The Sign of Children

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Many spiritual undertones are concealed in little things.

~ Entry 112, Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.

          This has been the lesson over the past few days. Taught over and over, yet differently each time, it feels as if all of heaven has suddenly come together to impress upon me the signs of the times, the signs for the way forward and the signs of the things to stay away from. From near absolute stillness, there has begun now a sort of insistence, gentle yet with power, telling me that the signs are in the little things. That even as the world shouts and attempts to influence us about events and threats and all manner of future events, God wants my eyes on the little things because that is where the signs will be concealed.

In things which lie underfoot, hidden, obscured among the brambles and chaos of distraction and human insistence.

          The first sign came through one of the two most trusted people in my life. I had sought their holy discernment of a dream I had on the morn of Sept 14th, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Instead, they hurried to give me their thoughts, as they themselves made clear. For such a holy and devout couple usually given to prayerful consideration of everything, all of a sudden, their personal perspective took centre stage. The result was a body hit that that left me reeling, the tumult of old fears once again attaching themselves to me with glee.

          Still, I resisted my own intuition. I’ve been wrong about things many, many times before. I could be wrong this time as well. And so, even as my entire spirit rose in rebellion, I probed the waters gingerly, seeking a sign that said I was wrong and they were right.

          It took many hours of pondering and prayer. But I refused to yield to hurt, instead going deep into the heart of my family, the Heart of God in man. There, from its deepest, most pure confines, I saw it. It was the littlest of signs, hidden among the other things that were said. The sign told me to heed the cry of my spirit – and not insistence that was blinded by human frailty – even if it came from people I had always trusted, even if it came from elders of the church.

And the sign was of children.

I was told by the people I trusted that my hands would not be sanctified until I ministered to those in the dark even at the cost of endangering my children.

          What sounded the trumpet was that God has taught me many times that my children must be my life. And I have learned some hard lessons when I chose to turn away for a while; in fact, anything that has taken me away from my children has not worked out well. Hence, now, while I will not withhold them from sufferings that strengthen and purify, I will fight anyone who tells me I must put my heart’s loves in danger – supposedly in the name of God.

          That was why heaven screamed its warning through the events of the weekend. Because, in effect, I was told I had to put my children in harm’s way so that “the Light” could be shone into dark lives.

          Once the truth seized me, I gently made clear my stand, then turned away. It is sad when truth comes to us this way, more so when it involves family. But when we give our lives to God, earthly pillars are bound to crumble and fall. Some of those we trust and respect might fall before our very eyes. Some might reveal to us their hearts. It is a pain I must learn to face and bear, for I know it is in exchange of something far, far greater – complete trust in God and in God alone.

          And so, I left the tumult of the weekend, to come into the new week. Give me a sign. A sign as high as the skies, I had prayed many times. And so, it began. The stream of signs didn’t end with the weekend revelation. One after the other, they came, tiny, tiny ones, gently and in quiet order.

          Like a little child shyly pushing his play blocks towards me, seeking only my eyes and my love.

Return to the Water’s Edge

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          Recent days found me knocking on God’s door a little more insistently, seeking His light for the path ahead, for I have been sensing the edges of my spirit drying up a little, curling inwards, tired and weary once more, hence, getting fraught more easily. Initially, I ascribed it to sadness and adjustment required with the oldest two having left home for studies, the never ending work pressure and all manner of workplace and home shenanigans. While there was no major upheaval, not even the slightest trace of tumult, nonetheless, I felt as if I was being splintered.

          Unsure as to how to proceed, I finally went before Him in Adoration and threw myself into His waiting Heart. With the past weeks being what they had been, I had fallen away from my daily practice of slipping away to be still with my Jesus. Even as my daily Bible readings and prayers continued, the demands of weeks past had drawn me deeper into the whorls of busyness; soon, I had forgotten how important it was just to be still and to do nothing.

          Until today. This being the feast of St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, my spiritual father, I went in search of some reading with the hope that I would find a door which led to my beloved saint.

