Family

Be at Peace

Be At Peace

One day, as I was yearning to receive Our Lord, I said to Him: “Teach me what Thou wouldst have me to say to thee.” Nothing but these words: ‘My God, my only Good and my All, Thou art wholly mine, and I am wholly Thine.’ They will preserve thee from all kinds of temptations, will supply for all the acts thou wouldst make, and serve as preparation for all thy actions.’   ~  The Lord, to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

          I’ve been mulling doing something new for some time now. It’s a major decision and fills me with more dread than hope or excitement because it’s been so long since I’ve done something like this. I’m afraid it will end up a mistake and that I will have to deal with the fallout.

          Plus, my husband wasn’t on board with it. He felt it would be too stressful. He didn’t see why I needed to. Only now learning to leave busy streets to walk in meadows, would this decision take me right back to the point I must never return to?

          I never do anything without my husband’s support, more so for something as huge as this. Nonetheless, while I understood and shared his misgivings, there was no concealing the hurt that he wasn’t giving me his support. I would have welcomed him by my side, examining our options together. If it wasn’t right, then, I knew I would shut the door and get on with life. In dismissing my asking, once again, I felt as if I always had to be the one to make the greater sacrifice. I don’t think I’ve ever held him back from anything. Instead, if there ever was something he wanted, even if I had reservations, I always gave him the freedom to go for it. Yet, now, when I needed it most, I found myself alone by the gate. 

          In the past, having come up against such a wall, I’d have retreated. However, this time, something just wouldn’t let go. I found my thoughts returning to this decision over and over again.

The time for work is over

          Still, in trying to discern from afar, I didn’t get anywhere. So, last Sunday, I pushed open my gate and ventured out a little. I told my husband that I had registered for a virtual session and went in with fingers crossed. There were a number of ‘rooms’  before me and suddenly I felt so small staring up at at them for they seemed like towers to me. Everything about the experience seemed so foreign, so different from all I’ve known. I would have immediately left had it not been for a very persistent friend rooting for me from the sidelines. For his sake, I stayed on, if only to be able to go back to him and at least say that I tried. Still, there was no denying how lost I felt in this new world, huge and shot through with noise. Maybe my husband was right after all, why did I need this?

          Wandering around, I saw a door. Against my friend’s advice to try a different door, I turned this knob and stole in. Almost immediately, I saw something that caught me. Something I hadn’t expected, something that indicated that this might work after all. But I had questions and sought answers for them. The few unseen people I interacted with were polite but offered little by way of the specific encouragement I needed.

          At that point, my home was calling out to me. I wasn’t even physically visiting this particular place, yet, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. So, just a few hours in, I felt I had enough and retreated home. Perhaps this was a sign that this path wasn’t for me.

          Late that night, I looked down and in my palm was a tiny flower from that room. It had followed me home. As if to say, Don’t give up just yet. 

          That night, I struggled to fall asleep. The fear of doing something new beat hard at me. That I would be doing something for myself after all these years worsened it. And going ahead without my husband’s backing was the hardest blow of all.

          Needing comfort, I called upon St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, and asked her to hold me. As I lay my heart against her, I told her I didn’t want anything to come before my husband or children, no matter how enticing it was. And then, I asked St. Anne to help me retreat from this venture. To give me the words for my friend who was hoping I’d do it. To retreat – but with no regret nor rancour.

          I fell asleep and awakened pretty early the next day, unusually fresh and alert. I put in some work but also spent a lot of happy time with my children. All through the day, sun-warmed westerly winds blew against the old windchimes hanging just outside our living room. The cheery lilt of the chimes was a gentle caress, just like the laughter and happy chatter of my kids, loving arms about my heart. Sinking deep into that joy, I gave myself up to it. 

          Soon, no trace of apprehension stained its mark upon me. I was filled with a deep quiet.

And with that quiet, came an unexpected nudge.

          My husband was home from work and I found myself telling him of what I had discovered during that virtual session I had attended on Sunday. It wasn’t with the intention of getting him to change his mind; he was my best friend and I never kept things from him for long.

          This time, I found a very different person before me, attentive and wanting to understand where I was coming from and where I wanted to go with this. Stunned at his change, it helped me to hold nothing back from him, not even my own fears and doubts. At the end of it, he even accepted it and encouraged me to explore my options.

At that, my heart swelled even more with that strange inner quiet.

          Armed with a new, silent confidence, I went back and did some searching, then, made some enquiries. And all through, my heart was at peace. It was basically the same journey of Sunday, and yet it couldn’t have been more different. I took the first polite rejection calmly and went on to knock on another door.

Past midnight on the 1st of June, I got some answers.

Something had been set in motion.

          My discernment is far from over. I still have a ways to go. What lies where the road dips out of sight? Will I go on and take the plunge, will I turn back? Will this journey of discernment be all there is to this experience?

          Give me a sign, I ask Jesus. In reply, He sets before me all the stages of my journey thus far, one by one. My lack of confidence. My nervousness at venturing into new lands. The shame of how little I actually know about anything.

Am I a fool to leave newfound grazing ground to head for the mountains once more?

          Give me another sign, I ask Jesus again. But I sense the time for asking is passing.

          Give me one last sign.

         Jesus’ reply is one I do not anticipate.

