Monday, April 25, 2011

Who Needs a Heart of Gold? I Want One Like Hers

I am writing this before Easter but I know it won't post until after. So...I hope everyone's Easter was blessed. I'm sure ours will be. I've already put my See's candy order in to my mom.

I've been thinking of ways Stella has been teaching me now. As stated in a previous post, my desire is to become little like her, so I too can continue to grow closer to heaven and getting there. A couple attributes that keep going to my mind about Stella is her compassion and gratitude. She is fascinating to watch. Her joy surpasses many children I have ever met. She loves life in abundance, whether it be in small things or large ones. People would often comment on her laugh. She has the best full-hearted laugh. It is the contagious kind. However, in the same breath her sensitivity towards others amazes me. She would leave the room if a show or movie was on where a person was being laughed with. I would explain the difference between being laughed "with" verses laughed "at". The thought of this would make her leave the room and often cry. It would disturb her so much. Another example was in January we had a cold spell (And yes AZ can have them too.) It hit as low as the 20's! She came to me one night because she couldn't sleep. Her lips started to quiver and she expressed her concern for all the poor in the cold weather, especially the babies. Then minutes later as I was trying to comfort her, her face lit up and she came up with a solution. She excitedly announced, "I know! We can have all of them come into our house to get warm. We can give them food and some money. We have lots of money in that jar over there!" We continued to talk about how we could serve the poor. Her little\big heart was at peace and she went to bed.

I miss our conversations like these the most - about the world, heaven, God, life, people, etc. Having such conversations with a child and hearing her point of view and teaching her, enlightened my own soul. She would thank me for serving her- making her food, bathing her, putting her to bed, spending time with her, etc. I recall how one night I told her as she was lying in bed, "Stella, God knew. He just knew. He knew if I got to choose from all the children in the whole world, you're the one I'd choose." Her eyes lit up and she wrapped her precious arms around me, in total surrender of love for me, in complete gratitude of these words and their meaning. I would tell her this periodically. Then one time, we were on our big yearly family vacation. Stella, like her mom, can get exhausted from socializing a lot. We had been with everyone for days and one evening at a dinner, Stella started to act fussy, saying she didn't feel well. I knew, as her mom, she just needed some space and down time. I told her, mom would take her back to the room and get her ready for bed and just read some books together. We did just that. Her spirit started to pick up and she was herself again. She stopped in the middle of her conversation and looked at me and said, "Mom, God knew. He just knew Mom." I said, "What? What did He know?" Stella replied, "He knew you were just the mom I would need." A little while later her cousins came back from the dinner and she went on her way under the stars with them exploring the beautiful creations of nature - finding awe in each inch of it.

I think of these examples and beg God to help me become like her. If I could carry in my heart her compassion for others, the awe of creation, the joy of living, and the gratitude when being served, I know I would be even more pleasing to my Jesus and more capable of the Greater Love I am called to carry and accept, the Love my daughter ran to. As Easter is approaching (but actually has passed to those reading this) I am more thankful than any other Easter of the magnificent price paid. Because of His Great Love, His Death and Resurrection I get to look forward to being with my saint again. So I say from the very bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul - Thank you, Jesus, thank you.

And thank you for the comments and prayers. They are very encouraging to me and much appreciated. Please keep them coming!! I pray for all of you too. Oh, and I can't wait for Divine Mercy Sunday this weekend! YAY!!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sky's the Limit? I Disagree.

My husband, Phillip, mentioned a quote from a well-known saint to me a few weeks ago. The quote, or citing is this: "Once while Saint Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, 'What would you do if you were suddenly to learn that you would die at sunset today?' He replied, 'I would finish hoeing my garden.'" This quote has been continuously coming to mind. I can't help but ponder on the meaning of it. What St. Francis is saying is that he is ready. He has been living each day striving for God. He is exactly where he is suppose to be, doing what he is intended by God to do. He answers God's call in his life. There is no urgency for him to get his soul ready at the last minute. So, this poses the commonly asked question - Are you ready? Am I, Francesca, ready to go right now if Jesus came for me? And do you know what? I can honestly say yes, I am. Does my soul look perfect? No. Am I a sinner? Absolutely. I am a misery, very much in need of my Savior, my Jesus. My lack of perfection, is why Christ came in the first place. I am not close to being purified, but I am at peace with the question and the answer. Furthermore, I must continue to work tirelessly for this answer and be open for all the graces I need to be able to say yes to it. Because tomorrow, if I ask myself the same question, I want to be able to have the same response.

