Who Are the Richest People on Earth?

Did you see that homeless man on the corner?

The one who’d been there awhile.

The one who was hungry.

The one who, deep down, really didn’t expect that you’d give him anything today.

Is it possible that that homeless man could teach us how to grow rich?

For a while, a long time ago, we were a little hungry sometimes (not often). Not the ravenous “I need something–anything to eat!”–kind of hungry, but just the “Gee, hamburger meat would be soooo good…but it’ll have to wait ’til payday” kind of hungry. The kind where you really crave red meat sometimes but just can’t afford it (which, to most of the people in this world, wouldn’t really be considered hungry at all!)

Anyway, it was during that time that I drove my three small children into town one day, parked my car at the local grocery store, and picked a shopping basket out of the parking lot. As we were walking towards the entrance of the store, we passed a small, old, very clean pickup truck with a camper on the back. In the window was a cardboard sign: “Hungry. Will work for food.” Now, strange as it may seem, that sign wasn’t the thing that had the biggest effect on me. It was the camper itself.

See, that camper had windows. And in those windows, I could see that that camper held everything a person needed to live. Utensils, tools, engine oil, plates, a drinking cup, a razor, a toothbrush–everything most people would have in their bathrooms, garages, or kitchens, this man had in his camper. And everything–I mean everything–was neat as a pin. All lined up, on shelves, in the windows of his camper. With the sign in the back corner, telling the world that this camper WAS his home. This man cared. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying–goodness; he took better care of those little things in his camper than most of us take of our flat-screen TVs and X-Box games. But, still, even though he was obviously a diligent person, he was there. In the parking lot at Hitchcock’s. With a sign.

That really got through to me. So, out of the money that we had for groceries that week, while we were in the store, I bought him a big bag of apples and the biggest jar of peanut butter I could afford.

My goodness. You should have seen the look on his face. His cheeks were sunken in, but when I gave him the apples and peanut butter, it made him so happy–as happy as I would have been at that time if someone had given me free groceries for my family for life!
He said, “Thank you so much. God bless you, ma’am.” And he really, really meant it.
I said, “God bless you, too, sir–it’s no problem; that’s what we’re here for–to help each other.”
He nodded his head and looked down, and he said, “Yes, but some people don’t know it.”

I felt badly about that. Partially because of how he had been treated, and partially because I knew that the “some people” were sometimes…well, me.

It happened again, much the same, about two months ago. We had just finished getting some things we needed at our local Winn-Dixie. As we pulled out of the parking lot, there was traffic, so we were behind a line of cars. On the right, a man sat on the curb next to a bicycle with a basket on it. His cheeks were sunken in, and he was bone-thin and tanned from being outdoors with no shelter from our blazing Florida sun. He was unshaven, and he kept his head down. His shoulders were slumped. On his bicycle was a cardboard sign that said “Painter for hire”.

We got out of line and went back into the store. By this time, we were in a much better place financially (thank You, Lord!), so we were able to do more. My daughter and I tried to think of what someone who had to be outdoors all day in the summer in Florida would want. We bought some groceries, and I put some money in with them, and we took them out to him.

I’ve never seen a more grateful person in my life. He was so happy–he must have said, “Thank you,” at least ten times. And when he saw that there was a bag of oranges in one of the bags, he lit up like a little boy under a Christmas tree. He said, “Oh, I love these–but they’re just so goldarned expensive, I can’t get them!”

I remember thinking he was as grateful for those groceries as I would have been if I had hit the lottery.

Which brings me to my point. Who’s richer–the man who has very little, but is grateful for every little thing he has?

Or the one who seems to have everything–but who always wants more?

People teach us about who they are by their responses to charity, but they also teach us about who we are.

How happy would we be–how much richer would we be-if we were so grateful for apples and peanut butter that we smiled from ear to ear and exclaimed, “God bless you!” every time someone gave us some?

How much wealthier would we be if we considered a bag of fresh oranges a wonderful blessing and thanked God–really thanked Him–each time a bag of those oranges was placed before us?

We never know–it might be true that some people without homes are homeless because they spent money unwisely or developed bad habits, as we often assume.

But it’s also true that all of us make mistakes. And, when it comes to gratitude, sometimes the people we would call “poor” are really far richer than most of the rest of us.

The Man Who Earns Nothing and Everything at the Same Time

My small town is full of interesting characters. Nearly every day, I meet someone I want to write about. A trip to the post office or the grocery store almost always results in at least one “THAT’s going into the novel I’ll write one day” moment.

One of my favorites around here is Mr. Eric. He doesn’t know me from Adam, but I see him at least once a day. He has very little materially. He’s probably in his late fifties or maybe early sixties (I’m guessing), and people around here say he lives with relatives. He’s a tall, slender black man with completely gray hair cropped very short, and he’s a fixture in our community—everyone knows who he is. Few, though, understand that he’s royalty, living right here in Small Town Florida.

