Advent, Grace, Holy Spirit, Scripture

Gifts of the Holy Spirit


As a post-Vatican II cradle Catholic, initially catechized by 1980’s parish CCD, I didn’t grow up memorizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In fact, during Confirmation prep, I remember wondering how I would suddenly receive these gifts when the bishop anointed my forehead… as if the Sacred Chrism Oil were some magical Gummi Berry Juice.

I didn’t get it. I surely didn’t get how Sacramental grace worked. Nor did I get how wisdom differed from understanding, which somehow differed from knowledge. Amid my solid grounding in the abundant love and mercy of God, I especially lacked a healthy understanding of what was meant by “fear of the Lord.”

As a teacher of adolescents and adults, I’ve spent some time making sense of this beautiful concept.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are identified in Isaiah 11:2-3, which was in Tuesday’s daily Mass reading and will be proclaimed again in the First Reading on the Second Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 11.2-3 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The gift of God’s love poured into human hearts through the Holy Spirit provides us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Explaining Each Gift

To better understand each of the gifts, we turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.

  • Knowledge as a gift of the Holy Spirit refers to knowing divine truth in a way that guides one’s moral life in both theory and practice; it is a knowledge of justice, balance, proportion, and judgment.
  • Wisdom extends from the perspective gained from combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience in order to make wise judgments aligned with goodness.
  • Understanding offers penetrating, intuitive insight into the very heart of things; the ability to “see” God and “to see as God sees.”
  • Counsel moves us beyond the human power of self-reflective deliberation, allowing us to be guided by the Holy Spirit in discerning God’s Will
  • Fortitude is the firmness of mind to do good and avoid evil, particularly when doing good is difficult or dangerous; beyond the cardinal virtue, this gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to confidently endure evil, fortifying us with the strength of God.
  • Piety is the gift that enables us to show the proper reverence, respect, honor, devotion, and worship for God
  • Fear of God is a fear only in the sense that we deeply fear losing those whom we deeply love; being in such “awe” of the relationship, rooted in such deep love, that one fears losing that relationship.

The Gift of Grace

The gifts of the Holy Spirit work as all gifts of God’s grace. Grace is the word we use to describe God’s freely given gift of God’s very self. Think of grace like divine assistance. This assistance only works if we cooperate with it.

It’s like this: imagine Jesus throws you a football of grace. Football of GraceYou either catch and run with it or it falls flat. Without your cooperation, nothing happens. The grace–and gifts of the Holy Spirit—lay dormant at your feet, waiting for you to do something with them. God deeply respects our freedom and dignity. God will not force the gift of Grace upon us.

Another beautiful image places the the gifts of the Holy Spirit as deeply planted roots from which the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow.


If we cultivate and grow the internal gifts that we have been given, by life lived in the Spirit, those gifts will bear fruit.

Are you cultivating those gifts or is the Football of Grace lying dormant at your feet?

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Houston, TX, September 21, 2005- Traffic jammed the freeways as Houstonians fled the on-coming hurricane.   Recent memories of Hurricane Katrina sent people scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Rita.  Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA
Faith, Suffering, Transformation

You are still on the fastest route.


When first I started commuting into town, Google Maps guided me with directions.  After a few days, the routine was ingrained, and I began to appreciate her insight on traffic.

I mean traffic. No one likes it; everyone hates it. But if you’re going to drive, you have to deal with it… much like the reality of suffering in life.

Google Maps helps me deal with insufferable traffic.

Google Maps

I appreciate knowing how long the delay will last and whether or not there are any better alternatives. When she says, “There is an accident ahead; you can save 20 minutes by taking an another route,” I will always click ACCEPT! Who wouldn’t?

Who wants to suffer through traffic, when they don’t have to?

However, sometimes there aren’t any better alternatives. “You are in a 13-minute delay. You are still on the fastest route.

You are still on the fastest route. Hear that affirmation. Release the angst. Stop wasting energy trying to find another way around it.

