On a beautiful Sunday, August 14, 2016, I made my final profession to the Secular Franciscan Order at Holy Trinity Parish with the Maximilian Kolbe Fraternity. A day full of grace and new beginnings. Pax et Bonum! Advertisements
Since my childhood, I have always loved to sing. I remember often walking home from school singing in the rain and splashing the puddles on the way. Or dancing in song with the sunshine among the wildflowers where our family cabin resides in the Big Horn Mountains. Early on I found that my song brought smiles and tears to others.
Song heals my heart and soul even in the midst of the difficulties of living with severe chronic illness and pain. When I sing, my brain will block my pain or at least ease it’s edge for a small period. Sharing my joy with others also goes a long way helping me to integrate the emotional turmoil long term suffering can cause. Song keeps me sane.
As a teenager, I sang in my High School Swing and Show Choirs. Our jazz group was so exceptional that we were often given time off, during classes to perform for our mayor or other civic organizations. They would hire us through generous donations to our school. Singing jazz was a blast; I loved musical theater and developed a superb control of my timbre and pure soprano voice. My director recognized the natural talent and recommended that I start voice lessons during my sophomore year.
During the summer, I had almost died from a severely debilitating illness, where my whole colon filled with hundreds of bleeding ulcers. I had lost over 25% of my body weight by the time of my Crohn’s diagnosis at 16. My severe malnutrition led to TPN and the first of many lengthy hospitalizations, surgeries, complications and everything else the disease causes throughout a lifetime.
Early on in my life with Crohn’s, the disease was insidious by causing ulcers and inflammation in my mouth, throat, and esophagus. When damage got too close to my voice box, I would have to gargle with a unique compound mouthwash to get through a concert or solo. I had to give up my dreams of auditioning for a local opera company during my senior year due to inflammation in my mouth and throat. I missed performing for a Broadway scout who attended my theater’s performance of “Godspell” because I was on the sidelines due to painful ulcers near those vital vocal cords.
I found that others would recognize the ruthless of Crohn’s by if I was singing or not. I know that my parents were haunted by the silence in the house when my song was lacking there. Some of my favorite childhood memories are around the piano singing with my mom, my brother and I as my dad listened. During my first short-lived remission, they told my doctor how grateful that they had their songbird back.
Before Crohn’s, I could be heard singing in the shower, my sleep, while doing simple chores, or even on long car trips along with the radio. I can not even begin to express how much losing my song slashed my spirit. The most difficult times have been after numerous surgeries sometimes with tubes down my throat or the need for oxygen for long periods. Sometimes even unable to sing for months or years at a stretch.
My most raw hiatus from the song has been over two years in length. Not due to ulcers in my throat but massive amounts of scar tissue in my abdominal cavity. Breathing unhindered is crucial to being able to sing. It requires a lot of interior exercise and control to sing well. You could say it is a whole body experience. So living with a systematic degenerative disease can take so much out of you. That you can not even form a single note.
I also deal with nervous system damage that affects the strength on my right side of my body. So to sing in the choir at church, I had to be able to sit up in a folding chair. Not a good position for someone most recently diagnosed with centralized pain syndrome with c-fiber activation. All those vicious medical regimes and multiple surgeries under general anesthesia have wretched me inside out. I have begun to think I would never sing again.
Then a horrible event occurred after my 14th surgery, which had removed a lot of adhesion disease and 10 centimeters of the necrotic colon. A big section of my colon had died and caused a massive infection resulting in admission to prolonged home care. Due to being a stuck in bed and housebound for such an extended time I developed an enormous pulmonary embolism in my left lung. It almost killed me. I lived on oxygen 24/7 for over four months.
My occupational therapist was brainstorming about ways to get my lungs stronger as the PE healed. I told her I loved to sing, so she encouraged me to start singing again. Just softly at first, even while on oxygen. I had found Sing! Karaoke about six months earlier before all of those complications. It had physically hurt to sing; my voice was weak and very breathy.
After recording my first song following this last surgery, I cried hard. My voice was back in a way I thought would never be possible. Singing did not hurt; I did not have to stand to sing, and song eases my intractable pain. I have to admit that I am now a “Smule” nerd.
Through song, I have purpose even in my sick bed. I share my songs with others all over the world who suffer from chronic illness. Not only am I inspiring their spirits, but I am also lifting my own. Song the best medicine for this person living with severe fistulating Crohn’s Disease.
Song helps me to get through my toughest days. I will bless you with a song here. Consider it a gift to lift your spirit and ease your pain. This song expresses more than I could ever write.
Music: Revolutionary Road by: Thomas Newman
YouTube Channel: luckyseville
Blessed John Paul II “saw the ‘poor in spirit’ as those souls who had a deep sense of the interior life, and, consequently, an acute awareness into the interior attitude of faith. As his post-Vatican II work, Sources of Renewal, stated: this is quintessential to the realization of the universal call to holiness, and the springtime of the Church. The beloved pope defined the interior attitude of faith as an active relationship with Christ, but not yet in-action; the attitude that involved ‘taking up a position,’ and being ready to act, in accordance with it.”
On reflecting on the meaning on what it means to be poor in spirit, I came across Pope Francis’ World Youth Day 2014 message. I believe what he shared is better then anything I could say. I could not say it much better than he, for to be poor in spirit is an interior attitude. One that the chronically and seriously ill must have if they even hope to have joy in their life.
Pope Francis talks about how it takes courage to be poor in spirit. I love Pope Francis and so here are his words below to challenge you. I pray they give you courage in your daily struggles and suffering. They have encouraged me.
Challenge of the Week: Read them with love and intentional purpose. He writes in a way that is easy to follow and very precise theologically. I will break up his words with images to rest and reflect on through out his statement. When you come to a picture stop and think out the words he has spoken to you.
Dear Young Friends,
How vividly I recall the remarkable meeting we had in Rio de Janeiro for the Twenty-eighth World Youth Day. It was a great celebration of faith and fellowship! The wonderful people of Brazil welcomed us with open arms, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer which looks down from the hill of Corcovado over the magnificent expanse of Copacabana beach. There, on the seashore, Jesus renewed his call to each one of us to become his missionary disciples. May we perceive this call as the most important thing in our lives and share this gift with others, those near and far, even to the distant geographical and existential peripheries of our world.
