Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11: 28
Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11: 28
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.
Two days ago, I received some upsetting news. A colleague who has made life hell for me for some years now had been appointed to a senior position. Even being just one of us, the poison of jealousy she carried within her has wounded me and many others too. Now, with the promotion given to her, it was as if a fully loaded gun had been put into her hands, and we had become sitting ducks, with no one to speak up for us, to protect us from further unfairness and even worse bullying.
I felt betrayed. Even though there is no such thing as being deceived by God, it was impossible not to feel let down by heaven. I felt as if all the messages and words from heaven given to me were a sham. Yet, knowing that could not be true even if it sure felt that way, I went before God and bared my heart to Him.
Why did You give me hope if it was going to come to this? I asked. Why tell me a new life was coming if that new life was just another hell?
Just then, my husband needed to go to the store to pick up something and I decided to go with him to clear my mind; but not done with God, I remained in the car as my husband ran into the store.
I need your suffering. Would you deny Me this, asked Jesus, just as I was about to get started again.
I groaned. I felt God was asking just too much. Still, I tried to pray. As I was about to search for a prayer, someone slipped a line into my mind.
Thy will be done
Not in a million years, and with the news I had just received about my colleague, would I have sought that prayer. But someone clearly felt it was the prayer for my moment.
Thy will be done, I prayed numbly and resignedly, for nothing in me wanted this Cross.
My husband was taking longer than expected. Staring out of the windscreen at the dark skies, a distant memory came to me – a journey God had taken me on some years ago with the Bible verse,
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before You,
with Your great power free those doomed to death. ~ Psalm 79:11
At that time, God had let me see that a bully from work was actually a prisoner. Slowly, He had moved me to pray for this person. Although it was so hard, solely by the grace of heaven, I somehow managed to.
More shoppers were arriving now, parking their cars in the lots around me. Vehicle doors were being slammed shut, trolleys were being pushed across the road. But inside the car, I was on a journey. Today, I am that prisoner, Lord, I whispered in my heart. I am trapped in a place I cannot leave, with no option to resign because we need the money. People were getting into their cars and driving away. Mothers, fathers, children. Let my sighing come before You. I am doomed to death, so free me.
Just then, it struck me that July was the month of the Precious Blood of Christ. Years before, in a mystical moment in church, God had taught me a powerful prayer,
Replace my blood with Yours
In the ensuing years, I’ve prayed that conversion prayer many, many times – for those who have hurt me – and for myself as well, because in times of anger and suffering, pride can sometimes blind you to the truth of who you truly are, making you believe that your sins are not as bad as the sins of those who are hurting you.
So, in the car, I reached for that prayer once more.
Replace her blood with Yours, I prayed for my colleague.
Replace my blood with Yours, I prayed for myself.
But, oddly, this time the prayers didn’t sit right. And immediately, I knew why: I was not being open and honest with God. I was praying – but from behind the wall of my hurt and fear.
So, I lunged out into the open fields before God’s eyes, and prayed a prayer wrenched from the depths of my pain.
I bind her to Thy Precious Blood!
Bind her so she can do no harm to anyone any more!
Suddenly, something shifted. I felt the prayer shoot upwards like a fire arrow and pierce its heavenly mark. At the same time, I myself was pierced by a sudden and heartfelt humility, that as much as my colleague could wound and maim others, so could I, so both she and I needed His Precious Blood.
I bind myself to Thy Precious Blood. Bind me so I can harm no one.
That night, I slept deeply and beautifully. Rising the next day, no burden remained inside me. None of the fear or anger. None of the immense hurt this colleague has knifed into me. My inner house had been cleared.
The next day, I reached for the same prayer again. But the power was gone. Where before I had felt the prayer was received by heaven, this time, all was still and quiet. Interiorly, I sensed that the time for this particular prayer had passed. In peace, I surrendered my seeking, knowing that if there was another prayer to be prayed from the heart, God would send it to me.
That evening, a massive rainbow arc formed across the eastern skies and my heart thrilled to its moving luminosity.
Hope on, the skies seemed to call out.
Today, at my altar at dawn, on Illumination Thursday, I prayed for a miracle as I always do. Except that this time, I was not specific. I realised that I didn’t know what exact miracle to pray for. Nevertheless, I looked up at the Crucifix on the wall.
