Love

Built by Love

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A place to rest awhile from journeys all must undertake

A hiddenness for tears that must flow when storms beat hard

A garden where kindred souls gather

A place to learn, and learn again, the voice of God;

In this life, we can build just about anything we want

But only true love can build something like this.

NANCY SHUMAN

7 February 1946 ~ 30 August 2017

The Breadbox Letters

In Every Season, Love

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          The world is in seasons, it seems, in more ways than one. If it’s summer for some, winter is hovering close for others.

          In the midst of our own peace and happiness, on a golden Friday, my Muslim next door neighbour informed me that his young son-in-law, a father to two young children, had contracted Covid and had been placed under induced coma. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for the families involved. The fear of losing a boy they had come to love as their own was compounded by not being able to reach out and offer physical help to their daughter and their two grandbabies living so far away, due to the nationwide lockdown still in effect here. The morning after the most bitter of nights for them, my husband caught a glimpse of our neighbour’s wife. A soul with the most golden of hearts, her face was now shadowed with grief.

Life changed from one moment to the next

          I heard that comment made on tv by a loved one to one of those missing in the Florida condo collapse and I realised how often I had thought the same thing these past days. Sudden changes. Surprises. Shocks. In Florida, in the deepest golden blue of summer, bitter winter came. No comfort of months or weeks to prepare for the change. No gentle leading to the hard of cold and pain.

          Visiting my garden the day after the news, I worked at the beds away from our fence to assure my neighbours that I wasn’t looking for conversation. They already knew our family’s prayers were joined to their anguished pleas to God. Even in our own summer, we must do all we can for hearts wintered in.

          Today, unexpectedly, my neighbour sent us dinner over our fence. It was a heartwarming dish expertly made by his wife, one we have enjoyed multiple times over the years. It is also a time-consuming and painstaking dish to prepare, effort nearly impossible under the shadows of fear and sorrow. We immediately knew then that joy had come to them. I flew to my phone and heard their hope for myself. They were still not out of the woods yet, but hope had come.

From one moment to the next

          Steeping back and looking over all that has happened recently, I learn again that the seasons of life come to all, rich or poor, what marks us to receive more or less from each season not easily understood. How long the seasons stay is beyond anything we can determine, for they lodge at will, the summons to come and leave answered in obedience only to the Almighty.

          Someone tried to teach me a long time ago that a strong, unwavering faith and knowledge of sacred scriptures is a surefire way of facing down times of strife and difficulty. True as that may be for some people, it wasn’t for me. The wall of faith and knowledge that took me through early troubles all but crumbled later when God tested us 14 years ago. In standing before my God, all I had was my naked anguish and raw grief. There were days when Scripture shone light through the impenetrable darkness of debilitating grief; but there were many more when even much loved verses did not make sense, when it seemed like they made their way past the door of my waiting heart, pausing not.

          Today, I asked God once more what takes us through the seasons of life, and what helps us to leave our springs and summers to meet others in their own seasons.

          The answer came, as pure and clear as a new sunrise.

It is love.

Lent 15 ~ Go Out and Love

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          Yesterday, some issues regarding my professional future were weighing on my mind. In my post, Destiny, fellow blogger and my friend, Ann Coleman, commented, “It’s natural to be anxious about something so important. But I do believe we can trust God to be with us through even the worst challenges. And I’ll pray that your work situation works out for the best.” 

          Something about that last line snagged my frazzled and tattered attention.

And I’ll pray that your work situation works out for the best.

          Ann’s touching concern and support lit a spark in me. Of wanting to go out of myself and care for others besieged by work concerns in whatever form. Nonetheless, at that very moment, it was mind over heart, because it was almost night and I was so very worn out from staring at my laptop screen for hours on end.

          Still, when God lights a spark, it is lit, no matter what.

          Today, I had to travel to the city with my husband. We met a salesperson he had dealings with. Within a few short hours, the 60-something man had let down inner his mask with us, and let slip that he had just undergone a heart procedure. I thought to myself that sales wasn’t the best job to be in if you had a heart complaint. Later on, we observed signs that despite his good work ethic, genuinely genial nature and immense popularity with clients, he didn’t seem to be earning very much.

          And yet, he was so giving, even when it would have gotten him nothing back.

          As we waved goodbye, something about him tugged at my heart. Well into his 60s and continuing to work in such a cutthroat business when others would have retired, I just felt that something hadn’t worked out in his life. He had a hunted look in his eyes, as if there were forces he was trying to outrun but couldn’t.

          Driving home, I thought about this man’s worn heart and remembered him before God.