          Padre Pio was indeed waiting for me – except that his words were not what I had expected.

Il dolce far niente

The sweetness of doing nothing

          No lightning bolt of illumination, no word speared through my spirit. Instead, it was the call to the sweetness of doing nothing. To let go and to be freed. To pull away from the highways of this world, to return to the water’s edge.

          To watch the changing of the season, the spirit’s summer of cheer and bustle gentling into autumn’s quiet wait.

Even the Smallest Cut

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The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.   ~  Deuteronomy 33: 27

          September marked the opening of yet another chapter in our small world here. Our second child left home for college and we learned anew the quiet ache that visits the heart when someone so loved is no longer at home.

          The day we left our girl in her residence hall and drove back home along winding roads through rural enclaves, it felt as if so much of the colour had gone out of the day. Still, with each turn and bend, I gave thanks over and over to the Almighty for all we had faced to come through to this happy day. It was not a thanksgiving that needed to be coaxed out. It flowed out, unhindered neither by sadness nor of longing for just another day together.

          By the next day, I seemed to have somewhat recovered, as did all the others in the family. There were duties to go to and chores to be done, for even with one now away from home, all the remaining members under our roof were no less precious, deserving every bit of love in my heart. We cooked and cleaned together, and by nightfall, laughter had returned to our enclave.

          We’re alright, I thought to myself. We’re doing better than I expected.

          By Monday, though, something was clear. I wasn’t doing as great as I assumed I was. While I could cook and clean for the family and do a number of other mundane chores around the home, I had been struggling with my studies from the day we returned from the drive to the university. I was still stuck writing the same paragraph from the previous week. There was no progress and worse, I could not remember nor make sense of what I struggled to read each day.

          I had assumed that since it was our second experience with children leaving home for studies after our son left for college last year, we’d weather it better, but as I discovered that Monday night, “practice” does not always leave you better prepared. Even as the periwinkles by the fence burst its pinks impossibly and the zinnias bloomed out skirts in new colours, a light pallor lay determinedly over my heart.

          Speak to me, Lord, I prayed. Give me a sign as high as the skies, I said later, asking for God to show me what I needed to do that I wasn’t doing then. I could have waited for the clouds to pass over but that would mean more days of not being able to study and write.

          Then, this morning, my godfather texted me a Bible verse.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

For some reason, the verse curled around my heart. My godfather is a deeply prayerful man, a man given to giving more than asking for anything for himself. In recent years, he has journeyed with me through the depths of the darkest valleys. Together, although continents apart, we have all come through, blessed by his Josephian faith in God, his unwavering courage to do only what God wills of him and his never drying streams of love.

          So, when he sent me this verse out of the blue, without being privy to the news of our child’s departure and of our sadness, my heart took immediate heed. Like a child, I yielded fully to the truth that verse testified to, even as I felt there was something more to it.

          Shortly after, I left for a drive to the next town with my husband. The car needed some repairs and there was a grocery stop to make. But more than that, it meant a short break from home, a languid drive along which to work through knots and to tuck thoughts into the passing skies.

          On the return drive home some hours later, I sensed something within me. A lightness missing in recent days had returned to roost. Windows within had opened again. Sweet September breezes were slipping in, gently twirling, touching the spaces salted by the sadness of missing a precious and deeply loving daughter.

          By the time we turned into our driveway, going past the old pine trees arching into each other, I understood what the verse my godfather sent me had meant for the day.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms

           No matter how trivial our sorrows may seem to the world or even to us, even in the face of worse pains and griefs, the smallest cut still matters to the God who made us and watches over every second of our lives. No matter what the world at large would have us believe, no matter how many times even those within our circle of life admonish us “for troubling God over minor issues”, the truth is nothing is too trivial, nothing that happens to us is unimportant to a Father who fashioned us to be who we are and who loves us beyond words.

          In missing our daughter, I chose to immerse myself in thanksgiving for all God has done for us and for our girl. And that is always the right thing to do.

