Never Forget

This past Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of 9/11, the day terrorism suddenly became more real to almost every American of this age who was old enough to understand what happened.  September 11, 2001 brought home to all Americans what it meant for their freedom to be threatened.  Aside from that difficult truth, there was a far more personal tragedy to address.  In addition to the political implications this day held for the world, it was also a day when people lost their lives, children lost their parents, men and women lost their spouses, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors.
I have now observed two 9/11 anniversaries in the actual area where 9/11 occurred.  Last year I was living in New York City, and this year I am in New Jersey.  While I was living in New York, I visited the 9/11 memorial and went to the museum, both of which were extremely moving experiences.  I will never forget seeing the 9/11 memorial.  There are two pools placed where the two towers once stood that provided the ability to recognize how many people were in those towers when the planes hit.  I watched the two towers collapse on a TV, mesmerized because it seemed like watching a movie instead of news footage of real life.  Needless to say, standing in the exact place where everything happened was life-altering.  As moving as that visit to Ground Zero was, it did not take place on the anniversary of 9/11, and to be honest, life in New York City on September 11 is almost like every other day.  I am not surprised by this; I have come to really admire the New Yorker attitude after living there. Even though the sense of 9/11 hung in the air, New Yorkers insisted on moving forward and adhering to their daily routines.  This year September 11 felt different, and it was the first time I truly acknowledged the gravity of the loss of all those lives.  I was in my car driving to work when the radio host announced they were going to observe a moment of silence.  It was at that precise moment that the first plane hit one of the towers.  Over the past 18 years I have never had the opportunity to just stop and reflect on the exact time terrorism entered my life.  Observing this moment allowed me to look at the day differently.  I was more grateful–both for my life and that I lived in a country that values freedom and is willing to fight for it.
I was also aware that my home parish was holding a memorial Mass in honor of the patrons who had lost their lives 18 years ago.  In New York City, it is almost impossible to meet anyone who was not affected by 9/11, but the actual evidence of these effects is not obvious.  In New Jersey, the losses were more evident in unexpected places.  My Lyft driver brought this to my attention; he said everyday hundreds of people commute to work in the city.  They drive their cars to the train station and park.  He commented that many of the saddest sights after 9/11 were the parking lots of train stations because all these cars remained at the end of the day.  On September 11, 2001, people left their cars at the train stations but never came back to drive them home.
The terrorist action of 9/11 was like a pebble dropped in still water.  As those two towers fell, a great ripple spread throughout the entire country.  Each year the ripple is more subtle and less noticeable, but the pebble remains imbedded somewhere under the surface of the ripple and will never go away.  We will never forget.
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Role Model???

Recently, my life seems to be changing at a rapid rate, and these changes are major ones.  The Lord is adjusting my body, my soul and my spirit, leading me to become someone I never thought I could be.  During my early childhood, I took on the persona of “a child of God” and was completely content.  I was so content, I stunted my growth with Jesus Christ because I wanted to remain an innocent child my entire life.  Unfortunately, like all children, I was also naive and began to seek recognition and wisdom from worldly sources.  I was always looking for role models to emulate and I found several, but they only stayed in my life for a fleeting amount of time and never lived up to my standards.  I finally realized they never would because I was searching for the perfect role model, Jesus Christ.
I have to admit I developed into a Peter Pan, singing “I won’t grow up” and planning to continue the theme throughout my adult life.  I feared growing up and all the responsibilities it would entail, so I did everything in my power to delay the process.  I did put it off for a fairly long time till the Lord intervened and showed me that this was keeping me from a stronger and richer relationship, not only with Him, but with everyone important in my life.  By His grace, I entered a new chapter in this life, and it has turned everything upside down.
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”  Luke 14:26
This is a verse I always struggled with, for how could I “hate” my father and mother?  The truth is that it is possible and can actually result in a more powerful relationship with one’s parents.  I had to put aside “childish things”, which meant I had to release my firm grasp on keeping my parents the same people I knew as a child.  I believed that, like a child, I was unable to truly stand on my own two feet and take care of myself.  Whenever I fell and scraped my knee, I wanted my parents to be right there to make it better.  This attitude does not foster a healthy relationship; I needed to turn to God to “make it better” because He is the only one who can.  When I finally came to this realization, it was as though the huge walls that stood between me and the Lord were shattered.  I was able to place my past completely in the past, and it no longer has power over me.
Accepting and dealing with this new identity still has trials, but there is nothing I cannot overcome in all I encounter because I can find Jesus Christ in this more mature identity, and I have faith that this is intended for my ultimate good.  One great example is a new image of myself as a role model to others.  I have always sought others as role models and never ever wanted to be one myself, mainly because I was so insecure, and did not find any qualities in me that anyone else would admire and strive to imitate.  Nevertheless, in these last few months, the Lord has shown me that these insecurities are in fact worthy of respect from others.  In my job, I have to sit for long periods of time, so I have developed a habit of walking around the building throughout the work day.  I was rather embarrassed about this because I was taking time away from my duties, but then I started noticing my fellow workers walking around the building too.  When I asked them about it, they surprised me by saying they were following MY example!!!  Somehow, this little habit had made a positive impression on others.
I never believed myself to be worthy of role model status, and to be honest, the concept is till slightly terrifying because I can fall into the trap of regarding myself as that small child, naive in dealing with worldly ways.  However, the big difference is that I now have Jesus Christ as my role model, and can encourage others to follow Him through my own behavior.

