Monday, June 27, 2011

The Linnet's Song

I found this precious little book I think I used my freshman year of college. I used it in prayer time occasionally. It is called "Simply Surrender - Based on the Little Way of Therese of Lisieux". It is one of those little books that has a reading and reflection for every day of a month. I opened it up and I found this little part that was particularly precious to me. St. Therese says, "If we are to attain great sanctity, it is important that we receive direction right from the start. I never forget that since my earliest childhood there have been voices drawing me on, teaching me how, in spite of my weakness, to sing here below the canticle of love that I desire to sing throughout eternity. I think about my birds. I had a canary which sang beautifully, and also a tiny linnet of which I was especially fond, having adopted it straight from the nest. From morning till night the little bird heard only the joyous trills of the canary. One day it tried to imitate them, no easy task indeed for a linnet! It was delightful to follow the efforts of the poor little thing, for its sweet voice found great difficulty in accommodating itself to the vibrant notes of its master; but to my great surprise the linnet's song became in time exactly like the song of the canary. 'I bless thee Father, because you have hidden these things fro the wise and prudent and have revealed them to the little ones.' You have deigned to stoop down and instruct me gently in the secrets of your love."

God used his natural creation to speak to Therese and she listened. The example of the birds is full of much hope. That little linnet actually started to sing like the canary! The linnet was not "made" to do that. It wasn't because of its natural ability, but the canary was its only teacher so through desire, practice, and perseverance it conquered the tune of its master. How precious to think of one's soul like the linnet and Jesus like the canary. My flesh tells me it is not possible to reach such high goals of sanctification, but with Christ as the master, it is!

Some of the key elements I see in the story of the birds is that the linnet did not distract itself with other linnets. He knew nothing else but the natural song of the beautiful canary. The second element is that the linnet probably because of its "littleness" didn't even know it wasn't made to sing like a canary. It probably didn't even know it was not a canary, for its only other bird companion was the canary. He didn't have other linnets to compare himself to. He didn't have other linnets telling him he was just a linnet who cannot sing like a canary.

I can apply this to myself. I, like the small linnet, should only compare my soul to that of my soul's Master, Jesus. I cannot compare or be distracted by another souls failures or accomplishments. I must only be accountable to where Jesus wants my soul to be. The linnet also holds the qualities of the "childlikeness" Christ calls us to. If a young child who hasn't learned to swim yet, goes to a pool the parent says,"You can swim. Come in the water with me. Your can swim, but I must teach you first." The trusting child will proceed. With practice, he swims. The child, like the linnet, learns to swim because of the good parent who teaches and instructs. The child believed it could be taught to swim because of the confidence and trust he has in the instructor, the parent. Like a child with a parent, or the linnet with the canary, our souls must try to be confident like this, never doubting that it cannot fulfill this song of love sung by our Creator. When we practice and persevere to mirror our God, He can then take our measly, small efforts and the outcome far surpasses what we would have achieved on our own. What confidence that linnet had. It never even knew it wasn't "made" to sing like a canary.

Furthermore, just as Therese found the linnets efforts so pleasing and endearing, so our Father finds our efforts when made like that of the purity of a child. The efforts should be for the Father alone. The linnet was not trying to impress other birds. It just heard the beautiful song of the canary and fell in love it. So much so, it worked hard to sing in the same way. And, it did!

Jesus, help me to mimic your perfect song of love, especially in my home behind closed doors. For there, my song is the most pleasing to you.

St. Stella, St. Therese pray for me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heaven is Here

"What's wrong mom?" Stella asked as I lay sick on the couch with tears rolling down my face. "O mommy just feels so sick and tired. I'm overwhelmed right now and I'm worried about baby Gia getting sick." Stella stroke my cheek and replied, "Don't worry mom, God has you. God has Gia too. He's holding you in His hands. And the saints are here praying for you. And the angels are here. Heaven is here. Don't worry mom, you and Gia are going to be fine. Get some rest." She then pulled the blanket on me and patted my hand.

