Be an Encourager

Be an Encourager

“Encourage each other daily, while it is still today.” -St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.

Listening to Catholic radio on my way into work this morning, radio host Gus Lloyd reminded everyone that an important part of being a Christian is to give encouragement to others.

What does that mean?

When people are struggling, whether they’re just having a bad day or maybe dealing with serious issues, what can we do to be encouraging? How can we help, especially when we might not understand the depth of their struggle?

Pope Francis recently said that sometimes there really isn’t anything you can say to make them feel better. In these cases, he said, it’s best to just be there and cry with them.

Having been on the receiving end of well-wishers who maybe haven’t understood the depth of the problem being faced, I think he’s right.

But here’s the thing. There is one thing that can always be said, no matter the situation.

“You are loved.”

And isn’t that what the pope’s tears of solidarity are really saying, after all?

You are loved.

I’m no expert, but I believe that is what is at the very core of being a Christian. Knowing that we are loved in spite of everything, and spreading that love to everyone, everywhere.

So to everyone, no matter who you are or what you may be going through, take courage and remember that you are loved.

Now let’s get out there and spread this.

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What exactly is Eternal Life?

What exactly is Eternal Life?

One of the best homilies of my life happened on a weekday morning mass at St. Matthew’s in DC. 

It was several months ago now, so I don’t remember all of the details, but it had such a profound effect on me that it must have been the Holy Spirit speaking through the priest that day. 

I don’t even remember whether the gospel reading was the Bread of Life discourse from John, or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, or something else.

What I do remember is that the priest was talking about eternal life.

Here’s where my whole perspective on my daily living was changed.

What is eternal life?

Joy.

Pure, unnatural, overwhelming joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

When we say that Jesus offers us eternal life, we think this refers to when we die and go to heaven. Yes, it means that, but it’s more than that. Eternal life starts NOW.

Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is life. This gift of eternal life is the gift of Himself. And He is love, peace, and JOY.

What does it mean to be joyful? Does it mean we’re always stupidly happy no matter what happens, even in the midst of tragedy? No, that’s not what joy means. There are times when we grieve, there are times of suffering and many, many tears. But this doesn’t mean we lose our joy.

Joy is the peaceful assurance and hope that God loves us and reigns over all. We know in the depth of our being that we are LOVED. 

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s a grace, a sign of His life within you. It’s the only real comfort in the midst of suffering. It comes from the faith that God loves you, rescues you, and works all things for your good.

Eternal life isn’t something I have to wait for. I have it now.

And I have never felt so free.

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

Everyone who knows me in real life knows I’ve had a life-long obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My dad still tells the story of how when I was a toddler, I would say, “Daddy, tell me about Ariel,” and he had no idea who she was. (Crazy, right? That’s because this was circa 1989-1990 and movie was still new.)

I’ve always identified with her. I had that feeling of being different, wanting something more, wanting to experience the world. I loved to sing (still do), and I even had reddish hair (I was strawberry blonde as a little kid, though my hair turned golden blonde when I got older). As a kid, I spent all summer swimming underwater in my grandparents’ pool, pretending to be her. I still know all the words to “Part of Your World”, which basically was my theme song as I was going off to college.

I basically am Ariel. But putting that aside…

Something about the story in the Disney version had stood out to me recently, and it relates to infertility, but it really applies to any cross that one could carry.

It’s about trusting in God’s goodness.

Ariel had a dream. She wanted to be human. In fact, you could say that she was called to be a human. She loved everything about humanity, and was in love with one human in particular. She knew this was where she belonged. But she had one big obstacle- no legs.

She wanted legs so badly that she was tempted to make a deal with the sea witch. The sea witch gave her those legs- but only temporarily (three days) and at a tremendous cost- her voice, as well and her freedom. Next thing you know, she finds herself changed into a human, but in danger of drowning, trying to swim to the surface. She has legs, but no voice, no clothes, and no way to win the prince’s heart before her time is up and the sea witch takes her captive.

How much is that like sin? We want something so badly, sometimes we fall into sin to get it. Generations ago, they called this “making a deal with the devil”- because that’s what it is. He’ll give us what we want, sort of, temporarily, at the cost of our freedom in this life and our soul in the next. It’s a rotten deal. You can’t really get what you want: peace, happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Ariel fails. She loses that deal with the devil. She’s turned back into a mermaid and taken captive by the sea witch. All seems lost.