In Loving Memory

My cat died a few weeks ago.  He would have been 17 in human years today, roughly 119 in “cat years.”  His death came as a surprise to me, and stirred a well of grief inside me.  He was elderly, showing many symptoms of age–dementia, joint stiffness, matted fur, etc.  Despite all these signs, I convinced myself that he would live any number of years more as cats often live to be twenty or so.  My state of denial might have been a result of being disconnected from his day-to-day routine. When I moved to New York City, I left him with my parents because I would not be able to care for him, but I fully intended to come back for him once my life stabilized.  I have always had a cat; my parents had one before I was born, so it’s hard to grasp my new reality of life without one.
This cat was the second in my life–initially just a replacement for my beloved first cat who lived to be sixteen and a half and died when I was a freshman in high school.  When she died, I was so overwhelmed with grief, I insisted our family had to get another cat right away.  I wanted a kitten, however, and there were simply none available in our city at that time of year–we searched!!  We finally found a six month old kitten at a shelter in a small town, a half hour drive from where we lived.  When I first held him, it was obvious he had a temper–he bit my ear!  It wasn’t a hard bite, but certainly an indication he was not the cute, cuddly kitten I had imagined.  Nevertheless, he became my kitty and we grew to love each other.  I even came to rely on him for security.  There were times in the middle of the night when he would be on high alert–meowing and hissing at forces I could not see.  This made me feel safe, as though he was protecting me by constant vigilance while I slept.  He truly flourished in the darkness of the night, which made his diagnosis of dementia at his annual check-up so heartbreaking.  The night time patrols he used to feel compelled to make suddenly confused him.  He began howling piteously every night, and the vet said it was because he couldn’t remember where he was and needed reassurance.
When I received the news of his passing, I immediately felt guilty.  I wasn’t there when he died; I had abandoned him.  In the midst of my grief, I even felt ashamed, wondering what my cat thought of me not only for being absent at his death, but also for not being with him during his last years of life.  Logically, these thoughts are slightly ridiculous; after all, he was a cat, not a human being, but even so, my mind can wander into surreal places when processing the loss of a loved one–animal or human.  Fortunately, the Lord enters in and provides unexpected healing and grace.  For some time, He has been showing me how to release the attachments I had developed in my life that kept me from fully surrendering myself to His will.  I thought I had detached from most of my childhood belongings, but I had forgotten about my pets.  Even now I am struggling, accepting the new reality that I no longer have a cat to call my own.  I find myself trying to devise ways I could get another cat, but it is simply not possible for me at the moment.  The Lord beautifully asks me to release control of this situation to Him.  I am reminded that everything in my life is a gift from Him, including my cat.  I was blessed to have him as long as I did, but in the final analysis, he was never really mine, he was God’s creature.  Although I will always feel pain that I wasn’t there when he died, what I need to remember is that the Lord was.  I am so thankful that through His grace He could do what I could not–release my beloved pet from what had become a harsh and unfamiliar world and give him peace.