Stella's words still ring clearly in my head. They carry much more weight then most of us realize. Heaven surrounds us. This is not just a "pleasant" thought or something nice to remember once in awhile. This is serious. This is a reality many of us, including myself, don't choose to live in enough through out our day. When Jesus assumed into Heaven, He promised He would not leave us alone. He promised to send His Spirit, the Holy Spirit upon the earth. The Holy Spirit was made from the love between the Father and the Son. That love was so strong it created a whole other being, the Holy Spirit. This is who we have constantly surrounding us, if we choose and invite Him. He then can unlock many treasures of Heaven to us.

Heaven is as close to us as a breath. I must learn to start to turn to it much more. Strengthening my spiritual senses is necessary. This takes practice. It takes training. Can an athlete wake up one morning and decide he\she wants to compete in the Olympics for a gold medal that day? No. They center their whole lives to obtaining such a goal. Everything they do or don't do is based on the training to succeed for such a lofty desire. With heaven as the goal, I too must not be a fool and think I will be able to wake up and just be "spiritually in-tuned". It takes practice, patience, and endurance. However, we like an Olympian athlete can receive help and coaching as well. We have the Holy Spirit! He can guide us to people, books, situations, etc. so our training will progress. St. Paul speaks about life as competing in a race, with Heaven as the finish line. St. Peter also refers to this kind of training. I Peter 1:3-7 says, "Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He who in His mercy gave us new birth, a birth unto hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: a birth to an IMPERISHABLE INHERITANCE, INCAPABLE OF FADING OR DEFILEMENT, which is kept in heaven for YOU who are guarded with God's power through faith. A birth to a salvation which stands ready to be revealed in the last days. There is a cause for REJOICING here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may PROVE to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

My goal in writing about this is to encourage myself to center my day, the moment, around the reality of heaven, in all of its routine and monotony. How can I do this, I think? I know I can't sit down and pray all day long. I think there are some simple ways to start. Actually, the simplest practice I can think of is to speak about it. I believe in order to start to "walk the walk", I try to "talk the walk". It helps me get into a mindset. This talk has been elevated in our home since our Stella is in heaven now. We verbally affirm each other who is around us, who goes with us. We speak about what we think and have heard what heaven is like. We talk about those who have gone before us. We ask them to go before the thrown of our glorious, triumphant King and pray for us and our petitions. I even try for a few seconds throughout the day, in the midst of children, laundry, errands, cooking, cleaning, to stop and set my soul in Jesus' hands. I close my eyes for a few seconds and ask Him to just hold my soul.

By talking about it in our home, the more aware we are of the ways God works in our every day. And if no one is home or around me, even better. I talk out loud to heaven itself. I even greet Heaven out loud in the morning right as I wake up. I say "Good Morning" to the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, Stella, my Papa, the angels, and other saints. I then ask John if He has greeted heaven as well. He usually sums all of it up in, "Good morning, Heaven."

What begins to take place when I do these things is a transformation in my soul, my life, my home, my family. My load is lightened a little as my spirit is reminded it carries no cross alone. Grace is poured over me. The crosses of life, when we invite heaven and all of its goals for us, become offerings to the thrown of God. And because of His infinite goodness, He then takes our efforts of carrying out His will and transforms it into grace for another soul to carry his\her cross with heaven's help. This is redemptive suffering. We are then joined with Christ's Cross and RESURRECTION. Our symphony continues. The most important thing to remember while doing this, because I continually fall short and fail is this: HIS MERCY COVERS ALL! So today, for it is all we have, let us choose to charge forward for the Kingdom to Come, the Kingdom that is present around us. The Kingdom our royal souls are absolutely, positively MADE for.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pieces

I just wanted to share some of the heavenly blessings of the last week despite some of the emotional difficulties I had. I still saw some wonderful heavenly help. Last Sunday I went to pick up Gia off the bed and my back went out. This has NEVER happened to me before. It is sooooo painful. God bless any of you who have experienced this. It was very discouraging to me. I couldn't go about my usual care of the family.