The next stop on our intercontinental youth pilgrimage will be in Krakow in 2016. As a way of accompanying our journey together, for the next three years I would like to reflect with you on the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (5:1-12). This year we will begin by reflecting on the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). For 2015 I suggest: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Then, in 2016, our theme will be: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
1. The revolutionary power of the Beatitudes
It is always a joyful experience for us to read and reflect on the Beatitudes! Jesus proclaimed them in his first great sermon, preached on the shore of the sea of Galilee. There was a very large crowd, so Jesus went up on the mountain to teach his disciples. That is why it is known as “the Sermon on the Mount”. In the Bible, the mountain is regarded as a place where God reveals himself. Jesus, by preaching on the mount, reveals himself to be a divine teacher, a new Moses. What does he tell us? He shows us the way to life, the way that he himself has taken. Jesus himself is the way, and he proposes this way as the path to true happiness. Throughout his life, from his birth in the stable in Bethlehem until his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus embodied the Beatitudes. All the promises of God’s Kingdom were fulfilled in him.
In proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life. It is not an easy journey, yet the Lord promises us his grace and he never abandons us. We face so many challenges in life: poverty, distress, humiliation, the struggle for justice, persecutions, the difficulty of daily conversion, the effort to remain faithful to our call to holiness, and many others. But if we open the door to Jesus and allow him to be part of our lives, if we share our joys and sorrows with him, then we will experience the peace and joy that only God, who is infinite love, can give.
The Beatitudes of Jesus are new and revolutionary. They present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom. A worldly way of thinking finds it scandalous that God became one of us and died on a cross! According to the logic of this world, those whom Jesus proclaimed blessed are regarded as useless, “losers”. What is glorified is success at any cost, affluence, the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others.
Jesus challenges us, young friends, to take seriously his approach to life and to decide which path is right for us and leads to true joy. This is the great challenge of faith. Jesus was not afraid to ask his disciples if they truly wanted to follow him or if they preferred to take another path (cf. Jn 6:67). Simon Peter had the courage to reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). If you too are able to say “yes” to Jesus, your lives will become both meaningful and fruitful.
2. The courage to be happy
What does it mean to be “blessed” (makarioi in Greek)? To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it come to the meaning of life.
Think big instead! Open your hearts! As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati once said, “To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live” (Letter to I. Bonini, 27 February 1925). In his homily on the day of Piergiorgio Frassati’s beatification (20 May 1990), John Paul II called him “a man of the Beatitudes” (AAS 82 , 1518).
If you are really open to the deepest aspirations of your hearts, you will realize that you possess an unquenchable thirst for happiness, and this will allow you to expose and reject the “low cost” offers and approaches all around you. When we look only for success, pleasure and possessions, and we turn these into idols, we may well have moments of exhilaration, an illusory sense of satisfaction, but ultimately we become enslaved, never satisfied, always looking for more. It is a tragic thing to see a young person who “has everything”, but is weary and weak.
Saint John, writing to young people, told them: “You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn 2:14). Young people who choose Christ are strong: they are fed by his word and they do not need to ‘stuff themselves’ with other things! Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy! Say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture, a culture that assumes that you are incapable of taking on responsibility and facing the great challenges of life!
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit…
The first Beatitude, our theme for the next World Youth Day, says that the poor in spirit are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. At a time when so many people are suffering as a result of the financial crisis, it might seem strange to link poverty and happiness. How can we consider poverty a blessing?
First of all, let us try to understand what it means to be “poor in spirit”. When the Son of God became man, he chose the path of poverty and self-emptying. As Saint Paul said in his letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness” (2:5-7). Jesus is God who strips himself of his glory. Here we see God’s choice to be poor: he was rich and yet he became poor in order to enrich us through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). This is the mystery we contemplate in the crib when we see the Son of God lying in a manger, and later on the cross, where his self-emptying reaches its culmination.
The Greek adjective ptochós (poor) does not have a purely material meaning. It means “a beggar”, and it should be seen as linked to the Jewish notion of the anawim, “God’s poor”. It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty. The anawim trust in the Lord, and they know that they can count on him.
As Saint Therese of the Child Jesus clearly saw, by his incarnation Jesus came among us as a poor beggar, asking for our love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “man is a beggar before God” (No. 2559) and that prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst and our own thirst (No. 2560).
Saint Francis of Assisi understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit. Indeed, when Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness. In his prayer, the Poor Man of Assisi would spend hours asking the Lord: “Who are you?” “Who am I?” He renounced an affluent and carefree life in order to marry “Lady Poverty”, to imitate Jesus and to follow the Gospel to the letter. Francis lived in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor – for him the two were inextricably linked – like two sides of one coin.
You might ask me, then: What can we do, specifically, to make poverty in spirit a way of life, a real part of our own lives? I will reply by saying three things.
First of all, try to be free with regard to material things. The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism. This means being concerned with the essentials and learning to do without all those unneeded extras which hem us in. Let us learn to be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending. Let us put Jesus first. He can free us from the kinds of idol-worship which enslave us. Put your trust in God, dear young friends! He knows and loves us, and he never forgets us. Just as he provides for the lilies of the field (cf. Mt 6:28), so he will make sure that we lack nothing. If we are to come through the financial crisis, we must be also ready to change our lifestyle and avoid so much wastefulness. Just as we need the courage to be happy, we also need the courage to live simply.
Second, if we are to live by this Beatitude, all of us need to experience a conversion in the way we see the poor. We have to care for them and be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs. To you young people I especially entrust the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture. Faced with old and new forms of poverty – unemployment, migration and addictions of various kinds – we have the duty to be alert and thoughtful, avoiding the temptation to remain indifferent. We have to remember all those who feel unloved, who have no hope for the future and who have given up on life out of discouragement, disappointment or fear. We have to learn to be on the side of the poor, and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor! Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes and listen to them. The poor provide us with a concrete opportunity to encounter Christ himself, and to touch his suffering flesh.
However – and this is my third point – the poor are not just people to whom we can give something. They have much to offer us and to teach us. How much we have to learn from the wisdom of the poor! Think about it: several hundred years ago a saint, Benedict Joseph Labré, who lived on the streets of Rome from the alms he received, became a spiritual guide to all sorts of people, including nobles and prelates. In a very real way, the poor are our teachers. They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity. The poor can teach us much about humility and trust in God. In the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector (cf. Lk 18:9-14), Jesus holds the tax-collector up as a model because of his humility and his acknowledgment that he is a sinner. The widow who gave her last two coins to the temple treasury is an example of the generosity of all those who have next to nothing and yet give away everything they have (Lk 21:1-4).
4. … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The central theme of the Gospel is the kingdom of God. Jesus is the kingdom of God in person; he is Immanuel, God-with-us. And it is in the human heart that the kingdom, God’s sovereignty, takes root and grows. The kingdom is at once both gift and promise. It has already been given to us in Jesus, but it has yet to be realized in its fullness. That is why we pray to the Father each day: “Thy kingdom come”.