          We were late in leaving the city and so got caught in its after-work traffic snarl. Driving carefully, I watched cars zip in and out, drivers in a great hurry to get home. Deeply exhausted, home seemed so far away. And we had one more similarly draining trip to make the next day.

          Despite my state, in the sharply angled evening sunshine, something else began to take over. I found myself empathising with the commuters’ rush to get home. Oddly, it was almost as if I could cut past the layers of metal and noise, and see right into hearts, here and there encountering happiness and good cheer, but mostly touching weariness, worry, frustration or just plain tiredness from a hard day’s work. All stopped at traffic lights after traffic lights, we were sitting in different vehicles, looking different, living differently. And yet, there was a common thread of happiness, worry, fear and tiredness running through each of our lives. 

However different we were, we are all bound together by our need of God, to be placed in His Flaming Heart.

          Once home some hours later, I contacted our parish priest to make arrangements to attend private Mass with him. To my sadness, I found our priest in great agony from nerve pain. He asked for prayers and so I hastened to do what I could, feeling it was too little against such a great need.

          It was past midnight when I sought the stillness to gather my thoughts. While no great mountain did I move in my Friday hours, Ann’s words reminded me that even in our hardest struggles, our hearts must never close in on ourselves. That no matter how gnarled and rutted our own path is, we must take care to never lose compassion for others who are suffering. And yet, that remains a mountain to be scaled – to remain in the moment of others’ suffering, to help them carry their crosses, even as my own weigh me down.

          Although so many of our questions remain unanswered, and the road stretches on through the uncertain terrain of life, in choosing to open our hearts to the pains of others, I have learned a great many times, our crosses will not vanish, our own pain might not diminish. The lesson God wrote upon my heart today was that,

The more we hurt inside, the more we must go out and love.

          Because it is when we wipe the wounds of others, that we touch the very Wounds of Christ.

I am Sending Him

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I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you….Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever… ~ Philemon 1: 12, 15

          There are days that begin and end much the same way, in simple breaths that do not stray too far from the gate. While this past Thursday began in the hope of being a quick and efficiently worked day, by afternoon, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going home early from work.

          Like beads being threaded together to make a necklace, came the tasks, one by one. In a madness that can only come out of my country, without warning, a week back, schools were suddenly shut and most of the country was placed under movement control order again. Overnight, state borders were sealed, and inter district travel curbed in many states except in ours. Those of us in the government service were told to work from home but our state being a green zone, there was some flexibility. So, I opted to go into work on Thursday to take care of some paper work. I figured I’d be done and out by lunch time.

          Instead, it was almost 8 at night when I finally drove home. It wasn’t just the work that forced the late hour. In my tiredness, I made  a few mistakes too. As everyone knows, it’s always easier to prevent mistakes than to mop up the mess. But the only way for me to do that was to have a clear head and I didn’t, not that Thursday. The sudden lockdown announcement the previous Sunday afternoon had dunked me head first into the barrel. I had just one day to sort out the younger kids and make strict study plans for them while rushing to re-start my personal online work platforms. It should have been happy news for me, an inveterate homebody, a respite from the work place I dislike, but after months of political roiling, I didn’t appreciate the short notice and the ambiguity of it all.

I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you

          By early that Thursday afternoon, I was already wondering where was the heart God had promised me. When you hide your old grief inside, and carry on as well as you can, yet all the while searching the skies for signs of a mystical return, when you read of such a promise just that morning, well, you expect the day to go really well and smooth.

          Instead, there I was, working feverishly, unsure if I could meet my own deadlines, deafened to even birdsong.

Where is my Heart, Lord, I asked, where is he?

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep…
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there.

Den no die, Mama

          Where is my Heart, Lord? Where is he?

          A little slowly at first, but surely, the knots untangled. One by resolute one, things got done and buttoned close. As the day blushed into sunset, I began to sense something had changed. The air around me had stilled. Then, I sensed a presence beside me and within me, soft, gentle yet firm and strong.

Den no die, Mama

          There was still much to get through, but I was now miraculously clear-headed. I zipped across town, stop after stop, ticking things off my list. I was calm and collected. Despite the falling shadows and the deserted office, no frisson of alarm creased my spirit.

I am sending him

          When I finally pulled into my home driveway, the sun had gone to his sleep. I was too tired to arch my head towards the skies and search for the faithful diamonds that never fail to burn their gaze from velvet depths. But my little home was ablaze in warm, happy lights and my children had swarmed out to get me out of the car. There were little stories which needed telling and hearing right there on the front lawn. There were little grievances which needed only the balm of an attentive heart. I had received so much and I had even more to give. How much richer I was for that!

