Category : Spirituality

Mama Bear kragenbar-2448071
Grace, Prayer, Spirituality, Suffering
0

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.

Horrific.

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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Litany of Humility Feature Image
Grace, Humility, Scripture, Spirituality, Virtue
2

Reflecting on the Litany of Humility

Have you ever prayed the Litany of Humility?

Litany of Humility

The beauty and wisdom of the Litany of Humility are especially evident in the way it manages to address both sides of our struggle with humility: pride and insecurity.

Both “too much pride and “too many insecurities are unhelpful, and both are violations of truth.

From Rick Warren Purpose Driven Life, though often attributed to CS Lewis

Humility is about LOVE

Humility is about loving God and knowing that you are loved by God, fully and completely.

Screenshot 2019-05-16 10.11.48

There is no need to “desire God’s love. You already are loved by God, fully and completely. Have faith in God’s perfect love. Stand firm in the knowledge of that love.

Allow the truth of God’s perfect love to speak to any insecurities.

Anyone or anything that would give you the impression that you are not fully and completely loved by God, just as you are, is violating the truth of God’s perfect love.

Humility is about TRUTH.

Humility rejects the falsehood of TOO MUCH pride, arrogance, or self-centered ego.

Pride prevents us from honestly seeing ourselves before God.

The problem isn’t taking pride in a job well done… the problem is when we claim all glory, honor and praise for our accomplishments as our own, without recognizing that in truth, we only build upon and work with the gifts and talents God has given us.

Moreover, the problem isn’t receiving praise and honor… the problem is the desire.

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Deliver me, Jesus, from the desires of my pride.

Humility also rejects the falsehood of TOO LITTLE confidence, which feeds insecurities and dwells on unworthiness.

Our God who again and again tells us “fear not” and “be not afraid” does not want us to feel insecure. Our God who blesses us with gifts and talents so that we may be the hands and feet of Christ to everyone we meet does not ask us to dwell on unworthiness.

Humility isn’t about unworthiness.

St Theresa of Avila quote on Humility

But before getting to “unworthiness,” there’s a TRUTH-related vocabulary word that needs clarity.

What is “calumniated” and how do you even say it?

Screenshot 2019-05-16 14.56.06

Calumny [CAL-oom-nee] appears in the Catechism’s section on truth, following the Eighth Commandment (Thou shall not bear false witness), and refers to misrepresenting  someone’s reputation, particularly with the intent to harm.

In the Litany of Humility, this speaks to that fear of being talked about behind your back. Ouch.

Deliver me, Jesus, from my fears and insecurities.

It’s Not About Worthiness

Far too often, we want to make our relationship with God about worthiness.

The Scripture passage about worthiness that we are most familiar with comes from the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13, which we pray before receiving the Eucharist.

Lord I am Not Worthy

The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. As Jesus agrees, the Centurion stops him with his powerful line, “Lord I am not worthy…” and goes on to express tremendous faith, “only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). Read this passage closely, and you’ll see that Jesus doesn’t disagree: the Centurion IS NOT worthy.

Of course, he’s not worthy. None of us are worthy. And if you’re the kind of person who struggles with the pride and ego side of humility, sit with this for a while.

Grace, mercy, love, and healing are gifts given by God, to us, freely.  It’s not about worthiness; it’s never about worthiness. We should really stop making it about worthiness.

The Virtue of Humility

Humility is the virtue that asks you to:

  • know that you are completely and fully loved by God for who you are
  • stand firm in the truth
  • value God’s opinion of you more than the world’s
  • trust in God’s Grace and Mercy
  • use the gifts and talents that God has given you to glorify God by your life
  • recognize that you are a vessel and God is the source of those gifts and talents

Humility is not to be confused with humiliation, which is a violation of TRUTH. Humility doesn’t ask you to be a doormat, content with verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. But when you experience humiliation, the virtue of humility grounds you in the truth of God’s love, not the world’s opinion. Humility frees you to trust in God’s Grace and Mercy.

Humility asks you to keep your pride in-check. To remember that all that you have and all that you are extend from God’s goodness, love, and blessings. Humility takes all of the glory from all our accomplishments and uses it to give greater glory to God.

And in everything, humility relies upon the virtues of courage and wisdom; to courageously and wisely speak the truth with love.

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Grant Me the Grace

The Litany of Humility invites us to explore the parts of the virtue of humility that you may find uncomfortable.