There is a close connection between poverty and evangelization, between the theme of the last World Youth Day – “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations!” (Mt 28:19) – and the theme for this year: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The Lord wants a poor Church which evangelizes the poor. When Jesus sent the Twelve out on mission, he said to them: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourers deserve their food” (Mt 10:9-10). Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God. The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto. Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.
We have seen, then, that the Beatitude of the poor in spirit shapes our relationship with God, with material goods and with the poor. With the example and words of Jesus before us, we realize how much we need to be converted, so that the logic of being more will prevail over that of having more! The saints can best help us to understand the profound meaning of the Beatitudes. So the canonization of John Paul II, to be celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter, will be an event marked by immense joy. He will be the great patron of the World Youth Days which he inaugurated and always supported. In the communion of saints he will continue to be a father and friend to all of you.
This month of April marks the thirtieth anniversary of the entrustment of the Jubilee Cross of the Redemption to the young. That symbolic act by John Paul II was the beginning of the great youth pilgrimage which has since crossed the five continents. The Pope’s words on that Easter Sunday in 1984 remain memorable: “My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of the love of the Lord Jesus for humanity, and proclaim to everyone that it is only in Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption are to be found”.
Dear friends, the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, poor in spirit, is also the song of everyone who lives by the Beatitudes. The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our Lady, whom all generations call “blessed” (cf. Lk 1:48). May Mary, Mother of the poor and Star of the new evangelization help us to live the Gospel, to embody the Beatitudes in our lives, and to have the courage always to be happy.
From the Vatican, 21 January 2014, Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
(Just a little message of joy to our Holy Father, happy one year anniversary Papa! We Love You!)
“Enkindle in all of us a renewed desire for holiness: may our words glow with the splendor of truth, may our works resound with the song of charity, may purity and chastity live in our bodies and in our hearts, may our lives express the presence of all the beauty of the gospel, Help us to attentively listen to the voice of the Lord: let not the cry of the poor ever leave us indifferent, may the suffering of the sick and of those who are in need not find us inattentive, may the solitude of the elderly and the weakness of children move us, may every human life be loved and respected by all, Don’t let us forget the meaning of our earthly journey: may the noble light of faith illumine our days, the consoling strength of hope orient our steps, the consoling warmth of love animate our heart, may our eyes always remain fixed there, in God, where there is true joy.” [AMEN}
~Pope Francis I, Rome, on
A Video from WYD 2013 to fill your heart with a poverty of spirit and to embrace Joy in everything.
World Youth Day 2013 – Adoration with the Holy Father
Wow did you see the poverty in spirit? That complete dependence upon God. Watch it again, see those bishops, those young eyes, hear the power of need in Matt Maher praying that song in complete humility.
God bless and know you are in my thoughts and prayers.
You Are Blessed – by Robyn Collins and Beau Hoffman
Sung by: Brooke Voland
From: Robyn Blaikie Collins Channel
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.”
This week is the beginning of Lent, a season where we reflect upon how we have faltered on our journey of faith. During Lent we have the common tradition of giving something up as a sign of penance. A penance is the practice of self-denial with the end in growing closer to Christ. Sometimes this tradition becomes so common to us it becomes reduced to a habit that we do each year. As people living with severe illness and pain we have given up much. We should strive to leave our comfort zone and engage in doing something for Lent.
When I was sixteen I remember reflecting on what was keeping my relationship with Jesus in a stagnation. What was interfering with our relationship? What was I neglecting? I found that things were not a problem but interior attitudes that kept from following Christ faithfully. As a teenager I found that I was giving attitude to my family. Our home life was strained. Part of the cause was my own attitudes and dealing with raw emotions and mood swings related to steroid treatments. I decided to give something to Jesus for Lent. To work on giving up my own wants, fasting from hardness of heart towards family members.
I made the commitment to either hug or tell each of my family members at least once a day that I loved them during Lent. There were days when this was a real challenge and sacrifice. Imagine my little brother bickering over what shows we would watch after school, it would have been so easy to join the common sibling quarrel. Instead I would give him a hug and the remote and we would watch what he wanted to watch. This little act did not follow my nature, but I found the act of penance liberating. I started to find many little ways to change my attitude to draw me closer to Jesus and heal my family life.
It was so much better than giving up chocolate or some other frivolous thing. It began to get easier as each week of Lent passed. My behavior change so drastically that my brother was worried. On a day I was eating candy my brother caught me and told my parents at the dinner table that I was eating things that I normally didn’t eat during lent. I told my family what I was doing for Lent instead of giving up something. My relationships at home and with Christ grew greatly during that season long ago.
This Lent I am fasting from “me”-attitudes and will embrace the “Be”-attitudes for Lent. I have been living alone for several years and got use to having control in everyday things. Due to illness and financial hardship my parents graciously opened their home to help me. I am well aware of the sacrifices that this puts on them. I need to rise to the occasion. I need some edges rubbed off my flawed personality to fast from impatience, need for control, to become slow to anger and to die unto myself.
When I took a graduate course on Catholic Moral Theology years ago, we read a profound little book by Service Pinckaers. He shared how we should hear these words of the Sermon on the Mount like those who first heard them “with the same faith and hope for a cure; for before Him we are all sick and in need of a physician.” (“The Pursuit of Happiness ~ God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes”, 9)
See the beatitudes are a way of being and following Christ in our everyday lives. He was the very embodiment of the beatitudes. Just stop what you are feeling now. Ask for Jesus to open your heart and hear him afresh. To heal your cold dry bones. Just imagine seeing Christ like those who first saw him walking through the streets. Witness him healing the sick, the dying, and the brokenhearted. Imagine being in the crowd of thousands gathered around Him hearing those profound beatitudes for the first time.
Let us reflect on what those words really mean. Watch the video below by a confirmation catechist for seventh grade youths. I pray you are given more insight into their deep meanings.
Blessed Are They
Music by:David Has
From: Lerik Dee Channel
Wow every time I watch that video I’m reminded of something I need to work on myself. I also happen to really love that David Has hymn. My heart is lifted when I sing it too. But let’s get back to this reflection.
See the beatitudes are so hopeful. They tells us about the blessings God has in store for those who live in union with him. Those of us who suffer with chronic and severe illness find great comfort in these words. Because at the simplest levels he is talking about us. We are poor, broken, mourning, etc. The beatitudes “put into our hearts an astounding hope, new, strong, and capable of carrying us through the worst trials.” (Pinckaers, 35)
They are also a challenge for us. Really, because we suffer so much and he is not talking about physical but how our hearts are. See we have and opportunity through the be-attitudes to become more like Christ. This is the great mystery of redemptive suffering we are invited to enter into through our very lives. Our “suffering, which leaves our mouths the taste of ashes, [becomes], at the heart of our life, the crucible in which the gold of a new love is formed.” (Pinckaers, 87)
A catechist, Gilles Cote, talks about how the beatitudes are the blue prints of becoming true disciples of Christ, “clones of Jesus.” By embracing the be-attitudes for Lent we are giving Christ permission to use our suffering for the best purposes. This will also be a great benefit to ourselves.
