My Friend

God is all around us.  And, I believe, so are our loved ones who live with Him in Heaven.  The question is, do we recognize them, when they are speaking to us? 

I found out on a Sunday that my grandmother passed away.  She was a good friend of mine.  We did not always have a close relationship, but God, in his goodness, brought us close in those last few years of my grandmother’s life.  She brought to life a passion I had as a child that I had let go of for awhile–reading good books.  It was through sharing books with her that I really learned who my grandmother was; and discovered that she and I had alot in common! I will forever thank God for allowing us to share a bond with one another.  My grandmother truly was my good friend.

The Thursday before that Sunday, as I went into the Adoration chapel like I do every Thursday, I was overwhelmed with the scent of the gardenias that were growing right outside the chapel.  I knew the gardenias grew there, but the powerful aroma reminded me that they were there, that Katie was there.  Of course, I didn’t know at the time why that was so significant, but I did know that God and Katie were speaking to me.  It gave me a very comforting feeling–one that stayed with me for some time.  The feeling was so powerful, in fact, that when I heard the news on that Sunday, I immediately thought back to that powerful scent that reminded me that I was surrounded by love.

Fast forward to that Sunday.  I woke up very early that morning–I just couldn’t sleep.  After alittle while, I decided to look at my phone and check the time.  And that’s when I saw the message that my grandmother has passed.  After speaking with my parents and then saying a rosary, I decided to go for a run and pray.  When I walked outside, the sun was just starting to come up through the clouds and it was a beautiful sunrise.  And as I ran and cried and prayed, I passed by bushes and bushes of gardenias.  The further I ran and the more gardenias I passed, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They were everywhere!  And as I passed them I could smell their sweet fragrance.  It made me happy and sad all at once.  But mostly, it made me aware that God was with me.  That God was with her.  And that Katie was with her too.

As I look back on these events, I see how intertwined they are.  It’s those small moments, those little things that God gives to us.  On my run this morning, Grandma popped in my head and I started talking to her.  And shortly after, I watched two cardinals fly in front of me and I knew she was there.  And then, a big green leaf floated from the top of a tree right in front of me.  And I knew she was there. 

We are always surrounded by love.  The love of God and the love of those who live with Him are always around us.  It may be in the breeze that blows across your face or the unusual song of a bird or the sunset that makes you stop and stare.  We are never alone.  We are never without a good friend.

I Am Taking Care of You

The Holy Spirit echoed these words to me a week ago, as I ran in the dark, early morning hour.  And it was more than words, it was a complete, peaceful feeling that settled deep within my heart.  As I ran with the stars and sliver of moon overhead, I felt the comfort and reassurance of God’s gentle love.  It was 4 days before another half marathon and my prayer became one of total surrender, as I asked God with complete trust and confidence to give me whatever was best for me.  It is a rare, rare thing for me to ask this and to be completely fine with whatever God has in store.  Rare, because, while I may ask God to take care of me, I often find that I have my own preference, my own desire for how I want things to happen.  And that usually, unfortunately, is where I tend to lean.  But, as I said that prayer, that morning, I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that whatever God had in store for me, it was the best thing for me.  I knew it then, and by God’s grace, I still know it now.

Three days later, the day before the half marathon, I developed a bad sinus infection that only grew worse the day of the race.  When I barely had enough strength to get up and make breakfast, I knew the race was out of the question.  Die hard runner that I am, this was a bit devastating for me as I had been looking forward to this race for quite some time.  But deep within my heart, there it still was.  The comforting reassurance that God was taking care of me.  It was there, burning bright, enveloping me in His love.  I didn’t read my daily devotional that day.  I stayed in my bed, barely able to function for the day.  But the next day, as my head started to clear up, I did go back and read my devotional for the day before, the day of the race.  And here was the message:

‘I am taking care of you.  Feel the warmth and security of being enveloped in My loving Presence….If you could see how close I am to you and how constantly I work on your behalf, you would never again doubt that I am wonderfully caring for you…’
–Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