I have had a few things hanging over my head with the children. I've needed to get Gia on a better sleep schedule and in her own crib. Ever since Stella, Gia has slept with me. One of my other goals that has been challenging me for quite some time, is John has needed to be potty trained. I told the Lord how these things have felt like mountains during this time right now. Then I added to Him, "And now my back too?! Really?!" So I prayed and thought about what the Lord was trying to show me. I sensed He wanted me to see that even when I am not capable of anything on my own, when it is His work we are doing, He is the one that will do it. We are just the vessel. So...with my back out this week, one thing after another started happening from the Lord through Stella's intercession.

First of all, I found a star in the driveway. Stella is praying. The next day, my family called with exciting news about a HUGE answered prayer that they have been asking Stella's intercession for, for months. Everyone was celebrating. Gia started sleeping great in her crib. Then John started using the bathroom. I had three stories from my 13 year old niece who knew Stella was trying to let her know she is praying and looking out for her. One of them happened to be her 18 month old brother was playing in his room by himself. He was laughing and laughing. When she went to get him for dinner as he walked out of the room he turned and said, "See you later Stella." This is the third time he has done this! Johnny gave me a beautiful yellow star shaped flower. Then on that same day, I received a giant beautiful bouquet of sunflowers from the Holy Spirit, I was told. A decision Phillip and I have been discerning came to pass and was made clear. Another precious gift was told to me by my sister-in-law. She told me of a family who's baby daughter had some kind of digestive disorder. She asked Stella to pray for them for guidance because what they had been doing wasn't working. The next day her husband found a blog called something like, "Living and learning with STELLA". The site was about a family who's daughter also named Stella had the same thing. This mom knew it was the right thing to follow. The baby is doing great now! This was such joyful news to me. Stella LOVES babies! I told Stella she is doing more now in heaven then she could ever achieve in an entire lifetime on earth.

All of these things just continued to confirm that if we are obedient and open to doing the Father's will, then even our desires and challenges are easily met by Him. He does it even when we feel like we cannot. My back is doing much better. It has been a difficult week for me emotionally though. Please any extra prayers or offerings would be greatly appreciated. Sometimes the shock comes back and hits me again. And I think, "What just happened to my life?" I have to continue to process. I think, how will I live the rest of my life with such a large hole in my heart? But I think of this story I heard a long time ago about a potter.

There is a place in Italy (I don't remember the exact region) where they make these world famous clay platters, bowls, vases, etc. Each piece has these cracks all over it which just add to the beauty. The potter hand makes the piece, paints details on it, fires it, etc. They are breathtaking. However, what makes them unique and world renowned are these cracks in them. The potter takes this already astounding masterpiece and smashes it into tiny, tiny pieces. He then rebuilds it, piece by piece. The cracks are there from the smashing, they do not disappear after being restored. The outcome is GLORIOUS! People all over the world pay a good amoungt of money for these beautiful works of art.

I think of this story as a metaphor for my heart, for my life. I am an already beautiful masterpiece made by God. But I have been smashed to pieces. However, if I am willing to let the Potter continue to work, my hope is that as time continues I will find myself like one of those Italian pieces - preferably like one of the vases, an open vessel to hold fragrant and vibrant flowers and foliage. My heart will always show the cracks from the smashing but the end result is still much more desirable and beautiful. This work can only be done by the Great Potter, our Creator. For if the pieces are left to me to put together, they will remain scattered and disordered. Only He knows where each piece must go. Jesus, help me today. My heart is broken.