Now imagine the effect your be-attitudes could be in the midst of where you are each day; in a hospital bed, at a doctor’s clinic, in the pharmacy line, or infusion center? How could you become a living sign of hope through your broken body with a smile and simple joy radiating from you? Can you imagine that?
Challenge of the Week: Read the quote below from a great saint.
“Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want. Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings.”
~St. Gregory of Nyssa
See those of us with chronic or serious illness are in pain anyway. We are going to suffer. Through the “be”-attitudes though we make the choice not to be afflicted in misery but to willingly live in joy and hope. So pick one of the “be”-attitudes that you are going to pray for in your heart. Give it a chance to change your Lenten journey to grow more like Christ.
Below is a picture of The Beatitudes. Depending on your device you should be able to save it. Use the picture as a wallpaper on your device. You could print it too. Keep it with your bible, prayer space or better yet hang the beatitudes on your hospital bed rails. Keep them close. Grow in them. And if someone asks, share what you are Doing for Lent! Witness to the joy in your heart. 😉
Let Us Pray!
My Jesus enkindle my heart to become more like You. As I reflect on the meaning of the beatitudes in my life, move me to open my heart to Your movements. Help me to grow more into the beatitudes and that life will witness to the changes You have made in me. Help me to experience the joy that even illness, pain, and suffering can not destroy. Amen!
Need something to rest in. Rest in the video below.
Music by: Glenstal Abbey Ireland
But remember to witness to the power of the Beatitudes…
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Music: “Restless” by Audrey Assad
YouTube: created by musiclyrics001
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”
~ Saint Augustine, Confessions, L1
I have been finding myself becoming very restless lately. One reason I know is the cabin fever caused by the long deep freeze we are thawing out from under. In Wyoming, we are even more restless because we know nature is only toying with us – giving forty to fifty degree weather as a temporary reprieve from arctic blasts. Soon we will be shivering – longing for the beaches of Hawaii or golf courses of Arizona, or some other warm place.
This morning I woke up, rather rudely, due to a major blow out of my permanent colostomy system. A living reminder of another cause for my restlessness – the endless waiting for a surgery to correct a malfunctioning stoma area and remove a failing gall bladder. With my twisted sense of humor, this event just added fodder for my post on restlessness.
Last week, I shared a little bit about what I am dealing with almost on a daily basis. I have chronic peristomal pyoderma gangrenosum. My current PPG activity is like the more extreme photos found on a Google search here. [Warning! do not visit if you have a weak stomach or children around.] Currently, I have four ulcers with only the smallest one still at the epidermis level of the skin. This complication is extremely painful. Literally, if one were to hold their hand a few inches above an inflamed area you’ll feel emanating intense heat. The problem is that active PPG bleeds profusely, thereby making a good seal almost impossible. There-go a blow out at 4:30 am when one should be able to sleep peacefully in their warm bed. Talk about a restless way to wake up.
But do not despair for me. Even though it caused extreme physical pain at 4:30 am this morning, I am still smiling. There might also be a little Wyoming grit in my flawed personality that helps me deal with it. Jesus is the only one who can get me up at that hour to clean up and slap another bag doomed to fail on top of bleeding ulcers. My nightgown was not even soiled because I was woken moments before it happened. Thank you Jesus and my guardian angels, amen!
Let’s get back to restlessness. For those of us who are always sick we have an intimate knowledge of that word down to the very core of our being. Many diseases and illnesses cause a physical restlessness or anxiety reaction within our bodies, that can affect movements, nerves, nerves, muscles, sleep, pain perception, and definitely mental function, . RightDiagnosis.com (here) lists over 380 medical conditions that cause restlessness and thousands of conditions that are related to restlessness. Even medical professionals classify restlessness as a natural stage of the human dying process. The restlessness we experience from our cloistered hospital beds or homes can make us feel like we are dying even if we aren’t.
These forms of restlessness I have described above are about mental or physical suffering. The type of restlessness that Saint Augustine speaks of in his Confessions is a spiritual reality of the frail human condition. (see a cool website with his PDF file Here.) OK, a little bit of heavy reading! I am feeling a bit restless, now. Lets break it down a little and learn more about Saint Augustine at the same time. Here is a FUN video about him and his experience of this type of restlessness. Warning it is a rap for Catholic theology students with some puppets, need I say more?
Music: Confessionz (St. Augustine Rap Remixed) by by Chris “MCG” Gehrz
Found on YouTube: CWCRadio (full lyrics under about tab)
Now that was a fun way to learn a little bit about a doctor of the Church. A testament for how God will use our loves and desires to pierce our hearts. Helped relieve some of my physical and mental restlessness too.
Let’s get back to the seriousness of our discussion. Restlessness is not necessarily bad. It is like a warning signal not just to the body, but to our spirits as well. Restlessness always points to a yearning or longing. When our body’s are broken it’s a physical symptom of our body crying out for wholeness. When our emotions are torn to shreds it is a emotional signal that something needs to be worked out. Saint Augustine shows that spiritual restlessness is a reaching out for God and a necessary capacity of the human condition. Restlessness is always hard and at times quite painful.
The broken restlessness of our sick bodies are actually a testimonial to the complex nature of the very creation of human life. When something breaks we have blow outs. When we experience physical or mental restlessness our body cries out for physical and mental integrity it knows it was designed for. We only get little fleeting tidbits of of body integration on a very good day.
When we experience spiritual restlessness it means that our spirit longs for God. We are being invited to engage in relationship with the one who created us and our wonderful human body. We just know deep down inside that this longing cannot be fulfilled in this life – only in the next. We just get a brief glimpse of the hope of the resurrection of the body and the perfect union with God in heaven.
Challenge for this week: Cling to the knowledge that in this life there will be restlessness and that we will all experience it in different ways and different stages of our lives. We need to learn to trust that even though this moment maybe an extremely difficult one. We are never alone. We are always loved! Think of it! At that moment when the intense gross reality of human frailty glares at you smack in the nose. Even restlessness is as much a gift as the mess and pain one faces.
I actually had a wound care specialist talk about the art of healing horrible PPG wounds. It was fascinating for me to listen to her speak on the deep wonder she had for the complexity of the human body. The absolute uniqueness of every patient she saw. No case was ever the same. What works for one doesn’t work for the other. Some cases may be similar but they are always unique.