          However frayed and difficult that day had been, I had come to its night with a deep peace that left no space unsweetened. As Paul’s words to Philemon about Onesimus tread before me, that night I learned in a deeper way that however tragic our losses, our loving God leaves no gaping hole unfilled. 

          Yet, to get to this point of knowing and acceptance, a road must be travelled, a journey undertaken. There is a time for each step and for each fall. No amount of rushing can get us here. No amount of support can shorten the  distance. Every tear we shed, every question we send to heaven, is another step forward on this journey of seeking the return of what we have lost.

Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,

that you might have him back forever.

Even If in Bits and Pieces

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Many times I found myself praying the Holy Rosary (even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out)…   Dr. Mario Enzler, former Swiss Guard

          Quiet minutes to myself, the first of this new October. After 9 days of grindingly hard work and unexpected tumults, everything stills this morning. The only speck across this silent dawn is that we have to make that trek into the city. I’d rather stay home, sleep in a bit, get some rest and put the house into better order, but it’s a necessary trip.

          I say my first prayers of the day at my altar. It’s Saturday so I seal my heart in Mother Mary’s, my little Saturday offertory. Since it will be a long drive to the city, I remind myself to say a few Hail Mary’s along the way. Although I’ve done my daily readings and said my prayers all week, it has been one of those weeks with too much crammed into it. Despite the trip we will make today, despite the mental list in my head ready to be ticked off, I know I need to slow my step and quieten down, for the gullies of my heart are dry and in need of wetness.

          A sudden, bright white~gold in the outside sky catches my eye. The sun is coming up from its eastern bed, reminding me that we have to get going soon, when I find myself reading an article about a former Swiss guard and his faith in the Rosary.

Many times I found myself praying the Holy Rosary (even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out)…  

          Without warning, tears prick my eyes.

          All these days, I’ve tried to keep my heart in God’s. I’ve prayed and prayed, but in drifts and drabs,

in bits and pieces

          Each time, I’ve called for my guardian angel. Called for him to join his prayers to mine and to carry my meagre efforts to heaven, because I knew that my prayers this week were especially small and paltry indeed, paling before the great needs of this week.

even if in bits and pieces, the Holy Mother of God knows well how to sort them out

          And with those words, my Heavenly Mother blew her breath over my weariness. With those words, I fell against Her maternal heart.

          So often this week, I had entreated heaven to scrub clean my offerings of myself. So often, I had scraped the earth of my days to find something of value, something I hadn’t held back for myself, something I hadn’t tainted with my many sins.

          I felt I had given so little to my God all of these 9 days.

          Yet, my beloved Mother was now telling me She had received each morsel of my heart, of my days lived in the depth of unexpected storms, and in unexpected joys too. Of the unseen work of hours and hours upon end. In the many falls and in the struggle to rise once more and start over each time.

          Bits and pieces. Each one received and sorted out.

Return to the Garden

Anemone Coronaria, Flower of Israel

May He teach you what He desires of you, and may He give you the strength to accomplish it perfectly! If I am not mistaken, this, in a few words, is what I think He chiefly requires of you: He wishes that you should learn to live without support – without a friend – and without satisfaction. In proportion as you ponder these words, He will help you to understand them.   ~  St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

 

          On Wednesday last week, longstanding issues resurrected themselves at home. Deeply hurt and frustrated that even the beauty of time with family and nature couldn’t resolve old habits, I took my heart and placed it in the Sacred Heart of Jesus – because left within me, my heart was sure to fall into the depths of anger and unforgiveness.

          Then, I threw myself at the feet of heaven, asking for guidance.

          Its answer came from the mother~heart of St. Margaret Mary.

May He teach you what He desires of you, and may He give you the strength to accomplish it perfectly!

          Stunned somewhat, I realised this unpleasantness was willed.

He wishes that you should learn to live without support – without a friend – and without satisfaction.

          That broke my heart into pieces, for loneliness and aloneness due to being misunderstood and maligned, has been my cross for a great many years. To see now that even that was willed, was just too much.

          Upon praying to St. Anne and to my guardian angel to keep my tears, within a few short hours, they brought me Jesus’ words,

Love as I have loved you.

          And with that, I resolved to get up and start all over again.

          But even as I went to my day and busied myself in the depths of a beautiful, sunny blue day, I wondered about St. Margaret Mary’s last words,

In proportion as you ponder these words, He will help you to understand them.