Thank you for the comments and encouragement. Cecilia - I LOVED the quote from St. Anthony. I want to paint in and put it up somewhere. I'm praying for all of you and your loved ones.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Prayer Prepares

My thoughts have been on prayer this week. Prayer is imperative. Prayer is power. Prayer is the key that unlocks our communion with God. One day we will come face to face with our Creator. For me, I know I want to recognize Him. Prayer allows that. Each and every morning I offer my entire day to God. Therefore, I know that all that I do becomes a prayer to him. Then, at the end of the day I get to reflect on my failures and successes. Each day becomes like a musical note, probably not very impressive when looked at by itself. But as each day passes, the musical notes start to make a song. Furthermore, as they continue on through years of offering each day, I slowly start to see the symphony God creates, known as - my life. How pleasing this masterpiece is to our Lord when we allow Him to be the conductor.

Mother Teresa would say, "The more you pray, the more you want to pray." I have found this very true in my life. If I try my best to make my time of "sit down" prayer consistent, the more I find myself looking forward to it. When I have times of more sporadic prayer, I find it harder to discipline myself to sit in quiet. One trick I used in college was I attached prayer to a daily ritual. I usually showered at the same time every day because of my class schedule, so I would attach my prayer time to that. After my shower, I would sit and pray. The habit of showering triggered the habit of prayer for me.

I use to come to the Lord in prayer with my list. I would tell him all the concerns and prayer petitions I needed answered. This is good. He is our Father. He wants to take care of things for us, but I have begun to realize more, especially in my total emptiness during this difficult time, it is more important to try to come to him as a open vessel. I come to him and try to listen before I talk. I let him fill the empty cup of my soul with his rich, fragrant nourishment. I am not giving him my order or what I need to be filled. When I can allow him to do that on his own, I find it may not have been what I originally thought I needed. It is much more. When this occurs, then the craving of my soul of solely God is enhanced. I am being transformed. After all, He knew us before He formed us in our mother's womb (Psalm 139).

We see in the Gospels that Jesus himself prayed to the Father. Therefore, in a quick easy conclusion - if He did, I should too. If Jesus - a.k.a. God, needed to, I DEFINITELY need to as well. As a parent this is not only crucial for my own soul, but for my children as well. Christ teaches us to pray as we see when He gave us the "Our Father", or the "Lord's Prayer." We must teach our children to pray. It is not something that just simply exists in humans naturally. Just as we teach them to use a fork to eat, use the toilet, how to get dressed, we must teach them to pray too. Verbal instruction can be helpful, but showing them and being an example is best. One of the most precious memories I have is of Stella praying on her own. One night when she was about three, she had a terrible ear ache. We were up for hours. I went to use the bathroom and through the reflection of the mirror I saw her kneeling in bed and I heard her pray out loud. She said, "Jesus please help my ear." I kid you not, within half an hour, her ear felt better and she went to sleep. She woke up the next morning perfectly fine. She knew when push came to shove who to go to - her Heavenly Father. A child's prayer is so pure. That's why I know it was answered immediately.

As Stella grew she realized prayer was more than just when in dire need. She started to use this candle she received at her Atrium class at our church and she would ask me to light it. She would take it in her room and pray for a few minutes. This was so endearing to me. It was beyond needing God to "fix" something. She just would go spend a little time with him. I know there was special grace upon her. My son John is not there yet. He is still in a place of prayer when He needs God's help. It will grow I am sure of that. But I do believe, Stella was given this grace because not only would be pray together as a family and for other petitions but she consistently saw her parents spend time in quiet with our Creator. I think of the old saying "Monkey see, monkey do." It is not, "Monkey say, monkey do." This is such a gift to give to our children.

I am extremely thankful to my own parents for instilling this practice into my life from a young age. I believe it's one of the best things they did for me. (Thanks mom and dad, as I am sure you will read this.) Seeing my parents faithfulness in striving to put God first was such a testimony to me. I know prayer has been a key factor in preparation for me especially during this time of grief. The practice of daily prayer, daily unity with God prepared my heart for this trial. I knew exactly where to go when tragedy hit - right to the arms of my Father. He then lifts me right up to His most loving heart, the place I belong.