My brother in law Tony helping the poor

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Saints and Veterans - What do they have in common?

Happy Veteran's Day!!  I especially want to wish my brother John a great day.  John served in the Vietnam War in the late 60's, early 70's.  I was merely 5 years old when he returned (thank God) to us, and a good thing he did!  He has been such an asset to this country, not just in his service, but as a citizen as well.  John is my oldest brother, someone I have always looked up to and has never let me down.  Thank you God for my brother John!  In honor of my brother I thought I would share this story with you.  It is a story of courage AND faith.

Last Thanksgiving my nephew had come home for a holiday visit and was all excited to tell us about his new girlfriend (by the way, they are now engaged).  As we were sitting around the rather large dining room table surrounded by cozy decor and music, my nephew mentioned to me that even though he still considers himself Catholic he doesn't really "believe in all the Catholic stuff."  "Like what," I asked?  Across the table my oldest brother shot his wife a look like "ah ha...we got us another one!"  You see, my brother and his wife belong to Parkside Church, a ginormous non-denominational church on the east side.   My brother was born and raised Catholic like all of us but I think after his divorce he figured it was just easier to switch faiths rather than going through a long drawn out annulment process.  But that's just my opinion. 

Anyhow, my nephew proceeds to tell me that he doesn't understand why we have to believe in or pray to saints.  Of course there is nothing that says we as Catholics have to pray to the saints but we do recognize them.  In fact, there is a saint for every day of the week on our Catholic Calendars, and of course we recognize our patron saints for particular vocations, and whatnot, but there is no "worshiping" of saints. 

Yet I understood my nephew's question and wanted help him understand it better, so I looked to my brother, the ex-Vietnam veteran for inspiration.  My response to my nephew's question was simply this;  My brother (his uncle) is truly a great man and a great inspiration to me.  He is a man who selflessly fought in the Vietnam War and was highly recognized for his bravery and courage.  I thought, how wonderful it is that we have such a terrific monument erected in our nations capital to recognize the bravery of all these great men and women especially those who gave their lives so that we can continue to enjoy the freedom we have today!  It is because of this example that we remember our saints and honor them as well.  If it were not for their bravery and courage we would not be able to enjoy the religious freedom we have come to take for granted. 

How can we dismiss the people who have given their lives for our freedom, religious or constitutional?  When you deny or ignore the saints you are also ignoring history.  I would no more want people to forget the men and women who serve to protect our political freedoms than those men and women who have served to protect our religious freedoms.  How sad it is that we give more honor to veterans of political wars than we do to veterans of religious wars?  We don't pray to our political veterans or worship them either but we do remember them.  Like our saints, we even have a special day marked on our calendar in "honor" of them. 

There are many things that people of other faiths,even Catholics for that matter, find strange, but in all of our persuit for a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" I think we forget that we are not him.  Allister Beggs, the very articulate and entertaining pastor at Parkside Church bellowed during his latest Christmas concert, "it's all about your personal relationship with Jesus."  Well, my question to him is, if all that matters is my relationship with Jesus Christ, what do I need him for?  

One time I said to him as I walked into his HUGE mega church, "where is your crucifix and alter?"  He replied, "we don't worship icons here."  "Then what do you call those big screen televisions?" I replied.  

You may think our methods are archaic and silly but I'd rather be silly and found than contemporary and lost!  

Peace to you in the New Year. 

The Church at Lourdes

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Advent is a time of hopeful anticipation.  Christmas is a time for Celebration!  I would like to write to you today about the Nativity of our Lord Jesus and the role Joseph played in this life-changing event.  There are very few times that Joseph is mentioned in the bible.  In fact, almost the only times he is mentioned is in the story of the birth of our Lord.  

Let's take a look at Joseph.  He was a man who was literally blind-sided by his fiance.  In his mind he chose Mary because she possessed those qualities and virtues that he thought he wanted in a wife, then she hit him with the big news!  Now I'm sure today nobody would even bat an eye at the situation, but in those days, people were very proud of their faith and virtue.  Finally, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him not to worry, that Mary's story is true.  From that moment on Joseph dedicates himself to his new wife and child.  They become inseparable.  Mary chooses to travel with her husband to Bethlehem for the census, knowing full well how difficult this trip will be on her, not to mention Joseph, who has to walk about 1000 miles on rocky terrain!  Imagine travelling along and hearing your wife scream out in pain as she is sitting on a donkey ready to give birth.  He runs frantically looking for a place for his family and all he comes up with was a stupid barn! Now, I'm going to interject a comment here.  If my husband made me travel for 1000 miles on the back of donkey 9 months pregnant and then at the moment of excruciating pain helps me off the donkey and sticks me in a smelly (I dont want even imagine what it must of smelled like!) barn to give birth to the son of God, I don't even want to tell you what comments would be spewing from my mouth at that moment.  But...Mary is Mary, and I'm sure at that point she could have cared less.  

