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.

Consecration Day

My life is no longer my own.  For the past 33 days, I made the commitment to consecrate my self to Jesus through Mary’s intercession.  This devotion has been adopted by many saints–St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. John Paul II, just to name a few.  There are several ways to approach this dedication, but the main purpose remains the same:  to give up one’s life and give it to Jesus Christ, with the faith that Mary will take everything you offer to Jesus and use it to provide the most good for all humanity.  It seems a bit daunting–a tall order to release total control of your life.  As I went through the consecrate, my desire to give away my life grew stronger.  My trust in Mary intensified because she gifted me with many affirmations, revealing that through this sacrifice, she would bless my life in return.
The 33 day devotion ended today.  I had great expectations for it.  For 33 days, I had been reading about the wondrous things Mary and Jesus would start to do in my life once I had made the vow to consecrate it to Jesus.  I should know by now that I should never have expected what I had been led to expect!  At a glance, my day appeared pretty horrendous, not just for me, but for everyone involved throughout the course of it.  My day began with a special mass of remembrance at my church where I sing in the choir.  Our rehearsal started late because the conductor forgot her music.  In the process of her hasty departure to go back home to get it, she ran over a choir member’s phone with her car.  His phone had fallen out of a hole in his pocket, and he hadn’t noticed till it was too late.  Needless to say, the sense of urgency and stress triggered by this incident set the tone for the rest of the day.
After Mass, I took the time to actually make my consecration.  Unfortunately, my mind was already flooded with distractions, and I found myself focusing on all kinds of subjects, but not the consecration.  I felt discouraged.  Here I was, seeking to surrender myself and my life to the Lord.  Why was it so difficult?  I should have simply retreated to my room and made the new beginning the following day.  Instead, I had to go into Manhattan; I had even actively chosen to make the trip more difficult by going later in the day when more people are out and everything around NYC is more chaotic.  I should mention it was also the coldest day of the year so far.  I did reach the city and headed off to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.  We were going to catch up.  I was only blocks away from our meeting point when the the true struggle of the day occurred.
I was walking the streets of NYC when I heard a faint voice.  “Could you help me?”  If I hadn’t just finished the consecration, I would never have entertained this request.  I stopped and inquired, “What do you need help with?”  I assumed it would be a “normal” street request–directions to the subway, some money or some food.  Not this time.  A woman and her sister had quite an elaborate story to share.  They had traveled to the city from New Jersey and lost their cell phone on the cab ride.  They had no money because their check was declined at their bank.  All they wanted was formula for their children and enough money for the trip back to New Jersey.  This was a significant request for me, considering how expensive formula is.  My mind started to become unhinged; I wanted to tell them I could not help, it was just too much money, but there was a voice inside my head reminding me that my life was no longer my own and I might be the person Mary had chosen to help these women.  I gave in; I could not say no to Mary and Jesus.  Unfortunately, the quest to buy groceries was not easy.  The store we went into did not carry their formula.  They continued to suggest different resolutions, including walking to another baby store.  Of course, I did not have the time to accompany them.  I was struggling with the uneasiness of the situation.  I was running into roadblocks and became extremely conflicted.  Were these roadblocks from Mary keeping me from making a mistake, or from Satan causing me to question my faith in Mary and ultimately in Jesus Christ?  I did eventually give these ladies some money so they could buy the formula and hopefully return to New Jersey, but I am still in a quandary.  I do not have that sense of peace I am accustomed to after having responded to a call to help others.  It may have been the increased amount of time and money required–I have never been asked to give away so much money before.  Regardless of what caused my lack of peace, I am left still questioning my decisions.
I have no choice but to return to Mary and place all this in her hands.  Whether or not these women truly needed my help or were just out to take advantage of an innocent person on the street, my intentions were pure.  If they did take advantage of me, they will answer to Jesus Christ on the day of their final judgment.  In the meantime, I surrender those sisters and myself to Mary and her ever merciful Son, Jesus Christ.  May they take this day and all that resulted from it and use it for the greater good of everyone involved.  I must adopt this attitude and find peace.  If I truly believe in what I have vowed after undertaking this consecration, I have nothing to fear because Mary will make sure her Son will use what I have done the way He did at the marriage feast of Cana when she prompted Him to His first miracle.  “Do whatever He tells you.”  From now on, I will endeavor to follow these words.

