Thank You

To the Lord, my God, who has given me everything that I have and possess I offer my thanks.

Thank you for my diabetes, for without it I would have fallen into a life of sin and would have never learned who Jesus Christ really is.

Thank you for taking away my health insurance, for if I had it I would have never learned what it means to have complete trust in you and know that you are the great physician and will protect me in the best way possible. 

Thank you for my poverty, for without it I would have never been able to experience the charity, kindness and generosity of others and the immense giving spirit you wish to share with your people. 

Thank you for my tears, my anger and my fear, for without these things I would have never learned to listen to your voice. 

Thank you for not giving me a husband in the times I thought I really needed one, for with one I would have never fallen in love with you and been able to realize you are my one and only soul mate. You are the answer not only in this life but in the next.

Thank you for my family, friends, job, health, food, water, the air I breathe, church, community, place of residence, hope for the future, memories of the past, knowledge, wisdom, blind faith, pets, unconditional love, grace, peace, silence, excitement, movies, books, truth, cable TV, vacation, nature, exercise, cellphone, internet, Starbucks, iced coffee, insulin, the kindness of strangers, and everything I have forgotten…

Thank you for everything you have made me to be. I have nothing and truly am nothing without you and your grace. You are love and  even though I am not worthy of it I am so grateful for knowing and experiencing your love every day.

Titanic (revisited)

Yesterday I was browsing through channels on my TV, searching for something to watch when divine intervention led me to the movie “Titanic.”  I hadn’t seen or thought about this movie for a long time.  I remember the movie first came out when I was in fourth grade and truly determined the reality in which I lived for years after seeing it.  “Titanic” was ground-breaking in several ways and redefined the way people in the industry made epic movies.  Since I was only in fourth grade, it was a battle to get my parents’ permission to see the movie because there was so much “adult” content that might not have been suitable for an impressionable 9 year old such as myself.  After ceaselessly nagging my parents about letting me go, they finally gave in and I’m very grateful they did.  The relationship between the two main characters, Jack and Rose, was monumental as well as unusual, and it left a lasting impact on me.
Up until yesterday I had regarded their love story as a tragedy.  At the end of the movie my heart broke, thinking of Rose having to leave Jack behind when the ship sank, and to continue her life alone.  I had convinced myself that Jack was Rose’s true soulmate, and she had to settle for someone else.  The story seemed sad to my 9 year old self.  It didn’t end the way it was supposed to, just as Romeo and Juliet didn’t end the way it should have.  Watching the movie again was a completely new experience for me as an adult because I could see Rose and Jack’s relationship with new eyes, through God’s eyes.  When I watched the movie in the past, I had seen the story unfold through flawed human eyes.  I believed it had a tragic ending because it did not end the way I wanted it to.  I was not open to the beauty and providence of God’s plan for the characters.  Rose and Jack were supposed to meet and be a part of each other’s lives at that exact moment in time.  Jack opened Rose up to allow her to see and become the woman she was meant to be, and in turn, Rose helped Jack fulfill his purpose in life so when he died, God would welcome him into His kingdom in heaven.  I still believe Jack and Rose were soulmates, but not in the constricted way I used to consider such relationships.  They were intended to be together, but only for the time God wanted them to be.  Life continues despite change; nothing stays the same.  Only the Lord’s love for all His created beings remains constant.  The Lord entered Rose’s life through Jack’s intercession and influence on her.  When she boarded the Titanic, she was a prisoner to all the entrapments of an earthly world, but when she reached America, a new world, she was a new person.  She was free–free to be the daughter of God as He created her to be.  She moved forward, not alone, but with Him, and He took care of her.
The movie ended exactly the way it should have.  Rose and Jack’s relationship was precisely orchestrated by the divine Composer.  The whole story of “Titanic” is a beautiful and profound example of God’s will at work.  Although “Titanic” has always been regarded as tragedy because so many innocent people lost their lives, it is also a story of triumph and victory.  Survivors living to tell the grand tale, like Rose, were forever changed and were brought closer to the Lord.  They realized they needed to rely on Him instead of the material world, which could be taken away in an instant.