Back to my story.  So, he not only found her a place to have the baby but he probably delivered the baby himself!  Wow!  The other amazing thing is, when Harod decided to kill all the newborn male babies, again the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to flee and to take his family into Egypt.  Again, if I were Mary, I would have said, "I don't care you go, but I'm going home to my Mother!"  Nope, she trusted Joseph like Joseph had to trust Mary...and the rest they say is history.  

So why the title "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished?"  Because Joseph did everything he was told and when it really mattered, he had to count on God to provide for him, his wife, and for the child, and what did God provide?  A stinky barn and manger?  What kind of providing is that?  We would have never given our children a stinky barn to have our grandchild in.  Soooo, no good deed goes unpunished.  Even after he did everything he was told it would seem as though God punished them.  Ahhhhh, but did He?  In that barn there was delivered a powerful and mighty king, though nobody would have believed it.  Soon, shepards and Magi were there to give "witness" to this king and to see the greatest of all in the most humble of places.  

Isn't that the real message of Christmas?  In order to be great, one must first be humbled.  Humility is not the opposite of greatness it is the necessary ingredient for greatness and our good deeds are not punished (even though it may seem as though they are), they are masqueraded in humility.  

Once we are born we are all on our way to the cross, so that when we are called we can stand in the glory!  

Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth!  Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Opportunities Requires Change

One thing that I have grown very familiar with, is change.  Change is the one thing a person can absolutely count on when they are committed to serving Christ and doing His will.  If you read my last blog you will remember that I had decided to commit myself to giving more...even if it seemed impossible.  Well Jesus, who has an incredible sense of humor by the way, has decided to put me through the ultimate test this holiday. 

On December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my pastor came into my office to give me an early birthday present.  He explained that in light of our parishes difficult financial situation the Finance Council recommended that he tell me that I was a "luxury they just can not afford right now."  Luxury?  I was stunned!  I have always felt my work was a necessity not a luxury!  But, our Finance Council saw it differently.  Mostly because they have never sat in my office or walked in my shoes.  They literally have absolutely NO idea what I even do.  But that being said, I can't say that I was completely shocked.  I probably have the highest salary of any staff member or teacher and therefore I was the biggest target. 

After the initial "what are you kidding me?" response, ALL I thought about was this parish.  The people, the disappointment, the back to old ways, the money that won't be coming in, the festival that literally consumed me for months, all these things flashing in my mind...who was going to handle all these things?  The response?  "Volunteers."  I could have busted out laughing, but instead I just said, "well, I'll check back with in 6 months, let me know how that's working out for you."  I felt bad, for my pastor, for the parishioners, for the Finance Council, but I never really thought about how I was feeling.  I never cried, or freaked out, or panicked.  That night after telling my husband and getting his wonderful as always support, he just said, "well, where is God calling you next?" 

Where in deed?  I hadn't thought about it yet so I wondered.  The next morning I returned to work as usual but this time I spent the first hour or so of my day thinking about what God wanted of me.  I made a few phone calls to leaders in the Catholic church community and by the end of the day I had 2 interviews scheduled for the following week.  Let me stop right there for a minute.  I want you to understand the impact this has had on my life.  I was absolutely stunned by the outpouring of Church leaders who sent me supportive letters and/or who invited me to come and talk with them.  Although I did not feel sorry for myself or cry over the loss of a job I loved, I did get very choked up by the support I received.  Both of the jobs I am interviewing for next week are WONDERFUL positions and I would be lucky to be offered either of them.  One is with the Diocese and the other is with another fantastic Catholic organization.  I am blessed that they wanted to speak to me, and if that is as far as it goes, I would be fine with that.  If it leads to a job, that would be even better!  Afterall it is all up the Jesus.

