THANKSGIVING

Lent 20 ~ Grief to Joy

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          Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.   ~  John 16: 20

          One major problem is resolved today even without the win of a court case to help us. My heart is filled with a deep peace and serenity to see the joy in other hearts. For the confirmation of the good news to come on a Wednesday, a day I dedicate to St. Joseph, means a lot to me. It says to me that St. Joseph heard a mother’s plea.

          Looking back over our journey these past few months especially, something stands out – after struggles, consolation comes, but it lasts for short time before another struggle looms bigger. I often felt as if we needed to ask for grace and strength and hope – every few days. It puzzled me why grace didn’t seem to last very long. Often I wondered if it meant that I wasn’t being grateful enough or if I was blind and deaf to what God had so kindly laid out for me.

          While it is all that as well, it came to me today that perhaps this is what it feels like when it gets closer to a summit. When the path gets steeper towards the end, consolation gets replaced by a new need ever so often, making us seek new light from heaven just as soon as we have been comforted.

          I may never know the answer to it. In some ways today, it matters not either. As the eastern skies burst into a blaze of silvery orange, I know that in this one grief of ours, the old words I heard one still dawn 14 years ago, Sorrow before joy, has come true.

          Grief has indeed become joy.

Lent 9 ~ Good Things

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          The vine of words from today’s daily Readings and the Gospel give me so much strength because they take me to a place of hope.

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are You.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but You… (Esther C: 14)

          In praying these words, I am praying the words of another woman who has gone before me, one who was also alone and at the edge of the cliff. Yet, she had left one arrow and it was recourse to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

…turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.   (Esther C: 25)

          The words give me the liberty to pray for joy and healing, even if it is Lent. It tells me yet again that that God wants me to understand Lent differently this year – to seek the penance of true hope and heavenly joy after years of suffering.

When I called, You answered me;
            You built up strength within me.  ~  Psalm 138: 3

           And knowing my faith will waver in the sea of unanswered prayers, the angels come early to lay within my mind the memories of times past when God has hastened to my side, feeding me and nourishing me for the journey ahead. Again, knowing of my present anxiousness, knowing that my days are spent scanning the skies for an answer, they gently tip before me the dew of Promise,

The LORD will complete what He has done for me…   ~  Psalm 138: 8

          As I pray, Someone watches me quietly. Just before I rise from my prayer, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob presses His word into my wearied waiting.

If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask Him.   Matthew 7: 11

          And so against the Heart of my God, I lean my own heart’s prayer,

Heavenly Father,

Give us good things

Final Hours

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          Last day of a rough and bittersweet year. Softened by the cold, silver year end rains, the day is quiet and still, save for stray northeastern gusts that come in fits and starts. It is a day that lends itself to thoughts and musings and ponderings, playing in starts and stops in the back of my mind, much like the winds of the day.

          I want this year to end – but only if the new year to come is cleansed of all that has made this present one so very bitter and painful. After all that the past months have yielded, excitement and anticipation for the year ahead finds no home within me.

          Nonetheless, strangely too, I know I am no longer who I was before. I can sense that I am not too afraid of the year to come, even if all the signs thus far are far from encouraging. Some kind of hope does live in on within.

          But it is not ordinary hope, seen and perceived tangibly. Instead, it is like a candle, hidden within me, its quiet flame lit by an unseen Hand, burning brighter with each turn of heart towards thankfulness and gratitude for the precious joys the angels have tucked into the days of this year. And I am so very grateful for these little parcels of joys gifted to me by heaven and by angels on earth, for they softened the blows endured from September onwards, those bitter yet necessary lessons that must accompany each life if life is to truly mean something. The memories of those deep comforts now lodge within me a deep certainty that even in the darkest squalls of life, God is always there.

         As this year edges to its final hours, once more I tuck my hands into God’s, watching and wondering, as the waters of the new year curl to the edges of the old shores.

We Leave Thee

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          There is a temptation to write off and stuff this old year into an invisible drawer never to be opened again. But I cannot yield to it, for despite the darkness and the stress endured, there has been much beauty in this mottled, troubled year.

          There is no way I can turn my heart away from His gifts to us because God gave us so much. So very much. He softened the difficulty of studying and working online from home through the consolation of good health and of our jobs being intact at a time when so many lost their livelihoods, when so many fell ill and too many did not return to life. Yes, like so many, we struggled to make adjustments to stay home orders and to unfair and poorly thought out government directives. But He buoyed us on with hope through happy news concerning our children. At the end of each day, we stumbled away from our laptops and phones, mentally drained from work, upset and frustrated with our employers, little wine left in our barrels.