Be at peace, He says.

 

Something Beyond the Bend

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He alone can see what lies beyond the bend.   ~   He by Richard Mullen

 

          At what should have been the start of a cheery week, we heard the sudden announcement that we are going into full lockdown yet again for a month. No dining out. No travelling beyond district lines. For us, that meant no trips to the city, no quiet moments in the church there, no forays to the garden centres – our newfound delight.

          But we comforted ourselves that at least, living in a huge district, we could still stuff everyone into the car and take our sunset drives out of town but still be within district boundaries. We had begun that practice about 2 months ago and all of us enjoyed that hour out of the house, driving along quiet country routes, the big sky purpling, making ready for its night. We’d set out with hearts full of thorns and along the way, drop each one by the wild wayside, returning with our spirits calmed and in order.

          Then, the government hit us with a 3-person cap on the number of people in a car – even if it’s from the same family. So, there went our drives too.

          I could feel my heart drying up around the edges. We had relatively simple needs as a family. With the pandemic worsening by the day in our country plus in a few others as well, we’ve given up all hope of a family holiday for the next 1 to 2 years. But we found that it’s something we could live with. With thanksgiving planted firmly into the soil of our hearts, we found that we could be happy in other ways. There were other joys for every one taken away from us.

          But to come home yesterday after one such happy, country-drive and to hear that even those little replacements had been snatched away is a blow that takes time to recover from. It is cruel because yet again, we are paying the price for the recklessness of others. While we have followed the rules, kept as safe as can be and kept others safe too, too many haven’t done the same.

          In the end, everyone gets punished.

          I retreated into myself to try and come to terms with this development. As I searched for God’s word which I may have missed, I remembered that for the past day or so, snippets of an old hymn had been sung into my inner ear.

He can turn the tides
And calm the angry sea.
He alone decides
Who writes a symphony.
He lights ev’ry star
That makes our darkness bright.
He keeps watch all through
Each long and lonely night.

          So, I sang the hymn in my head, tracing my heart over its lyrics, trying to find God’s voice in it for me.

He’ll always say, “I forgive.”

          I groaned a little. I wanted answers. I wanted comfort. Not another exhortation to forgive heaven knows who. The fact that I wasn’t angry with anyone made it harder to figure out who God wanted me to forgive.

          Maybe I’m just imagining it, I told myself. Maybe, ‘I forgive’ isn’t for me.

          But those 2 little words wouldn’t leave me. Like the tinkle of a distant tiny~bell, they chimed quietly from afar through the following day. So, I sent up a quick prayer to forgive all who had hurt me. I pictured a couple of faces and figured, it must be one of them.

          A little deeper into the morning, my youngest child unexpectedly annoyed me with her schoolwork. I was sick and tired of having to tell her the same thing over and over and I felt that I needed to get really strict with her as it had gone on for too long. Working through the laundry with sharp, angry movements, I sifted through my options for action before I went to her.

          Then, more out of habit than any real obedience or humility, I turned it over to God. Tell me what to do, I shot my arrow in the direction of heaven – and promptly turned away.

I forgive

sang a voice in my ear. Blithely – and a tad cheekily.

          In an instant, in one swift second, all my anger evaporated! God wanted me to forgive her! I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe how fast my anger disappeared – and more so that the hymn in my ear was for something like this, something pretty minor in the grand scheme of things!

          Suddenly, the coming of the hymn, He, made sense. Getting annoyed with my child seemed such a trivial thing against everything else that was happening in our land. Yet, the angels had brought His voice and His word to me early. Because even as our country shook, God clearly didn’t want me drying myself out looking beyond our fence at whatever was beyond my control.

          A short while later, helping my child with her studies again, nary a trace of residual anger remained. Because of that, I had a little girl eager to learn from her mistakes.

          Sometime in the afternoon, on our final day of freedom before the lockdown took effect, I wondered how the year would end. Whatever we built seemed to be crumbling and breaking. Nothing seemed to last.

          Slowly, I became aware of the hymn, He, floating by once more. This time, it didn’t pause but like a lone traveller along a country road, it gently went on its way, leaving it to me to decide to follow it or not.

Who do I have to forgive now, I wondered.

          Curious, I reached out and opened my heart to its lines once more.

          This time, something else was laid upon my heart.

He alone can see
What lies beyond the bend.

He Will Not Refuse You

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I advise you to have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you want to conquer your enemies and obtain the strength and consolation you need; He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him.   ~  St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

 

          Covid-19 cases continue their surge in my country and I am once again under home quarantine due to 2 close contacts testing positive.

          Last week, as I was being swabbed together with 80 plus others from my workplace, a team leader posted a message saying that our additional work assignment under her was to continue. That unnecessary assignment required us to return to work after formal hours and to work in cramped rooms with little regard for social distancing. Of course, being under mandatory home quarantine, I needn’t have worried about it. But her posting angered me. Since there were so many of us involved in this latest cluster, we were all being swabbed in the community centre in our place of work. Photos of the event were posted on our work groups. Those being swabbed were beset by frustration, anger and worry. Nobody, absolutely no one, could claim ignorance of what was happening.

          And yet, this woman chose to turn her back and her heart against our collective pain and worry, and to insist that her programme continue. I decided enough was enough.     