When faced with the grossness of the reality she faces in her work, instead of running away, she is inspired to heal and ease the pain. She said she often prays as she works, praying that God guides her hands. Not surprisingly, she had the most gentle touch I have ever experienced.
More amazing, God created bodily fluids – yucky! But his ways are not our ways. He loves us more then we can even imagine. In his great love he gave us his son on the cross. His passion, as a brilliant 8th grader told me, “that was really gross, I almost threw up!” Talk about restlessness.
So are you as restless as I am?
Let us pray to be stilled as only God can!
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks Be to God.
Need to calm down more then let us rest together below.
Music: “Be Still” by Kari Jobe
Found on YouTube: KatyeIreland
Music: “Dry Bones” by Gungor
Video found on Phil Van Eck Youtube Channel
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of dry bones.” (Ezekiel 37:1)
These past few months have been difficult ones and that is why I have been away from my blog. As my last post in November stated I was late due to being sick. Those daily low grade fevers with severe pain continued through mid January and I was even hospitalized for 3 days just before Christmas.
During this period I also lost my apartment and had to move into my parent’s basement. Thank you Lord for family who loves us. Thank you Lord for those who serve others in need. I still find it disheartening that the sick often face homelessness in our country. I have surely been blessed though for I have a warm bed to rest these cold dry bones.
My malaise continues but we now understand better what is going on with my body. I will be going for a surgery consult in Denver in a few weeks because my gall bladder will need to be removed. We do not know if the surgery will help ease my symptoms and since this is my ninth surgery related to complications from Crohn’s we do know it will be complex in nature. We had to wait for a while because I developed a severe case of leukopenia which is where one’s white blood cells drop really low.
That problem has reverse naturally but I had to sequester myself at home as best I could. Even a simple cold could have been life threatening because I would not have been able to fight it. But I digress on the purpose of this reflection: Cold Dry Bones.
As I prepare for what lies ahead, I’m struck by the frigid tempatures outside. Just last night it got down to minus eleven degrees and wind chills down to minus 44. It has been such a harsh winter for so many of us in the states. I know for those of us who suffer from chronic and severe illnesses, frigid temps often mean more suffering and more pain. The cold is so harsh and makes our daily lives feel endless and meaningless. I know that during this period of suffering I have been feeling very dry.
When I was younger in life and experienced dryness in physical and spiritual life I use to feel panic. I saw that type of suffering almost like a punishment. But as I have grown closer to Christ I now understand that I am drawing so close to Christ on the cross that I can not see or feel his presence. He is hanging on the cross in death. Death is always cold and dry. So how can our hearts our souls not taste a bit of the cold and dryness He experienced in his passion.
In the midst of this mystery, those who experience this cold dryness are given a tremendous grace to grow deeper into Christ. We can choose to surrender ourselves, to offer our pain and to suffer with him. I find that I have to cling to the cross I share even though my thumbs and even my heart-strings are torn and numbed by the experience.
What does one do in the midst of the turmoil of chronic illness? How does one continue the fight to cling faithfully? How does one find hope?
The answer is simple. In the holy darkness. Yes, it is as dark and dry as a closed tomb. It is even scarier then the cold or pain of the cross. In that darkness we are alone. We are invited to enter the holy darkness of God. It is beyond our understanding and comprehension. But in the midst of that darkness, if we are truly receptive, God can do his best work in us.
Many saints and mystics share with us the darkness they have experienced during their lives. We can find strength in their words during our own dark nights. Here are a few:
- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta wrote to her Archbishop in 1961 to explain the condition of her soul:
“There is so much contradiction in my soul.—Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.—Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . . “
- Saint John of the Cross wrote once to a nun during a time of great trials:
“Do not let what is happening to me cause you any grief, for it does not cause me any. What
greatly grieves me is that the one who is not at fault is blamed. Men do not do these things, but God who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our good. Think nothing else that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love. “
- Diary of Saint Faustina:
“Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me… And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer.”
- St. Louis de Montfort, “Friends of the Cross”
Be resolved then, dear Friends of the Cross, to suffer every kind of cross without excepting or choosing any: all poverty, all injustice, all temporal loss, all illness, all humiliation, all contradiction all calumny, all spiritual dryness, all desolation, all interior and exterior trials. Keep saying: “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready” (Ps. 56, 8). Be ready to be forsaken by men and angels and, seemingly, by God Himself. Be ready to be persecuted, envied, betrayed, calumniated, discredited and forsaken by everyone. Be ready to undergo hunger, thirst, poverty, nakedness, exile, imprisonment, the gallows and all kinds of torture, even though you are innocent of everything with which you may be charged. What if you were cast out of your own home like Job and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary; thrown, like this saint, into the mire; or dragged upon a manure pile like Job, malodorous and covered with ulcers, without anyone to bandage your wounds, without a morsel of bread, never refused to a horse or a dog? Add to these dreadful misfortunes all the temptations with which God allows the devil to prey upon you, without pouring into your soul the least feeling of consolation.
Firmly believe that this is the summit of divine glory and real happiness for a true, perfect Friend of the Cross.
Challenge for this week: Search for a saint to travel with you during this time of darkness, of illness, of trial. Ask them to pray for you and walk with you. Trust that they are your friend in heaven and they want to help you on your journey to the cross with Christ. Find a story, book, or prayer that you can keep of copy of near your bed. Read these words of encouragement in your dark dry cold times this week.
Search for a saint: http://saints.sqpn.com/
Are you in despair pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others.
Other people will glorify You by making visible the power of Your grace by their fidelity and constancy to You.
For my part I will glorify You by making known how good You are to sinners, that Your mercy is boundless and that no sinner no matter how great his offences should have reason to despair of pardon.
If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer, let me not offend You even more by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me. Amen.
~St. Claude de la Colombiere for a young religious at the point of despair.
Rest in trust during darkness by watching or listening to the video below.
Music: “Satisfied in You” by the Song Team
Video found on YouTube.
WARNING this week’s blog (late due to illness of this blogger) tackles very difficult questions that relate to the major natural disasters that caused many fatalities. (All readers may want tissues on hand.) When events like these happen, many questions can raise that cause faltering in one’s faith. I focus on the Philippines in my writing. I am aware that this past week while recovery from a setback our Midwest was hit by bad tornados. If you are personally dealing with these tragedies while living with severe illness, you may want to pass on this and come back to it later when your heart is better able to cope. Just know you are in all of our prayers, and we are holding you in our hearts.
“God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is the megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
When calamity strikes the innocent we often hear, “Why did God let this happen?” The very depth of ourselves riles at the unfairness of those who suffer who are as innocent. Those who do not believe in God will often use that calamity to point out that if there was a God he would not allow evil, suffering, or pain to happen to the innocent. He would stop it.