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 

~   1 Thessalonians 5: 18

          However, what I didn’t do but should have was to go to my heavenly Father and tell Him the truth: that I was hurting over my eldest daughter. That even as I was genuinely thankful for all He had worked out for us and brought us through, I was also hiding behind my thanksgiving, using it as a buffer to stop the pain from reaching deeper into my heart.

          But the God who made me from His love and blew His breath into me must have known that I wanted to come to Him but didn’t know how. So, putting out His hand, He took hold of my thanksgiving and drew me towards Him. And thus, thanksgiving became the bridge that took me across the Jordan of this heartache, towards the everlasting Arms of a God who was waiting to to tell me that He saw everything.

          One to whom even the weight of a mother’s small sadness matters.

Song of the Seas

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Then he said to me:
Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They have been saying,
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.   ~  Ezekiel 37: 11 – 14

          Almost three weeks ago, bound by illness and fear, I searched desperately for hope, but none was to be found – only because I was searching in the wrong places. The medications which normally worked didn’t seem to be working. We have always been a family that recovered speedily from illnesses, but it wasn’t the case at that time. And never before had we all be ill at the same time.

          I was sick with fear. What if we needed to go into hospital? The pathetic excuse of a hospital we have in our town and the even worse medical personnel working there, charading as doctors and nurses, ruled out going there for treatment. Our next option was a reputable private medical centre but it was almost two hours away and despite being the strongest of the lot, I didn’t think I could drive the family there.

          What illness was this that we were having?

          Oh, the fear was deep indeed.

          In that state, hunting high and low for hope and not finding it, I suddenly quit searching. If there was to be no escape from this sickening fear, no respite from our illness, it dawned on me then that it was God’s will that we suffered this. Although no part of me embraced this suffering, a gentle visit from an old friend a few days later brought me to a door I didn’t want to open: the door to humble acceptance of suffering.

          Then, through the powerful intercession of St John of the Cross, my prayer changed to,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

          From then the mists lifted slightly from the path. Each time the fear came, each time I felt I could not go on, each time I struggled to rise and to walk and to work, I prayed in desperation,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

         Still, I struggled mightily, for to love my cross is my greatest cross. There is nothing I want less. It is my personal Calvary, the path along which I fall and fall and fall.

          And so, even as I prayed to accept my sufferings so that God be glorified, I could not find the love with which to embrace the prayer. Yet again, God showed me He never leaves us to suffer alone. He sent His beloved Mary to me. The Mother of God took pity on me and deigned to gather me into Her arms and to whisper to me Her words from that old day in September, fourteen years gone,

Sorrow before joy

          Upon hearing Her words once more, an odd strength began to flow into me, to ask in sincerity for the grace to suffer my then afflictions for the glory of God. One day wove its tendrils into the next, and into the next, and the next. When all of us felt dizzy and weak, when I felt I just could not cope with work, when the high fevers returned undeterred to all of us despite the meds, over and over, I prayed with all my heart and soul now,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

          Still, I puzzled at this change even as I welcomed it. How did this happen, I questioned as I peered through the remaining mists. I sure wasn’t praying better now because I felt good things were coming and that this was just a phase to get through – long years of suffering certainly put paid to that kind of hope even if it were true. I neither longed nor sought for joy as a respite from suffering. In fact, in a sudden turn of the seas, I seemed to have instead found an odd, indescribable vigour for suffering.

          Then, days later, without warning, the seas turned a second time.

My spirit began to sing through suffering!

          It was a full-bodied song which I have never, ever in my life heard. It began swelling and pouring through my dried out spirit, in silence and in gentleness and also in soaring power. Granted, each one of us in the family had begun to slowly recover from the flames of illness but the recovery this time was like climbing out of a grave after being buried alive. We were all still within the shadows of horrors of that pit. Thus, despite knowing we were getting better, our hearts could not quite sink into relief and happiness yet.