Not All Rainbows and Butterflies

Upon personal introspection, I have come to notice my immediate impulse to adopt a “sorry for you” face when first getting to know a person and I learn what seems to be sad about his or her life story.  I believe I do this for two reasons:  1) I want to be sympathetic to the situation, and 2) I need to counteract the initial shock I also experience when becoming aware of the struggles the person has dealt with in the past.  Since the beginning of September, I have been working to become more involved in my community.  Through this effort, I have established new friendships with quite a diverse set of individuals.  When I moved to New Jersey, I knew instantly that I had found a special place to live, but in this new chapter of getting to know my own community, I am witnessing how incredible it really is.
There are a few people who have made an extra impact on me, and I have been blessed to have the honor of learning more about them.  Perhaps it is my lingering naivety about the world that still causes me to be surprised when I hear about the trials people experience.  These people appear so happy I would never suspect that cancer, abuse, and even death are key elements in their lives.  I suppose this just reaffirms the old saying that “you never know what another person is going through.”  After hearing these personal stories, I am instantly filled with greater admiration for these other people, and with sympathy that I express through my “sorry for you” face.  During a recent conversation, I realized that this “sorry for you” attitude was not giving a new acquaintance any respect, which was truly deserved.  Through that attitude, I was taking away the strength this person had spent so much time building as a result of tragic events.  This new friend pointed out to me when she noticed my “sorry for you” face that everyone has issues to overcome and regardless of what those may be, life goes on and they need to deal with it.
I will forever be grateful to this friend of mine for calling attention to an obvious reality.  When personal stories are told, it is not to gain sympathy but to share what makes the person relating them who he or she is.  When I tell someone I have diabetes, I don’t want sympathy.  I am simply letting the person in and allowing every part of me to be revealed, the good and the bad.  I remember when I was diagnosed and faced with a choice.  I could let diabetes dominate my life and cripple me, or I could acknowledge it and cope with it.  Essentially I chose to learn how to make diabetes a part of my life.  I had to or I would have been doomed to perpetual self-misery since there is no cure for the condition.
One of the ways I have become more involved in my community is by attending a book study.  The book of choice is “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.  At the beginning of the book, he addresses moral law and how that gives evidence of a god and what kind of god he is.
“The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic.  There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law.  It is as hard as nails.  It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do.”
-Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) by C.S. Lewis
I gained a great deal of respect for C.S. Lewis in his approach to defining God.  In this current age, people seek to find a “soft” God.  They desire everything except pain and avoid it at all costs.  They want rainbows and butterflies all the time and forget the joy that comes through grappling with struggles and hardships.  Society is neglecting this internal consciousness of moral law, through which we can grow closer to the Lord and learn more about Him.  I have discovered the “hard as nails” nature of God is what makes joy in this life worth striving for.  Through hardships and struggles, one can gain a greater reward in heaven, which is better than the easy life filled with rainbows and butterflies on earth.