The reason few people understand this about him is his work. See, Mr. Eric has chosen, as his work, to ride his bicycle up and down the four-lane highway between my town and the next town, collecting toys in a small pull-behind trailer and then handing the toys out to children along the way. All day long, that’s what he does. When it rains, he’ll stop at a grocery store and rest. Sometimes on Sundays, he’ll stop in at a church fellowship hall between here and there and grab a bite to eat. He doesn’t say much to anyone, though—just eats, rests a bit, and then goes back to his work.

People aren’t always kind to him. I know this because one day my daughter and I were sitting on our screened-in porch as it started to rain. Mr. Eric was passing by, and he stopped under our trees to get a little shelter from the downpour. But when he heard our voices and realized we were there, he ducked his head and pulled his bike and trailer full of toys right back out onto the road, in the rain, and went on. He assumed we didn’t want him there, without us even saying anything. And, in my own weakness and insecurity, I didn’t have the courage to go get him and bring him back.

One day, I was leaving our church when he crossed the driveway in front of my car. He then decided to cross the highway, but there was traffic. His trailer was heavy with toys, and it took him a long time to push his bike across the first two lanes to reach the median, so cars had to slow down, and one 18-wheeler had to swerve. I was white-knuckled, praying, but when he reached the median safely, I realized—God’s got him totally in His care, probably with a lot less interference from Mr. Eric than the rest of us give Him.

Most people rejoice in him, but I’ve heard a couple of people speak about him with disdain—they assume he’s a different kind of person than we are.

And they’re right about that point, at least—he is a different kind of person than we are! But not in the way they think. We’re all going to be surprised one day when we find out that we were the ones who had much to learn from him, and not the other way around.

I’ve been working on this poem for about six months, and it’s still very rough, but I think it’s time to go ahead and post it. Please forgive; it falls short…

 

The Greatest

I think the world should stop for Mr. Eric.

We all should tip our hats when he walks by.

“Good mornin’, Mr. Eric! How’re ya’ doin’?

Have you eaten?

Can I offer you a ride?

 

You know, now, Mr. Eric, you’re God’s treasure,

And the angels, they all bow when you are near.

With His power, Mr. Eric, it’s God’s pleasure

To guard and keep your days; he holds you dear.

 

Do you know, dear Mr. Eric, that you’re royal?

Do you see that golden crown upon your brow?

It is born out of a heart that forgives insult;

You just smile, forgive, push onward, show us how.

 

And on Earth we just don’t see that you’re the wiser;

You may never know the honor that you should,

But in the Kingdom, Mr. Eric, you’re a noble

For you love God, and you’re humble,

And you’re good.

 

You count on Him to keep you as you struggle;

You’re a sparrow, and He holds you in His care.

And you teach us, with each daily gift you’re given

How to use it all to serve, and love, and share.

 

Mr. Eric, when you get up there to Heaven,

Will you ask God, please, to let me come there, too?

Will you ask Him to forgive me for my weakness?

Will you beg Him not to count my sins? Will you?

 

For I’ve met a lot of people on life’s highway—

Some were rich and had big names; they won their race,

But not one who knew the way to Heaven better

Than the man whose pay’s a smiling, bright child-face.

 

 

Empower Women. Defund Planned Parenthood.

Why are so many women up-in-arms over defunding Planned Parenthood? The message all the hullaballoo sends is anti-woman, not pro-.

If there were any truth in the cultural line that abortion gives women power, then maybe I could understand. But the opposite is true–abortion spoils a woman’s highest gift and robs her of the greatest opportunity she’ll ever have to change the world. Planned Parenthood, the world’s great destroyer of motherhood, is the largest obstacle to women’s advancement today.

The radical feminist movement would have us all believe that a life lived outside the public eye downgrades women—that if we aren’t continually climbing the corporate ladder and tacking title upon title onto the ends of our names, we’re not living up to our potential. I ask, though: who has more influence on the world–a top-ranking female CEO, or the mother of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? A powerful attorney, or the mother of a saint? A brilliant female scientist who forgoes motherhood for the sake of her career, or the brilliant mother who raises four incredible scientists?

Some of the most powerful and influential women in the world have not been those who went out and made great names for themselves, but those who formed and shaped others–and then sent them out to affect the world for good. These women didn’t give up their callings. Instead, they lived their lives according to St. Catherine of Siena’s wisdom: they became everything they were meant to be, and in doing that, they set the world on fire. Sometimes, they did it without people ever even knowing their names, which I think is quite a remarkable thing indeed.

I’m not saying women shouldn’t be out in the world; I believe many were created for that. But to destroy motherhood so that women can chase lower rewards is some extreme jungle-gym kind of upside-down and backwards—and taxpayer funding of an organization that kills baby men and women so that their moms and dads won’t have the blessing of parenthood is robbing millions of people, both male and female, of the lives they were created for.

Our obsession with being able to control everything and be, do, and have all that men can has led us to a terrible point: women now believe that giving up their highest gift is the key to their success. Planned Parenthood promotes this; it is the enemy of motherhood itself. If we really want to empower women, defunding Planned Parenthood is a great place to start.