Our responses to these challenges can are very different. A theological response might be to say evil happens throughout the world because the fall from the Garden. Adam and Eve sinned through free will and caused everyone to fall. That is true that through the fall not only are we broken but the world also is broken. That is why storms can destroy instead of sustaining life.
Words seem so empty, when we look into the irreproachable eyes of children who lost their whole world. These innocent ones haunt us. Their corporate suffering demands an answer. We must bring hope to a hopeless situation.
When we see those who harmed by others through violence or indifference in their many forms. Our response to evil is so much easier, because we can blame the people who caused the harm.
When natural disasters strike causing such utter destruction; it is perfectly normal for us to cry, scream and shake our fists to heaven. The loss of life and destruction of a whole region seems pointless and a great waste. The only one we can reproach is the Creator who controls the waters and the seas.
When we or someone we know struck down with a chronic degenerative disease in the prime of life, we can often feel this way. There is no one to blame for that type of calamity either. Once an acquaintance of mine heard the words from a bishop, “Never forget, you are filling up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ.” She had just woken up in her hospital bed. What she wanted to do was throw her bed pan at him. One might be so angry they would want to throw the pan at God. I might even say to God, “You can take your free will.”
I heard a response to this problem while studying theology that turned attitude upside down. God allows evil in the world precisely because he loves us so much. How could God allow someone to suffer or countries to have a whole region destroyed because He loves us so? **
This principle explains that our world is fallen and cut off from the full grace of God due to its fallen nature. That means storms can destroy instead of nurture life. Animals kill other animals for food and nutrition. Man and woman must labor for everything they need to survive. And we all know about the violence that can reside within the heart of man. None of this was part of God’s original plan.
Ultimately, God allowed Adam and Eve to fall because he loves us all. He knew his first humans would fail – but still gave them the freedom to fail. He knew he would need to save what he created before he even made Adam and Eve. God knew we would mess up, but He still wanted every one of us. That is how much He loves us! Evil would not have the final say. The Word incarnated would.
He had a response to natural evil, a plan. “I have witnessed the affliction of my people…I have heard their cry…I know well that they are suffering…” (Exodus 3:7-8) “Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.” (Songs 8:7a)
God sent his only son to redeem the whole world. That means that Jesus did not just come to save sinners, but to transform all of creation. Through the greatest sacrifice of LOVE, he would redeem all creation back to the way it was before the fall. Obviously, this would only come to fruition in His kingdom. Pounder the magnitude of that! That is why the Church explains that redemptive suffering is a mystery!
But you ask? What of those in the midst of that outrageous storm of destruction. Let us look to the Psalms, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4) There is a famous poem out there called Footsteps in Sand. In that poem Jesus tells the poet that when she sees only one set of footsteps he was carrying the her. I believe in the midst of the horror of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda there were many souls being carried, being held. I find hope in that and have experienced it personally sometimes even in my greatest moments of suffering through serious illness. Not only is he there for those who lost their lives, but those who survived too. He was there for everyone even if they did not know they were carried.
I remember the Christmas Tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean and killed so many on Christmas day. There was a song that came out during the same time frame that I cried through many times in prayer. I think that captures this truth so fully. The words are powerful, so I choose a video on YouTube that focuses on those only.
Held by: Natalie Grant (Mobile Device alternate video.) Very beautiful performance by Natalie Grant.
Challenge for the Week: We need to respond in solidarity and prayerful presence in the midst of these destruction storms.
So how can we here in the states, especially those who are sick, respond to this event. We can grow in solidarity and prayerful presence.
Solidarity as defined by Blessed John Paul II, is more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38)
So let us learn about the people and grow in solidarity with them.
The region we mostly see in the news is the first largest and smallest islands that took a direct hit. (Those pictures and video clips I used in my video at the beginning of this post come from that area.) What you can see from the map above there were many more islands hit by this storm. The slide show below will show wider areas and people impacted.
Slide show of the people impacted by storm: NBC NEWS.
Something to think about while growing in solidarity for these brothers and sisters in the Philippines: over 80.6% of those you see in photos and videos are Catholic. Christians in general make up 93% of the population, and Muslim is 5%, the rest are other or unspecified.
See the Filipino people have a deep personal faith no matter the tradition they are from. Their faith touches all aspects of their cultural life as a people.
I have been personally touched by pictures of those who fled their homes carrying very little personal items. But I saw many a prized religious item carried in their arms through the flood waters. So touching.
There was a picture and story of a father who clung to his children as they died together. They were found still in his arms though they were carried miles by water and struck in large debris. Among their bodies were rosaries and holy items they must have carried on their person during their tremendous struggle. Their picture was too graphic and I did not put it in the video I made because it made me cry really hard.
There are many stories of hope too. So many people interview on international news talk about their faith when any journalists stop to ask them questions. There still are tears and gut wrenching pain, but that is to be expected. How is inspiring it must be encountering someone who has lost everything, but they still share their faith even in a place where all hope seems lost.
NEWS FLASH – As of this posting – there are 5,200 + confirmed dead with over a 1,000 missing. This does not count those who may still not survive the aftermath of the clean up and disease that is sure to follow. Over 4.3 million people are without homes and over 1 million of those are children.
Below is an appeal to Catholics from a bishop who is in close contact with some of the bishops of the area hit. I am very partial to CRS because I know the good work they do and I am Catholic.
Donate to them here: Catholic Relief Services,
I chose the above groups because of transparency and how well they use funds to impact the people the most. I like CRS and Word Vision the most because after the initial response they stay and continue the work in the country. They move beyond critical needs and help to rebuild long after others leave.
Our second response to this news is to be a prayerful presence. We are brought to prayer.
Prayer for the Week: Catholics of the Philippines are famous for their beautiful liturgical music and for guitar music. Let us look to the Filipino people and their liturgical music to help us in our prayer. As we watch let us pray for them and all those who are impacted by calamity that threatens life and wellbeing.
Hangad – Simeon’s Canticle based on (Luke 2: 29 -32)
Hangad is a music ministry out of Philippines produced through the Jesuit Communications Foundation.
This song they sing is a prayer found in the above scripture. It is known as the Canticle of Simon and prayed every night before bed (Compline) of those who practice the Divine Office. I find solace when I pray this and when I am in my worse pain it is the only way to fall asleep
The Canticle of Simeon with antiphon
Ant. Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace (alleluia).
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Ant. Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace (alleluia).
May you have peace and know you are in my prayers.
* Great book, catechist, speaker and author living with MS. Kathleen O’ Connell Chesto, Risking Hope: Fragile Faith in the Healing Process.
A Gift for You:
Open the video to full screen, and watch this video with the beauty of God’s creation.