Eternity

Life seems to be speeding up.  I especially noticed this acceleration during the past year when I moved to New Jersey from New York City,  Looking back, I cannot believe I have already lived here 6 months!  In many ways, this relatively short span of time feels like an entire lifetime.  The Lord has given me so many new and beautiful blessings and provided them all in only six months.  However, now I have been confronted with that common question “what did you do this summer?” on several occasions, and each time I always draw a blank, because I feel as though I just celebrated Memorial Day and it is now almost October!  The kids are back in school; the new seasons of prime time are premiering on television–two clear signs that summer is over.  I find myself growing anxious and wondering whether I am doing everything I should.  Despite all the miracles I have experienced recently, I crave more and fear I am getting too comfortable–sitting on the sidelines while life passes me by.  My deep desire to marry and have children, accompanied by the concern that this will never happen, begins to rear its ugly head.
As if on cue, while I am drowning in my personal misery, the Lord’s voice intervenes.  I was sitting in Mass this morning and the gospel reading was from Luke 16, regarding the story of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus.  The rich man enjoyed his reward in this world, but was doomed to suffer after he died for the rest of eternity, while Lazarus suffered his entire life on earth, but was then rewarded in heaven.  This gospel allowed me to view life from a better perspective.  I am spending so much time worrying about making my life significant here, but I should be focused on what comes after my life on this planet is over.  However long my life on earth might be, it is only a single moment in comparison to the eternity that awaits after my death.  I often fall into the trap of convincing myself that I need to be married with children to make my existence meaningful.  The fact is I don’t!  My whole life will be as God wants it to be, and if I never get married, I have faith He has a greater plan for me that cannot involve marriage for some reason.  After all, I can spend eternity with the best bridegroom ever, Jesus Christ.  As for having children, I could always adopt, which might be a very valuable way to serve the Lord as well as my “neighbors” in this world.
I must learn to turn my gaze away from myself and my personal desires.  As evident from the rich man’s story in Luke’s gospel, that focus will only lead to suffering.  I need to trust that God holds my life in the palm of His hands, and He will make sure I find happiness, even if it ultimately comes after death.  I need to think more about my neighbors and love them in the precious time I have on earth.  Yes, time is moving faster, but instead of becoming caught up in the worry of losing time, I will now consider each day as one day closer to eternity.

Stewardship

This Sunday’s Gospel related the parable of the disobedient steward.  His master entrusted his entire estate to this steward, who then squandered his master’s property.  However, when the steward was confronted by his master, the steward changed his ways, going to his master’s debtors and collecting what was owed, but in a prudent fashion.  When the master saw his steward’s actions, he commended him.
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.” Luke 16:10
I must admit that while the priest was reading this passage in Mass, my mind was already preparing for a “hard truth” homily with the message that we must humble ourselves and place God above everything in our lives.  As the Gospel put it, “no servant can serve two masters.”  There are so many worldly goods that can easily be placed before God; it is difficult to humble ourselves and give away all our worldly possessions in order to serve Him better.  To my surprise, the priest did not speak harshly at all–quite the contrary.
He made the point that we are all stewards, and God is our master.  We have been placed on this earth to take care of it, but nothing we care for is rightfully ours.  In a sense, we are always meant to be slightly uncomfortable in our surroundings, as we are uncomfortable while staying in a hotel room.  It may have many of the conveniences in our home, but it doesn’t feel like home.  I found this message particularly significant since just last week I celebrated my 2 year anniversary of moving away from my childhood home.  Two years ago, I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me, and I was on a path to recognizing I will never have an earthly home again.  I have moved four times in the past two years, and each time I moved to another temporary living situation.  What is surprising is that I grew to love these temporary households.  I have learned to live simply, only keeping the possessions I need, and during my time in New York City, these possessions were especially minimal since I could not afford anything else.
The priest continued to add that God made us wealthy so we could give this wealth away.  I think this was the first time in my life that I was called wealthy, and truthfully, I am not wealthy, based on society’s definition of a wealthy person.  However,  in the Lord’s eyes, I am wealthy, and for the first time, I have sufficient means to give myself away to others who are more in need.  For most of my life, I have been surviving–relying on others to help me when I could not provide the necessities of life  for myself.  When I was a child, I relied on my parents, and when I grew up and was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, my health truly crippled my physical ability to get things done (like finishing my college education), and my mental state kept me from believing in my abilities to achieve such goals.  This time of simple survival is over, and I am ready to take my position as a true steward for our Lord.
To that end, God has once again shown His gracious nature because that very night after Mass, I went to my local coffee shop where I have become a “regular” (the employees all know my name and my drink of choice).  I approached the register ready to order, and the guy behind the counter, who I have come to know well, said, “don’t worry, your coffee is on us.”  I was overcome with great gratitude.  Through that simple act, my thoughts were immediately brought back to the message of the gospel, and I was filled with love of the Holy Spirit.  Everyone in this world is a steward, and we can all give to one another through simple acts of kindness.  I was blessed to be a recipient of one of those acts from a fellow steward, which strengthened my resolve to “go and do likewise”!

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.

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.