 

In the Stillness

 

There’s no shouting,

Drumming, dancing

In the stillness.

 

There’s no waving high

Or crying out, “Amen!”

 

As we kneel, immersed

In silent Adoration

Of the One who forms and shapes

The hearts of men

 

In the stillness.

 

Here, you won’t find people “movin’ in the spirit”;

We just haven’t got the energy to spare.

Everything we have is pouring out in silence

As we turn to meet our God and King in prayer

 

In the stillness.

 

My grandma said

these waters run the deepest,

And now, I’ve seen enough

To know it’s true.

We sense the slightest movements,

Gentle breezes;

It’s not a storm—

It’s daybreak, evening dew

 

In the places where He longs

For hearts to join Him,

In the places where He waits

For us to meet,

In the places where we silently

Adore Him,

Hardly moving, for His presence is so sweet

 

In the quiet,

In the hush,

In the silence,

In the deep,

 

In the holiness that wakes

The human soul from soundest sleep,

 

In the calm

And in the dark,

In the tranquil, resting heart

 

In the stillness.

 

 

Copyright  2017, Lori Ann Watson

 

Saying “Thy Will Be Done”–with Hope

I love music. It’s always been one of my favorite joys, and long before I came back to the Faith, songs were the primary means God used to draw me to Him. I must not have made it easy when I was blasting Def Leppard and Boston 24/7, but somehow He still managed to sneak a good verse in here or there and touch my heart through it.

Nowadays, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Pandora station is my favorite. There’s just something different about listening to the radio, though, and my family and I really enjoy it, so we often switch back and forth between Pandora and that.

We live in the Most-of-the-Books-of-the-Bible Belt. We don’t get any Catholic music stations here, so, when we listen to the radio, it’s often tuned to a praise music station. I don’t think of most of the songs on the airwaves as worship music (because to me, worship is about the ways God is “above us”), but they’re clean and seek to draw us closer to Him, so that’s what our radio is usually tuned to.

The other day, one of these songs reminded me of something I had nearly forgotten–and I hope it will encourage you, too…so I wanted to tell you a little about what happened.

The song was “Thy Will”, by Hillary Scott. Now, this lady has been through the wringer, and God brought great beauty out of it. She suffered a miscarriage, and the lyrics, about accepting God’s will even when it’s hardest, were fruit of the pain. It’s very honest, and people have received it well; as of this writing, the Vevo video had been up about a month, and it had 722,148 views, even though the album hadn’t been released yet.

As I heard the opening lines of this song for the first time a few weeks ago, they really hit home. Our family has been “through the wringer”, too, for the better part of two decades now, and we live each day with the knowledge that the pain and crises could resurface at any moment. As Mrs. Scott sang about accepting God’s will, using Christ’s well-known phrase from the Agony in the Garden that we, as Catholics, often repeat when we’re hurting (“Thy will be done”), I said a prayer of thanks to God that a very faithful view of suffering had helped this songwriter through her pain.

Then, a few bars later, came words to help me through mine. In the bridge of the song, she tied the line “Thy will be done” to the lines from Jeremiah 29 that tell us that God hears us when we pray and that His plans for us are good.

Those few lines reminded me of something really important that I had begun to lose sight of over the past few years—that we don’t just accept suffering out of resignation, because we’re willing to endure the pain (although that is definitely a crucial part of our ministry). We accept the suffering because we trust God—we trust in His total goodness and His love—yes, towards those we are suffering for—but also for us. For each of us. The message of our faith is clear: God’s will is nothing to be afraid of, and we are very, very dear to Him.

We accept trials, knowing that however much it hurts now, He really is going to make “all things work together for the good of those who love Him”—those we are praying for, but also us. He really is going to bring something more beautiful out of it than we could ever imagine. (I know, I know: DUH!!! Right? :-))

I don’t mean this in an “If you do right, your life will be easy” kind of way. We may never see the fruit this side of Heaven, and trying to please God doesn’t guarantee a pain-free life. Sirach 2, the Crucifixion, and the saints all make it very clear: “When you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials.” The Christian life requires suffering. As Padre Pio said, “There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

But God is all-good, and He loves us. When we know this—really know it at a cellular level in our hearts— we can say, “Thy will be done” not just with a fearful resignation, but with gladness, with trust, and even with joy–because we’re not only accepting the trials, but hoping in the abundant fruit God will bring out of them, too.

 

Mercy and Tomatoes

I planted tomatoes this year, which was a big step for me. You see, every year, I joyfully buy heirloom tomato plants as soon as winter gives way, before the dogwoods even bloom. I’m full of great intentions. Then, I let those beautiful heirloom plants sit there on my front porch until someone who actually knows what they’re doing passes by and says, “Ya’ know, it’s too late to plant those now. It’s too hot, and you’ll never get any tomatoes.” But this year, for the first time ever, I haven’t left a single tomato vine sitting there waiting to be planted until it was too late. For me, that’s something.

