in the midst of loss and grief. A moment came when I dropped to the floor from physical exhaustion of the trauma; I began to pray. Who did I pray to? The LORD of course, but who was there holding me, weeping with me, crying out with me the extreme of my emotions? It was Our Blessed Mother! I cannot articulate the infused comfort and hope my spirit received that day, but I experienced the “lifting up of the lowly” that Mary declared in her Magnificat.

“And when the night is cloudy…” When we are on our last tether and we can’t see our way through a dilemma, if we listen, we hear the echo of Our Blessed Mother say to Jesus, “[She] has no wine.” When our resources don’t measure up to the expectation of others, if we listen we can hear her say, “Whatever He says, do it.” And what do we do when Christ abundantly supplies? We do as Mary, we reflect on God’s goodness and treasure it in our heart.

“I wake up to the sound of music…” As we pray the rosary of our Blessed Mother we join Mary in contemplating the joys of the life of our Saviour. He laughs, he celebrates; when He walks in He literally lights things up! And we can imagine Mary laughing right along; why? For she knew that “He who is mighty has done great things!” We receive the same peace and joy when our mighty Saviour does great things in us!

Whah, Whah, Whah

A memory came back to me today from my childhood years of watching Charlie Brown specials on a black and white television. I still grow nostalgic when I hear the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas played. Charles Schulz’s wry, sometimes melancholy humor tickled my childhood funny bone. His insight shone through in his scripts. There is one particular thread of Shulz’s wit that came through in his suspension of reality that stands out in my memory, and for whatever reason, LORD, you bring it back to me often.

Today was a day for that. In the Peanut’s cartoon strip and in the television specials, the only hint at adults in a scene were their legs and feet. The only sounds (captioned or audio) that came from the anonymous “they” was “whah, whah, whah.” I believe what Charles Shulz was trying to convey was the dialogue between Charlie and his friends was the only relevant thing. I loved that–power to the short stuff!

Today I am particularly tired of the the “whah, whah, whah” of the culture. The yammer is rife with fearful and cynical thinking, and as much as I try to close my ears to it, there is always someone who comes along who thinks it relevant. It’s these times you bring that detail of the cartoon back to me. Those anonymous legs and feet stomp off the cartoon strip and into my space threatening to crowd out joy and contentment.

When St. Paul’s received this word from you, his world was very much like mine today. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) I think of the certain death that awaited the martyrs of the Faith because they refused to conform to the world’s way of thinking, it encourages me to fight the good fight by refusal to get caught up in the world’s mindset. But……it is a wearisome fight.

There’s a more insidious infiltration from the world that challenges my resolve to not be conformed to its modus operandi. It’s the “empty talk” you warn against in Sacred Scripture, and you do that a lot! So it must really bother you. It’s the human bent to fill the air with mindless chatter! The kind of prattling that quite often leads to gossip, malice, mocking, and criticism of others. You are very clear to tell me that, that isn’t the relevant thing in my life, so much so that I’d better avoid it all together! This battlefront is always moving the boundaries–stealthily placing snares in my relationships. I can easily tune out the culture’s voice on nearly everything, but empty talk with a friend or family member requires more resolve, me thinks. The courage to stand against a face I know requires so much more of me. The courage to silence my own empty talk seems altogether impossible. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!

I wonder what would happen in my corner of the world if my conversation with you was the only relevant thing? What if the stretch and strength of my love for you compelled me to concentrate all my thoughts into valuable and refreshing dialogues with those around me? I’d be freed from the stifling self-absorption that drives so many to plot and scheme one-upmanship in relationships. I would be free from the insecurities that too often motivate my tongue to be a double-bladed sword that tears into the heart of another. What if I resolved to look at every moment and allowed you to captivate my thoughts? What if I bent all my energy to speaking words of worth? What if I staked everything on the truth that you will renew my mind and that my choice would prove what is your will–the good and acceptable and perfect?

LORD, take control of my tongue. Take every thought of mine captive before it reaches my tongue, please. Show me where I use my words as weapons rather than as an instrument of healing and refreshment. Show me where I allow myself to become consumed by the world. Reveal to me your ways to keep myself conformed only to you. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) Amen.

I Miss You.