          And God changed water into wine through the miraculous renewal of our family life. He taught us how to lock our gates against trespassers and instead, to turn the gaze of our hearts towards the gem of family, of time spent together.

God gifted us with laughter. Precious laughter.

This year, for every day of anger and hurt, there were ten times more of mirth and joy.

          Then, the sky of Advent dawned quietly in the frenzied churn of life. For years, the road to Christmas has been dark for me. Even when the sun began to slowly pierce the winter, the cold and dark hovered too close by. Even as I built fires for everyone else, my own hearth remained unlit.

The light would not come.

          Year after year, I would ache in hidden disappointment that God had passed me by yet again, my outstretched heart left empty, my seeking bereft.

          This year, not wanting to hope for a miracle (yet going ahead and hoping all the same), I took to heart the words of my friend, Linda Raha, – Make every day Christmas. I decided then and there that my Christmas would be that.

That the Light of Christmas in my hearth would be the Light of Christmas let in for others.

          That I would stand by the windows of other hearts and rejoice as the sacred Light of a newborn Babe warmed and healed those spaces. That even when I had to return to my own empty and wind-chilled heart, it would only be to resolutely light and stoke to life fires of thanksgiving and gratitude.

          And not forgetting – to gather up more wood to make more Christmas fires for others. Prayers for friends braving so many unsurmountables yet forging forwards in love. Love for those who hate the Jesus they do not know. For those who need Christmas in order to love. For poor muslim friends hiding their poverty behind brave smiles. For the old and the sick in our family, separated from loves by Covid.

That would be my Christmas and that would suffice, I schooled my heart firmly.

Heaven must have smothered a smile at my efforts, and angels surely clapped back their mirth. For they knew what I did not.

On Christmas Day, Heaven spilled Light into my heart.

          Not bright, joy-giddy Light, but a different Light. Many Lights. Gentle and playful Lights, little lamps loved and released yet cherished in secret. Lights wan yet so sweet, passed through hearts gone before us. Lights lit from love old and worn from waiting, yet firmly steadfast in the quiet of Hope Eternal.

          Today, as the winds blow their last notes among plump, white clouds and sun-drenched swaying boughs, my heart traces the whorls and lines of the old year once more.

          It is then that I see something. Strangely, today, none of the old anguish, those dark sentinels which have jealously guarded bitter memories, charge towards me. They are gone. Even as the memory of difficult days remain, the stain of pain is no more.

          Pondering this, I recall the words of my pastor in his Christmas Vigil sermon, his heartfelt exhortation to each one of us to pray for a miracle at the Crib of the Wee Child. Taking his words to heart, I had obeyed promptly that night. In spirit at the Crib’s edge, my plea had been direct,

Please Lord,

Miracle

Miracle,

Miracle.

And a miracle it was!

          Through the power of the Crib, the old shadows have gone, mysteriously brushed away from my spirit’s sight.

          The night grows old now, the last rains of the year fall in final benediction. Poised for flight into the new year, one last look at all that was,

Farewell!–we leave thee to Heaven’s peaceful care…

Gentle Roads

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          Today, I read an old post from my friend, Ann’s blog, Muddling Through My Middle Age. She was reminiscing about Halloween as a child and how things changed for her over the years. Like so many of Ann’s posts, this one made me reflect on my life, specifically on what I yearn for: a slower, gentler life.

          While Halloween is not part of life in my country except maybe in expatriate enclaves, what catches my heart each time Halloween comes around would be the beautiful photos of carved pumpkins adorning rural front porches as the waning orange of sunset reaches its twilight slumber. To me, those photos speak to a time of gentling. Of slowing down. Of savouring the ineffable sweetness of littleness and simplicity. A time to rest and to chuckle, to do things different to the daily dictates of regimented life.

          The all too brief months of sheltering at home due to Covid gave us that gift of time to live along gentle roads for once. Although often the hours at home seemed impossibly shorter, it was only because while they were filled with stressful formal work, they were also interspersed with the happiest hours for home and family.

          I miss that deeply now. We’re almost back to full work mode, and I’m not too thrilled about it. Yet, I’m also determined not to shut all those gates leading to those gently winding roads. Some aspects of that brief interlude God gifted us with must be brought into this new weave of roads beyond the gate. Since I am surrounded by people who now barely remember, much less treasure, the good of those slower days, it’s left to me to craft and fashion my present hours from the lessons I learned during sheltering. I can’t change people but I sure can cut the fabric of my now’s a little differently.