Now, the thing about tomatoes is–ya’ gotta’ plant ’em deep. In fact, one supplier recommends planting tomatoes so deep that a full 2/3 of the plant is underground, with only the top third exposed. The deeper you plant a tomato vine, the more roots it grows, which, of course, gives you a better crop.

This got me to thinking about the spiritual life and how, actually, we’re a lot like that, too.

It especially reminded me of mercy and service. There seems to be a push today to get us “out of the churches and into the world”. A sentiment is building that says our faith “isn’t about sitting in the church; it’s about going out and serving, ministering to the broken.”

Now, of course, a deep faith should well up in us and drive us out into the world to minister to those who are hurting. How do we get that deep faith, though? If we’re not “sitting in the church”, where is all this mercy supposed to come from?

How can we pour out God’s mercy onto others if we’re not spending plenty of time with the One who is mercy itself? What better way is there to tap into the Fount of Mercy–to receive His love so fully that it naturally pours out onto those around us–than by spending time with Him in the Eucharist?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta might have said it best: “We cannot separate our lives from the Eucharist; the moment we do, something breaks. People ask, ‘Where do the sisters get the joy and energy to do what they are doing?’ The Eucharist involves more than just receiving; it also involves satisfying the hunger of Christ. He says, ‘Come to Me.’ He is hungry for souls. Nowhere does the gospel say: ‘Go away,’ but always, ‘Come to Me.'”

Mother Teresa’s sisters spent one hour–sometimes two–in adoration daily, even with everything they had to do to in their ministry. No–because of everything they had to do to in their ministry! In fact, another quote attributed to her is “Each day we should spend one hour in adoration, except on days we are busy. Then we should spend two.”

Would anyone say Mother Teresa and her Missionary Sisters of Charity haven’t been fruitful? Good night–no! Yet, her sisters spend long stretches in quiet time with Christ each day, away from the world they are charged with serving. This piece of their lives, hidden in time alone with the presence of the Lord, makes the portion spent out in the world bear more fruit.

It’s the same with us. We need deep roots, tapped into the One who can give us the grace and mercy it takes to serve with selfless, open, peaceful, trusting hearts. So let’s get back into the churches. Let’s spend a little more time before that tabernacle or monstrance where He waits for us. Drawing our nourishment from Him, we’ll produce a more bountiful crop…because we’re kinda’ like tomatoes.

 

 

The Beauty of the Mass and “Religion vs. Relationship”

 

I went to a community event in a non-Catholic church the other day. There was a quick prayer service, and the preacher gave a full sermon.

It reminded me of the time I had spent attending other churches before returning to my Catholic faith fourteen years ago. That time taught me a lot, and I loved those Sunday morning praise services back then. Now, though, something was very different.

The preacher was giving an engaging sermon on suffering. It centered around thought-provoking points, and his jokes were truly funny.

I really liked all of the people there, too. They were warm and friendly and comfortable to be around, and they genuinely cared about my family.

Still, I struggled with an intense feeling of dissonance as I listened to the preacher.

At the end of the sermon, he made the point about how the Bible says we are not supposed to hold on to rituals or religion—that the goal is a personal relationship with Jesus.

We live in an area of the country where Catholics don’t even show up on some local demographic maps, so I hear this argument quite a bit. People use it to say that Catholicism is flawed because it is a religion with standard doctrine and practices. The implication is that doctrine and standard practices somehow hinder our relationship with Christ. All the times I’d heard it before, I never knew how to respond. But this day, listening to the preacher make that point, I really wanted to talk to him, and I knew what I wanted to say:

“Thank you for inviting us into your church. The music is uplifting. The people in your congregation are warm and welcoming, and the prayers are heartfelt.

But, you see, in the Mass, Jesus comes…and He sits with me.”

From the entrance hymn through Communion, everything about the Mass is focused not on what God has done for us, but on Who He is. The focus is Him. We spend that time preparing our hearts for Him in a way that is quiet and awe-filled, because we really are about to witness the presence of a King whose glory we can’t even fathom—a King so powerful that one glance at His face could kill us.

Then, after our hearts are filled with total reverence and awe at His glory, He comes to us in the humblest, simplest way.

He’s there, on the altar, and we say, “Lamb of God” three times, proclaiming that He is the One who takes away our sins and brings us peace. Then we tell Him that we’re not worthy to receive Him, but that one word from Him will heal us.

Now, my heart is ready. Carefully and silently, I go forward to receive His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Then I go back to my pew…

But I don’t go alone.

Christ comes with me.

And He sits with me. He listens to me—not just in the way He listens when we pray in our living rooms or cars, but in the fullness of His real presence. He speaks to my heart—and it’s easy, because He is right there, next to it. He’s with me in a very real way—a way I never knew in any of those other worship rooms.

I’m not the only one. At this point in the Mass, the church is filled with people on their knees, eyes closed, faces entirely shielded from the world with their hands, blocking out anything that would interfere with their heart-to-heart with Christ,

because He’s sitting with them, too.

I’ve heard the point about “relationship” before, and I’ve experienced the “religion” in Catholicism, because that’s been my home for fourteen years now.