Invisible

What I consider weakness, the Lord uses as strength.  What I see as a hindrance, the Lord turns into an asset.  All my life I have felt invisible and unimportant.  I had a desire to accomplish great things that would make an impact on the world, so I had to connect with the “right people.”  This was an ongoing struggle–whenever I attempted to make those crucial connections, I was overlooked.  Each time I went to an event I believed could lead to a life-changing moment, I was left feeling empty and a failure.  I would always blame God and question Him.  I was doing everything in my power to use the life He had given me as an opportunity to change the world for the better, but I ended up with doors being shut in my face.  What was I doing wrong?  Maybe I was not looking in the right places and not placing my trust in God, although I believed I was.
This past Thursday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, and at the Mass I attended, the priest spoke of Mary’s many gifts.  He mentioned subtlety, which I had never heard described before.  The priest used the example of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  A young pregnant woman taking on a long journey through treacherous landscapes all by herself without WiFi, cell phones or cars–the priest emphasized the lack of modern technology that would have helped when the roads were difficult and thieves were everywhere.  How could Mary possibly have survived that journey on her own?  The answer lay in her subtlety–by the grace of the Holy Spirit, He allowed her presence to be felt but not intrusive so she reached her cousin’s home in safety.
I thought of my days living in New York City, walking the streets late at night after work.  The streets of New York are easily as dangerous as the roads Mary traveled.  More than a few times, my path was crossed by rather aggressive individuals hassling other walkers for money or food.  They would approach everyone ahead of me, but when I finally passed by, it seemed as though they didn’t see me.
I used to feel my invisibility was a curse; I wasn’t significant enough to be acknowledged, but now I realize it was a gift.  I resolved to place my faith in the Lord and trust that He will put the correct people in my path who will see me.  I was back in New York City this weekend and stopped in a church with a chapel open to all for prayer.  I had endured a long and strenuous morning and while I was in the chapel, a man approached me and asked for $20 for food.  I was somewhat taken aback–I am used to people asking for money, but $20 seemed a bit excessive.  Nevertheless, there was an aura of kindness about him.  I truly believe in the influence of the Holy Spirit and the importance of listening to His subtle promptings.  There was a peace about this man unusual for a person living in New York City.  He asked me if I was an actress and when I told him I wasn’t, he said I should be because I looked like one.  He continued to say he was a comedian, trying to be discovered by NBC.  The question about being an actress was most likely a line designed to get money, but I felt there was some sincerity behind it.  I have no desire to be an actress, but it was a career I once considered, and it was affirming to hear that someone, albeit a total stranger, thought I could be one.  Nothing happens by coincidence, and I am sure this man was placed in my path to see me, and that I might see him.  I gave him $5 and hope he used it for food.  The short interaction we had was uplifting and provided me with strength to get through the rest of my day.  Perhaps it helped him in the same way.  Our meeting was also a reminder that the Lord is in charge and only allows the “right people” to enter our lives at certain times–when they do, we need to pay attention.  We are all called to be in community with one another for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we are open to recognizing our fellow brothers and sisters as such, we can change each others’ lives for the better, even if only in small matters.
Thanks to the Lord’s blessings, I understand that I am not invisible.  I am fully seen by my Creator and Father, who is the only person that counts.  By placing my life completely in His hands, He has the ability to use me and make me visible to the people He chooses.  If I put Him first, ahead of my own desire to be seen, I can walk in confidence (and subtlety), knowing that everything I do will be done for the glory of God

Bread of Life

For human beings and indeed, for all God’s creatures, food is an absolute necessity for life.  Based on my personal experience, my life could often be described as revolving around it.  It’s somewhat embarrassing, but I find my mind occasionally drifting off during Mass to what I’m going to eat after the service is over.  I am human, and fasting before Mass can lead to your body insisting on fulfilling its craving for earthly sustenance (not just the supreme sustenance received in communion).  It has become a routine for many people to go out for a meal after Mass or any church service, particularly on Sundays.  These meals are usually shared with friends and family, which adds to the satisfaction derived from them, and also, because of pre-Mass fasting, because we are extra hungry!  No matter how satisfied we are after such a meal, the desire for more nourishment always returns.

God designed us to appreciate the gifts of food (and drink) but that earthly food can never replace Jesus Christ as we receive Him in the Eucharist.  “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  It may be hard to understand, but all we really require in life is Jesus and His word.  In the Gospel passage, Jesus feeds the masses with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, yet at the end of the meal, everyone is satisfied and there are leftovers!  I wonder what the word “satisfied” actually means in that scripture passage.  I feel it must be similar to the satisfaction I have from a meal after Mass because the meal has been blessed by God.  The Lord’s blessing is crucial; the food is a gift from Him and without Him we would have nothing to sustain us.  The Lord then reminds us that even without earthly food, we could survive if Jesus Christ remains in our hearts.

Throughout our daily lives, we give thanks for many blessings–family, friends, our jobs and our homes–but we can forget to give thanks for the smaller gifts we take for granted, like food.  Food can seem so routine, but each bite we take is a gift from God because He knows we need it.  The Lord is truly present in every breath we take in our lives, not only when we are full and content, but when we are depriving ourselves as in fasting as well.  God provided manna to the Israelites when there was nothing else to eat in the desert.  It is important for us to give Him thanks for everything we have to eat each day, but to also remember that Jesus Christ is our very bread of life, so what more do we need?