It's 2 days before my 44th birthday and 2 weeks before Christmas.  I have bills piled up from the holidays and I have no idea where I will be going or what I will be doing in 2010, but for the first time in a very long time, I am sooo happy!  Advent is the season of expectant hope, and Jesus is making that all the more personal for me this year.  What a blessing.  So today I wait with anticipation and hope for the next little chapter of my life in Christ.  If this was my birthday present, I can't wait to see what He has in mind for Christmas! :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Thanks in Giving"

In case you haven't noticed, my blog site is titled "Live to Give," which I think is an oppropriate title for the upcoming holiday.  Why live to give?  Because I believe the only way a person truly experiences life is though giving.  When we give, our spirit is awakened and our soul truly comes alive, because in some strange way humans are not really human without giving. 

The holiday Thanksgiving is usually associated with giving thanks, but I ask you to study this word more carefully, it's spelled, "thanks" "giving".  I don't think it is written that way by accident either.  Yes, it is a time to be thankful.  Yes, it is also a time for giving thanks.  But just as import, it is a time to be giving!  We always emphasize the thankfulness of the day and rarely remember the giving significance.  This year I ask each of you to remember that the word Thanksgiving is a combination word where both parts are equal. 

How many times do we really give?  I mean, giving until it hurts?  Probably not too often.  A few weeks ago I made a personal decision to start giving more to others, more money to the poor, more money to church collections, more to those who ask, etc.  Then today I got home and opened my mail and saw a hugr bill for $1,1000.00 for the mileage overage on my last leased vehicle!  "Best laid plans" I said to myself.  How am I going to pay this bill, buy Christmas presents for my kids and family, AND give more?  I have no idea.  But I made a promise and I have to trust.  I will not cut anything out.  I will give more to the church and to the poor, buy my kids gifts, AND trust that there will be enough to pay this enormous bill which I was not counting on this time of the year.  I'll let you know how I do.

The reality is, there is always some crazy expense (oh did I mention my refrigerator broke last week too?), bills piled up, and holidays to contend with but if I give only when I have a little extra money in my wallet, am I really giving?  Nope, this time I will give until it hurts then I will watch my spirit awaken and my soul become lighter, because "it is in giving which we receive..."  I can't wait to see what great thing God will send me this Christmas!  I hope you all do the same.  HAPPY "THANKS FOR GIVING!"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Serving the Poor?

Today I am writing about something a little closer to home for me, but farther in distance, poverty.  For years I have been in love with the idea of helping God's children who are financially less fortunate than I.  My journey has taken me to many different places.  I starting my ministry several years ago when I began helping a priest build a transitional home for orphans who were too old to live in the children's orphanage in Bolivia.  I sent him money to support these older students and in turn the students gave back by helping at the children's orphanage.  He would send me letters (hand written via regular mail) and update me on how the kids were adjusting. 

When my own parish priest went to El Salvador to serve the poor there I was privileged to participate in his ministry by at first sending women to college and then later in many other ways.  When God asks me to do something I certainly don't want to let Him down so I gave that ministry all that I could!  My husband and I started our own 501 (c) 3 charity to help raise money and awareness in and around our community.  But soon we were met with many challenges.  There were people who tried to prevent us from continuing our work, those who were jealous, and even friends who disowned us because they did not want to be asked for anything.  Still, we forged on. 

One of the things I thought was very important was the formation of individuals.  People needed to be educated in many ways on how to effectively help the poor.  I taught programs in schools and visited church groups and even began taking people to El Salvador to visit.  In the beginning, I have to say that each of those visits was especially rewarding for me.  Many of the people who accompanied me on those trips came home with a new perspective on poverty and devoutly supported the cause.  But recently I have been disheartened.  Unfortunately I am seeing a bigger interest in supporting the priests who are called to serve than in supporting the poor.  With all the riches we have in this country why can we not see how even our spare change can feed a family or educate a child?  In the past week there was a terrible hurricane in El Salvador and 140 people died and countless others are without homes, food and water.  I ask myself, what are we doing as a rich people to help ease the burden of these painful times for those who were victums of this tragedy? 

Are we rallying together to send supplies and money, or are we focusing on the wrong things?  When you make a decision to help the poor (even if those you try to support do not welcome or support you) you are making a decision to live out the gospel.  I have found other ways to help the poor in other countries and even in my own neighborhood, but I am heartbroken at the direction I see so many people taking in the name of "giving to the poor."  Who are the poor?  Who are we really trying to impress?  Are you truly living the gospel?  Serving your own ego is not equal to serving Christ.  Please remember that what is done in secret your Father in heaven sees.  What is done for others to see is your reward already.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Everyday Miracles

Dear Readers,

I have many friends who struggle to see God working within their life.  They ask, even beg for signs, run from one prayer group to another seeking the miraculous.  Sometimes I sit back and just watch the frustration.  Still, for me I see miracles...actual miracles everyday right before my eyes!  I know these miracles are not for me alone and that others can see them too if they just stopped to look. 