And I can tell you that all that time in the other worship rooms–it started me on the road home to my Faith, and I’m grateful for it.

But never, never, anywhere,

in any other church,

across two states,

have I known the relationship with Christ that I’ve found in Catholicism…

Because every time I go to Mass, Jesus comes,

and He sits with me.

As High As the Heavens Are Above the Earth (Mercy)

 

Okay—the Avoiding the Almighty Smackdown post was sorta’ intense. There was a reason for that, though. Even though it’s terrifying to think of our sins and the punishment (ummmmm…death) they merit, it’s critical that we do this. If we don’t, we can never fully appreciate God’s mercy, either.

The good news is that the LORD doesn’t want to wipe us off the face of the earth. (Whew!) As a wise friend put it, “God wants to forgive. He’s just waiting for us to give Him any excuse to forgive us!”

Sometimes, when we face the ways our sins have hurt others, we question God’s ability to absolve us. When we doubt His mercy, though—when we think, “God can’t forgive me, because I’ve [insert the worst thing you’ve ever done here],” that’s not Him speaking to our hearts–it’s us. I think what we’re really saying is, “If I were God, and someone had done this same thing to me, I couldn’t forgive.” On the farm, we called that “weighing somebody else’s corn in your own bushel basket”. We don’t understand how God could forgive us, because we couldn’t offer the same forgiveness.

Isaiah 55 tells us, though, that God loves to do things that seem impossible to us:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,

Call him while he is near.

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

And the wicked man his thoughts;

Let him turn to the LORD for mercy,

To our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

As high as the heavens are above the earth,

So high are my ways above your ways

And my thoughts above your thoughts…”

With these lines, God lovingly reminds us that we can never fully understand His ways. When it comes to mercy, His greatest attribute, He pours out His gifts so abundantly that we can’t even fathom the bounty.

A Mother Angelica quote came through my Facebook feed yesterday, and I thought it was perfect. This spunky, “all in for God” nun, who was known for having just a little trouble holding her Italian tongue (and temper), said, “God always forgives when you are totally repentant and you desire to change. He forgives…and He never gets tired of forgiving. Never. You may get tired of asking. I hope not. He never, never tires of forgiving you. Never.”

Now, we don’t exactly know whether Mother is a saint or not yet, but she sure did try. The stories of the saints tell us that many of them were just people who had a great sense of their own sinfulness, ran to God with repentant hearts when they fell, and gratefully accepted the mercy He offered them. That builds a close relationship with God, which is even more evidence of His mercy. He has a way of taking our sorrow over our biggest sins and using it as a seed for gratitude, which begets friendship with Him.

Scripture teaches us that the LORD wants all of us, not just those who wear habits or are ordained, to receive this kind of mercy—with this kind of heart. In Luke 7, Jesus comes to dine at the home of one of the Pharisees. A sinful woman, having learned where Christ was eating dinner that night, brought an alabaster flask filled with ointment. She wept, bathing the Lord’s feet with her tears. Then she dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of a woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner,” Jesus told a story:

“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since both were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?”

Simon [the Pharisee] said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love….”

I just can’t get over this story. When the sinful woman experienced Christ’s forgiveness, she felt such intense gratitude that she wanted to find Him–to go to wherever He was and show her thankfulness to Him with a heartfelt gesture–and Jesus, the King of Kings, allowed her to express her gratitude to Him in this very personal way. This scene reminds us that, no matter who we are and no matter which sins we’ve fallen prey to, God wants to forgive us—and that His forgiveness helps our gratitude to grow. It builds our relationship with Him.

Repentance is the turning point that starts a person on the road from darkness to light. It gives God the chance to flood us with the gift he loves to share the most—mercy. And that mercy can help anyone, no matter what his or her sins are, to draw very close to Christ. No one is beyond God’s redemption. That is the beauty of the Divine Mercy–it’s for all of us.

Mercy has touched my own life, and I’ll always be grateful. A long time ago, I was away from the Church, a thousand miles from the family and friends I had grown up with, and living in a very painful domestic situation. The darkness was so thick that I didn’t know if I’d ever see a day of hope again. Sometimes I didn’t want to see another day, period. Thank goodness I had one nearby friend–a lady who had yearned for nothing more in her younger years than to be a cloistered nun. She knew that practicing my faith would have protected me from the pit I was in, and she sent me straight to Confession. In that little room, God reached down, gave me hope, and began to heal my heart. I owe Him (and my friend-who-was-almost-a-nun) a debt I can never repay.

Even if we’ve fallen far, we can still know joy; God’s mercy takes our sorrow for sins and returns love and peace for it. In this way, the Lord really does change our darkness into light. Yes, His thoughts are far above our thoughts, and His ways are far above our ways–so far, in fact, that when we beg His mercy, He treats us as friends.

 

 

 

Can a Loving God Get Angry?

Note: When I write “we” and “us” in this post, I mean it.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all wondered, at some point, whether we have made God angry. Then maybe we passed a billboard or saw a commercial that proclaimed, “God’s not mad at you, no matter what.”