Through the Litany of Humility, petition God: Deliver me from my desires and fears… and grant me the grace to desire those aspects of humility that I still struggle with.

Screenshot 2019-05-16 21.52.33

Please feel free to print and share my Litany of Humility graphic, available in PDF.

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Screenshot 2019-01-29 12.52.04
Book, Prayer, Spirituality
0

On Prayer

In my family of voracious readers, we refer to the list of books we have lined up to read as “the queue.” So many books have been suggested in so many categories, they line up… and generally they’ll be read in the order in which they were received. Sadly, sometimes that line is longer and slower than the DMV because… well, time is limited.

your call is very important to us

Just this week, there was a series of coincidences [read: Holy Spirit] that led me to Ronald Rolheiser’s book Prayer: Our Deepest Longing (2013).  I recognized the author from working with ACTS Retreats, because Holy Longing (2009) – Fr. Rolheiser’s incredible book on Christian discipleship – has a chapter dedicated to Paschal Mystery spirituality, which is cited in the Director’s Manual, as it is at the heart of the ACTS Retreat.  Fr Rolheiser, OMI is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, which is also the home of ACTS Missions.

ACTS & ACTSM

What happened was, Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry Continuing Education has been advertising an opportunity to participate in a 5-week online book club on Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. BC STM’s Continuing Ed Facebook page had a video of Fr. Rolheiser offering some insights from his book on Prayer. The short video had me intrigued, but my “queue” is getting ridiculously long.

But, Holy Spirit.

So, I decided to try my first audiobook on “Audible,” I figured that I could listen while cleaning my kitchen, running errands, and what-have-you.  Although the rest of the world may have known the joys of audiobooks for years (especially while driving), it’s completely new to me.

Thank you, Holy Spirit; it was exactly what I needed!  To be honest, after listening to the first three chapters, I ordered a hard copy of the book just so I can underline and post-it-flag for easy reference.  It’s THAT good!

Prayer: Our Deepest Longing is a book that has already nourished my own prayer life, and it’s one I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone seeking to deepen their prayer life – from beginners to seasoned prayer warriors.  Read it, listen to it, or even consider trying BC’s online book club!

Somehow, Rolheiser manages to be both encouraging and challenging.  He had me at the preface:

There is no bad way to pray….[There’s] only one non-negotiable rule: You have to show up for prayer and you have to show up regularly.”

I hope you find a way to enjoy Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. If you do, come back and leave a comment about your favorite insights!

From Amazon’s website:

With simple, down-to-earth language, Rolheiser illustrates the importance of prayer and offers techniques for how to pray, using examples from daily life, Scripture, and contemporary writers. He delves into the places that we fear to go with our issues about prayer, encouraging us with gentle kindness and words of hope and inspiration.

The book is divided into five sections.

  • Why Pray? Illustrates the purposes and benefits of prayer for ourselves, as well as for the broader Catholic community and even the world.
  • Why Is It so Hard? Notes how our contemporary culture conspires against taking time out for solitude and prayer, and how our own ego—with its fears, restlessness, and narcissism—can work against developing a deeper relationship with God through prayer.
  • What Is Prayer? Outlines the two basic types of prayer, that is, affective (personal) and priestly (for the world). Describes the many ways or methods for each type of prayer, such as meditation, contemplation, the divine office, the Mass, and Scripture.
    Sticking with It. This section covers the development of mature prayer, discussing ways to pray in times of boredom, disillusionment, crisis, helplessness, or after a loved one’s death.
  • Mysticism. Here we learn about this increasingly popular form of intimate relationship with God.

This is a book for all manner of believers, whether your faith is solidly rooted, wavering between childhood religion and adult faith, or just not sure what you believe—or whether you believe at all. It addresses topics such as narcissism, pragmatism, efficiency, and self-gratification that work against a healthy spiritual life. Rolheiser takes us to a place of contact and comfort, in relationship not only with God but with our true selves as well.

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Psalm 150 Beach Meme
Faith, Joy, Life, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality
0

What is my Psalm?

Biking around my NASA affiliated Houston neighborhood is one of my simple joys.  When neighbors ask if we’re “the family that bikes to Church,” I smile with delight and gratitude.  Yes. Yes, we are.

Honestly, this isn’t something that I would instinctively insert into my daily prayer.  Yet, studying the Psalms has prompted me to ask at any given moment: What is my Psalm?  This simple question helps integrate prayerful conversation with God into the ordinary moments of daily life.