          But that strange, new song continued to pour its many cadences into my spirit. And I knew then, with an unshakeable conviction, that the raised skies of my heart was not due to relief nor simple happiness. It was something else. It was a secret, hidden joy, flowing and flowing through me each time I cowered before a cross and then, chose to pray in truth and sincerity, Help me to suffer this for Thy glory.

          Today, as the sun curls gold lights through me, heaven finally whispers the secret to me, of where this song of the seas comes from.

I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
Then,
I will put my spirit in you

that you may live.

Sorrow Before Joy

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          Today, for the first time in a pretty long while, I found the time to sit in the corner of our little garden in the afternoon and let the Mother of God take care of me. This was the first Saturday of shiny, new August, a day when Catholics like me venerate Mother Mary in a special way through the 1st Saturday devotions. This is also the first Saturday we were home to enjoy all the beauty of a lovely and quietly cheery weekend after so many weeks of sacrifice, of travelling to the city, spending hours and hours there till night. Our weekend busyness had wound to an end last Sunday with our daughter’s Confirmation ceremony, a happy and satisfying day that nonetheless, ended unexpectedly with me and another daughter falling ill by evening, followed by all the rest in the family over the course of the week.

          It made for an exceedingly tough week.

You may think you suffer much but there is someone whose name I cannot reveal to you who suffers far more.   ~  St Paul of the Cross

          Have you no mercy for me, St Paul? I asked, more than a tad annoyed with the saint who’s always there for me with words I least want to hear. But the quote did its trick. We had all come down with a bad clot of flu; yet, miserable as it was, it was nothing compared to what the mystery person alluded to by St Paul and others had to endure with far worse illnesses.

          But I also knew my God would not want me to aspire to be strong by ignoring our own illness and struggles nor making light of them. He had a better way and He showed me.

Help me to suffer this and to bring glory to You, O Lord.

          Over and over, I prayed this entreaty. Slowly, the strength to cook and clean came. The hours and days passed, and one by one, the family began the slow trek to recovery.

          On Friday, another saint, one whom I love with all my heart, came to sit by my window. As always, he stayed only long enough to leave me a gentle invite, wraithing into unseen-ess before I could hold on to him. I looked down into what he had left for me, saint who had saved my life.

Novena to St John of the Cross

Novena to love our crosses

          I jumped back and away like one scalded. No, no, no, Lord, I moaned. I’ve had it with these crosses. I’ve had it with being put through fire. No more crosses, Lord, please.

          Still, when a dear~heart friend invites you to his precious abode of light, despite the reluctance that roosts strong within you, you go. As I did. Running my heart along words of the novena,

…intercede for me and obtain from God for me

a love of suffering,

together with strength and grace

to bear with firmness of mind

all the trials and adversities

which are the sure means

to the happy attainment of all that awaits me in heaven…

the words were like thorns, drawing pain because I had not healed yet from the suddenness of this recent test, all of us being ill at the same time. The fear, the worry. Will we make it? Why were we so ill after all the good home care? Will the children make it if they are away from us?

          When afternoon came today, I felt an unusual call in my heart from the garden. There, in its sunny peace, as the breezes wreathed their hymns in ribbons around me, I knew the Mother of God was bidding me to pause and rest in Her maternal heart, to let Her care for me in the way no one else on earth could.

          As the winds gently danced around me, Our Lady turned my gaze over this old garden I’ve come to love so much, its beds of bachelor’s buttons, zinnias and chrysanthemums which the children have coaxed the earth to love and yield. The flowers I’ve grown myself – the gardenias, jasmines and old fashioned roses, the starflowers, periwinkles and celosia, each one with their own story of teetering at the cliff edge of life, then, somehow having the tide turn in their favour.

          I suddenly saw something countless gardeners must have long known, that our gardens often reflect our own paths through life, from strife and drought and fear to joy and peace and glory. And that our life journeys are often cyclical rather than falling along linear paths.

          You need to encounter pain over and over in order to meet with joy over and over as well, said Mother to me. Sorrow before Joy.