I am finding that this message that God so clearly spoke to me a week ago is still alive in my heart.  As I struggle with future events, with what God’s plan is for me at this time in my life, with what my purpose is right now, God is still reminding me that He is taking care of me.  Today was one of those days where doubt and confusion really took hold of me.  So, I decided to pick up another devotional.  It is one I don’t read very often, but sits at my desk, waiting for me to pick it up.  I went to the passage I had marked as the next one to read.  And here is what God said:

Trust me here and now.  You are in rigorous training–on an adventurous trail designed for you alone.  This path is not of your choosing, but it is My way for you.  I am doing things you can’t understand.  That is why I say, “Trust Me!”….Although you cannot see Me, My Presence with you is rock-solid reality.  Find hope in Me, beloved, for I am taking care of you.’
–Jesus Today by Sarah Young

In all the moments of your life, God is taking care of you.  Let that comfort you when you are clouded with doubt so that your heart and mind become as clear as a starlit morning, enveloped in His love.

 

 

 

The Little Things

Are there some things in your life that you just don’t pray about, because they seem trivial?  I have recently noticed that I was not asking for God’s help with something in my life, because I figured, in the grand scheme of things, that there were more important things to pray about.  On my run this morning, as I started asking God for his help in keeping me strong and free from injury, as I have recently started doing on every run for the past few weeks, I asked myself why had I not ever bothered asking for God’s help before with my running needs?  And I know the answer was that I just felt it was so insignificant–with all the things going on in the world and with needs so much greater than mine…a part of me felt selfish for asking for His help with my running.  And, honestly, there was also a part of me that was trying to do it all by myself.  This was MY endeavor, I don’t need anyone’s help.  It really hit me today, on my run, that both of these ways of thinking were just not right.  As I said, for the past few weeks I have been asking for God’s help on my runs.  I think it was because of a christian song I recently put on my playlist–it just prompted me to pray!  And today, on my run and also in my devotional for today, I received confirmation that God wants us to bring everything to Him.  Nothing is too trivial for our God–nothing is too big or too small for Him.  To think otherwise is to doubt the enormity of His love for us.  And to leave Him out of a part of our life is putting limits and constraints on all that He wants to bestow on us.  I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to come to this realization, especially when I know how powerful prayer is.  But I am grateful that I finally heard God whispering to me, in the early morning hours when it was just Him and me and the stars: Ask for My help in every little thing.  There is nothing too big or too small that you and I cannot handle together.  Lay it all at my feet.  I am in every detail of your life. Share your whole self with me.  I am your Helper and I am always with you.  Come to me fully and completely and trust in My love for you.

What You Take

I just finished reading a great novel by Kristin Hannah, Fly Away.  It is the sequel to Firefly Lane, a story about the friendship between two girls.  Fly Away tells us what happens to one friend after the other has died.   As the book is drawing to a close, the two friends part ways one last time and it brings back memories of my childhood friend, my best friend, my sister.

Katie died when she was 13 and I was 11.  Being two years apart, we grew up very close.  Katie was a tomboy.  She was carefree, unafraid, sporty, talkative, funny.  She was a star.  I was her opposite “twin”.  Timid, shy, extremely girly, not very coordinated, and never one to want to be in the spotlight.  I was tall, she was short.  Thus, we were often about the same height, with similar hair color.  Sometimes we’d switch jackets and put our heads down as we walked to the bus stop, hoping to fool the other kids into thinking I was her and she was me.    Katie and I did everything together.  She was my rock.

The last memory I have of Katie, and probably the strongest memory I have,  was after she died.  We had just said goodbye to her in the hospital.  Seeing her laying in that hospital bed, it didn’t look like my sister at all.  Her face was swollen, she was bandaged and had tubes everywhere.  There was no life…it was not her.  But we held hands around her and we said the Our Father.  And I said goodbye.  When we got home, I told my parents that I should go upstairs and call my friend and tell her why I haven’t been in school.  I will never forget my dad asking me if I needed help.  I did not understand that question.  Why would I need help calling my friend?  I was eleven.

So I started walking up the stairs in what felt like slow motion.  I remember looking over to my left hand slide along the railing.  And when I reached the top of the stairs I felt something on that hand and I shook it.  And then, immediately after I shook it, I knew exactly what it was.  It was my sister’s hand, holding my hand.  I felt her fingers slide into mine.  It felt so real that I knew then and there, at age eleven, that if I had just looked over, I would have seen her standing right beside me.  And suddenly, I knew exactly what my dad was asking when he asked if I needed help calling my friend.  Because as I went to make the call and started speaking, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get the words out.  The realization that my sister was no longer by my side hit me all at once.  And there was my dad, ready to take the phone and finish the conversation.