          There’s one thing that singles out narcissists like this particular team leader: their fear of ridicule or a public put down and the like. In any dispute, I’ve always gone one-on-one and in private. But this time called for something different. Since the woman had put her announcement out in the open, so to speak, I decided I’d meet her there. I felt I had to make a stand once and for all and I had to let others know what I was doing. So, I posted my own reply notice saying I was pulling out of her programme as long as Covid remained an issue and especially due to the fact that we were now already seeing more and more close contacts test positive for the illness.

          As far as words go, mine appeared to be like bubbles, small and ineffective. But no public slight is small enough for a narcissist. She went completely, uncharacteristically silent. Soon, 2 other voices joined in, urging her to scrap the programme. I expected more to join the chorus of protests but it stopped at 2. Of course, behind the scenes there was plenty of bitter noise but none of that mattered as it didn’t fall on the ears which needed to hear it most.

          Strangely, despite doing something so out-of-character, I was untroubled, my mind clear, my heart calm. More than that, I was glad I didn’t trouble myself to try and save others who couldn’t be bothered to help themselves.

          Close to midnight that day, a directive came from higher up, effectively cancelling the programme. I had deepened the lines of enmity between that woman and myself but at least, we had some respite now.

          Still, for how long?

          In the days since then, I’ve been reflecting. There have been times before when this woman has successfully forged ahead with her ridiculous plans. There have also been a few clear occasions when she has been unexpectedly thwarted. By and large, it has been disruptive and frustrating. This sort of turbulence is unnecessary distraction to anyone who just wants to work and especially to those who work hard and work well. During Covid uncertainty, with our daily worries about our own families, such disruptions and upsets bite deeper and harder. How much of this could I take? I wondered.

          One thing becoming more and more clear to me is that this pandemic has set into motion a massive reset. It has shown us we need to return home in deeper ways. That even as we hold down jobs and work, we need to return to some aspects of life as it was in the past – spend more time with home chores, cook more, making caring for others a priority. Create gardens, tend to vegetable plots. Watch the sun rise and set. Listen to the rains and winds, learn their songs and understand their word to us.

          Enjoy our kids. Teach our own kids. Learn how to teach our own kids.

          Learn to be silent, learn to love silence and stillness.

          In a painful way, this scourge is making us undo some of the knots we have worked into our lives.

          But some people, like my team leader, do not seem to want us to rectify the wrongs in our lives. They are resisting this reset and straining against the ropes to return to imprisonment – and insist that we too return to our prison cells. They are, in effect, willing us to believe that the prison should be our home. And there are also the many enablers who do not try to resist but instead choose the easier path of acquiescence to all that is wrong simply because it troubles them less.

          About 3 years ago, just before Covid came upon us, I had a dream of a dark, dark night. My family and I were on the darkened streets. I seemed to be leading them. Some danger was closing in on us. Then, I ran into a bamboo hut. Inside it were some of my colleagues. Desperately, I pleaded with them to leave the place, to run to safety. While they looked up and listened to me a bit, there was barely any reaction from them. Soon, they had returned to their business. 

          At that moment, we were attacked. A massive tiger was pricing and tearing apart the bamboo walls of the hut. Somehow, I managed to escape. But escaping only put me out on the dark streets again. Out in the open. In trying to go out and warn my colleagues, I had taken my family with me away from safety and now because of me, they were in danger too.

          Many times since then, I have gone back to that dream, pondering it. The message was clear: it is not my mission to save my colleagues. If I save my family and if my colleagues wish to learn from it, they are most welcome to.

          But my workmates are not my mission. My family is. This week, I learned that lesson anew.

          And as long as one chooses family, there will be forces against it. Like the woman at work who will not allow us to choose family because she won’t. She will trouble us until we admit defeat and resign ourselves to her will.

          In a moment of quiet yesterday afternoon, I sensed a tiny movement in my spirit.

         I advise you to have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, if you want to conquer your enemies and obtain the strength and consolation you need; He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him. 

          I think of the many things that have happened this week. Incidents, realizations, choices and decisions. Each invisibly linked to the other, creating a little bridge across this Jordan of my life. The other side still some way off, I need a way to win this battle and reach it.

Have recourse to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will not refuse you this help, if you ask it of Him. 

          And so I do. And I ask big. I ask for all the miracles possible to end this battle.

 

 

The Sea of Life

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          As I write this, I have been so moved by pictures I’ve been looking at this evening, photos taken by beautiful souls. Of seaside cliffs, of the sea, of places where winter lingers in its final farewells. It was one of those times when I allow myself daydreams of a new home, a new life – by the sea, no less! But more importantly, away from this town of a thousand eyes, freedom to work and live as I wish, no longer beholden to those who will never understand.

          I wrote to someone today, remembering a day some 8 years before. I was attending a course in a little town by the sea. It was the first time I had been away from my young family. Even as the pangs of mother’s guilt tore at me for enjoying this time away, I had nurtured hopes that the course I was attending would herald a change in my professional life, give me some hope, some measure of joy, because as much as I loved my family with all my heart, the darkness of depression was biting deeper and deeper into me. At that time, I thought perhaps an opened window in my career would let in some light and that it would make life livable.