          This insight didn’t come quickly, though. But God was patient with me and took me to one lake of realisation after another, where I could review and contemplate how I had lived each day since the return to full time work.

          Slowly, my heart began to see things. Even more slowly but surely, I allowed myself to be released from old habits of behaviours.

          I’ve always been a workaholic. Coupled with guilt and a few other  burdens, my formal work has always followed me home, often forcing me to work well past midnight.

          But since June, when I returned to work, I’ve noticed a loathing to bring work home beyond the few times it was absolutely necessary. It suddenly felt as if I was sullying the purity of my hours at home by doing work that could wait. This reaction isn’t exactly new; but every time I’ve tried to stop working on reports and projects before, guilt has always won me over to the wrong side.

          Till now. If something from work needs to get done even at home, I do slog at it. But if it can wait, it certainly does, and I don’t quite have to fight myself to step away.

          That is not willpower. That is grace.

          Another emerging tint to my days is the spirit of thanksgiving and thankfulness that sits a little more securely over my heart now than it did before. Some time ago, I had an epiphany. Since we reopened, I struggled to get to work each day because it meant returning to the old, much of it detested. Before each new work day, I got myself into a twist thinking about all the sorry and sodden things waiting for me. Unfortunately, despite my penchant for imagining things, my work struggles weren’t pops out of my imagination; they were real and there was no escaping them.

          But slowly, my ingratitude towards the many gifts God tucked into my days, became clearer and clearer. I realisee that no matter how hard the return to the old was, it didn’t exempt me from thanksgiving.

          So, each time there was something to wince about, I tried to find something to be grateful for instead. It wasn’t always easy – not because the good and sweet were few and far between – but because I had gotten into the habit of casting about for greater and brighter jewels.

          Still, I’ve kept at it, and with my angel’s guiding heart, I think I’m getting to be a more thankful person.

          A long time ago, a good and holy priest had looked deep into my soul and saw well beyond what I was struggling to make sense of. He quietly told me that it was people’s jealousy that was souring so much that should have been sweet. When I asked him if there was hope of a miracle, Father had looked at me and nodded, saying, Yes, miracles will come  – but slowly.

          What he might have seen but didn’t explain at that time was also that those miracles would take a form different to what I envisioned.

          I believe that despite the disappointment and sadness which surround us, the time of miracles has begun – but not in the manner and magnitude akin to earthquakes, fires and wild winds. These miracles are beginning to unfold just like the soft, still sound Elijah heard from the depths of his cave of sorrow and pain. Through the protecting of our time at home, sacred to those we hold dear in our hearts. Through our little acts of thanksgiving throughout the day. And many more.

          All miracles are wrought by God, but their seeds begin first with us. I yearn so much for a slower, kinder, gentler life, the very one God showed me a glimpse of this year. But it is not His way to merely shake and break this earth to form a new home for us all.

          For miracles to grow and live, we must first seek gentle roads for ourselves. For every storm, earthquake and fire that we encounter, we ourselves must stand firm along the quiet paths of thanksgiving, charity and holy obedience.

          The world might have us believe otherwise, that a kinder world must begin with bending others into submission through force, fire and violence. But it doesn’t.

          This sweetly gentle life begins first with us. As we incline our hearts more and more towards the Spirit’s leading, we will begin to build new homes along the very roads we seek, formed from the soft, still sounds of God.

When Every Bird Sings

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          Today was a golden, sunny Sunday when it seemed like every bird on our little property was singing. It was lovely to be able to sleep in a bit and then wake up to a chirpy morn, complete with dancing sunbeams and the bluest of skies painted over in white~windbroom  clouds. We had come from a very exhausting week, capped by 2 consecutive days of long distance travelling on Friday as well as Saturday. This was the new normal for the year of 2019. It took a lot out of us and I feared we’d all get crabby and start carping at one another as we so often do.

          But it didn’t happen this time.

          Because Someone was ahead of us before we arrived at any one point.

          He filled us up with patience and wisdom and gentleness for every situation. He gave us the remedy for every challenge we faced. He gave us the energy we didn’t have, and a larger-than-usual capacity for laughs and jokes.

          He smoothed our tiredness and helped us to take the Mass Readings and the Gospel to heart and to find gentle direction in the priest’s sermon. He cleared so much of our hearts of ourselves, allowing us to savour and enjoy dew~pearl moments that might otherwise have slid off us – the priest’s serene and solemn blessing of water in the Holy Water receptacle in the corner of church just before Mass, the blessing of a couple and their 5 children on the occasion of their 15th wedding anniversary. The red and pink roses from an earlier wedding, adorning the bases of the altar and the Divine Mercy image, fulfilling my Saturday longing for Guadalupe roses that day. The brief joining of hearts as we shared in parish happenings, under twilight orange skies wreathed in aging winds calling their goodbyes.