I have continued to think about this quote and wondered why answering it for myself did not suffice in stopping the thoughts to continue to arise within me. I realized the Holy Spirit was not done with it yet. He wanted to show me more. He led me to think of the day Stella ran home. I was thinking of the shock of it all. I said, "Lord, we were just doing what we do every day. I was literally just reading books to her moments before." Then it hit me - the Holy Spirit that is. The St. Francis quote rushed to my mind and I realized we were simply "hoeing our garden" that day. Stella was exactly where she was supposed to be, doing what she was called to do because Phillip and I were where we were supposed to be, as well. As a parent I am the treasurer of these fragile, impressionable souls given to me to help form. I not only must ask if I, myself am ready to leave this earth at any moment, but if my children are ready also. And chances are, if I can honestly answer yes to that question, then I most likely can answer yes for my children too. This gave me so much peace for my Stella. See, I told you God has been preparing us for this. He is Love and Mercy himself. Stella was given the grace not only to know who Jesus is, but to love him. She did, she does. Phillip and I chose to make many sacrifices to give these new souls the best foundation we know how to give. And especially now that my vision is clearer, I am so completely, absolutely, positively grateful for each of these sacrifices for the formation of our children. To not sacrifice in all the ways we have, would have changed the situation's gravity for us. For we feel no guilt or regret whatsoever. God is so very good.

The priest at Stella's service gave an anointed homily. It was clearly from Father God. Phillip and I have had more people comment on it than we can even count. In a nutshell, Fr. John said this: Our world focuses so much on evil. We are intrigued with the "dark side." Our entertainment reflects this strongly. We rarely see, for example, movies about heaven or God, but there are numerous horror films. Now as parents, we desire good things for our children. We desire them to have a good education, go to college, become successful, and maybe meet someone worthy of them, etc. Those are good things to desire for our children. Those things are gifts. Fr. John spoke of a time when he first became a priest. He worked at a children's oncology ward.

There was a child who was eight and she was going to die. He sat with the mother and tried to comfort her. The mother was worried about telling her daughter. How does a parent do that? Fr. John offered to go with her to speak to her child. The mother said, "Yes, but you can't mention anything about God." Fr. John thought that would be difficult considering he is a PRIEST after all! Anyways...They went into the girl's room. The mother with tears in her eyes asked her daughter, "Do you know what happens to you when you die?" The little girl lit up and said, "O yes. I will go to sleep and when I wake up I will be in heaven with Jesus." The mother couldn't believe what her daughter was saying. She replied, "Where did you hear that?" The girl told her how all the children talk about it together all the time. Then the child looked up at her mother and asked, "But mommy, why didn't you ever tell me?"

Our children come with no guarantees. Eternal life is the only one I can offer them. I have come to realize now, because of my saint, my Stella, that I as a mother (with other children to raise) want to work tirelessly to give them this one guarantee. It has changed many ways I parent even more so now. I am very grateful for this lesson being learned and constantly look to see how I can do better. The answer always lies in God's mercy. As long as a soul is willing, His mercy covers all the rest and we are further on this journey towards heaven then we even realized. Mercy is everything. Preparing my children for goals such as higher education, successful careers, and other admirable achievements are good goals, but they are not great goals. We use phrases such as, "the sky's the limit" or "reach for the moon". Those goals are enveloped in phrases such as those. They are used to mean "the best" or the "highest degree". I say however, those aims are much too low for children of the God of the Most High. Only heaven will suffice as the limit. With that as the goal, there actually then is, no limit at all. Furthermore, I am POSITIVE that if that becomes my goal for myself and for my children we will also obtain many other marvelous blessings along the way. I am walking proof of that already. Stella, pray for me, please. I have such a long way to go.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Starfish



Stella' s favorite thing is nature. She loves it all - plants, flowers, rocks, bugs, the sky, the ocean, animals, and how all of it works in the world. She specifically enjoyed animals the most. She behaved like one about eighty five percent of her day. She would even comment on how she wished God had made her an animal instead of a person. The animal of the week would vary on the attitude she was in - from a dog, to a cheetah, a jaguar, a lizard, a wolf, and the list goes on. She loves all living creatures, great or small, land or sea.

My husband's family always gave each child of theirs a "symbol". It really does not carry a great deal of meaning but they enjoyed having one. For instance, Phillip's symbol was a teddy bear so on his Christmas stocking growing up he had a bear on it. The symbol chosen might resemble the child in some way. Anyways... One day Stella's cousins, Mariana and Grace were talking about their symbols. Mariana's is a butterfly, Gracie's is a hummingbird. Phillip and I hadn't really carried this idea down to our children, but since the cousins had one, Stella wanted one too. So she asked me, "Mom, what is my symbol?" I replied how I hadn't really thought of it before but then said, "Stella, OH! It's a star! Because your name, Stella, means star!" Her face did not return the same look of enthusiasm. Stella, the animal lover she is, was not satisfied because she wanted her symbol to be animal related. So I thought about it and said, "How about a starfish?! Because your full name is Stella Maria which means "star of the sea". Her eyes lit up and so her symbol became a starfish.