          Late one evening during the course, after a walk on the beach, I sat on one of those wooden beach sleepers, and watched a storm slowly roll in. From the time I was a child, I have always been enthralled by the sea. The crash and slosh of its waters on the shore and salt-washed rocks were the only sounds strong enough to still the ever present tumult within me. That day in that little town by the happy sea, I realised that I had not outgrown this childhood love. And that the power the sea had over me had not waned either.

          On my last morning there, during a break, I went out to the beach once more. I knew passing eyes were curiously eyeing me, wondering what a formally dressed woman was doing sitting by the beach at past 10 in the morning, staring out at the swell and fall of the sea as it ran with a lover’s grace towards the sandy shores. I was a deeply insecure person back then, and it took a lot to get past what others thought of me, and to remain by the sea for a while more. But I’m glad I did. When I think of that moment now, I think that in my heart, I knew that even if I did return to the seaside for holidays with my family and such, I would not come back this way, in this same short-lived freedom from the call of home.

          How true! 8 years or more have passed and with it, every manner of opportunity to make something of myself. Still, even if a part of me is disappointed it turned out this way, bitterness finds no real hold within me; I chose family over everything else and given a chance to re-live those days, I’d do the exact same again.

          Such decisions, like everything else, alter the path that leads from every fork in the road. For some, it leads to something new, an unexpected bounty that refreshes flagging spirits. For others like me, some of our dreams fall further and further behind in the rearview mirror, increasingly eclipsed by the present, challenging, difficult at times, yet utterly beautiful too.

          It is what it is, as Gary of Bereaved Single Dad is wont to say. You do the right thing whether it feels right or not, no matter how strong the lure of dreams to choose a different path.

          And like the sea, life comes to carry you on.

 

Lent 11 ~ No Going Back

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          In mid-January, my mother-in-law who lives 2 hours away, suffered a stroke and fell. Apart from the concussion, her speech and memory were somewhat affected. My husband comes from a family of 3 siblings. His older brother lives next door to Mum, his older sister resides in another state, some 4 hours away from us. In the aftermath of what happened, my husband and I felt it would be best if Mum moved in with us. It wouldn’t be too far a move for her and as such, less upsetting. No one else disagreed with us so we began to make plans.

          There was no vacant room in our home but we planned to bring a spare bed into our bedroom and make Mum comfortable there. It would require a huge adjustment on the part of all of us. Worrying about how I’d balance this with my work struggles made me deeply afraid of what was ahead. I saw that same fear in my loving children’s eyes too but I soothed them without sugar-coating it. In times of difficulty, I believed that we needed to focus on love. We would do that now too. Focus on loving Mum as best as we can, give her the very best from our hearts and God would take care of us. Granted, we had no clear idea of how we would manage as both my husband and I were both working full time. There were absolutely no care services in our remote town that we could rely on, but we figured that since the stroke had not impacted Mum’s mobility much, with help from our kids who were all studying at home, we could try and work something out. It would not be easy but we are pretty resilient as a family. Even if we messed things up initially, we’d learn fast.

          What mattered was that Mum be surrounded by family in a secure and loving environment. I had suffered from fears all my life; I didn’t want Mum to fear being alone or anything. Because coming to live with us was hell enough for her. I had married her favourite son and early on in my marriage, she had made it clear she felt I wasn’t good enough for her boy. Besides, I wasn’t my mother-in-law’s idea of fun. Mum was an extreme extrovert; I went out of my way to avoid most social situations. She had 2 tongues in her, I sometimes had trouble finding the one tongue I had. We were polar opposites and Mum had scant patience with my dull ways. But she was good, old soul and over the years, I learned to not just accept her but to love her too.

          But her move into our home was not to be. Without warning, one day, the hospital announced that they were discharging Mum into home care. With equal suddenness, my husband’s older sister who had been silent during family discussions, announced that Mum should be with her. We were concerned that my husband’s sister was taking on too much. Although her children were all grown-ups – unlike our much younger brood – her own husband was a recovering stroke victim as well. But there was virtually no time to talk things through.

          What started off as a normal but busy day filled with meetings for my husband, ended very late that night. With suppressed anger and frustration, my husband packed his aching heart away and hastened to do his older sibling’s bidding. After work, he drove alone to the town Mum lived in. Strict lockdown rules did not permit me to cross the district border with him. At the hospital, he dealt with the discharge paperwork alone. 

          It was late evening when Mum had been securely strapped into her seat for that long drive to her new life. As the waning sun watched over that old town, so many people were returning home. But Mum was leaving the town she had come to live in as a young mother almost 60 years ago. Leaving the house where she held court as queen of the home for decades, the sepia memories of golden days spent with faithful friends. Leaving the graves of her husband, and her beloved baby grandson, the only death that had broken her to tears. Leaving without a chance of bidding her last farewell because her mind was going.

          My husband had to slowly and carefully drive his frail mother to the meeting point with his sister at our state border. Mum was understandably not quite herself. She took time to understand things and it took a lot out of my husband to keep his eyes on the road and at the same time make sure Mum didn’t attempt open the car door midway through the journey. All through that long drive, she fiddled with knobs and levers just like every one of our babies had done years before. Still, she asked him nothing, as if the contentment of just being alone with her little boy was all that mattered.