That’s a relief, right? Well, maybe it could be—except for one problem: it’s a lie.

It’s not just a lie; it’s an incredibly dangerous one, because it minimizes the reality of Our LORD’s awesome power. This is the God who wiped an entire city off the map because of its immorality—and then turned a woman into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed Him and looked back at the destruction she was fleeing. This is the God who ended a man’s life because he used contraception…once. This is the God who slew the first born of every Egyptian home, all in one night, because Egypt’s ruler was persecuting people who loved God. We’re going to say He can’t be mad? Where the heck did that come from?

It comes from us—from our desire to be able to do anything we wish without being judged for it. We want to continue in whatever lifestyle we choose, and we don’t want to be criticized for it by anyone—even God. We are a culture of four-year-olds who want that third slab of double-fudge cake, eat it even though our dad tells us not to (when the only reason he says no is because more cake’s not good for us, anyway), and then expect him not to be mad when he finds us in the bathroom throwing up and realizes what we did.

The idea that God can’t be mad at us is wrong for another reason, too: it implies that a God who gets mad can’t at the same time be good. I’m pretty sure the Texan term for that is “bull-honkey. God’s power and the fearsomeness of His fury—those are some of the best things about Him! They are a critical part of His goodness! They’re key to our knowledge of Him as Protector. They help us to remember that if someone threatens His children, He WILL rout the attacker.

In Psalm 29, we read

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the LORD, over the mighty waters.

The voice of the LORD is power;

the voice of the LORD is splendor.

The voice of the LORD cracks the cedars;

the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon,

Makes Lebanon leap like a calf,

and Sirion like a young bull.

The voice of the LORD strikes with fiery flame;

the voice of the LORD rocks the desert;

the LORD rocks the desert of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD twists the oaks

and strips the forest bare.

All in his palace say, “Glory!”

Whom do you want protecting you when you are in danger—a God who can’t get mad?…or a God whose voice alone is enough to start fires, split cedars, twist oaks, strip forests, and rock the desert? I sure know which one I’d pick.

God’s anger is a good thing; one of His attributes is that He is all good. But being good doesn’t mean He can’t get mad.

His anger isn’t the biggest thing about Him, though; even greater is His desire to protect and shelter us. We can’t deny this when we read Psalm 91:

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,

who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

Say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and fortress,

my God in whom I trust.’

God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,

from the destroying plague,

Will shelter you with pinions,

spread wings that you may take refuge;

God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield….”

See? God wants to shelter us. He wants to protect us so much, in fact, that He gives us a very easy way to run to His safety, even after we have offended Him.

In Nineveh and for King David, it involved things such as sackcloth and ashes, but we have an easier route. All we have to do to find it is to turn to Psalm 32:

“As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away;

I groaned all the day.

For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength withered as in dry summer heat.

Then I declared my sin to you;

my guilt I did not hide.

I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”

and you took away the guilt of my sin.

Thus should all your faithful pray

in time of distress.

Though flood waters threaten,

they will never reach them.

You are my shelter; from distress you keep me;

with safety you ring me round.” (italics mine)

Aren’t these verses beautiful? Here is a simple key to God’s mercy. It’s repentance. All we have to do is run to Him and confess with sincere hearts. Real repentance, though, requires the humility it takes to give Him our lives—to commit to obey Him (even if we don’t understand His reasons). This is the way we can find shelter under His wings.

When we do confess and put our lives under His direction, He always forgives. Mercy is His greatest attribute, and one of the nicest qualities of His mercy is that when we try to follow Him, He knows it’s hard, and He gives us the strength to do it. As written in Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Jesus told this little Polish nun, over and over, that His mercy was like an ocean, and that if you put all of humanity’s sins together (yes, even that one) and tossed them into that ocean, they would be like one tiny drop in the unfathomable abyss of His mercy.

But, today, we don’t even want to try. We can’t admit we’ve done anything wrong. We make our decisions, push forward, and expect HIM to honor US.

No. No. No.

That’s not His way. He knows our hearts. He knows that we are easily tempted to things that are beneath our dignity as His children. So He gives us Scripture and teachings that date back to Him to draw us to a life that will heal us and keep us close.

All He asks is that we abide by those teachings,…but instead, we tell ourselves that God couldn’t possibly be mad at us, no matter what we’ve done.

Of course He can be mad. He’s God.

It’s time for us all to acknowledge His power, His might, and His ability to wipe every single one of us off the face of the map. It’s also time for us to confess to Him that, if He did wipe us off the map, it wouldn’t be at all unfair.

Onan contracepted…once. How many times have we?

Sodom and Gomorrah, the towns He obliterated, were crude, selfish, sexually immoral, and had no regard for God’s commands. How much have those characteristics overtaken our culture now?

God slew all the firstborn of an entire nation because their head, Pharaoh, was persecuting people who loved God. How many in our society have made it harder for us to let our faith guide every decision?…and how many of us have “caved” to that pressure and given in—or fueled this fire with our own sins?