I caught a glimpse of you this morning. You were standing in the grocery store  check-out line, just ahead of another woman about the age you were when you departed this life. You were being your merciful and generous self, not thinking about a to-do list but rather engaging another with grace-filled attention and common conversation. You talked about recipes, traffic and yogurt. Not-so-interesting topics to you but they seemed interesting to the woman. You saw her like no one else could see her at that point in time–a woman of years and experience, in need of kind attention. The gesture of your goodbye to her was the cadence of hospitality dancing from your fluttering fingers as you always had for anyone you crossed paths with. A cadence that speaks to the other: “I am glad for this moment with you, I am richer because of this fleeting encounter.” Yes, I did see you….in me as I stood there with that woman and I hope someone looking on would say, “You look just like you mother.

“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my
Chosen; listen to him!”  When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they
kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”
–The Gospel according to Saint Luke

Mountains seem to be a thing for you, LORD. I have climbed Mount Tabor sometimes with great speed and sometimes slowly over these decades since Mom entered the clouds of eternity to worship you forever, I’m not able to behold her transformed face as the disciples beheld your’s, but I’m sure if I could, I’d see her laughing. The surprise and delight that came to her so easily in this life now abundantly released into her soul.

I have been, in turn, Moses climbing Sinai and Elijah climbing Carmel and Horeb. There has been monumental stuff that’s happened to me on the mountain range of Faith. Your mountain with its clouds: the finger of the LORD God writing his Law on  the stone tablet of my heart.  Worship of this earth’s values and attractions shattering–exposed by a cloud the size of a man’s hand bearing the rain that no graven image could conjure. I am Elijah who chooses trust in you, revived by your whisper after wind shakes mountains and the earth quakes….“What are you doing here, [Lois]?”

And now in this grocery line, a Mt. Tabor transfiguration; where the glory of the God-head radiates from your face as the Father commands me to listen to you and to experience your passion and your resurrection and be transfigured by your holy Spirit
What am I doing here, Lord Jesus Christ, on this the summit of Tabor?What is this heavenly mystery I see as you dazzle white before me?  Why do you allow me to eavesdrop on your conversation with pioneer mountain climbers once covered by the veil of death but now revealed as the shroud of eternity free falls down the mountain? It is good to be here with you, but, why here? A grocery line that transports me in a moment that is luminous with the reflection of your glory! I should be blinded but instead I fall before you in worship. 
I see now with abundant clarity that you led me to this ordinary moment of waiting in the grocery line. And I feel you as you lead me back down this mountain where the mystery of transformation will illuminate my soul.

Could it be that it was my heart’s longing that opened the portal of eternity to me?Could it be that as I learn to live life praying–abiding in the ascent of listening–that you amend my fears and doubts, striking a lightning blow to my pride and arrogance. Is it in  in the moments of give and take living that I  see your divine purpose now unfold in my humanity? Is the mystery of transfiguration revealed when I learn to listen to you, to respond in obedience, to see that every moment is suffused with divinity waiting for my eyes to look up? Is it that overshadowing of your grace that happens on the earth under my feet; turning grocery store check-out lines into the holy ground of my transformation into your likeness?

“Become what you behold,” echoed from Tabor as I stood beside that woman today. The merciful spirit that is the spiritual heritage of Mom’s life has steadily become my spiritual gift over these years as I have submitted to your transformation every moment of living my ordinary life in the pursuit of holiness.  My life is gradually being endowed with the generosity of spirit that was so natural to Mom and so unnatural to me. I look back now and see how your holy Spirit has poured into my life the mercy and generosity that I have prayed for as an inheritance from Mother. Today I felt Mom’s spirit dancing from my fluttering fingers in a gesture of kindness toward the woman. A physical and spiritual heritage become one in the transformation of my soul. And I listen to you, Father.  My voice echoes back to you what Peter must have said to you as he fell on his knees before the miracle of The Transfiguration. “It is good that I am here, it is good that I have listened and obeyed. I hear you say to me now, ‘You are my beloved daughter.'”

Walk This Way

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)

“This is the way, walk in it.” Why is sometimes so hard for me to just follow your will for me? Don’t answer, Lord, I already know the answer. Pride! Everyone has some inner space to navigate in order to receive the abundance of grace You desire for them, and that space is unique to each person. For me, it’s over-weaning pride, the underbelly of balanced pride. It’s that, “I can handle this!” comeuppance in my spirit that’s the problem, isn’t it?