I would like to share one that happened to me a few years ago and then another that happened just the other day.  About 5 years ago a good friend of mine yelled at me enough to convince me to go and get an annual mammogram (I had never had one before that).  So a few days after my 40th birthday I went in for a routine exam, exept it wasn't routine.  They asked me to wait a while and then they took more intense x-rays and asked me to sit and wait again.  I started to get suspicious when they told me to get dressed and that the doctor wanted to speak to me.  So I did.  She called me into her office and showed me the x-ray.  Sure enough there was a large solid black mass, about the size of a tennis ball on the film.   They told me to go home and that my regular OBGYN would call me in a few hours.  I was petrified!  So instead of going straight home I stopped by the chapel at St. Rita and prayed.  I spoke to our Mother and told her that I could not believe she would want me to have cancer but I did not ask her to remove it either.  I simply said that if Jesus wanted my boys to have a Mother who has to battle cancer that I would exept it but that I would be very sad to see them so sad. 

My procedure was scheduled for the day after New Year's Day to remove the lump.  I asked why they just didn't do a biopsy and my doctor told me that she can tell when a lump is invasive and when it is questionable so she told me it had to be removed.  Period.  The day I went in, they prepared me for surgery and began to do another ultrasound to determine exactly where the lump was located.  The new doctor looked and looked.  Finally she said to the nurse, "where is this woman's lump?"  The nurse went back to the office and pulled the x-ray from the few weeks earlier and put it up under the lamp.  As big as day you can see this large mass.  Then the doctor then put another slide up that she had just taken moment before my scheduled surgery, and nothing!  It was completely gone!  The doctor seemed a little mad at me and shouted, "well go and get dressed, I've never sent a woman home who lying on the table!"  She almost sounded disappointed! 

Anyhow, my regular doctor, who is originally from India called me the next day and I asked her, "how do you explain this?"  She simply said, "I can not explain it.  All I know is that yesterday you had cancer and today you do not."  I knew what happened but I wanted to hear her explanation.  Our Mother spared my life for a while, but I felt ever more compelled to do all that I could for God and our Church.  I was so grateful and so on fire at the same time! 

Recently, I met a friend who I have not seen in 35 years.  We met for coffee and to talk about our business but we never quite got on that subject.  We spent the whole time talking about our faith.  I realized that he was passionate and destined to God's work, and after he went on about everything he thought was wrong with the church I just told him, "You have to be the change you want to see.  If you cant do it, no one can."  I think he finally got it!  A few weeks later he sent me an email about a job available in the Catholic Church.  That very day I was having lunch with the man who was hiring for that job!  I told him about my friend and he asked me to have him send him his resume.  Two days later my friend sent in his resume and received a call.  He is now waiting for an interview for a job I'm sure he is destined to have.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Miracles!  I'm sure if you truly believed, you'd see these same miracles in your own life.  Stop looking in the wrong places.  You dont have to be in any particular place for God to find you. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Givers and Takers

I've learned a lot about people and myself over the years, one of the most interesting observations I have made is realizing that there are really only two kinds of people in this world...givers and takers.  That's right, there are those who feel compelled to give and others who are obsessed with taking.  Granted, they may not know this about themselves but in the end we know who they are.  We learn this when we have been taken for granted or when we find ourselves isolated and alone because people start to avoid us. 

I believe there is good in everyone and that if people really knew the effects of their behavior they would stop the behavior.  How do we know if we are a giver or a taker?  It's easy, look at your life.  Do find that people don't call you anymore or don't want to work with you, or do you spend every opportunity thinking about how you can make someone else happy or better off?  If you are the ladder, you are a giver, if you are the former, you're probably a taker. 

Takers take without you knowing it.  They fight every battle to the death.  They want to be right, to win!  Have you ever known a person like this?  They tell you what route you should take to get to your destination location, they tell you what to eat or how to excersize, if you say "I like the blue dress" they say "take the brown one."  These are "little" ways they take but they can really add up over time.  All this battle for control leaves the others feeling worthless and useless.  Why would we want someone we care about to feel worthless?  It doesn't make sense.  Shouldn't we try to encourage our brothers and sisters?  I have known people who are so out of control that they would even argue with an expert on how to accomplish a task!  Surely an expert should be given first consideration, no? 

Takers also want you to feel sorry for them. This is BIG!  They try to manipulate you when they are truly not smart enough to beat you.  They tell you their problems, struggles, and even try to emotionally control you.  This is all so that you can continue to do what they ask. 