Wouldn’t we rather be under the shelter of His wings than in that desert He finally decides we’ve left Him no choice but to rock?

Wouldn’t we rather be shielded in the shadow of His loving hand than standing under that cedar we’ve been daring His voice to split?

The key to being nestled safely in His protection, and not sitting atop that oak when His voice finally twists it, is accessible to each of us—no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter what our lives look like. That key is repentance, and the time for it is now.

 

 

Abortion–and the Value of Honesty in Fighting It

Tonight, I was able to go to a banquet for our local pregnancy resource center,  and the keynote speaker was Vera Lord. Oh, my goodness. Her story is heart-stopping, not-a-dry-eye-in-the-place, “if you have a functioning cell anywhere in your heart, you will do something to stop this!” inspiring.

So I wanted to write. This post is based on a Catholic Exchange column that I wrote a few years ago, but tonight’s speech gave me some good things to update it with…

Our society’s ability to tolerate or reject abortion is the product of how we see abortion. And the way we see abortion is rooted most deeply in one factor–our level of honesty about it. Here, language is everything.

We can start with the earliest stages of life: a fetus or an embryo is not “a blob of tissue” or just “the products of conception”. I don’t even think the words “fetus” and “embryo” are honest enough. Really, at the very moment of conception, we’re already talking about babies.

At conception, this person inside a mother’s womb is already set to be either a tiny boy or a tiny girl. By five weeks, its heart is beating beneath its mother’s. It’s a baby.[1]

By nine weeks, he has fingers that he can curl around something placed in his palm. Later, that “something” will be a mother’s or father’s finger. He’s a baby.

By ten weeks, she will begin to develop Mother’s deep brown eyes—or Daddy’s hazel ones—or her great-great grandma’s gray-blues. By fourteen weeks, she can move her hands and might even suck her thumb. A “blob of tissue” doesn’t need an eye color and doesn’t suck its thumb. This is a baby.

By fifteen weeks, the mother might feel flutters and wiggles inside her womb. The mother doesn’t choose when the baby will move. It’s not her choice. The little human being inside her has a mind of his own. He’s a baby.

By sixteen weeks, this tiny person can get a case of the hiccups. By nineteen weeks, she sleeps in her favorite position, wakes, and sleeps again. Blobs of tissue don’t sleep and wake.

By twenty-four weeks, the baby is considered viable. But even before that, when she is still within the protection of her mother’s womb, she begins to learn the sound of her mother’s voice. She sucks her thumb. Her heart beats steadily. She wakes and sleeps. She moves on her own. She needs nutrition.

She’s a baby. And just calling her a blob of tissue or the products of conception doesn’t change that. Changing what you call a person can’t change the truth.

This truth—that her baby was a real, live human person—becomes evident, in one way or another, to each mother who has had an abortion. Pro-life activist and speaker Vera Lord, who chose and suffered an abortion herself, says that every cell in the mother’s body knows this truth and cries out to the mother after the abortion happens—no matter what the woman believes or what led her to justify the act. Sometimes it’s immediate; other times it might take years or even decades. But, at some point, the mother’s body forces her to face the fact that this was, indeed, her real child, her responsibility, and a baby who needed her protection, and she also has to face the painful fact that she contributed to the death of this child. Everyone else in the mother’s life–the boyfriend, parents, or other loved ones who might have convinced her that it was for the best, or the society that surrounded her with the lie that it would be OK–they all get to move on and leave it behind when it’s over. The mother never can.

When the realization hits, Ms. Lord says that it brings the mother a terrible torment unlike any other feeling known to man. It’s a grief that doesn’t go away, and it often causes Post Abortive Syndrome, which can manifest through such things as migraine headaches, eating disorders, depression, drug abuse, detachment from a spouse and future children, and other symptoms.

These things happen because what was aborted was, in actuality, a baby. The mother’s body makes her face it, despite the fact that people in her life might have worked so hard to hide it from her. The manipulation and rewording it takes to convince a woman that she’s not carrying a baby when she really is–this is the verbal engineering that enables a mother to accept an abortion. By refusing to use the word “baby”, the people who claim to help women are actually victimizing them.

The best we can do for women is to be honest with each one about the terribleness of abortion–before she makes her choice. The most merciful thing is to put the truth about abortion out there in the culture, and also speak it clearly but kindly in our personal lives every chance we get, so that each mother will be confronted with the reality of it before she chooses. Yes, even though it’s hard to hear. Even though she’s afraid. Even though she may be hurting already. Even if she’s addicted. Even if she has nowhere to go. These things are hard…but she can move past any of these things and put them behind her. Abortion is forever.