I hold that memory tight.  It was the last time my sister physically held my hand, letting me know that she was with me.  Her message rang clear in my heart, “I am always with you, holding your hand through life.” And many times, in the 29 years since that moment, I have felt my sister with me.

As I read Fly Away, one particular line hit me like a ton of bricks and instantly brought tears to my eyes, “…my best friend, with her long, tangled blond hair,  and thick eyelashes and her smile that lights up any room.  My other half. The girl who took my hand all those years ago and didn’t let go until she had to.”  And suddenly, I was missing my sister all over again.  But I noticed, as I sat silently crying, that after so many years had passed, so many memories start to fade.  You forget exactly the expressions that she made and how her voice sounded and you try so hard to bring back so many memories that you know you shared.  The tons and tons of conversations you had when your parents thought you were sleeping, but really you (she, mainly) was talking for hours and hours into the night.  What did you talk about?  It all  fades with time.

But here is what I remember.  I remember the love.  I remember feeling safe with her.  I remember feeling like we’d always find something fun to do together.  I remember feeling like she would always protect me.  And I remember her holding my hand.  And that’s what you take with you.  No matter how much time passes, you never forget that love that you shared.   The love stays with you forever and in the end, it’s all that you have.  It’s all that you need.

Until we meet again, and hold hands.

The Gift of a Glimpse

Sometimes God speaks to us through little “gifts” that He sends our way.  For my 40th birthday, one I really was not looking forward to, God sent a gift to me that I will always treasure.

I have always thought of turning 40 as a milestone.  For some reason, that is the number that I’ve always dreaded–the one that, for me, felt like I was turning a corner in life.  I was waving goodbye to being “youthful” and saying hello to the next stage of life.  Everyone has that certain age in their head where they feel they are turning that corner–for some it’s 50, for some it’s 70, for some it’s 30–for me, it’s always been 40.  And here I was, turning that corner.  My 40th birthday happened to fall on the first day of school this year.  I work in a school and I knew it was going to be a busy, crazy day.  And it was.  It certainly did not feel like a birthday and as I went through my day I remember thinking how good it was that it was such a busy day–maybe I could just forget it was my 40th birthday and just move on.  Toward the end of the workday, I remember even thinking that maybe I could just order some dinner in and do some work that evening.  I could say goodbye to the day just like any other day.  Well, God had other plans for my “big day”.

When I got home from work I was ready to go eat–our plan was to go out as a family to Applebees for a birthday dinner.  When my husband told me to wait just alittle while, I was annoyed, hungry, tired and ready for the day to be done.  But, I waited…impatiently.  When he finally told me it was time to go and we stepped out the door, I watched a stretch limo pull into our driveway.  I thought that was a pretty neat surprise and had the driver take a picture of me and my family by the limo.  But that was not the surprise.

When the driver opened the limo door, there was in front of me the best surprise I have ever gotten.  There I saw my nieces, my sister, my mom and my grandmother inside the limo, waiting for me, singing to me.  My family had driven 6 hours to come celebrate my birthday with me!  To say I was in a state of shock is an understatement.  I could not believe my eyes–it felt like a dream and I remember thinking to myself, “no, this is really happening!”  I started laughing and crying all at once.  The joy I felt was inexpressible.  I did not know what to say…I only knew to laugh and cry and hug each one of them.  I remember saying their name as I hugged them–I was still wondering if this was just a dream and I had to say their name to make sure it really was happening.  In that moment I remember thinking to myself, “So this is what it must be like when you get to heaven.”  The joy, the unparalleled joy of seeing those you love most in the world, when you least expected to see them was, I know, God’s 40th birthday gift to me.  And in my heart, I knew that the joy and the love I felt in those precious moments was only a glimpse, a small 20 second preview of the unimaginable joy and love that awaits us in Heaven.  It is a joy and a love that cannot be compared to anything we experience here on Earth.  Not even the joy of seeing your child for the very first time.  Because even in that, there is still physical pain and a certain unknowing and apprehension that is there.  I use to think there could be no greater joy than seeing and holding your child for the first time.  But this joy, this feeling of being loved was different.  Because it was a love you knew.  It was a safe, accepting, familiar love.  It was a love that you miss when you’re apart and can’t wait to be together again.  It was the joy of being reunited.  When you see and hold your child for the first time, it is the first time.  It is the beginning of many things to come.  It is the beginning of a love that will grow and deepen.  But this, this was being united again with a love that was already deeply planted.  And this joy was immense because you knew how deep the roots were.  These are the best words, the only words that I have to describe God’s gift of a glimpse of Heaven.