Give us the miracle we need, I prayed and left.
Just before 12pm, the earth shifted. This colleague came up to my table, the first time in 4 years. With a gentleness not seen in 4 years, she placed some documents before me. In an unbelievably gentle voice, she told me what she needed from me and that I could see her whenever I needed.
When I am stunned, I either lose my ability to speak or I do something stupid and clumsy. But this time, something took over, coming over me and and leading my voice out. I quietly congratulated my colleague on her promotion. At this, tears came to her eyes and her voice caught in her throat as she gave a small laugh at what she had received unasked. We both knew that promotion or not, it was a job she did not want and which she possibly hated but that she had no choice.
I will likely never know why the seas shifted within her, why now and not before. But I do know that just when it seemed all was lost and that life was set to plunge into darker depths, through a massive and unbelievable Thursday miracle, the Precious Blood of Jesus has set us both free to start over.
I will never be the friend and kindred spirit I was to her before. Even with complete forgiveness, I have seen and felt the side to her which seals any door to real friendship. That time in the past when we were closest friends and laughing mates has passed and we have both moved on. Some things lost can never be regained – and should not be sought.
Yet, it was a miracle that turned the seas today and freed us both.
A miracle wrought by the Precious and miraculous Blood of Jesus who died so that sinners might be saved.
For some time now, I’ve been trying to make my Sunday one of deep thankfulness, even as I cook and do home chores, to sink myself into gratitude for all God has given me. This Sunday was no different. After such an eventful week, I looked forward to a quiet Sunday at home with blue skies lit by the sun and the breezes in joyful mirth.
Instead, I had to go in to work for a short while. I took it in stride, figuring that I would be in and out in no time. Then, came a call and the person at the other end stuck a knife into me. And that was the end of Thankful Sunday.
As far as hurts go, honestly, this was a very small one, but for some reason, the pain grew and grew into a tree. I said all the prayers which worked so wonderfully for me before and called upon St. Joseph too – but none of the previous miracles came to life again. I was puzzled but did not leave heaven’s door either. I had to know why this was happening.
Heaven did answer my questions – by bringing me news of another woman’s workplace suffering. I did not know this lady personally but as she told me about how she was abused by those whom she cared and looked out for, her suffering hurt me so much. So much of it mirrored my own experiences here, yet hers had reached pits far deeper than mine.
Desperate to do something for her that would alleviate this terrible sadness, I told her I would keep all her tears in my heart and take them to God. I didn’t know if that helped her but she continued to personally tell me of the many things she had to endure at work. As she spoke, I saw that apart from the similarity in pain, the bridge between us was that we both sought God through our different faiths, she a Muslim, I a Christian.
All through this, my own hurt stubbornly remained before me. Even as I saw how much more this woman suffered compared to the nick I received today, it did not reduce my pain – and I could not understand why.
It also did not make sense to me why God would allow this when I had sought to give Him nothing but thanksgiving this Sunday.
Some hours later, I saw that my newfound suffering friend had become cheery, now sharing bits and pieces of sunshine where there had only been pain before. I also realised that while the memory of my own hurt remained, the sting had gone. Curious, I reflected upon this development.
Then, in my mind suddenly formed this story from the Bible, about how Jesus had cured a woman on the Sabbath,
This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage?
That was when it all came together. God had allowed a hurt to pierce me this Sunday morn so that I would reach out and offer some comfort to another wounded soul. A necessary wounding to help someone else rise from sorrow and go on to hope.
As I pondered this, Someone’s words swept across my heart,
A better Sunday
The latter days of summer are a good time to wash the heavy linens used in winter. A clothes line is quite handy for this. I have a line full of soft blankets now, that were hung in the early morning, when the day was new and the scent of the mimosa filled the air up. Hanging clothes out is a peaceful task – and you are liable to solve a problem or say a prayer while doing so. I have done both. ~ Michele Warren, The Rabbitpatch Diary
One of my faults is that I tend to rush through life. In the midst of doing something, in my mind, I am already chasing down the next thing. I seem incapable of quiet deliberation, focusing on one thing at a time. Maybe that’s one reason why I am often tired.
Today, Michele Warren’s quote and Linda Raha’s post, The Coming of Spring, hold a teaching for me.