You are still on the fastest route. Thank you, Google Maps. I’ll claim the confidence that there’s nothing I can do differently—that I am doing the best I can. And with that, I can patiently wait.

Occasionally, when I doubt her wisdom, when I just can’t stand it any longer, convinced I know better, I try some back roads. More often than not, that fails. Nothing is gained, and sometimes my impatience even costs more time.

Suffering is a lot like that. Sometimes there is an alternative and we should take it. (I mean – within reason. Google Maps won’t suggest illicit maneuvers, after all!) But other times — like when you unexpectedly lose a job or a loved one, or a traumatic illness or accident leads to months of care — there’s nothing you can do differently. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Our God is a Redeemer who takes our pain and suffering – no matter how long, no matter how hard – and redeems them. It just takes time. You are still on the fastest route. Just keep inching forward. Trust. And be patient.

Also, when the backseat passengers start with the unsolicited advice to take those back roads (bless their hearts – they don’t know), tell them Google Maps said “You are still on the fastest route.

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So the Story Goes: God’s Presence in My Life


**The opportunity to attend this retreat at the CRC has passed, but I would love to present it to your group! We can easily take this show on the road!**

Email: julie @ diennodemarest . com

Once again, we are offering the 1/2 day mini retreat “So the Story Goes: God’s Presence in My Life.”

I will be leading this powerful retreat with Heidi Clark at the Christian Renewal Center in Dickenson, TX, on Saturday October 12th, from 10am-4pm.

You are invited to attend! And please, share this invitation with anyone you think might benefit from our Story Retreat; it’s open to adults of all ages and stages of life!

Take the opportunity to reflect on the story of your life through the lens of faith.

  • We’ll begin by exploring and meditating on the Paschal Mystery.
  • We’ll prayerfully identify how God is present to us in our joys and sorrows, both in day-to-day “ordinary time” and in times of crisis.
  • We’ll expand the words we use to describe our experiences with techniques used in writers-workshops.
  • We’ll examine how the Book of Psalms teaches us to turn to God with openness and honesty as we speak the truth of our lives.

This 1/2 day retreat is could be tremendously helpful for anyone in a retreat program like ACTS or CRHP who might benefit from guidance on reflecting on their story from the lens of faith.

God wants access to all of us, but we often hold back the “ugly” parts of our life. Maybe we think that God couldn’t possibly be interested in all those ugly parts. So, alone we struggle with crisis, hurt, despair, and grief.

Come and PAUSE at this mini retreat. Come and reflect on daily life and experience the power of the soothing balm of God’s grace as seen through the lens of our faith. Look back on the joys and sorrows of your life with a Paschal Mystery spirituality. PAUSE and experience God’s work. Don’t get caught up in the chaos of life and miss the soothing comfort of God’s grace. PAUSE and be part of this mini retreat.

Handouts and writing paper will be provided, but it’s recommended that participants bring their journal.

We hope to see you there! Register at:

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Mama Bear kragenbar-2448071
Grace, Prayer, Spirituality, Suffering

Courage, Grace, and Mama Bear


Today marks 5 weeks and 4 days since Alex was burned by boiling water at Scout Camp. His healing process has been remarkable; he’s now off all medications and continues to clean and care for his wounds at home. The next healing benchmark that we’re working towards is permission to swim (and enjoy a postponed 13th birthday pool party). There are a few more stories about tremendous experiences of grace that I have wanted to write about, but haven’t yet.

And then today, Alex boiled water to make pasta for himself and Max for lunch, for the first time since the accident.

“Were you nervous?” I asked.

“Yes!” Both Alex and Max intoned together.

Yes, they were. But they did it anyway. The virtue of courage isn’t being fearless; it’s following through with responsible action despite acknowledging fears.

So. It’s difficult for me to tell this story, but inspired by my courageous 13 year-old and 11 1/2 year-old sons, I’m going to do it anyway.

Five weeks ago today we had Alex’s first outpatient wound care appointment, called the “Tub Room.”