To pray in the style of the Psalms – or to pray using the words of the Psalms themselves – it’s helpful to know a little background.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs from throughout Israel’s history.  They are prayerful responses to real, specific life experiences.  And as varied as our life experiences may be on any given day, so are the Psalms!  This variety and connection to life is why the Psalms were so often sung and prayed in worship by the ancient Israelites, sung and prayed by Jesus and the apostles, and continue to be sung and prayed by us today.

Acknowledging simple joys with a Psalm of Praise is a beautiful way to recognize God’s presence in all things.

How?

Begin by inviting praise, such as: “Let us praise God!” Then articulate the specific reasons for praising God in that moment. And conclude by recapping the praise.

Look at how Psalm 117 – which is the shortest Psalm, with only two verses – provides a great example of this basic structure:

Praise and Psalm 117

As I bike through my neighborhood, if I were to use the words from Scripture, I might recite the final verse of Psalm 150

Psalm 150 Meme

But the beautiful gift of the Psalms is how they also teach us how to pray our own Psalm of Praise.

Praise God

For my adorable green bike

For its form and its function

and its matching green basket

For the ability to ride

For my wonderful neighborhood

For biking to the homes of friends,

to fun at the pool,

to Church,

to Starbucks,

to CVS.

For the opportunities I have

to share this with my family

whom I love

For all that I have; for all that I am,

Praise God

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Ask yourself: What is my Psalm?  And then say it, write it, sing it, pray it.

For more Wisdom of the Psalms, be sure to subscribe by entering your email on the sidebar.

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Tent in Cayonlands
Book, Faith, Lent, Spirituality, Transformation
1

Pitching a Tent

I originally wrote this post three years ago, shortly after having lost a dear friend to breast cancer.  Of course, in the 3-year cycle of readings, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is (once again) the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent. This reflection also makes its way into the first chapter of Continuing the Journey (which is now available in both English and Spanish, with a Leaders Guide–also in both English and Spanish… but I digress).

From February 2013…

My dear friend Amalour passed away last week.  And in my grief, I am still having a difficult time paying attention to almost everything.  So it  didn’t come as any surprise when I had a hard time following the homily today at mass.  The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28:-36).

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Years ago (before kids), I facilitated a faith sharing group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Maryland, and one of the women explained how the story of the Transfiguration was one of her favorites because it offered a glimpse of Jesus Christ glorified.  I heard her words and felt moved by her passion, but that’s not how the story struck me.

Personally, I find myself identifying with Peter, James, and John.  Like them, I would have been happy to follow Jesus up a mountain.  Like them, I would have probably been overcome by sleep.  Even before kids.  And like them, I would probably been so awestruck, I would have been happy to  to pitch a tent.

Actually, I would have been happy to have my husband pitch the tent while I set up camp.

IMG_1690

At the Vigil service for Amalour’s funeral, her husband Brian offered one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard.  Brian talked about Amalour’s unending quest for improvement.  In their marriage–in their lives–they’d do the work and come to a plateau.  It was a nice plateau, on which Brian was ready to pitch a tent and enjoy the view.  And Amalour would say no; we’re not there yet.  We can do better than this.  There’s more to see; there’s more to do.  Again, and again, and again in their lives, Amalour was always striving for something more… for something better… in all the ways that mattered.

I am a do-er.  I’d like to think of myself as someone who walked alongside Amalour on the path of growth.  In many ways, I know I have.  But I also know one of my weaknesses is doing too much. I have been guilty of distracting myself from the real, true, important things in life with busyness… filling my days with so much stuff that I don’t have time to think.  When I’m in this mindset, pitching a tent and enjoying the view sounds like a GREAT idea!  In fact, I’ll even busy myself with setting up camp.

Thing is, life is more of a journey than a sit-down and watch (or in my case, get everything ready to sit down and watch).  And sometimes that journey is hard.  Very hard.

I can imagine that witnessing the Transfiguration was to be a gift to inspire Peter, James, and John for the journey that lay before them.  It was not meant to be the end of the journey… or even a break from the journey.

So the challenge, I suppose, is to take those moments of grace, peace, hope, and light and allow them to inspire us along the path.  To avoid the temptation to pitch a tent as though that moment was the end-all-be-all.  To avoid the temptation to busy ourselves with setting up camp instead of doing the real work of journeying through life.


Tent in Canyonlands by [Rob Lee]https://www.flickr.com/photos/roblee) licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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