          Then, as the purple twilight skies gave way to night, someone must have whispered something in her heart. In a sudden shot of lucidity, Mum told my husband that she didn’t want to stay elsewhere. That she wanted to come home with him. I can only imagine how much it must have cost my husband, a devoted and filial son, to choke back his tears and instead, find the words to comfort his old mother, knowing that she now somehow knew that she was going where she least wanted to go all her life.

          To be fair, my sister-in-law was having a very hard day too. As we were under lockdown, the rules were very strict, to the point of being inhumane. My poor sister-in-law had to rush to get a police permit to cross state borders, then, make that long drive to pick Mum up and immediately drive back across state lines before midnight that same day to avoid a hefty fine. After a rushed pick up, the poor woman finally made it home at midnight. My husband came home exhausted too but at least he came home to a hot meal and a loving family waiting to fuss over him and soothe him. While my sister-in-law pulled up to a comfortable home, it was empty save for a husband not quite himself. She had returned to a house with empty rooms because all her children now resided in other states, and she returned to a marriage she had marked and wounded in so many ways.

          It felt so sad that it had to be this way but it was my sister-in-law’s call after all of wanting her mother with her. At some deeper level, I could guess at her intent. Facing failure at any age is difficult but it’s worse when you are older, close to retirement age or beyond, because in some families, some aspects of marriage and bonds with kids are cast in stone by now. We can hope for the sun to rise some day and some of us will strive to the end to make that happen.

          But some of us just aren’t made to hope, to forgive or to seek forgiveness. Some of us find it too difficult to strive for a better ending to life. So, we try to return to a life lived years and decades ago, when things were much simpler and affairs of the heart less complicated.

          For my sister-in-law, that meant taking into her home the mother who had petted and doted on her even into adulthood. Ever the optimist at all the wrong times, my husband’s sister refused to try to understand that even if Mum healed and improved, something in Mum had already been set into motion. There was no going back into the past where Mum stretched herself thin doing everything to ensure ease and comfort for her only daughter.

          For a month, Mum was with her daughter and did pretty well. After holding our breaths, we finally exhaled. Mum’s physical recovery was good. My sister-in-law was a tender and loving caregiver, very efficient in her care. Still, we were worried. The nation was under lockdown so some of us like my sister-in-law and I were mostly working from home. But with the lifting of restrictions coming in February and with it a return to full time work for all of us, there would be no one to watch Mum at home when my sister-in-law was at work.

          My husband’s sister is a difficult one to communicate with, if I may say so. On good days, everything goes well. But there are days too when this wall comes up that nobody can scale.

          That wall was well in place when we tried to discuss Mum’s care going into February.

          Suddenly, early this week, with no warning in the almost daily conversations, my husband received a text from his sister saying she had it with taking care of Mum. That she couldn’t go on. And she wanted my husband to come up with something. The change in her was sudden, to say the least – but less so to my husband. This was the way she had always been whenever the going got tough. Her coping strategy was to check out for a period of time and have others scramble to pick up the pieces.

          In this case, those pieces was Mum’s sudden mental deterioration from early this week due to another stroke. Mum now required fulltime care but with lockdown, getting a homebased caregiver was not an option. And my sister-in-law had no backup plan in place for what we saw was coming and had tried to warn her about.

          We had no care options in our town either but there were good nursing homes in the closest city in our state. Quietly, without letting on to my husband, I did some research. I looked for a facility that would allow us to bring Mum home on weekends, to let her be with family. Her mind was going fast. She barely remembered or recognized people who had been in her life. Whether she was with us or remained in fulltime care, it would not make much of a difference to Mum who would likely never go back to who she was.

          But I wanted to try. 3 years ago, one day after Christmas, I had a dream. It was of Mum, living with us and utterly happy and at ease. In that dream, I had been warned by an unseen person that in having to care for her, I would be

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          What if that time warned of was now? To suffer for heaven knows how long but in the end to receive the joy of seeing Mum happy and well again, finally at peace with the world? I had to at least try.

          City rates being what they were, it would cost much to keep Mum comfortable. There would be no chance of either my husband or I retiring early. But on the bright side, I figured that since I was at the losing end of keeping my weight down, maybe having less to spend on food would yield early blessings for me.

          Yet again, it was not to be. After a few tense days and many prayers, my sister-in-law instead found a good nursing home just a few minutes’ drive from her home. Their rates were something we could afford. And they agreed to take Mum in immediately.

          By evening, Mum had left the house again, intent on her secret journey, shutting gate after old gate to open new ones. All our efforts to hold her back are futile. It’s like she is growing wings.

          And day by day, even as her body weakens, her wings strengthen, taking her closer and closer to the sun, one gate, one door at a time.

          As I search for the final words for this post, the warm yellow~white winds outside rise to sudden high notes, strong yet gentle is their evening song. For long minutes, I lay my heart against them.

          Then slowly, one by one, the winds gather gently. Softly, softly they lay the meaning of their song by my heart. 

 

We Are The Cracks

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Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.   ~   St Angela Merici

 

          There’s nothing like a major societal eruption to get us into sanctimonious finger pointing. It will always be someone else’s fault. The resolution, the clean-up, is always on someone else’s card too.

          Too often, we forget to look over our shoulder at our own backyard. We conveniently gloss over the searching questions we should be asking ourselves.