           Those words remained before me in the weave of gentle wind brushed hours. Curious as to what St. Margaret Mary meant, I went in search of her, and this I found,

Every night between Thursday and Friday I will make thee share in the mortal sadness which I was pleased to feel in the Garden of Olives, and this sadness, without thy being able to understand it, shall reduce thee to a kind of agony harder to endure than death itself. And in order to bear Me company in the humble prayer that I then offered to My Father, in the midst of my anguish, thou shalt rise between eleven o’clock and midnight, and remain prostrate with Me for an hour, not only to appease the divine anger by begging mercy for sinners, but also to mitigate in some way the bitterness which I felt at that time on finding Myself abandoned by my Apostles,…   ~  Jesus’ words to St. Margaret Mary

 

I will make thee share

Garden of Olives

Without thy being able to understand it

Agony harder to endure than death itself

Mitigate the bitterness

Finding myself abandoned by My Apostles

 

          There is only one hurt worse than all others for me and that is the hurt caused by the family I love beyond all else. And of the many hurts to be endured in a family, it is the hurt of being cast aside in favour of professional work, which cuts deepest. It is not the childish and narcissistic petulance about wanting to always be first in your spouse’s heart. Rather, it is the pain of knowing that whenever it comes to a choice between passion for work and staying close to your spouse’s heart, work has always won.

It is a hurt that falls within the shadow of the Abandonment in Gethsemane.

          Despite knowing what Jesus has to soon face, the Apostles – those closest to His Heart – chose the less troubling option of indifference. They chose the appeasement of slumber.

They choose themselves over Jesus.

          In a marriage, in family life, when we choose ourselves over even the littlest wills of heaven, we once again become the apostles in Gethsemane – because we choose what we want, we choose what stimulates and excites and what drives us. While marriage and family life is every happy and joyful tale we hear, it is also filled with heartaches, struggles and stretches of mundanity. Yet, these are the crosses God weaves into our lives to enable us to walk in His Son’s footsteps – for that is the only road to heaven.

It is the only path to Life.

          By willfully and defiantly choosing external lures and satisfactions, we choose the side of the apostles in Gethsemane. In choosing worldly consolations, we choose another path. We delude by comforting ourselves that this too is just another road that leads to Life.

          But it isn’t and doesn’t. Because that path bears not the footprints of Jesus.

          Despite the resurgence of old cheer within me, a note of sadness has stolen into the glorias of the winds and the sun. No matter how happy I am, there will be many more returns to the Garden of Olives.

          For Jesus has made it clear in His last words for the day. He needs my suffering to

Mitigate the bitterness I felt on finding myself abandoned by My Apostles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 29 ~ He is Going Home

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          In the darkness of Thursday morn, the day following the Feast of the Annunciation, I was roused from sleep. In the silence that followed, someone sat by my heart and lifted the veils a little.

          One of it concerned someone I love with all my heart. I learned that this old man would die.

          The whole of that Thursday, all through its hours, my heart remained calm and steady, accepting of that death if it were to truly happen. For ever so long, I’ve fought heaven, demanded that I be allowed to return home, to love and care as I’ve always done.

          But one day, years ago, in the midst of my anguished cry to heaven, I felt and heard the breath of Jesus upon my ear, saying,

There will be different ways to love

          In the years that followed, I began to understand that I would never return to my old home. Because to do so would only bring death upon my own family here now.

          It took a few more years before I could quieten the rebellion in my heart against that knowledge, but when I did, I slowly learned that God wanted me to now love through prayers, sacrifice and consecration.

          Only when I had fully accepted that did Jesus gently lead me towards yet another revelation. That this man will return to me with his old arms raised in the joy of absolute freedom and forgiveness – but only through the gates of death. Because only death could free this beloved man from the fetters that have imprisoned him from birth, right up to the present hour.

          And so, that is why, even when I was told on Thursday that he would die soon, even through my tears, my heart is ready for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Crucial Moments

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The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the thieves hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”   Luke 23: 35 – 43

 

          No prizes for guessing which thief I was at Christ the King feast day Mass. The day had begun well enough and I thought I had it all under control. Yet, just before Mass, someone sneaked in and tweaked the script, and my participation at Mass evolved into a litany of anger, frustration and weakening hope, one bitter cup after another offered up to the King of the Universe.

          But God worked an almost immediate miracle. Within seconds of my offering, He healed me of my anger towards 2 members of my family. The storm in my spirit quietened considerably, I continued to offer up the rest of my struggles – with hope especially.