          He pressed His finger to my lips when I would have made unfair demands on my family, when I would have given in to my tiredness and snapped at them, forgetting they too were as tired as I was – if not more. He cleared our hearts of every angry twig and leaf of inconsequential-s, things that took on a shadow of importance only because tiredness distorted them to appear so.

          This Unseen Light brought us safely through dangerous roads and difficult night time driving, right to our front door. Then, He closed all our eyes to sleep and watched over our dreams till the sun rose to its throne today.

          On a day when every bird sings, you know you have been  blessed, and blessed in abundance. With that knowing, comes a chagrin too, that there’s so little you’ve done to deserve any of this.

          And when your heart is pierced this way, you want nothing but to give God everything you have in your offering basket. I had nothing of value in mine except a heart humbled and quietened for once by the abundance of blessings He had gifted us unasked.

          So, as every bird sang, I entwined into that sweet avian garland my own notes of praise,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God.

 

 

 

 

Approaching the Throne

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For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.   ~   Hebrews 4: 14 – 16

 

          What would I do without the faithful hearts of friends? Those hurt and bleeding from their own wounds, bent from the weight of their own crosses, yet who immediately and unhesitatingly reach out to help brethren pilgrims who have fallen and cannot get up. Who leave their own wounds to tend to mine. Who carry my cross when I can’t.

          Who give from their own poverty.

          Where would I be without these souls who in love and tenderness mirror our High Priest, Jesus?

          Where would I be without this love born of pain and suffering?

          For it is this love that shines the light I need to see the Throne of Grace. When I would have shied away in doubt and anguish, it is this love that in loving insistence takes my hand and firmly sets me before Grace and Mercy supreme.

          It is time to approach the Throne for them, my brethren bound to me through the shared journeys of grey and gold, sorrow and joy.

          Jesus, I place these souls in Your Divine Heart. Grant each one the graces most needed for what lies before them, in the hours, days and years to come.

Blood and Water,

Heart of Jesus,

I trust in You.

 

 

 

 

Songs for the Heart

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          Ironically, it was my mother who first taught me the early gold of thankfulness. I don’t know if she had read about it in some Christian literature. Or if those little occasions when she gave thanks were actually spin-offs from a bigger event. Nonetheless, it was my mum who steered me towards thanksgiving for the bright sunshine, the cheery windbrooms of a sunny morn, the sedate beauty of freshly mown lawns and happy flowers in the wind. Very sadly, thankfulness for the little things in life didn’t roost long in my mother’s heart. With her, it always had to be a seismic upheaval to warrant thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, quickly, the littles lost their allure for her.

          But I will forever be grateful to my mum for being the first to sow in me the seed of thanking God for littles.

          While it is a lesson that has stayed with me for many years now, God often deepens that lesson. Some years ago, a blogger friend taught me to begin the morning with praise and thanksgiving for the beauty of Nature. His words caught my spirit and I’ve followed that advice as faithfully as I can; the mornings when I don’t, well, I can tell the difference.

          This thanksgiving for the little and great gifts God keeps hidden in the wraps of Nature is for me the seed that grows into a tree. It is this type of thanksgiving that opens my heart to be thankful for all the other blessings I would otherwise take for granted – family, work,  health, life itself – no matter how rough and rugged the terrain. But when I get so caught up in the gnarled roots of my every days and the songs of my feathered friends and the serenity of little blooms gently bestirred by soft winds barely touch me, then my day inevitably falls among weeds.

          The same happens when in impatience I toss aside the little things to be thankful for, keeping my eyes trained for bigger ships, gigantic and the earth-shattering, as Ellen Fassbender says in Saturday Smiles. When I discount the power of littles, my thanks for the earth-moving events that may come are hollow and tinny.

          They yield no life. Nothing from them live long enough.

          The other lesson I learn and re-learn is that I have to make the effort at being thankful and grateful. Life does not always put its beauty on easy display. Often, especially when the seas churn, the signposts to thankfulness go into hiding it seems. We see nothing except for the waves – unless we willfully go in search of songs for our heart. Some time back, a biologist warned to beware the time when the birds fall silent, for it will mean that a place has died.

          I have never forgotten those words and today, they sound a slightly different  caution to me. That when my heart no longer sings the notes of true thanksgiving, my spirit will cease to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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