          We willfully choose to ignore the roots of disorder that reach all the way down into our own families. We make excuses for ourselves. We look the other way. We busy ourselves with the view outside our window because that’s a lot easier to do than to put the way we raise our children and our family relationships under the microscope of illumination.

Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family

          When our children fall away from the faith, in self-righteous anger we blame the Church, the priests, the Pope even. The dogma is outdated, the Rites of the Holy Mass not traditional enough, the Pope failed to speak and act like a pope should.

…the smoke of Satan has entered the Church   ~ Pope Paul VI

          That is among the most famous and oft-repeated quotes in Catholic circles but never has it been bandied about as much as now – in the times of Pope Francis’ papacy. Some have even gone as far as to accuse the Holy Father of being the antichrist because he does not conform comfortably to the narratives our pride dictates.

…through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God

          We are the cracks, says my heart to me today. We are those cracks through which the smoke of satan has entered the Church of God: the family.

We crack when we become Eve in the Garden of Eden all over again. When we listen to that voice that tells us that we are the God of ourselves.

We crack when we become Adam. When we blame others and absolve ourselves.

          And each time we make that choice, the crack runs all the way back to the family. When the family breaks, society crumbles and collapses.

          As disorder begins to tear at the fabric of nations, both small and mighty, I stand among the crowds. I might pray for the fire to end, the wounds to heal. But my prayers will mean little if I lack the courage to take the next step – which is to take custody of my sight and to cast it inwards. If we are to arrest this fire of destruction, I need to begin with myself and my family.

          For the cracks that race outward to splinter society begin right here.

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 31 ~ In Winter, Choose Life

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During the worst moment of the illness, I thought I could die and I was scared of leaving alone my wife and letting my son grow up without a father like me   ~  Pierpaolo Sileri, Italian Deputy Minister of Health upon recovering from Covid-19.

 

          As I heard this man’s words, I marvelled at him. In the cold and dark of his fear, he chose to care about his wife. He chose to care about his child.

          His worst moment was the best of all. Because in his winter of fear, he chose Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put Aside, Forget Everything

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The spouse of Christ who longs to become perfect must begin with her own self. She must put aside, forget everything else, and enter into the secrecy of her own heart. When she has done this, let her sift narrowly all her weaknesses, habits, affections, actions and sins. She must weigh everything carefully, and make a thorough examination of past and present. Should she discover even the least imperfection, let her weep in the bitterness of her heart.   ~   St. Bonaventure

 

          I heard the words, Spouse of Christ, yesterday. Unfortunately, there was no time to follow the words into the woods of discernment. No scant minute to even seek the Lord’s will for me for Lent. Each week is more brutal than the one before. The workload is crushing. I can see that I’m getting a lot done; yet, there is no sense of achievement. Neither time nor strength to revel, even for a while. Deadline after deadline. Hurdle after hurdle. Rushing from one assignment to the next, my memory leaks worse than a sieve.

          Due to the extremeness of the week, the waters of my heart were choppy and roaring. I could not seem to settle into peace and inner quiet. A trip to the stores late in the evening yesterday found me agitated, restless and dispirited. I left the store empty-handed, unable to recall what I needed to buy. I was so tired. I was also worried about a major event scheduled for the coming week.

Go indoors

          For some reason, I kept seeing those words before me all day. Nearly 2 years ago, the same words kept coming to me. Go indoors was a warning then. To return to serving and focusing on my family – not because they were in some danger – but because I needed the mantle of the family to see me through a cruel attack at work.

          This time, as I rushed from end to end from morn till evening, Go indoors kept knocking at the door of my heart.

          Driving home, I ran the day through my mind. On the outside, everything seemed calm and normal; yet, inside, I felt something within me was spinning out of control and getting worse. Knowing I couldn’t go on this way, I took my mutinous will with a firm hand. Once home from the store, I went straight to dinner preparations. As the stove busied, I settled the laundry for the day, helped the kids with their studies.

          They weren’t earth-moving actions. But they possessed a power.

          Suddenly, from being flung around in the vortex of madness and work overdrive, I fell to the ground, calm and steady once more. Late that night, with most of the family in bed, unable to chip away at tasks for next week, I reached for my gift book instead, Susan Branch’s Martha’s Vineyard ~ Isle of Dreams. It had been so long since I read anything late at night but I did this night, and I was glad for it.

          The words in the book steered my heart towards winter branches awaiting spring.

          The next morning, something else was waiting. A commenter had written this in my previous post, “I find him (God) best in solitude and open space…”  And the words, open space had twinkled up at me like a bright blue star in the dark swathes of sky.

          So, coming to the morning of Mary, I too sought open space.

          For some reason, despite the imperious ticking of the clock, I wanted to know how a nightingale sounded. Finding a video of it, I played its song over and over. From there, I explored other bird sounds. And slowly, a gentleness began to ribbon itself around me.

          A tiny rosebud of a miracle then unfolded. Despite the very busy day ahead, it seemed as if several layers of my ears were opened up. Even as I scurried about, I could hear many different birdsongs as they laced the gold~blue morning air. I was suddenly functioning on two levels, busy yet alert to Nature.

          Then, a second rose of a miracle bloomed.