And now, when I look back on that dreaded 40th birthday,  I smile.   It was one of the best days of my life.

This video was taken as I opened that limo door:   http://vimeo.com/user22677115/surprisevideo

What We Are Called To Do

Sometimes God puts prayers in my heart to say in very particular ways.

Before my family and I made a very big move out of state, away from all of our family, I kept praying that God would help us on our journey.  In those words, always using the word journey.  That became a prayer that I prayed for months before, during and even after our move.  Amazingly, when I went to the first retreat at the new school I was working at, we were told that our theme for that year would be The Journey and that we were all on the Journey together.  Of course, I realized immediately that this was no coincidence.  This was God letting me know that indeed, this was the Journey He wanted me to be on.

Something very similar just recently happened.  For about a year now I have been praying that God show me what He wants me to do vocation wise.  I just haven’t felt very passionate or motivated by what I am currently doing in my job and I just felt like there had to be more or something else that I was supposed to be doing.  I just didn’t have any idea of what that was!  Within the past few weeks, as I have been praying about it, I have felt God telling me to stop worrying so much about what’s next.  He showed me that this is something I have been doing for a long time.  Always searching for “what’s next”.  I felt God telling me that I am exactly where I am meant to be.  I am where I am.  He has told me that the important thing is what I am supposed to be doing where I am.  And that is that I need to be Christ to others.  Through my actions, words, thoughts and deeds He wants me to show others who He is.  He wants me to love with a Christ-like love so that others will see Him through me.  That message suddenly became very clear to me, almost like an epiphany.  And I embraced it immediately.  I began praying about this, asking God to help me, through my words, actions, thoughts and deeds, to show others who He is.  And not to be afraid.

Yesterday, at now my fifth retreat at my school, I was reaffirmed of my prayer, once again.  I know this, because the priest’s homily was (and these were his words) how our words and actions show others who God is.  He repeated “our words and actions” quite a few times…the same words I have been using lately in my prayer.  The moment he said it, I knew that what I had been feeling in my heart was truly God’s message to me.

And thinking about it, isn’t that His message to everyone?  We are all so busy searching for “what’s next” that we fail to do the most important thing we are called to do right where we are.  And that is to love.  To love all of those around us, all of the time.  At first, when I heard this message from God, all I could think was how simple that is.  Really?  That’s it?  That’s my purpose?  But right after that retreat, when I felt empowered and gung- ho about starting this mission from God, I learned that to love with a Christlike love was not going to be a simple task.  I had received an unkind email shortly after the retreat that immediately made my blood boil and I couldn’t wait to email something equally as unkind back.  However, God, in His grace, whispered to me, “Love”.  I did calm down after a few hours and did not respond to the email until the next day, when I had a chance to let God help me with this and I could respond in a loving manner.  At that moment, I realized that this would not be an easy task, but it was a mission, a calling, that I knew God had given me and I am determined to carry it out.

I hope that all of us can, at some point, hear that very same calling from God. I believe it is what we are called to do, wherever we are.  Because the important thing is not where we are.  It’s what we are doing while we are there.

A Son’s Love

Today I was given a precious gift.  I took my son and his friend to the public pool this afternoon and while they swam and played, I got lost in a book I was reading.  I was so engrossed with it, I was completely unaware of anything going on around me.  After a good while of reading, I finally closed my book, set it aside, and looked out onto the pool.