Be Brave

Over the course of the past month, I have embarked on an intense spiritual retreat.  I have often written about how the Lord has blessed me by truly healing so many aspects of my life, I cannot begin to express how miraculous this transformation has been.  Despite all this healing, I still found myself struggling with my faith.  I would be praying and become so distracted that I would be unable to recall what I had just prayed about.  I hit my breaking point when these distractions began to consume my life.  These distractions were basically food, self image and weight.  These are the key cruxes that had taken over my life and the main weapons Satan uses to cripple my spirit.  The wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola suddenly filled my thoughts.  St. Ignatius was known for his pioneering contributions to spiritual exercises.  He understood that the best way to be entirely united with God was to eliminate all material elements that have priority in one’s life.  St. Ignatius himself was a military man; his self image was extremely important to him, yet he decided to go and live in a cave where he let his hair become unkempt and his fingernails grow ragged.  He did this because he recognized his unhealthy attachment to superficial practices regarding his physical appearance.  I decided to follow this saint’s example and went on what might best be described as a spiritual rampage.  I made a vow to visit the adoration chapel every day; I started a consecration to Jesus Christ through His mother Mary, and I fasted from food, exercise and looking at myself in the mirror.  During the days leading up to this consecration, I was filled with fear and uncertainty, questioning whether or not I could actually do all this.  These thoughts were from the evil one, who was trying to convince me I was too weak.  When the day came to start the 33 day consecration, the moment I woke up I could already feel the weight of all my distractions being lifted from me.  Even though it was a struggle and there were times when I faltered, I could feel the Holy Spirit supporting me.  The encouragement I received from the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary was affirmation that I was on the right track.  Going to the adoration chapel every day helped me pay attention to my prayers again.
As part of the “spiritual rampage,” I embarked on a 33 day consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary.  The basic premise of this exercise is to give your life entirely to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.  Through this consecration, I pledged to give myself to God.  I no longer want to live my own life–from this moment on, everything I do will be for God and according to His will.  This miracle has been so monumental that I was afraid to write this blog in fear of unwanted judgment from others.  However, when I made the decision not to write about it, I immediately encountered writer’s block and was unable to write anything for 2 weeks.  It was not until yesterday while I was praying in the adoration chapel that I heard Mary’s voice.  I was dozing in the chapel after a long work week when suddenly I awoke with a slight jolt and Mary’s voice ringing in my ears, “be brave.”  It took me awhile to understand what she was trying to tell me but I finally got it.  I am supposed to speak about this miracle and not let the fears of being judged by the earthly world keep me from proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
Here is my personal miracle:  only a few days after my consecration began, I woke up early before anyone else in my household was awake.  I had to go to the bathroom, which is quite normal, but the feeling I had was different.  There was blood in the toilet.  I had my period.  For most women, this is a normal occurrence that happens every month, but not for me.  Ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes almost 13 years ago, I have been unable to have a period.  I have spent countless hours praying for the restoration of a monthly cycle and had reached the point where I believed I was not meant to have a period. If I was meant to have children, the Lord would make it happen without going through a period.  On that morning, however, the Lord made the impossible a reality.  Having a period again was a most incredible experience and almost indescribable.  My body was strong enough to bear children!  God had healed so many mental and emotional difficulties in my life, but that morning He showed me that He could heal me physically as well.  There, in actual blood, was evidence that God is real and alive and working.  It was the greatest affirmation that not only do I personally want to have children and a family,  but that God wants this too, and He is physically preparing my body to take on the role of a mother.  I thank His Mother for giving me that jolt in the adoration chapel to “be brave.”  She assured me that the Lord is actively working in my life, and that He can transform anyone’s life in unimaginable ways.  Just ask Him and allow Him in yours!!

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”!