For the Beauty of the Earth – John Rutter
“Question the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea, the beauty of the wide air around you, the beauty of the sky; question the order of the stars, the sun whose brightness lights the days, the moon whose splendor softens the gloom of night; question the living creatures that move in the waters, that roam upon the earth, that fly through the air; the spirit that lies hidden, the matter that is manifest; the visible things that are ruled, the invisible things that rule them; question all these. They will answer you: “Behold and see, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is their confession to God. Who made these beautiful changing things, if not one who is beautiful and changeth not?”
Sometimes when we are stuck in the midst of the suffering of illness, we become trapped in self-misery. Illness is full of uncertainty and pain. We feel left out as others around us get to experience life to the fullest. It becomes a very lonely place to be when we lose our sense of wonder and awe. We might struggle to find significance in our life and miss seeing the moments of joy and grace God has in store for us even in our sick bed. This week we are going to focus on beauty and what that means.
God has given us a great gift; the gift of the breath-taking beauty of nature. Often referred to as the Book of Nature, we see God’s hand in all his creations. Who can gaze upon a magnificent sunrise or the majestic mountain range from the heights and not see God’s handiwork? However, when we are stuck in bed or our home, we can become separated from the beauty of creation.
There are ways for us to remain in touch with God’s beauty. We can watch amazing videos on YouTube. We might be able to see a special on PBS. Someone might send us a pretty bouquet of flowers or a plant to dress up our room. We may have an attractive view from a window or have the opportunity to sit on a patio or deck to feel the breeze and breath fresh air.
We can also see God’s beauty in those around us. See God’s beauty in those who care for us. See God in a genuine smile from another patient in the infusion center. See God in the laughter of a child playing. See God’s sense of humor in a bird which visits our window. Feel God’s touch in the snuggle of a beloved pet who joins us for some quiet time. Think of those things that happened today that showed some beauty. Can you?
Let us look to a great saint of the Church who knew his share of suffering who can help us find joy and beauty in all things. He changed his world and rebuilt the church, though he was no more then a poor beggar. Saint Francis was known for his love to all creatures and love for all peoples.
“Song, music, and poetry were so deeply a part of the nature of Saint Francis that in times of sorrow and sickness as well as of joy and good health he spontaneously gave voice in song to his feelings, his inspirations, and his prayers.” (Francsican Friars TOR Website on the Canticle)
Saint Francis at the time of his bodily death, ravaged with disease and suffering, received this beautiful poem, the Canticle of the Sun. (a PDF to share and print) He shared it from the depth of his heart to the brothers gathered around him in perfect joy and praise. He praised God for the beauty of the earth from his death bed. He even praise sister death who he knew would visit him shortly.
In the clip below we hear some of the poem in the song from the Movie “Brother Son, Sister Moon.” Listen to the lyrics, they talk about him being preoccupied by self-misery. Being sick or caring for the sick, we are very familiar with misery. By focusing on the beauty in life and finding things to be thankful like Francis, we can focus on praising God outside the misery. It lifts our spirit and opens us to the gifts and graces that Christ, who loves us and desires to give so much more.
Clip from Brother Son, Sister Moon – YouTube Clip
This scene of the movie clip does not depict the death scene of this little Saint’s life. Shortly before this clip, Francis had an illness with a severe fever that almost took his life. When he recovered he received an overwhelming gratefulness for being alive. He left his father’s house to celebrate his simple but profound joy in what God was doing in him.
When one recovers from a long sick bed, it can be like seeing little things new for the first time. One can see the beauty in the simplest things and be grateful to be alive to enjoy them. The end of the clip depicts Francis’ call when he comes upon a little chapel in ruins and hears Christ’s mission for him to rebuild his Church. His sick bed became the beginning of a conversion that would change the world.
Moments of joy and thanksgiving even on a sick bed can work miracles in human heart. From such a bed, I received the call to start this blog. This blog is just the beginning of grace and gifts from God. This blog helps me to focus on things of beauty and on others, outside my own misery. I am appreciative for the little joys and things of beauty that have helped me on this long journey of discovery in my life.
No matter how much pain or struggle we face, we can find things to be thankful for. They do not need to be big things like a mission. They can be little things, like a smile from one we love, the beauty of a sunrise, the sweet smell from a flower, or warm purrs from a kitten. We too can experience little joys for the gifts, and graces God has given to us through the ordinary things of life. When one has a heart of praise, and one finds joy – Jesus may even surprise one with a beautiful gift.
Challenge for this Week: Think of those things you find wonder and awe in. Write a list of the graces and joys that God has given you in your life. Hold on to this list and add to it each day this week. Then save it with your prayer journal, bible, or in your bedside table. When you have a difficult day, pull the list out and reflect on the good things God has done.
Are you still struggling to find things to be thankful for? Watch a video that celebrates the beauty of the Earth, like funny kitten and puppy videos on YouTube (34 minutes of laughter.) Did you laugh despite the pain? How you do feel after laughing? Can you thank God that you could laugh and smile on a hard day? Keep working on having a grateful heart. Take it one day at a time, Jesus knows where you are right now. He wants to give you the gift of joy and gratefulness, just ask.
Pray This Simple Prayer: O God, You are never far from those who sincerely search for You. Accompany those who err and wander far from You. Turn their hearts towards what is right and let them see the signs of Your Presence in the beauty of created things. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Need More Joy? Watch below another beautiful song by John Rutter. So good for the soul and heart. Have a joy filled week. I am praying for you!
Look at the World – John Rutter
From YouTube Channel: Arendientje
Performed by: The Cambridge Singers
Store Up Treasures by Burlap to Cashmere
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consumes and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moths nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
~ Mat 6:19
Treasures are something of extreme value. People watch with an expectation for the considerable appraisal of a rare and precious item during an episode of the Antique Roadshow. We get excited when we see things prized. We want to protect our accumulated things and keep them close. We need to be in command of these treasures upon the earth.
When one is chronically or seriously ill, the things we treasure most are eventually taken away from us. We lose the ability to travel or take a vacation. We might be too sick to work or join friends for an evening out. We may lose the ability to talk or to walk due to progressive disability. We are unable to hold the treasures upon the earth. We no longer possess them because they are the things of dust. They will all pass away.
We do have tremendous riches waiting for us to store, things that will not pass away. These treasures are not of the earth but are eternal tokens of love that we gather not just for ourselves for but others as well. Our illness or disability become the very medium to receive these treasures. When one lives with this truth, the burden of our toil becomes easier to bear. For we begin to engage in the realm of heavenly treasure hunting. Even the weakest among us can engaged in this activity.