And there, God gave me a precious gift.  As soon as I looked up, I saw my 12 year old son swish down a water slide.  When he got up, I watched as an older woman talked to my son and handed him her small grandson, who couldn’t have been more than a year old.  As I watched my son carry this stranger’s grandson, I was in awe.  It was clear that she had asked him to carry the child to the slide and go down the slide with the little one.  My son cheerfully agreed, carefully walked up to the slide, holding this cute little stranger, gingerly sat down with the babe on his lap, and slowly started down the slide, making oohh and ahhh noises as he went.  He carefully set the child down on his feet when they reached the bottom and cheerfully handed him over to the woman.  It was a beautiful thing to watch my son take so much pride and joy and love in doing this and I was so proud of him.  I found myself grinning from ear to ear.  As I watched this take place, I couldn’t help thinking how good my twelve year old is with small children.  He seems to delight in playing with his two year cousin and he was a natural with this child on the slide.  I couldn’t help but wonder if God was giving me some sort of glimpse into His plan for my son–maybe he will work in some way with children when he gets older–maybe not.  But I knew at that moment, I was watching love in action.

After another 20 minutes or so, it was time to leave. My son ran over to me with a huge smile and the first thing he said was, “Did you see what I did?”  He was so proud of himself!

I knew the moment I watched this wonderful scene that it was a gift God was giving to me.  It was a beautiful, precious gift of love and I will always remember it.

  ___________________________________________________________________________

When God speaks, it does not have to be a life changing event.  It does not have to be in words. It does not even have to make sense.  But He speaks to us all the time.  He speaks to us in all sorts of ways.  All we need to do is open our eyes!  He wants us to see the wonders of His love as often as He gives it…always.

Lost and Found

Sometimes I feel lost.

From an early age, I had control of my future. I knew early on that I wanted to be a teacher. I became a teacher right after graduating from college and after more than ten years of teaching, I knew I wanted to get my Masters Degree and become a principal. I got my Masters Degree and then, suddenly, I lost control of the direction of my life. Suddenly, my life took a turn I was not planning or expecting. Suddenly, I was far away from family in a new state, in a new school, doing a job that I had not planned on doing. Now, going on five years later, I am still at that school, still at the job I had never envisioned myself doing. There are things about it that I like, but there are things about it I don’t like as well. Often times, I get the feeling that my job has little purpose…or rather, that I have little purpose in the job I am doing. I have prayed and prayed that God show me what He wants me to do and the scariest part is, when I think about what I would want to do, for the first time in my life, I have no idea…I have no direction…I have no plan. Nothing sounds exciting, nothing ignites a fire. I often times just feel lost.

Last night, as I fell asleep, I remember asking St. Anthony to help me find myself. He is the finder of lost things and I felt as though I had lost…myself. Who was I? What was my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? As I drifted off to sleep, I just kept repeating, “Help me find myself”.

I’m sure everyone, at some point, has these feelings of being lost. But this is scary to me. I think it’s because I have never lived feeling lost. I have always had a purpose, a goal, a plan. I was always in control. I know that God is teaching me to give up my control and give it to Him, to trust in His plan for me–in my heart I know that. But after five years, you’d think He would start showing me what that plan is–or at least give me a glimpse. But no, I am exactly where I was five years ago–still searching, still wondering…still lost.

Today in Adoration, I told him how lost I felt. I prayed that He would show me the way. I prayed for a long time. Then I decided to spend a few minutes reading a book that I’ve been reading during Adoration, but had not read in the last 2 weeks. I picked up where I had left off in the book and here is what I read today:

“I find that when we’re willing to serve like Jesus did–while we’re on the way–divine appointments…start popping up everywhere.  And if we’ll take the time to stop and listen, we may find our destination, even when we thought we were lost.” (Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver) 

And, “When we surrender ourselves to be used by God, we don’t always get to pick the time, the method, or the place of ministry.  In fact, sometimes, we find ourselves doing nothing at all–except praying and waiting for God’s leading.”  (Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver).

And finally, “…the key is not in our activity, but in our receptivity to God’s voice–and in our willingness to be used in whatever ways he brings to our attention.  When we bring to him our willingness to serve, he’ll always, eventually, point us toward something we can do for him.  And that task will always have something to do with love.” (Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver).

It is no coincidence that this was the section of the book I was on today.  God knew that I needed to hear these words–that I needed reassurance that, while I may feel lost, God has not lost sight of me.  