          Soon, I became aware of the words on the back of a top won by an unfamiliar young lady in the pew in front of me,

MY GOD, I believe, I adore, I trust, and I love Thee!
I ask pardon for those who do not believe,
do not adore, do not trust and do not love Thee.   ~   The Pardon Prayer, Fatima Angel

          My heart turned away from that prayer. I was having trust issues, so how on earth could I pray the line – I believe, I adore, I trust, and I love Thee – with any sincerity? Furthermore, I wasn’t in the mood to ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love GodNo, I had enough with obedient waiting and I wanted God to storm right in and work an earth-shaking miracle with the family members who had kept me in knots for much of the year.

          The day at church ended with my priest’s gentle advice to not borrow trouble from the unseen future, but to keep my eyes on the present, believing that Christ the King is already in every situation of my life.

          I wish the good priest’s counsel could have put out the last of the flames within me. It didn’t. Intent on not ruining the day for my family with my inner struggles, I sailed into the next act of disobedience: I chose to lie to myself.

          I pretended all was well. That the earlier storm had passed and the sun had come out.

          By lying to myself and pretending, I didn’t wait for God’s timing but went ahead of Him. There’s always a price for streaking ahead of Him, of course, and I paid it pretty soon. In a short amount of time, the flames within snaked to life again, and giving in to my frustrations, I spoke words the Almighty had not placed on my tongue.

          My words didn’t edify anyone in my family; they likely hardened hearts even further.

          Hours later, reading Rev. John Henry Hanson’s sermon for the Solemnity of Christ the King,

It is tempting for people, like the impenitent thief, to struggle, shout, and curse when they suffer. But it is in those crucial moments that we most need to believe, love, and hope in Christ as our King. Those are moments when the Lord can conquer us, because we see how weak and vulnerable we are, how incapable we are of saving ourselves.  

– I suddenly saw something.

But it is in those crucial moments that we most need to believe, love, and hope in Christ as our King

          It is easy to affirm trust in God when all is well, when our sight is opened to seeing the miracles which the Lord weaves into our days. But when the road of the present is rutted and broken and navigating it has taken almost everything out of us, when the bend ahead hides all hope in the coming – trust is very difficult indeed. When hopes are long in coming true, it is the first thief’s voice that rises high, because it comes from the depths of frustrations rooted in faltering faith.

But it is in those crucial moments that we most need to believe, love, and hope in Christ as our King.

          Fifteen years ago today, God blessed me with double rainbows as the sign of His abiding presence in my life. Today, as I remember that Christ is the Sinner’s King, God wills me to understand that the prayer He bequeathed us through the Fatima Angel – to believe, adore, trust and love – is not merely the prayer for when the spring breezes blow and flowers dot the fields – but especially when the walls around hearts remain unyielding and the sprawlers’ revelry unending.

          For those are the crucial moments when unseen to us, Light pierces through to illuminate the darkness.

Christ the King,

Christ the King,

Christ the King,

Make me love Thee more and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passover Begins

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          Today, the Passover begins. The Feast of Remembrance. Of Pilgrimage. Of Freedom.

It is the LORD’s Passover…This day will be a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD; you will celebrate it as a statute forever.   ~   Exodus 12: 11, 14

          For the first time, I mark this date in church and it brings me quiet satisfaction. Into the deep stillness and peace, I bring my pilgrim heart and its wanderings.

          My mind searches and finds the words to the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. I recite them as my heart traces Jesus’ final journey, from the sorrow of Gethsemane to the violent piercing of the Crucifixion. Into that journey, I press my own questions, my thoughts.

          I ask too for the freedom of the Holy Souls of Purgatory, for today, the dream of yesterday is before me. Yet, the eyes of my spirit are shifted elsewhere. Today, the dream tugs at me to seek freedom for the Poor Souls with an intensity I’ve not visited in so long. Suddenly, every other seeking dims against this.

Holy water, Precious Blood, wash their sins away.

          I think of my colleague in yesterday’s dream, stricken to an unearthly silence. I think of the boxes of memories and of the precious, never to be given again. Boxes and boxes of them, boxes formed from the mud of the earth. My heart still has not found the prayer for her but I am determined to pray for her. So, into His Wounds, I press her. Save her, Lord, I call to heaven.

          And then, I leave her and return to the Holy Souls and their painful wait.

          Soon, it is time to leave the church and begin the long, winding drive home. The skies watch but leave nothing for me. For a while I seek something for my heart. A message in the clouds, a tiny rainbow perhaps. But as quickly, I withdraw from that road. This year, I want to be dressed right, wearing the robe of humility, not of misplaced seeking.

          For it is the Feast of the Passover. Something is changing.