Control

I have been fairly open about the influence of living with Type 1 diabetes and my struggles in managing the condition.  There have been aspects I have chosen to withhold because I feared the backlash and judgements I might receive for being honest about how I handle this chronic illness.  Medical issues are often highly sensitive topics and provoke quick judgments.  However, this morning at Mass, listening to the homily, I was blessed with courage through the Holy Spirit to write this blog.
The homily was more about earthly possessions and common attachments to them.
“‘You fool, this might will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.” Luke 12:21
The priest pointed out that whatever we try to own in this life ends up owning us and whatever we try to control ends up controlling us.  This last statement and the use of the word “control” grabbed my attention.  On the day I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, my life became all about control.  I was told that my diabetes could not be cured, but it could be “controlled.”  A somewhat severe doctor informed me that if I did not control the condition, I was doomed to suffering all through life.  To some extent, he was right, but his words could be applied to everyone, whether they have diabetes or not.  My life is based on numbers; I check my blood sugars constantly, and every time they are too high or too low, they determine how I conduct myself the rest of the day.  Both high and low blood sugars evoke fear.  Thoughts of being a failure invade my head and frustration takes over.  It’s been 13 years since my diagnosis–why can’t I control them?
I’m supposed to see an endocrinologist every 3 months.  I strictly adhered to this practice till moving to New York when my health insurance wasn’t adequate, and I saw an endocrinologist less and less.  Now my life is becoming stable again, and I can afford to visit an endocrinologist.  I wasn’t expecting a glowing report card; I had let my diabetes management slacken, but was still struck by fear again and how it affected perspective on my life.  My thoughts shifted my focus from the Lord to myself.  The responsibility for controlling my condition reverted back to me and how I needed to take control.  I began to judge myself and fear the future.
Since my latest doctor’s appointment, I have been on a downward spiral.  I was trying to live my life based on blood sugar numbers.  As the priest said, by trying to control my diabetes, I was letting it control me.  The more I tried to force this control, the worse it got until I hit a new “low,” literally!  At my lowest, I received a text from a close friend who had no idea what was going on with me, but she was listening to EWTN and the daily family prayer was for those with diabetes.  When she heard it, she was prompted by the Holy Spirit to text me.  I truly believe my life was saved that day because she sent me that prayer.  When I have low blood sugars, I correct them with quick acting sugar from Smarties to a box of juice–whatever is readily available.  Nevertheless, there are some low blood sugars that cannot be corrected by any amount of sugar.  I had lost control of my life and in my weakness, the Lord was strong and only He was able to raise my blood sugars, which He did.
Even when I know a doctor means to help, when fear enters in the enemy can take control.  I recognize the effects fear has had on managing my diabetes.  It is important to see doctors, take their advice and closely monitor your blood sugars, but actually being able to control them is a false perception.  I am human and thus subject to human error.  If my diabetes management was left up to me, I would be doomed.  Just as people try to hold on to possessions, Jesus Christ reminded me I can’t take them with me–they are not forever and have no value in Christ’s eyes.  Diabetes has no value for Jesus, rather He values me and my immortal soul.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I visited my parents this weekend.  This was the first time I saw their new house in their new city.  To my surprise, I was full of excitement to experience the new life my parents had begun.  It was further evidence of the healing the Lord is providing for our family.  The Lord truly has plans for all our lives and they are strongly connected to others we touch.  Somehow God orchestrates each one of our story lines and make them intersect at exactly the right moment.  I can look back at my entire life and realize how the Lord was working to ensure I was ready for this precise moment that would happen this weekend.
It has been almost 2 years since I packed up and left Colorado to move to New York.  I left with a strong conviction I would have an adventure with the Holy Spirit.  To His credit, I am still having this adventure but He had much greater purpose for my move.  Relocating to New York was a small piece of a grand and elaborate plan to heal my family.  I didn’t even know we needed healing.  I thought I needed healing after several setbacks after my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes 13 years ago.  My wounds were actually rooted deeper inside my family’s history.  When the Lord sent me to New York, He was not only planning to free me from my soul ties in Colorado, but He would free my parents from theirs as well.
I grew up in one house and there I set up my life and constructed plans for that life.  The problem was that the plans were made by me, a sinful human, not by the Lord.  My family and I fell into the common traps of wanting to control our own destinies and built up strong attachments to material things, not from God.  The house in which I grew up was the main attachment, but there were many others inside that house and in Colorado.  When my parents told me they were considering moving, I was bound and determined to make sure that did not happen.  Our house was “everything,” if we didn’t have it, we would have nothing.  This lie started the insidious desire to control my life and my parents’ lives.  The truth is that with only our house we had nothing, and without it, we would have everything.  With their new life, my parents are truly free because they are no longer chained to an immovable object.  The joy I experienced this weekend was unlike any I ever felt before because we could talk about all these new possibilities and adventures for our lives, adventures that would be impossible if we continued to hold onto our control.  Our lives are now in the Lord’s hands and there is no better place for them to be.  The house I visited this weekend is not my home, but that is a good thing.  It is a wonderful house and I feel “at home” in it, but this is simply further confirmation that the Lord has transformed my heart once again.  Home is where the heart is, and my heart is with the Lord.