If you are a woman considering abortion, please remember that there are many compassionate options that will be better for you and your baby than abortion. There are crisis pregnancy centers and hotlines and churches and ready-to-act networks of people who want to help. They do it because mothers matter to them; they care, and they will not shame you or look down. And there are families who would love nothing more than to give your baby a loving home if you decide not to raise him or her. Don’t be afraid of embarrassment. Nine months of open embarrassment in front of peers while you let your baby grow during pregnancy—or even misplaced anger from beloved family members for a time—is nothing compared to a lifetime of guilt forcing you to hide and hurt. You’re not responsible for other people’s responses to your pregnancy; you’re only responsible for how you handle it.

To any woman who is already hurting from an abortion—you are a victim of abortion, too. You are not to be judged, looked down upon, or condemned, and you don’t deserve any of those things. You, an abortion victim yourself, are a special child of a heavenly Father who is Mercy itself and wants to help you. You are His treasure–the apple of His eye! You can turn to Project Rachel, a Catholic ministry that helps women to heal from the anguish, at www.hopeafterabortion.com . There is also the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing; they can be contacted for help at www.noparh.org . The Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts are also a wonderful help; they remind us that God’s mercy really is more powerful than our biggest failings. You can find them at www.marian.org. God loves you deeply. Forgiveness and healing are there for the asking. He can help you carry this and mend every part of your heart that is broken.

And if you are someone who is thinking of voting for a pro-choice politician, please reconsider. Remember that your vote could be partially responsible for some women’s abortions. We hold the lives of those babies—and the well-being of their mothers—in our hands every time we go to the polls.

 

 

[1] All developmental timelines are taken from www.pregnancy.org, accessed 01/27/08 and rechecked 02/20/16.

Divorced. Catholic. And Grateful an Annulment Takes So Long.

OK, I wanted to talk about this–even though.

Even though it’s deeply personal.
Even though I’m not an extrovert and don’t usually talk publicly about difficult experiences.
Even though I normally prefer to keep details about family life tucked away tight within the walls of our home.

I want to say something, because I think someone should:

I’m glad the annulment process is long, difficult, and even painful.

Not that I’m enjoying it. (I’m not!)
Not that I don’t wish it could be easier. (I do!)
And not that I don’t wish sometimes that it was all over and done with and that I had a decision so that I would know what to do with the rest of my life. (I wish those things all the time.)

But, really, it just makes sense.

Of course, it makes sense because of the gravity of the decision. To declare an entire marriage covenant null? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. It’s not exactly the kind of thing a Church tribunal judge can just skim over in a printed PDF as it crosses his desk, decide whether to use the stamp that says “INVALID” or the other one that says “VALID” on it, and then move on to the next one-page summary. Of course, the time it takes makes sense for that reason.

But it also makes sense from the perspective of mercy.

I’m not talking about the “short-term mercy” of our culture today, which says, “Do whatever is going to make the person’s life easier for now. Ease their suffering now, and let them worry about the consequences later.”

I’m talking “end-game” here. We need to get back to long-term mercy, which says, “Do what’s best for the person. Do what’s going to help them to be healthier in the long run. Do what will help them to get to Heaven.”

St. Padre Pio said, ” The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self. There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

I can see how this applies in a special way to the divorced person seeking an annulment. When a marriage ends civilly, there’s a lot of pain left. There were mistakes made by the person seeking the annulment–whether they were mistakes that led to a relationship that never should have been, or mistakes that contributed to the end of a viable marriage. And the only way to face those mistakes and make sure they don’t happen all over again is to walk right back through the pain. Those mistakes need to be processed deeply and intentionally, with plenty of thought, prayer, quiet time, and good spiritual direction, until the petitioner understands–not just mentally, but on an action-changing level of the heart–what he or she did wrong and how to keep from repeating that.

Then, there’s the hurt left over from the marriage itself. If there has been a divorce, you have to heal not only from the pain of the family breaking, but also from the pain you endured living in a wounded marriage. These things weaken a person, and they don’t go away overnight just because you separate and divorce.

And, most importantly, there’s the way that Christ draws us very close to Himself when we’re hurting. But that takes time! The annulment process is a “little desert” for each of us–a place where God can re-form and reshape our hearts and bring us closer to Himself.

For me, it’s taken four years so far to go through the annulment process (over half that time was just me working through the questionnaire)–and I’m grateful, because, looking back, I can see that every minute of that time has been a blessing. Even though the marriage was broken from the beginning, I’m grateful that “moving on” hasn’t been made easy. I’m grateful that, in order to move forward, I first had to go back and sort through everything that happened in the past–despite the fact that that was incredibly painful.

Finally, I am ready to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s decision–whatever that may be. This has been, in part, a fruit of the annulment process–because it’s tedious, because it requires the divorcee to relive the pain and analyze it, and because it takes a long time. All of these things were hard to walk through, but, at the same time, were a gift.

After a divorce, the last thing you want to do is end up there again…but if we don’t give Christ the space and time to reshape our hearts, that’s exactly what will happen. “Moving on”, whether into a healthier marriage or a life of single living to honor God, requires healing and recovery first.

Yes, the annulment process can be tedious and frustrating and painful. But Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Pain and suffering have come into your life. But remember pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” The difficulty of the annulment process gives God space to work on us and to heal us. And that makes it worth the time.