Cleaning the burns is critical to the healing process, and it’s just as excruciating as it sounds. For this reason, great attention is given to pain management. I followed the instructions I was given: to bring the prescription bottle of Vicodin along with us and await the medical staff’s instructions to take it precisely 30 minutes before the Tub Room appointment was to begin.

I remembered this process from my sister’s experience. It was called the Tank Room, and it happened 28 years ago, but it remains as the yardstick against which I measure excruciating pain.

As I reached out to my friends and family for prayer support, I petitioned Mary the Mother of God to give me the strength to stand by my son through this. I imagined her watching her Son carrying his Cross.

Mary 4th Station

Mother Mary, give me the strength.

First, we met with the Clinic (outpatient care team) who checked on Alex’s pain management. In addition to explaining the procedure, they identified the pain management options Alex had available to him should he need. Informed and grateful, we headed down to the PICU floor, and waited for his turn. We followed everything we were told to do; Alex took his Vicodin exactly when directed, and we entered the Tub Room.

Alex lay on the table – or “Tub,” which was a metal table with sides that folded up. As the tech took his dressings off and we got our first look at the healing wounds, the air hitting his skin started to hurt. A lot. It felt better to have the warm water running over them, so as I was allowed to assist, I maneuvered the water best I could.

Mary, give me the strength to stand with my son, as you stood with yours.

Mary way-of-the-cross-2654403_1920

As the tech began to wipe down his burns, Alex arched his back and turned red as he screamed in pain.

Immediately, he stuttered a request for the “lollipop” of Fentanyl (morphine) that the Clinic had offered us.

Immediately, the tech stopped…

But somehow, there was a miscommunication.

Instead of having immediate access to the painkiller, an order for the prescription had to be placed… and we needed to wait. Instead of the lollipop taking effect immediately, we were told it would take another 30 minutes to work… and we needed to wait.

The pain of the air hitting the newly forming skin had Alex screaming for water to be run over his legs. The tech was telling Alex, “You need to calm down…” again and again.

At first I argued logically; “This wasn’t what they told us to expect.”

“That’s not the way it works. You need to calm down.”

“Please, just cover my burns…” My child was red-faced, pleading, screaming in pain, and waiting was only prolonging it.

I don’t entirely know how much time passed, but eventually I went “Mama-Bear.” But instead of biting her head off, I pulled on the courage of Mother Mary, grasped at every ounce of grace, and firmly demanded: “Just. Finish. Cover his wounds like he’s asking.”

I held his head and his hands as he screamed. And I didn’t lose it.

I stood by my son.

Eventually it was over. He was rebandaged, and we scheduled our next Tub Room appointment three days later, on Friday.


That was the only word I could use to describe our experience.

As we drove home, we talked. Unthinkable pain for Alex – worse than the day of the accident itself. Undoubtedly the worst day of either of our lives.

The reality was that we had to do it again in three days. And he was scared. As was I.

“I promise you it will be different. You will never have that kind of experience that again. Not only will you have the proper amounts of pain-killer, that tech won’t be anywhere near us ever again.” (Mama-bear, indeed.)

Rewind back to the day after the accident, while we were still in the PICU, Alex initially gave a polite “no thanks” to my offer of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

“It’s not just asking for the grace of physical healing from Jesus, Anointing of the Sick also offers a spiritual strengthening for the journey ahead.”

“Yeah, I know. No thanks.”

Fast forward to the car ride home from that first Tub Room appointment, stopped at the light, waiting to turn on to the highway, I asked again.

“Yes,” he replied, without hesitation. And then he drifted off to sleep.

After we got home, I called my pastor and arranged for Alex to receive Anointing before his next Tub Room appointment. I also called the hospital and spoke to the managers of two different departments, and by the grace of God managed to communicate clearly without becoming completely unglued. I was listened to… I felt heard… and by the end of the second phone call, I felt less anxious and more confident.