My sister Alexis came to visit a few weeks ago bringing pictures on her iPad of a little ceremony she and her three girls did for Stella. They got balloons and attached little notes and prayers to Stella and let them go on the beach. Alexis told me when they went to the party supply store the girls wanted to get a balloon with an animal on it because of Stella's love for animals. And she shared how out of all the balloons at the store, there was only one balloon with an animal on it. Do you want to guess what that animal was? Yep. You got it, a lamb. The only animal balloon they had was a lamb. Another heavenly confirmation of our sacrificial lamb. Anyways, as I sat looking at the pictures on her iPad, I saw a picture of a GIANT PINK STARFISH in the wet sand on the shore. I immediately stopped and asked, "What's this?" Alexis replied, "O, I took a picture of this gigantic starfish on the shore because we have never seen one like it just lying right in the wet sand." I told her how Stella's symbol is a starfish. We both were pleasantly shocked, noting how we grew up there by the beach and how my sister takes her girls weekly and we have never seen a starfish on the shore like that. And typically any starfish we have ever encountered are the small orange or reddish ones. And then Alexis added,"Yeah, there were five of them just right there where we let the balloons go." Five?! Stella was five years old. She was there with them. And of course not only did she send five starfish, but FIVE GIANT PINK ONES!

God communicates with us through the natural. We often look for the supernatural from Him, but we must remember this is His world that He created. He runs it and put it into order. Why wouldn't He use it to speak to us? He does. And on that very day I saw the pictures, Phillip had a random encounter with a priest who was telling him how God uses the "natural" to communicate with us - on that same exact day! We must work on not getting too caught up in our busyness to miss it and to try not to disregard the natural as not being supernatural just because it's not always a "lightning striking" experience. He often comes quietly and comforting to us, through things we already know and feel safe with - the natural. He is so gentle.

Secondly, as I sat praying tonight and thinking of Stella. I was thinking of how seeing her again couldn't come soon enough. The idea of "fasting" came to my mind. I pondered this thought. I realized since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, I only have to "fast" from my daughter. I read one time words from a saint (I forget who it was. I could go check, but don't really feel like it.) who talked about fasting that really helped me view it with different eyes. I would struggle with fasting because well, let's just say patience is not one of better qualities. When I want something, I want it NOW. I crave it. But this saint said that when we fast, we are not giving that item up forever, just for a limited time and then we will have it again. Our spirit tells our body that we are giving it up just for right now, but we will enjoy it once more. For example, we are celebrating Lent in the Catholic Church as we prepare for Easter. We use this time to strengthen our spirit by offering up or giving up something that is difficult for us to give up. I gave up sweets. I know - typical. However, this is actually really hard for me. I LOVE my chocolate. My body craves it and sometimes even demands it. And every time I want to pick up dessert the thought of "offering it up," doesn't work for me. It makes me feel like I want it more because I am tricked into thinking the next time I will get to have it is indefinitely (even though I know that's not true). So I calmly tell myself, "Francesca, you will get to have chocolate again, just not right now during Lent." When Easter comes, you better believe I am going to eat my share of chocolate. I will enjoy it more since I haven't been able to have it for six weeks. I am teaching my flesh that my spirit is stronger, it is in control.

So as I was praying that is what came to me. That I am just in a time of fast right now from my daughter. I will get to have her again, but just not right now. Meanwhile, my spirit will grow stronger and my flesh will diminish. And again, you better believe on the day of MY homecoming, just like I'm going to enjoy my chocolate on Easter, I am going to INDULGE in perfect Love with my Stella and my Beloved Creator. Oh, Lord give me patience! Stella pray for patience for mom!

*Oh, and Anna, I responded to your comment under the last post in the comment section. I'm trying to figure out the best way to respond to others. This is all still in progress.

(photos courtesy of emmy belding)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Just a Block of Marble




I sit here contemplating what to write about because this last week has been really difficult for me. There have been multiple events that have just added to my grief. The "missing" seems to be consuming me. On these weeks, it is hard to keep my eyes turned upward to heaven. The pull towards the earth appears to be much greater, but I sit here knowing my God and friends in heaven refuse to allow it to devour me.