Until her father, the king, steps in.

The deal was made. He can’t break it. So out of love for his daughter, he steps in an takes her place. (Sound familiar?)

The battle happens. The sea witch is defeated. The captives are set free.

And there we see Ariel, the little mermaid, still without legs, still longing to be human and be where she belongs. Her father sees this, and his heart is moved.

He uses his power to make her human. And she gets to keep her voice. And instead of leaving her underwater and without clothes, her transformation leaves her on the beach, clothed in a gorgeous sparkly dress, and in the arms of the prince she loves.

Of course, they live happily ever after.

Ariel messed up. But her dad loved her anyway. And he made her dream come true.

Sometimes we have dreams, or even vocations, that seem impossible. Unbelievable, even. But here’s the thing- just like Ariel, we have a Father who loves us. We need to believe that. He really is full of goodness, and he can and will take care of us in his love.

All we need to do is trust.

Romans 8:28 ❤

 

 

 

 

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

“For you created my inmost being…”

I was born without a uterus. And though I never consciously blamed God for this, of course he allowed it to happen—and that is something that needs reconciling.

While I never knowingly said, “How could you, Jesus?” I know that deep down, part of me used to think that maybe this disease was a result of neglect on his part. I have thought, many times, “God forgot to give me a uterus.” I know that others, in their situations, have thought similar things: “Maybe God forgot to make a plan for me,” or “maybe God forgot to keep an eye on me, and that’s why this happened.”

The truth is that he never turned his eyes away. He never neglected me (or you) for even a second. He made us, on purpose. He did, actually and truly “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” And you are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He created you—every part of you—and you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie dust!

That’s what it takes to fly, according to Peter Pan. Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust! How many of us spent our childhoods believing that to be true, or hoping it were true, and waiting for the day that Peter Pan would show up at our windows with a little pixie dust- since that’s all we lacked.

Of course, that never happened. And anyone who contemplated jumping off their deck in hopes of flying was most likely stopped by their mom- like I was. But a thought occurred to me tonight- perhaps Peter Pan taught us something more important that we realize.

In our relationship with God, it really is possible to soar, if we want to. We need faith. We need trust. And as for pixie dust? That’s code for Grace. With these three, we can fly.

Remember when Jesus walked on water, and Peter (the apostle, not Pan) asked if he could do it too? Peter jumped out the boat and started walking (by the grace of God), but then he started to sink. Jesus pulled him out of the water and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How many times does this happen in our lives? We know God is going to take care of us. We may even have enough faith and trust to jump out of the boat- and lo and behold, grace is there to sustain us. But then we notice the waves, and lose sight of the Master. And when our faith and trust are replaced by fear and doubt, we start to sink.

What should we do when we start to sink? Peter Pan says to think happy thoughts, and he’s not wrong. Pray for faith, trust, and grace. And keep your eyes on Christ- that’s the only happy thought you’ll ever need. ❤

Should you talk to the homeless?

Should you talk to the homeless?

Growing up in upper-middle class America, I was taught that when you see panhandlers and homeless, you shouldn’t give them any money “because they’re probably going to use it on drugs or alcohol.” This popular middle-American proverb has a cousin- “Don’t engage, don’t make eye contact, you don’t know what they’re going to do, and you can’t trust them.”

I never questioned these at all. I never even thought about them. Sure, in high school we would make sandwiches for soup kitchens and have toy drives and can drives and all sorts of events to help out in the community, but the actual, in-person encounters with homeless and beggars was still something that was out of my ability, as far as my teenage self was concerned.

And then something happened. I was riding in the car with a friend, and we came across a homeless man on a street corner. My friend rolled down his window, opened up his wallet, and handed the guy a $20 bill. Being startled (and naturally obnoxious), I said, “I thought you’re not supposed to give to those people, because they might use it for drugs and it will feed their addiction.”

My friend said, calmly, “Well, it’s his choice what he does with it. It’s my job to give.”

homeless_jesus_sm

My friend had planted a seed in my teenage brain. It lay dormant for years, but it was there, and it nagged at me every time I passed someone on the street. Then, something started to happen.