I can connect the dots of how pride became over-weaning PRIDE. The long fight with this rearguard of delusion in my soul grew from the feelings of the insecurities surrounding mom’s chronic disease, and they’ve shadowed my life and fogged the way of humility from time to time. Now, as I look back, I realize I couldn’t restore mom’s health through my own efforts yet somehow in my emotional formation, I came to believe it was up to me to shield her and others from suffering. That delusion led to this prideful determination that I would protect anyone I loved from suffering. Not such a bad motivation, is it, Lord?

I learned early on that we grow in holiness as we obey the Spirit’s leadership in the walk of faith: to trust was to obey and to obey was to trust.  It was the consistent lesson from Dad and Mom to us as we lived in our reality. Learning obedience and trust have included pratfalls along the way. And it always come down to two areas of my life: The great tests of my faith have been through circumstances around what you know I hold most dear in my life–my family.  It has been one thing to say to You, “Yes, I want to ascend the heights of grace, yes, I want to seek understanding by learning to trust.”  It is quite another thing for me to say, “Yes, I will choose to allow my husband or child or loved one to suffer through circumstances while You teach me to trust and obey.”   Worse yet, the great tests of my faith have been with the mindset that accompanies my pride. “Yes, I desire to be humbled, LORD…But I will not allow anyone to know the emotional or physical battles I fight every day in this ascent to holiness…I will not entrust myself to others.”   Do you shake your head and wonder when I’ll loosen my grip on pride? 

I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that  pride is disordered self-trust.  It seems to me that in every upheaval that precedes my eventual obedience there is a redemptive moment when I’ve realize that disordered self-trust has me in its grip.  If I’m going to be transformed into the image of Christ through a circumstance, I have to loosen my grip on my pride.  LORD, I’m in awe of your patience with me and I’m grateful for the lightness of being that flows over my spirit each time I submit to You! It seems the path of surrender only opens before me as I learn from each temptation to turn to my pride--“to the right or to the left..choose you this day whom you trust.”

I read somewhere that suffering and death are the specters that brood and hover around the edges of fallen humanity–sometimes they stand just outside the boundaries of living in the present moment, other times they possess us.   That possession is sometimes suffocating and other times sly; slipping in and around my thoughts until I’m in a cul-de-sac of confusion! Humbling myself by praying “God of Grace, this does not belong to me, it belongs to you” or “Jesus I surrender myself to you, take care of everything” is responding to the truth that You are the voice that is saying to me, “This is the way, walk in it.” And as I entrust myself to You, you train me in the grace of stilling my thoughts and stepping back to look at the circumstances through your eyes.

Lost Things

It’s a season of suffering that has gradually fractured into a thousand fragments like spent dandelion; let me grieve. Don’t fill my ears with the should haves and the would haves and the could haves that already crowd my mind; give me time.

When memories draw tears up from the well of my heart; let me weep. Don’t nudge me into making new memories out of pieces of old memories; let me keep them even when they hurt. I’ll let go in God’s good time. you see loneliness tip toe into my soul; let it come. Leave me space in this sacred loneliness for days gone by; I’m okay here, alone in the garden with my Savior; we watch as the dandelion gently lets go of life.

When my face turns away from you to gaze upon a distance scene; don’t doubt. I am still here with you in the present though the past is still a steadfast companion; do not worry, I will eventually say the final goodbye.

When I say “I can’t,” know that I have fought hard battles with my pride to say those words; understand me.

When my physical pain drives me into the dark shadows of doubt and despair; pray with me there. My head knows it is a fact of existence for me, but my soul is learning to catch up to what is. Pray for me as I offer up my suffering to my Savior who knew of me before I knew of me, who knit me together with a mangled spine; sit with me and wait for my soul to find her way in the shadow of my Savior’s Passion.

Letting go of who I thought I was is leading me to see what my Creator’s sees of me. Through disability I am me is unfolding as I let go of what was and embrace what will be; pray for me as I unfold.

And when last seed of life has left the dandelion, follow me on the wisps of wind that come with time. Where loss quietly finds a way toward resurrection–finally finding new soil to grow in. Rejoice with me as I resurrect from the valley of the shadow of suffering in the green pastures where hope springs eternal.