How does one engage in this heavenly treasure hunt? A hunt that can take place even while trapped in a hospital bed or broken body? Easy – through little acts of surrender and supplication.
Let’s define these two acts. Surrender is the intentional act of accepting something that you have no control with meekness or docility. Supplication is offering up a prayer or petition with love and humility before God. They are the two means one needs to hunt for heavenly treasure successfully.
One does not need to speak or pray a certain way, just a movement of the heart will do. Practicing this when one is having a good day and making it a habit prepares these little movements of the heart easier on the really hard days. Trust that God knows the deep intention of your heart.
Sometimes when one is in great pain, the words do not come easily. The spirit can work miracles with the right intention, When one stuck in a bed or a shut in, the heart becomes natural sanctuary of hidden prayer. “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mat 6:6)
One can begin to understand why those old souls among us say their illness or disability is the greatest gift they have ever received. They may already have many treasures in heaven stored away. What treasures does Jesus have in store for you today?
Challenge for this Week: Begin storing up treasures in heaven this week by practicing little acts of surrender and supplications. They can be simple ones. When you have to bear a needle or a medical test that must be done tell Jesus, “Take this for your will, your desire, not mine.” Accept the needle or examination with joy and peace within your heart. Ask Jesus to use this pain, this struggle or this inconvenience for his perfect need or work.
Know that Christ is right there with you as you live through this pain. Remember that this simple act becomes a token of love for him. Any tears shed are precious gems he catches in the palm of his hand. If you struggle with surrender and supplications, pray the prayer below by Ignatius of Loyola. This simple prayer is not always easy to say. If you trust Jesus enough it will help you on the journey to hunt for treasures in heaven.
If this is still too hard to do, there is a musical reflection of the prayer written and song by a follower of Ignatius that can help you to open your heart to the treasure Christ wants to give you. There is even a PDF file to print out a simple prayer card to keep.
Pray This Simple Prayer: Take, Lord and receive my memory, my understanding, my entire will, All that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you I return it. Dispose of it entirely according to your will. Give me your Love and your Grace this is sufficient for me. Amen.
A prayer card (PDF file) to print as a gift from the Jesuits click here.
Take and Receive by Savio Freitas
A young Jesuit missionary and musician serving Christ in Timor Leste, Indonesia and elsewhere.
Beautiful Things by Grungor – From: Rachel Hamilton’s channel – YouTube
“For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. When I awake, I am still with thee.”
~ Psalm 139: 13-17, RSV
I know you are thinking how could someone who lives with multiple diseases say they have been beautifully made. For my health’s integrity has been compromised due to my body expressing major dysfunction. I have whole organs now missing. My immune system constantly attacks healthy cells of numerous body systems. I am severely immunosuppressed. Constantly sick – with disability that progressively worsens as each year passes. However, in the midst of it all, I must still praise God for the beautiful things he makes in me.
God did not cause my broken body. The fallen state throughout the world gets the credit for bringing illness and disorder to me, to you. The chaos that original sin brought broke what God made perfect. He allows the diseases to happen but only for the good for the world and ourselves. In the midst of the suffering, He makes what is broken beautiful and powerful. I have to trust that God will bring excellence to all who love him even in the midst of excruciating pain.
God can do great things in weakness. When I am sick, stuck in bed or on the couch, I have to slow down and ask others for help to do the things I can not do for myself. That is where the attractive things happen. Mainly, two beautiful things happen.
First, when I slow down I am given the freedom to reflect, to focus on that which is the most important in human life. I have to listen to God prodding in my heart. Through his insights and interior work, I find that relationship and love is what matters the most. Not finances, not work, not success, not competition, and list goes on. What matters the most is to love and be love.
Ask anyone on their death-bed. They will tell you their regrets. These always connect to the most important people throughout their lives. They regret not spending enough time with them. Conversely, they regret missed opportunities to reconcile with those they have been estranged from. These regrets grounded in broken relationships cause them tremendous pain.
They remember the times when they did not love enough or did not get the love they needed in their lives. No one ever regrets not working amply, not spending sufficiently, not being quite powerful enough, etc. The relationships from their past are what matters most. They have come to realize that it might be too late to fix them.
When I am sick I become empty of self. This emptiness makes room for God to fill myself with his divine love, a tremendous love that can overflow to the world. His divine love is available to all who are sick. The power of the gift bears eternal fruit when one does not waste their suffering, but allows God to work a beautiful things within them. Affliction serves conversion and rebuilds goodness within the person who heroically bears. All one needs to do is it to give their suffering over to God. Hand it to Christ on the cross and spend time with him there. Beautiful things will come; I promise.
Secondly, the other beautiful thing that happens is to the ones who responds to the sick one’s cry for help. The one who cares and serves the weak one can share in those beautiful things too. By responding in love and compassion to the other before them, the caregiver becomes a better human being. She grows in holiness through sacrificial service to the other. That is the most beautiful thing of all. The beautiful things shared with others even when one is bedridden and frail. That is the true miracle how God makes the weakest the strongest.
The sick actually shares in Christ’s redemptive work within the soul of the one who serves them. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). Through the goodness and witness of God’s love within their broken body, the ill one invites the caregiver into a deeper relationship with Christ in distressing disguise. The one who tends is joyfully able to answer the question “…when was it that we saw you sick?” (Mat 25:39)
When one looks upon a broken body and recognizes the beauty of the person that resides there – they meet Christ. Both people enter the deepest human relationship possible – communion. The service of the caregiver and the receptivity of the one being cared for becomes a working, living, breathing prayer of deep relationship. “The deepest level of communication is communion. When we know and love someone we are simply happy to be near them. We feel power and energy pass between us. This is the power of prayer.” (Richard Rohr)
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, worked with the worlds poorest and sickest – the ones who are forgotten, rejected, and thrown away. She taught about the importance of allowing Christ’s light to shine through in the simplest things, like a smile. She said, “The Light, O Jesus, will be all from you – none of it will be mine. It will be you shining on others through me. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see Jesus.” (Total Surrender, 1985)
When one doesn’t waste their suffering and allows God to do beautiful things the light of Christ will shine out in the darkest and most desperate of situations. The greatest hope, as one shares in the redemptive suffering of Jesus is that one also shares in his resurrection. In profound weakness God can do the most powerful of beautiful things.
Challenge for This Week: When you struggle this week with your own suffering, offer your suffering to Christ. Ask him to do something beautiful in you. Trust in him and find time to be silent with him. Pray this simple prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I trust in you. I know that I do not always understand why I have pain or suffer. I know I can not always see what is happening but I know that in all things you only want what is good for me. Help me trust that you are doing something beautiful in me though my physical body is broken and torn. Give me your light, your love, your hope, your joy in the midst of my pain. Amen!”