          For the event next week, I had to approach some people for help. Always being someone who preferred shadows and backseats, I was not looking forwards to it. In addition, we were short of funds. I cringed at the idea of seeking donations from our usual donors, knowing that some could make it unpleasant for me. I didn’t mind humbling myself if it would yield something good. But I drew the line at licking the floor merely as entertainment for some.

          Praying to St. Joseph from days before, I knew it was his idea when he whispered to me names of possible new donors whom I hadn’t considered before. Nervously, I made contact and bashfully sought help, giving everyone an escape avenue so that they didn’t feel pressured to commit.

          Ask anyone in the know and they’d tell you this was not the way to go.

          Miraculously, every person and company I approached agreed to give – and cheerily at that! I skipped and skipped all the way home, to the serenade of birdsongs in hidden nests.

          It was in the quietness of that happy relief that I once more saw the words, Spouse of Christ. Surprised, this time, I realised that Someone was calling me – and calling out a message.

The spouse of Christ who longs to become perfect must begin with her own self. She must put aside, forget everything else, and enter into the secrecy of her own heart. When she has done this, let her sift narrowly all her weaknesses, habits, affections, actions and sins. She must weigh everything carefully, and make a thorough examination of past and present. Should she discover even the least imperfection, let her weep in the bitterness of her heart.  

          Let her weep in the bitterness of her heart. Over and over, through the busyness of the days and weeks, the Holy Spirit had been urging me towards inner silence. He led me back first to the needs of my family, then to the tiny birds who live and sing for God. When I had obeyed, through St. Joseph, He worked all those miracles – slowly quietening the anxieties in my heart.

          There were still streams to wade through and canyons to be crossed. But the Spirit of God saw much further, and He wanted me to be quiet enough to see it too.

put aside, forget everything else,

sift narrowly all her weaknesses, habits, affections, actions and sins

make a thorough examination of past and present

weep in the bitterness of her heart 

 

          The call to Lent.

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 19 ~ Eyes on God

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          Last night, eyes of my heart moving over my day, I was chagrined to realise that my  hours could have been lived better. I had done little and accomplished even less. I had given in to sluggishness. I had not served my family as much as I should have. I had not spent enough time to listen and to enjoy them.

          I barely even heard the birds in the winds yesterday.

          I did not forget the rainbow message of the morn – to remember hope – but even as I held on to the promise of hope, I forgot to try to live that promise in a deeper way. Instead, I had allowed my weariness over my health issues to cloud my day. I allowed it to hold back more of myself from giving love to others.

          Today, I strongly sense that God must have watched me in my hours of yesterday. He must have observed me spend that time trying to hold on to hope by fighting my fears, suppressing my worries through positivity and some prayers.

          And surely, He knew that yesterday, I forgot the most important prayer of all – the prayer of holding His hand through my family.

          So, with the deepening of the night veils, He set about straightening my path.

          He brought me a week’s old post of Melanie Jean Juneau’s where she had written of a situation she was facing. Of the fear. Of trying to hold on to Jesus’ hand even as she tried to walk on water. Of feeling the waves rise higher and higher over her.

          Reading about it, pity and sympathy for a woman I admire so much pierced my heart and shocked me out of myself. Wanting to do something to help her, I bound  Melanie to the Passion of Christ, to His Blood and Water, in fervent prayer for mercy for her and for her family.

          I believe that prayer set me free. My health concerns paled in comparison to this pain. My eyes now just where He wanted them to be, God then set before me other posts – each bearing the message of keeping our eyes on the Lord as we walked on water towards Him.

          No spirit can turn away from such a powerful sign; neither could mine. I knew my Master’s sign the moment I perceived it. I understood His urgent call and my spirit surged towards the impossibility of what He was calling me to: walk on water.

          He’s not called a loving Father for nothing.

          God knew I would hurry to obey. But then, like Peter, I would suddenly take my eyes off Him and I would begin to sink quickly. And so, He showed me how He wanted me to keep my eyes on Him.

          …in the garden every morning are these exquisite blooms, ravishing roses, that are our beloveds …. As we step out each day, may we celebrate the blooms God has so graciously gifted us with.   ~   Linda Raha, Time Enough, Reflections From An Open Window

          God was telling me to return to my family. To love them. To serve them. As I cared for my beloved blooms, I would be keeping my eyes on Him and walking on water towards Him.

          That is how He wants me to remember hope.

 

 

 

Go Home To Your Family

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Jesus and His disciples came to the other side of the sea,
to the territory of the Gerasenes.
When He got out of the boat,
at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met Him.
The man had been dwelling among the tombs,
and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain.
In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains,
but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed,
and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides
he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
Catching sight of Jesus from a distance,
he ran up and prostrated himself before Him,
crying out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I adjure You by God, do not torment me!”
(He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
He asked him, “What is your name?”

He replied, “Legion is my name.  There are many of us.”
And he pleaded earnestly with Him
not to drive them away from that territory.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.
And they pleaded with Him,
“Send us into the swine.  Let us enter them.”
And He let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea,
where they were drowned.
The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town
and throughout the countryside.
And people came out to see what had happened.
As they approached Jesus,
they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion,
sitting there clothed and in his right mind.
And they were seized with fear.
Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened
to the possessed man and to the swine.
Then they began to beg Him to leave their district.
As He was getting into the boat,
the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with Him.
But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead,
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in His pity has done for you.”
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.   ~   Mark 5: 1 – 20

 

          The Parable of the Pigs as I call it is an enigma to me. No matter how many interpretations and explanations I read on it, the initial intellectual satisfaction is always temporary. After a time, I always get the sense that the real meaning of the parable for me  – eludes me. It’s akin to travelling on a road and coming to an inn by the wayside. Once inside the inn, with the nourishment of food and drink inside me, I assume that my journey has come to an end and that I should just stay the night or return to where I came from; that there is nothing more to journey on for any more.