Be careful people, recognize who has control in your life and try to remember that you are only required to submit to one person...Jesus!  Anyone else who tries to get you to do what THEY want is playing God!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Will of My Father

Each person was created for one purpose and one purpose only, to do the will of his Father.  Now I'm sure there are a great many people who really don't believe this is the case because if they did they'd have to do something about it.  For those of us who do believe we have one eternal do God's will, the question becomes, "what is God's purpose or will for me, and how do I figure that out?"  For non-believers this question is moot, they live their lives acquiring what they can, or making ends meet but at the end of the day when lying in bed those last few moments before falling asleep they reflect backwards.  As Christians we are expected to live in the present, not lamenting over the past or worrying about the future, but instead we are to do the best with what we have right now.  I believe the will of our Father can be found in these present moments, the now moments of our life.  "What is God asking of me right now?"  Maybe it is to drive a sick friend to the doctor, maybe it is to help a struggling family, or maybe it is to make someone laugh or feel happy.  All of these things add up to our Father's will. 

God wants us to be happy, not the kind of happiness we feel when we do something nice for someone and we feel all proud inside, and not the kind of happiness we feel when we win the lottery either.  He wants to give us "internal" happiness and that can only be found by doing His will. 

When I was first invited to go to El Salvador I was VERY hesitant because I had never even heard of that country before let alone had any desire to visit it!  I would have rather gone to Italy or Las Vegas or the Bahamas, but nooooooo I had to be asked to go to El Salvador.  I went, and when I came home I realized what God's will was for me.  I was only able to figure that out becaue I said yes to a question that was asked of me in that moment.  Had I ignored that moment I would be a completely different person today. 

A few days ago I met a friend who I went to Catholic grade school with 30 years ago.  I had not heard his name or seen him in that many years.  By some strange business chance we decided to have a cup of coffee to learn more about each other's marketing careers, as it turned out we spent that hour talking about our faith life instead.  It was an amazing conversation!  He was getting so upset and frustrated with the church and he told me how he wrote a letter to his pastor insisting that they re-think what they are doing and try to make some sensible changes!  After he told me all about his letter I realized the true reason for our meeting was not work related at all but it was God's divine intervention.  I said to my friend, "so what did the pastor do?"  He said, "nothing yet."  "And I'm quite sure he won't either," I replied.  "Why not," said my friend?  "Because YOU have to be the change you want to see...nobody else is going to do it if you're not willing to," I said. 

This is true.  Our divine will is in our face every single day calling out to us loud and clear, in the people we come across, opportunities that present themselves, and in our own hearts.  We just need to RECOGNIZE the Father in our every moment.  My friend wrote me the next day and said "thank you for lighting that fire under me...I needed to hear what you had to say!"  I'm glad I was able to do God's will at that moment, but the fire came from the Holy Spirit, not me!

Who is God putting before you right NOW to help you do His will??

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Foot of the Cross

     I thought I would give my readers some food for thought.  I'm sure every good Christian understands "love thy neighbor" and all that that entails, but the question is, how?  The Bible tells us that it is easy to love those who are good to us, aka our friends, but if we love only those who love us what merit is there in that for us?  Something that I have always found to be very interesting is that Jesus had good friends, he even called 12 men to be his closest friends.  He traveled from town to town giving people a new way to live and helping them to understand what they need to do to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Many people loved to listen to him preach and they loved his message even more.  His 12 closest friends even gave up their lives to follow him!  But at the end of the day, when Jesus was forced to walk the road to Calvary and then ultimately was lifted high on the cross, what did he see?  3 faithful women and one courageous man, John the apostle.  Where were all of his "friends?"  Where was their loyalty to their friend Jesus?  Even Peter, the Rock, was no where to be found.  I often wonder what went through his mind at that moment as looked down on his meager followers.  As he preached from town to town to thousands of people who followed him, where were all his fans? 

     Doesn't this happen to us sometimes?  Don't we love and cherish our friends, especially when we are out to dinner with them or celebrating a wedding or another happy occassion?  But I wonder, who will be courageous enough to stand at the foot of my cross when I need them?  This is what I ask you to think about today.  Very often the people we "think" will be there, will not, and perhaps the one's we have neglected, ignored, or treated unfairly will surprise us and have courage.  I'm not sure who will be at the foot of my cross but I'm pretty sure I'll be surprised!  Whose cross do we have the courage to stand at the foot of?