There’s a thing with virtue, called, “fake it til you make it.” (That’s how Aristotle put it, right?) If you want a virtue that you don’t have, start practicing it. For example, if you’re cowardly, start acting as though  you have courage. It will be hard at first, but soon enough it will become second nature. I took this approach with the homeless. I started giving them things, and even saying hello. It was absolutely terrifying at first. But every time I chickened out, I would feel terrible. After all, when Christ himself says, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do unto me”, and “If anyone asks you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well.” Who are we to argue?

I’m ashamed to admit that even recently, I’ve sometimes been afraid to help people in need. Beating back against your ingrained fears is not easy. In the last few months, I’ve been trying this “fake it til you make it” thing- trying to make eye contact, give what I can, and tell them that they are in my prayers. It’s been years and I still haven’t “made it”- but I’m getting better.

And as for those “proverbs”- I know what they are now. They’re from devil, and they’re designed to make us afraid of doing good. The father of lies delights in twisting our thoughts until we’ve decided that it’s wrong to do good. When Christ says to give to those who ask, without counting the cost, Satan says, “Yeah but not to those people who look really poor, because they might hurt you, and your gift might be used wrongly, and it’s not your job anyways- send them to a church.”

We are called to be Christ’s body in this world. We are his hands. We are his heart. We shouldn’t worry so much about the details, but rather we should remember that it is our job to show love, wherever we go, and to whoever we meet. It’s up to them to decide what to do with it, but it’s our job to show love.

“Littleness”

“Littleness”

Any time we go through grief or suffering of any kind, we have good days and bad days. Sometimes we have good minutes and bad minutes. The other night I was having a bad hour (after a very good day, no less) and an image came to mind of  “the poor little MRKH girl,” like “the poor little match girl” but without the dying part. And it made me think.

Perhaps it is in the carrying of our cross that we become all the more special to our Heavenly Father. Maybe it is our greatest pain that endears us to him. Maybe seeing us in our most trying agony moves his heart and makes him want to hold us. Like the way Tiny Tim was special to his father Bob Cratchet, maybe it’s the same with God. Maybe the littler we become and the more we recognize how desperately we need God, the more he yearns to give.

Feeling “little” isn’t a bad thing. Christ himself said that we must become like little children. The greatest saints all recognized their own helplessness and need for their Savior. Maybe that’s why children and poverty are such a popular theme in Christmas stories. Jesus came into the world as a helpless infant, and we are meant to recognize how small we really are. That’s why he taught us to call God “Abba”-the equivalent of “Daddy”. It’s only when we are comfortable in our littleness that we can reach our arms up to heaven and call for our daddy to pick us up.

tiny-tim-120305

Half Agony, Half Hope

Half Agony, Half Hope

August 2015 has been the most stressful month of my life to-date. That is a fact. On August 1, we started the adoption process (yay!). On August 6, I learned that I am being let go on October 6 (?!?!). I could go into lots of detail about both of these things, but suffice it to say that, in the words of my beloved Jane Austen, “I am half agony, half hope.” I’m trying so hard to focus on the hope. And so, I wrote this:

The Tightrope

They say the way is narrow and lined with rocks.

It’s narrow alright, and on either side, a terrifying chasm.

It’s a rickety bridge of ropes and broken boards,

And at the canyon’s bottom, sharp rocks and rushing water,

But my Lord is holding my hand.

He’s walking with me, carrying me,

And I am trying not to look down.

He asks me, gently, to fix my eyes on him

As he leads me across this tightrope

Above the never-ending abyss.

He whispers that I will not fall,

And commands his angels to guard below.

I do not know the way,

Or how long it will take,

Or how much more difficult the journey will be.

But I do know that I can close my eyes,

And worry not, because he is with me always.

My Lord will lead me home.

Starting a Prayer Journal

Starting a Prayer Journal

I love my diary. Always have, always will. In fact, I have diaries documenting my life from middle school onward. Some parts are fun to go back and read. Others, not so much. Still, it is fascinating for me to see how much I have grown and changed throughout my small 20-something years of life. Things that worried Miss 15-year-old Connie Ann seem ridiculous to me now. Other times, I marvel at what could only have been the Holy Spirit working in my life.

I record all kinds of things in my diary- things people said, places I visited, achievements, etc., but the most fascinating part for me to read now is the development of my relationship with God. There were times in my life where I was on fire with love for him, and other times when I was not. Things happened. Hard things. Looking back, I can see how God used them for his purpose.

My diaries have been great for tracking my faith journey, but now I think it is time for something more. Something deeper. Something more focused.