          But soon, I realise this inn is not the last stop for me; its nourishment not as filling and as lasting as I first presumed.

          The road stretches on further.

          Today, seeing the parable again, it suddenly came to me that the Parable of the Pigs is meant to be a journey, different parts meaning different things as I journey though life, and meanings constantly evolving. In an odd way, this comforted me considerably, it made sense why my heart cannot seem to settle for any discernment.

          And so I returned to the parable, but this time, with different eyes.

          Always confounded by why the demons had to be sent into the poor pigs, resulting in them rushing down the cliffs into the water and drowning, why Jesus allowed this mass death of animals to occur, this time, notwithstanding the same questions, my heart was steered towards something else.

          For the first time, I didn’t see the pigs. I saw the possessed man.

          I saw his sorrowful home, his life of horrifying, endless grief among the rocks and tombs, confined to dying but never death itself, by the hold Legion had upon him. Often, he was driven to mad despair, dashing himself with stones, his self-harm a plea for real death, that the torments end.

          For the first time, in that poor man, I saw myself, from childhood till marriage and even after the joy of children, banging my head against walls, hitting myself with my bare fists, with books, pulling violently at my own hair, slapping myself, screaming and screaming for release from the madness and cruelty of an entity whose name was not known to me back then.

the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea,
where they were drowned…
And people came out to see what had happened…
…they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion,
sitting there clothed and in his right mind.

clothed and in his right mind

          Tiny pearls began to line up. The dream 11 years ago. My husband and I are dressed in our wedding finery, entering the church through the left side, with our children as ring bearers and flower girl. Entering church to be married once more, it seemed. Followed by deep joy in bathing one of my children, the seemingly mundane tasks of family life. Then, a sudden swerve. I am alone, in our present parish, dressed in a dark, dull red blouse. In the empty church, taking up an offering of preserved flowers. Alone. Empty church. Dried flowers. And the dream ends there.

          Dried flowers, red blouse. For some reason, immediately and long years after, those two details stay with me like a burr. Why dried flowers? Why red? I have probed a thousand times.

          Then, one night, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, less than a year after the dream, sorrow biting deep, yet happy that I could care for my family, my in-laws. Awakening in the dark dawn, seeing the shadows of tree branches dance against the walls, the play of tiny lights. Deep serenity.

          Suddenly, a flash and a return to memory of the 2 dreams – the Second Wedding and the Offertory.

          And in a silvery breath, a soft, clear, feminine voice saying to me,

The dreams will be reversed in reality.

Sorrow before joy.

          Taking the Offertory. Dull red blouse. From last year, starting from the anniversary of our marriage registration, inexplicably, each and every time I wore red, my husband and I have been asked to carry the Bread and Wine during the Offertory at Mass. In a church of more than 1 000 parishioners, red is common enough and I have nothing to me to make me stand out for any reason.

          And yet, each time without fail, since our last marriage anniversary, every time I was in red, the usher would quietly come to our pew with the request.

          Solitary offertory in an empty church. I’ve always wondered if it was God’s reminder to me offer up my efforts, at home and at work. To make it my firstfruit offering each and every time.

          Today, Someone gently settles understanding on my heart:

Offertory in an empty church

Console Me

          Suddenly I see what I’ve never seen before – last year, as never before in our lives, each time we were in the city, no matter how rushed we were, I’d try to take the family with me into the empty church, to spend some quiet time with Jesus, trying to heed little St. Francisco Marto’s call to Console Jesus. It never seemed like much. Not with a ticking clock, restless children, miles upon miles to travel before we got home. I recalled too the recent night awakenings, and the immediate turn of mind and heart, to console Jesus.

          Now I understand that, that was the Offertory God had asked of us.

the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him.
But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead,
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in His pity has done for you.”

          Go home to your family. With the deepening strife at work, each time I cried and begged to be released from my work chains, God took more and more out of me, more and more away from me. And over and over, I heard the same,

Go home to your family

          To my children’s needs. To my husband’s sufferings and struggles. To my in-laws’ tribulations with marriage, ill health, old age and increasing distance from the faith. Every time something or someone at work hurt me, the Angel led me to bury my wounds in caring for family – the Heart of Jesus.

          Go home to your family. I saw the child of my dream, the one I had been bathing, soap suds all over. I heard the tinkle of joyful laughter, baby mirth so, so deeply treasured. The voice I’d give anything to hear once more. I can no longer bathe this child. That time has long passed, never to be mine. But Love Unseen has led me to care for my family and even for those not family but who live in my heart, in ways I could never have imagined during the long years of my parents’ NPD torment.

The dreams will be reversed in reality. Sorrow before joy.

          Go home to your family is the bridge that links the Sorrow of the Offertory to the Joy of the Second Wedding.