Michaelangelo said, "In every block of marble, I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it." Just as Love is a choice, I choose also to look even when the sorrow seems overbearing, to try my hardest to speak and look at this new life of mine in the Light of Truth - in the illumination of God. And in that choosing, He then steps in and must do all the rest. I am not trying to be like Michaelangelo - looking at a piece of marble and seeing exactly what beauty and being lies in it. I, however, am choosing to merely be the block, the block of marble with the rough walls that imprison such a lovely apparition. For God is the artist\miracle worker. I am simply what He has to work with.

So I ask myself questions pertaining to the Truth. What else is there? What else in this world can compare to the world of heaven, where I am journeying to? Isn't that what this entire life is about? And since the veil between heaven and earth has a sliver in it now for me, I desire nothing more but to break through and get there. Yes, there are moments where no comfort is possible to relieve my aching heart. But I sit here and recall ways heaven let me know they are right here next to me. Here are just a couple examples I thought of this week, out of a handful. In "The Life of Mary" book when it was revealed to Mary when her life on earth was to be finished, one of the requests she made was. she desired the other Apostles to be with her. Little did she know, they were already on their way. God had commanded His angels to tell the Apostles to start journeying to her home. God had already put in motion that very desire of Mary's heart before she even asked. I am thinking of this very way God has ministered to me like this. On a smaller scale, on two of the hardest days I've had I have received a package from my beautiful and devout Aunt Donna. She sends precious, unique little gifts for me and\or the children. I enjoy opening the special little treasures; however, more importantly, it tells me God's angels prompted my Aunt days before, and in her openness to these heavenly promptings, she responds, and in return I receive this little reminder of God's precious love on the EXACT day I needed it most. I also received two kinds of flowers I specifically just mentioned to heaven that I desired to receive just a small evidence that God is working and holding on to us through this. And on top of it, when human doubt kicks in and I wonder for a moment if by some chance coincidences are occasionally possible, one of the notes that came with the second request for a certain flower quoted Pope John Paul II saying how there are NO coincidences. I pray I may be open to such heavenly promptings so I too can be a vessel of love from heaven to someone else in need. For we are all connected and in this together.

I also recall an image of Mother Mary I have in my home. When Stella was a baby, she was taking her afternoon nap. I had this overwhelming desire to draw. I am not an artist, but the desire was intense. I pushed it aside, noting I didn't have any paper or pencil. The next day at he same time, the same desire arose in me. Again, pushing it aside because I lacked the proper tools. However, finally on the third day when that same urge occurred, I just grabbed a piece of computer paper and an ink pen. I felt like I was simply running my hand back and forth and withing minutes I had this beautiful image of Our Lady. I thanked her and felt a sense that it was her Face of Mercy. Later that week I found out on the day I drew and received the image, it was February 22, 2006, which was the day in 1931, Jesus first appeared to St. Faustina with the message and image of Divine Mercy for the entire world! (It is also my husband's birthday.) And I quote John Paul II, "In the divine providence, there are no coincidences." The story doesn't stop here... A few years later my sister-in-law saw an image of Our Lady of Ephesus. She couldn't believe the resemblance of it to the image in my home. I did some reading and research on Our Lady of Ephesus and found out Ephesus, Turkey was the place Mary lived for awhile after Jesus' Ascension to heaven. She was taken there for her safety. And I imagine since Jesus was no longer on earth, everything in her motherly make up must have desired to go with him to heaven. Why not? She birthed and raised the Messiah, her job was done, right? Wrong. It wasn't. God need her to be a leader in the developing movement of Christianity. Ephesus was the place she had to live our her grief from physical separation of her Son, because God was NOT done with her yet.

And that is the face of Mary I have in my home. It is the face I wear now. And now I know the reason why God gave me that special image to me five years ago. Just as He already prompted the Apostles to start making their way towards Mary so they could be with her in her final hours, God sent His own Mother to be in my home so she could already be there for this time in my life. I am honored and humbled. And I know what is occurring in my life is the will of our Loving God and part of his plan of MERCY for my daughter, my family, myself, and many souls. For as I said, what else is there but heaven? Earth is a gift, but it is only the very tip of the iceberg. This sacrifice I am facing is not only so I can be with my Stella for all of eternity, but so I can be there with you also. We are all family and our joys and crosses are united. I offer my day to God as soon as I wake up, so I know all that occurs in it, is His. And I pray this prayer of St. Faustina today as it begins:

"O Jesus, I want to live in the present moment, to live as if this were the last day of my life. I want to use every moment scrupulously for the greater glory of God, to use every circumstance for the benefit of my soul. I want to look upon everything, from the point of view that nothing happens without the will of God. God of unfathomable mercy, embrace the whole world and pour Yourself out upon us through the merciful Heart of Jesus."

I look forward to seeing what our God is creating out of this block of marble.