Something for recording my spiritual travels.
For recording my spiritual travels

I’ve decided to start a prayer journal. I want to keep track of my relationship with God, and where he takes me, and where we’re going, so that someday I can look back and see all the places we have been together.

Some prayer journals list things prayed for, and the way they were answered. Some prayer journals list things to be grateful for each day. Mine may include these things, but really I’m most interested in paying attention to the way God speaks in this life. I hope this exercise helps me to see these things.

Has anyone here kept a prayer journal of some sort? Did you find it helpful? Was it difficult to keep up with? Any thoughts, tips, and suggestions are welcome!

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The wedding industry is a bully. It pressures cash-strapped brides to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding no matter what the sacrifice. Add in a deeply entrenched Italian-American culture that says parents must provide for their daughter’s big day (or face eternal embarrassment), compounded with the fact that our Catholic families equaled over 250 people (not including friends), and you’ll start to get a picture of the impossible situation we found ourselves in when my darling James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

I didn’t think I could have one of those dream weddings. My parents had just sold our home at short sale and we were living with my grandmother. James hadn’t found a full-time job yet. A traditional Italian wedding seemed impossible.

Impossible, but here’s the catch. God is Love. And with Love, all things are possible.

love

One day, during lunch, I went to a nearby church and prayed. I was doing that famous novena for James to get a job so we could get married. Yes, I wanted a nice wedding, but what I really wanted was to start a marriage with the man I love. I opened the hymnal to a random page, and it happened to be a song about marriage and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. That’s when it hit me:

Jesus would take care of it. His first miracle was making wine at a wedding to keep the party going. Not only would he find James a job so we could get married, but he would make sure we had a nice wedding, too.

cana

My parents are the ultimate fighting team when it comes to art projects. One Artist + One Engineer= Two brilliant, imaginative people who turn visions into reality. There’s really nothing that these two can’t do. And they channeled their genius into my wedding.

My mom single-handedly made all of the favors. The programs were printed (by my dad!) on gorgeous parchment-style paper and bound in scrapbook paper and ribbons assembled by an in-house team of relatives and friends. My mom and sister made all the boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages out of gorgeous silk flowers a year in advance. We basically kept the glue-gun manufactures in business throughout the whole of 2012.

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One of our gorgeous DIY programs. We had an assortment of paper and ribbons so each one was unique.

Then came the unexpected gifts. My dress alterations and veil were all FREE from a friend of my mother. My gorgeous and unique centerpieces were also done by another friend of my mother. The beautifully engraved cake-serving set and the elegant toasting flutes were gifts from my dear friends. That delicious dessert buffet was a community effort on the part of our friends and family who volunteered to bake their favorite sweets for our big day. And our dream honeymoon was a gift from James’s parents.

Jesus did it. He provided for our big day. Yes, he cares more about the marriage than the wedding, but he cares about the wedding too! There were so many examples of how his love poured through our friends and family and made our day amazing. And family was everywhere. The priest who married us was family. The altar boys were family. Even our wedding coordinator was family. We were completely overwhelmed by love.

And to top it all off…

Out of all these gifts and blessings, there was one little miracle, one gift that stood out as a reminder that ALL the gifts, big and small, were signs that Jesus was taking care of this wedding.

In an effort to curtail expenses, we had decided to forgo altar flowers. Those big, gorgeous arrangements are very expensive, and we just didn’t have the money. We decided that someone would run to Home Depot in the morning and get potted flowers to place around the altar.

In the rush of that morning, no one remembered to purchase our little potted flowers. Oh well. Except when we arrived at the church…

There were flowers on the altar! Three huge, gorgeous, professional arrangements that were the PERFECT colors for our wedding were on either side of the tabernacle and in front of the altar. They’re in all of our pictures and they were incredible.

4235511_0180
See those GORGEOUS flowers on either side of the tabernacle? Those were the anonymous gift! There was a third arrangement in front of the altar. And of course, our wonderful priests (an uncle and a friend), and the bouquet my mom and sister made.

We have no idea where they came from. We’ve guessed that maybe one of our friends or relatives did this for us, but we will never know. Working through loving human beings, God made a miracle happen, and showed us his overwhelming, gratuitous love. As the Rite of Marriage says, “Christ abundantly blesses this love.” And he did. Like making wine out of water, the way our wedding came together was a beautiful, mysterious example of the overflowing love of God.