It would have been very easy to yell and scream under the guise of “Mama-Bear,” aptly named because it’s recognized as that instinctive force that takes over a mother protecting her child.  Apparently the intercession of Mary makes it possible to Mama-Bear with grace. I have renewed respect for Mary and a deep appreciation for the strength, courage, and grace it must have taken for Mary to stand by her Son.

The next day, both Max and I were able to join Fr. Wencil in praying over Alex as he was Anointed – on his forehead and hands. And as promised, that Sacramental grace along with my Mama-Bear phone calls managed to render a better medicated Tub Room experience that looked more like a sleepy spa day.

Alex Tub Room 2

Though there isn’t a sacrament to anoint the Mothers of the Sick, Mary is always available for intercession. There are also tearful hugs with friends (and wine and chocolate)… all of which I also took full advantage.

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Article, Grace

Trauma and Grace


Friday morning, I drove from my parent’s beach vacation home to the RDU airport for my flight home. Ten minutes before I arrived at my best friend’s house for a brief visit, Peter called:

“Alex was burned with boiling water. We are headed to the emergency room.”

Peter was supposed to be in the car with me. The original plan was that he’d put the kids and their stuff into the vans and trailer for Boy Scout Camp and catch a flight to join me for a week at the beach in NC without kids. Instead he was at Boy Scout Camp with Alex (12) and Max (11) because the intended third adult leader was injured and an understudy was needed. With 5-days notice, Peter cancelled his kid-free beach vacation to chaperone a campout in Waco, TX. I was sad. Very sad. But completely understood.


My sister was seriously burned by boiling water in 1991; I was 16 and she was 10. My actions saved her life. And I remember every detail vividly. Too vividly.

The Scouts were having an Iron Chef cooking competition with the other Troops in one of the common areas. Alex, who has made pasta a gazillion times before, grabbed the pot with a towel, which slipped. He dropped the pot of boiling water, which poured down his thighs.

He screamed.

There was an adult paramedic with another Troop who ran to the scene and began treatment immediately.

Max ran to get Peter, who had gone back to their campsite momentarily, to fetch salt. Because salt is the key to winning a cooking competition.

Max screamed.

Peter ran.

Paramedic-guy led the first-responder care; Peter got Alex (and a panicked Max) into the car; another Adult-Scout-Leader drove them to Baylor Scott-White Hospital in Temple.

So me. I’m in NC. The phone call from Peter apparently lasted 57 seconds. And apparently I paused and thought and prayed [OH-GOD-OH-GOD-OH-GOD] for two minutes before calling my person, Heidi. I don’t just have one person. But this was THE PERSON for this job at this moment. I didn’t have enough intel to call my family; and what I needed immediately was prayer. And Heidi delivered BIG TIME, articulating every thought, hope, and need, in faith, to God. It lasted the entire 8-minute ride to my BFF April’s house.

April opened her door to a panicked momma and just opened her arms to my full-on UGLY-CRY, patiently awaiting explanation as she held me up.

My child was in immense pain, and I was not with him.

I called the Scoutmaster for more details on the incident, who delivered with clarity. April drove my rental to the drop-off, escorted me on to the bus, arranged with Southwest to escort me to the gate.

So Alex. At Baylor Scott-White in Temple, the ER docs immediately began making arrangements to transport Alex to one of the burn centers in Texas: Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, or Galveston.

Just as April was explaining the situation to Southwest Airlines, Peter called: to say an ambulance would be taking he and Alex to Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, arriving between 7pm-8pm.

“Can you ask your siblings if they can help get Max and my car from Waco?”

So April guided me to a place just past gate A5, where I made the phone calls with intermittent hugs and ugly cries. Though my parents were on their way to a B&B a few hours from their vacation home, my siblings were at home in Austin. My brother, Dennis, the First Responder, Firefighter, EMT and my sister, Laurie, a childhood burn victim and professional Safe Alliance advocate were entrusted to devise and carry through the plan while I prepared to board my SWA flight. Laurie and Dennis are less than an hour from Temple & Waco and proceeded with operation rescue.