This is the journey I am on and while I may not understand it or have any control over where it will take me, He does.  Maybe, when we have so much control over the direction of our life, God needs us to lose all control so that we can find Him.  I am always looking for the destination, but  maybe God is trying to teach me that it is what we do on the journey that matters. 

Wherever we are on our journey, we have an opportunity to serve God.   And while we may not know where the road will take us, maybe what really matters is just knowing that we are on the road with Him. 

And He knows where He’s going.

Timeless

Good Omen“It’s an omen.”

That is what a man told us when we found a purple starfish on the beach, that early morning 20 years ago, when we went to watch the sunrise.  That was when my future husband and I were  just getting to know one another.  We were in that exciting, wonderful stage of a relationship when feelings of friendship start growing into feelings of love.  When every moment of being together is fun, exciting, innocent, and new.

Twenty years later, my husband and I came back to our old “stomping grounds” to celebrate our upcoming 20th wedding anniversary.  We live far from here now, but every chance we get, we come back to St. Augustine to visit.  We love it here.  We love being by the beach.  We love being able to walk downtown and visit the unique and interesting little shops along St. George Street.  To us, this is our home.  This is where we met and fell in love and our new life began.

Every time we come for a visit, we go to the beach and we go back to our favorite restaurant, the Oasis.  We walk among the familiar shops down St. George Street and discover new ones that have sprung up.  And of course, we pay a visit to  my old college.  We walk through the breezeway, where so many wordless hugs were exchanged.  Where so many “I love you’s” were felt, but not yet spoken.   We  reminisce.

Last night, we drove to this one spot near the beach where we use to park the car, open the sunroof, lay our seats back and just talk.  Minus the sunroof, we did that again.  And suddenly, for the first time since we have been coming back here, I felt very sad.  Through my tears, I told my husband that I suddenly grew very sad at the thought that all of those memories, all of that “newness” that we had so long ago…that it’s gone.  We will never be able to recreate those memories and those feelings again.  We will always love one another, in fact, our love has only grown stronger and deeper throughout the years.  But the joy of discovery…the way your heart use to leap every time you saw one another….it’s gone.  I suppose it just hit me suddenly for the first time.  We talked for awhile about all of the things we love about one another and how far we’ve come and we talked about a few of our memories from those early days in our relationship.  Like the love letters we use to write to one another.  We lived only a few miles apart, but we would write important letters to one another about nothing at all that we couldn’t wait to receive in the mail.  And then we remembered the time we drove to the beach we were now parked at to watch the sunrise and we found a starfish together.  As soon as we picked it up this complete stranger all of a sudden appeared  and told us, “it’s an omen”.  As we were reminiscing,  my husband then asked a very good question that I had never thought of before when he said, “Where did that guy even come from??  It’s like he just appeared out of nowhere the minute we picked up that starfish!”  True…upon reflection…that was odd that a stranger would then appear and make that comment.  Thinking not much more about it, we soon drove back to where we were staying, leaving another memory there, at the beach.

The next morning, we decided to go for a run along the beach.  As we were running, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I wish he (my husband) would look down from time to time to watch his step so he doesn’t stumble.” He rarely looks down when he runs and has stumbled from time to time.  I guess I was just worried about him.  It wasn’t but a few seconds later that my husband suddenly stopped running to look at something.  There, amongst all the shells and all the people, without even having his glasses on, he found a starfish.  We couldn’t believe it.  And neither of us had to say it.  God, as he has always been, was there, in our midst last night listening to us grieve a little over the time we would never get back.  The feelings that would never quite be the same.  The youthfulness and vitality, the energy and innocence that floats in the air around our old favorite places; that we can remember so well we can almost feel it, but is now just out of our reach.  And in finding this new starfish, this “omen” that made us believe even more in our predestined love all those years ago, God was reaffirming our love.  He was reaffirming all of those wonderful moments and memories that He gave us.  And He was telling us that love goes on.  Real love never really begins–it was always there, just waiting to be discovered.  And real love never ends.

Memories and moments will always be created and treasured.  They will begin and they will end.  But what really matters is the  love that remains.

Love, His love for us, and our love for one another is timeless.  And that is what I will always remember.