Bring presence into everything
To quieten the unruly horses within me, I need to learn to restrain my inner presence to the present moment. To be in the moment and to be deliberate in what I am doing. It will not always be possible, I know. Thoughts are much like clouds, chugging and skitting from one port to another. But giving free rein to wild horses is to run many races in one day and that is never a good thing if it becomes a way of life. In a rush, we fail to notice the little wants and needs along the path of life. We will be too intent on covering the course to savour the little joys hidden along the way. Racing from one duty to the next, we risk training ourselves to always focus on the next thing, missing all that’s precious in the present.
Life is not always about the next thing. Often, it is about how we live the now.
A new dawn slowly begins to light the eastern skies in gold. A busy day is ahead. Already I feel the day’s tension champing at the bit, waiting to be released in myriad ways. Today, like many others, it’s not possible to pare down the list of things to be done nor to reschedule.
But maybe it isn’t about doing as little as I can in a day as much as it is about slowing my inner horses, bringing my whole presence into every little thing I need to get done today.
Maybe it’s to be like the sun, moving deliberately and surely across the skies, in careful measuredness, till his work is done at the close of day.
Today was a very busy work day and not everything went to plan. Still, it was one of those rare days when I was able to tell myself to stop work by slightly after 4pm. About 2 hours later, I had just snuck back to my laptop again, when my daughter called me outside to look at the sky. The late evening clouds were fuzzy yet shining at the edges with centres that glowed with hidden suns. It was so very beautiful, spilling a happy peace inside me. Suddenly, I wanted to be out myself, with my family, lounging around at the back.
It was a school day and there was still so much to be done. We weren’t outside in the playful yellow-gold evening breezes for very long but it was long enough, I soon learned. I had time to take in the old swing gently sway in contentment beneath our old tree. Time to chat some more and listen to my children and husband as I swept the floors and neatened the space. Under the watchful gaze of those shimmering clouds, slowly slipping into orange ribbons, a sweet, lifting happiness found its way into me and all the tiredness of the day was gone.
Sometimes, it just isn’t possible to spend a lot of time to rest in the way we want to. Sometimes, we hurt ourselves by expecting a long restful drink out of the cup of life and we withhold ourselves when we see that the cup isn’t as full as we want it to be. We deny ourselves that sip, training our sights instead on bigger things – longer time to relax, a fun activity ahead, a big trip.
But ever so often, the angels offer us God’s nectar in tiny flower~cups. If we could just let go of ourselves a bit and lean down, I think we’ll find that a seemingly little bit goes a long way.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’ ~ Luke 15: 25 – 32
Today, I finally saw what others had long before caught: that the older boy in the parable was likely jealous. And that his jealousy prevented his heart from rejoicing over his brother’s repentance.
I’ve always felt sorry for this older boy/man. It is never an easy thing to slog at something and be contented with small rewards. It is much harder when it is left to us to pick up the slack caused by others; worse when we seem to be left out in the cold while the everyone else fêtes those who have made things difficult for us.
Except that the parable of the prodigal son has never been about a forced and meaningless celebration. It has never been about burying the hurt and projecting a happy we don’t feel, nor about killing the fatted calf for someone who has come home the same he was before.
Anyone who has been scarred by jealousy knows its dark power – as well as the suffering it is capable of inflicting. Jealousy has poor tolerance for good news. Its participation in joy is often short-lived and uncertain. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about a jealous heart, it is that it is extremely short-sighted, not able to see too far beyond its personal borders.
Everything I have is yours
Jealousy will never allow the heart it rules to be convicted of that truth because a jealous heart cannot share sincerely and generously. It will keep careful accounting over anything given. What it gives today, can be demanded back the next day – because it struggles with sharing. So, even when God promises that Everything I have is yours, a jealous heart can only view it with suspicion.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.
Nonetheless, God stands very firm – and fair. Even as His decree is that we open our hearts to the good news of conversion, He gives us the Light that will help us to transition from hurt and hardness to love:
Rejoice over repentance
No matter what suffering we have endured, when the dead come back to life and the lost finally found, we must celebrate the return. Not tolerate. Not merely acknowledge. But sing the lyrics of rejoicing until its song is one with our hearts.
Because it is that song which heals the wounded heart. And to be healed of jealousy, no one can sing that song but us.
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.
Thoughts, Stories and Photography by Nancy Janiga
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16
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