Max was freaked out. He’s been the one with all the broken bones (both bones in the left forearm, 3-times in 11-months, two surgeries, plus two buckle fractures—one in each wrist at different times in the months following the second surgery)… but this time he’s the one who heard the scream. Laurie’s boss was on it, reminding her exactly what Max would need until he could get to me.

I got on the plane, trying to hold it together. Somehow, I calmly communicated my crisis situation to the most empathetic flight attendant and found myself sitting with a retired-marine [window] and a young nurse [center]. I introvert hard on planes and don’t talk to strangers. Except now. And these three strangers were angels from God. Kind, reassuring, compassionate, encouraging, patient, and understanding as I feverishly iMessaged via SWA wifi.

Heidi picked me up from Houston Hobby and drove me home. I repacked bags and headed to Galveston, arriving 20 min before the ambulance from Temple.

Friends from Church who had been tapped as prayer warriors began texting with specific offers for help – a mom-friend from Church and her med-school-student daughter (who just completed a rotation at Shriner’s the previous week) even dropped a bag of food and a blanket for me at the Security desk at Shriner’s. I missed their offer of in-person hugs while actually getting to see Alex.

Alex arrived to the Pediatric ICU at Shriners and was immediately escorted into a room while I hugged a smelly-week-of-unshowered-Scout-Camp-Peter in the waiting room. That is love, let me tell you.

The security staff, the nurses, and the doctors at Shriners were amazing. Children’s Hospitals just get it. They are firm, but completely compassionate and responsive to the panicked parent.

We were able to go to the PICU room to see him and give him love [read: excessive kisses and hair tousling] before they administered ketamine and debrided his burns.

We watched till his eyes twitched, they sent us out, and brought us back in about an hour later.

Alex had second degree burns primarily on his thighs and Shriner’s kept him overnight to watch for swelling. When I said I wanted to spend the night with him in the PICU, the nurses completely validated me by pointing out that one of two visitor chairs pulled out to a bed. Peter went home (with my blessing) to shower.

The nursing staff was amazing, training me to tend to the wounds between outpatient visits.

Generally, second-degree burns involve a 2-3 week recovery process and leave no scarring. Occasionally the depth of the burn necessitates a longer recovery and will result in scarring. Either way, we were encouraged to know that though Alex was facing a painful and uncomfortable recovery process, it would be complete and total.

As we prepared to be discharged less than 24 hours later on Saturday, Peter was joking with Alex about the “free” sticky-socks he got from the hospital:

“When the bill comes in, I’ll let you know how much those “free” socks are!”

Our dayshift nurse, Gerry replied,

“Oh, you won’t receive a bill. We are 100% charity. Whatever insurance doesn’t cover, our underwriters do.”

This was a really difficult two days completely surrounded by Grace – in every person who offered kindness, love, prayers, help, understanding, well-wishes, texts, and phone calls… and this hospital. Grace.

Every person, every instance, every circumstance in this story was infused with Grace, making a horrible accident a lot less horrible.

So many people have asked what they can do to help. To be honest, I’m swimming in love and gratitude, even as we face these next two weeks. And we don’t need a lot. As something comes up, I ask… and my Village responds like the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes.

What I’d really like people to do is to BE THAT GRACE.

  • Be the stranger on the plane that shows empathy and patience.
  • Be the strangers who witnessed a complete breakdown with loud, detailed phone calls, silently understood, and sent light and love.
  • Be the friend who volunteers for the airport pickup at rush-hour.
  • Open your arms and hug an overwhelmed momma, giving love (not advice) and patience—all the patience.

Thank nurses and firefighters and EMTs and Paramedics and Security and every person whose job it is to help, who does it well, and occasionally (as I did with Gerry as we said goodbye and prepared to leave), ask them if you can hug them, hug tight, cry, and whisper THANK YOU.

And if you feel so inclined, consider donating to Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. Because they are amazing.

And please continue to pray for Alex’s healing. Thank you!

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