          And with that, I saw once more Her old words to me, that dark, breezy dawn 14 years ago when I didn’t believe joy would ever be possible again.

          Yes, sorrow must come before joy. Each time. Over and over.

Only in Dying

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In dying that we are born to eternal life.   

~   from Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, St. Francis Prayer

          I asked my angel for a prayer for today. It didn’t come immediately but a few minutes later, when I had forgotten about my asking. I heard the strains of an old hymn from the deepest part of me. Although the hymn was very familiar, I had to lean in and listen closely in order to identify it.

          As always, with anything long, I asked for the part God meant for my heart.

          In immediate gentleness, the light was shone,

In dying that we are born to eternal life

          Then, I saw what I had never seen before. That in every act that we choose God over the world, no matter how small that act is, we die to all that is wrong. We die to all the world sets out before us in allure.

          Yet, despite the seeming smallness of that death, we make another step towards the only Life that matters, towards Light eternal.

Take Time For Yourself

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          God must have known this was coming. In the short days since He sent his messenger, St. Paul of the Cross to tell me to

Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her

I have been a bit more mindful of not raking in dust and dirt into my soul lest I render myself deaf to the soft voice from heaven. Still, there’s only so much one can do to remember to close the door each time to some of the stuff the winds of life can blow into us.

          Late in the afternoon today, tired from work and the never ending deadlines, I told God once more that I’d really, really like to hear from Him, to be moved by His voice in my heart. It was a very hot afternoon, the winds were blowing about. While that did little for the heat, with the swish of the winds through the tree leaves, an unexpected hush stole into my heart.

          The later hours of the day came with the humid promise of rain. Alas, aside from a few drops, the silver rains took their blessings elsewhere. But I had scant time to sulk, for there was dinner to see to and some more work to be done before I turned in for the day.

          After I was done, I remembered I had not had the time to complete my reading of Susan Branch’s latest post, so to it I went and absorbed myself for a time in patches of poetry, quotes and verses, photos and gorgeous illustrations, all quilted together in a lovely celebration of life and living. Although it left me longing for the beauty and quiet of serene places, a languid gentleness nonetheless pooled into my heart.

          Then came 4 little words, and Someone pressed my spirit to alertness,

Take Time For Yourself

In this life, where the world owns so much of me – and is yet far from satiated, I must somehow find a way to cast out into deep, go to where the voices of life will dull and fall into quiet, till they are unheard.

For only when I take time for myself, will I hear Him.

          What a sweetly delicious way to enter the Heart of God.

That You May Hear Him

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Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her.   ~  St. Paul of the Cross

          Sometime last week, there was a day when I told Jesus I’d like to hear Him speak directly to me. Shortly after came the verse,

Thus says the LORD:
I will allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak to her heart.~  Hosea 2:16

Right after, came the news of my colleague’s promotion, followed by the huge rainbow signifying hope the next day, and on the third day, came the Miracle. Later, pondering the verse from Hosea, I wondered if the “wilderness” mentioned there pertained to those 3 days.

          Still something else from Hosea 2:16 remained with me, like the soft, fleeting evening fragrance of roses seeing the last of the waning sunshine,

I will speak to her heart…

          Today, the quote of the day for me was from a saint I’m not particularly fond of: St Paul of the Cross. In the past, whenever he has spoken to me, he has told me things I didn’t like hearing. He bursts my bubble on days when I feel light and happy. In some ways, he’s like the string on my kite, constantly tugging me down to earth when I’d rather soar high up in the gold~tossed skies.

          But today, he had something different for me.

Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her. 

          On a day when I’ve been so happy at home, cooking, gardening, studying, writing and just enjoying my husband and children, St. Paul of the Cross comes by to tell me not to clutter up my soul but to leave it free to soar. With his words, come others, familiar little feathers floating in on the quiet sunset breezes,

Keep away from toxic people

Do not waver

Take back your rest

Each one a tender nugget tucked into my heart by those who love me, on this earth as well as beyond earthly shores.

          This is the way, they say.

          To stay free.

          That you may hear Him.