Monday, December 28, 2015

Just Adore!

The pressure has been mounting the last several months and has been rather intense as it has been building. It has come in the form of a husband having a very stressful job that takes him away from us fourteen hours most days, trying to homeschool a child with learning disabilities, another with mental health issues, and dealing with a body that is in constant pain. At the same time wondering about the desires and promises God has placed on our heart. Wondering if and when we will see them be fulfilled.

Everything is finally coming to a head; the damn is bursting. God is using these stressful situations to tenderize my heart. He is breaking through layers of unbelief, fear and doubt; hopefully enabling me to better love him and others.

The enemy is right there too, taking advantage of my vulnerabilities and feeding me lies. Telling me I am a failure, irrelevant, too old and being passed over. After all, I can't even manage my own household, how could I lead souls to Christ?! I am trying to discern and fight off the lies but often feel defeated.

I look at my young adult daughters who have their whole lives ahead of them and are full of dreams. I am reminded that I used to have dreams too. It makes me wonder if I took too many detours and too many wrong turns and now it is too late.

And then I am brought back to reality and realize I am buying into the lies of the enemy.

This Advent reminded me that it is okay to just be. It is okay to wait and it is okay to just adore! Small things and small beginnings should not be despised! God always comes through! He is always faithful to his promises! He can always redeem!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

King of Hearts

Happy Solemnity of Christ the King! I hope you are able to take advantage of the abundant grace available through this Solemnity! One of the graces offered is to help us experience greater interior freedom. We can do this as we more fully surrender our hearts to Jesus and allow Him to reign there. He desires to fully dwell and make a home in our heart!

Last Friday the Gospel reading was about Jesus zealously cleansing the temple. This is what Jesus desires to do to our souls. We are the temples of His Holy Spirit! He jealously wants to drive out anything that is hindering us from experiencing freedom in Him and His full habitation!

I don't know if anyone else struggles with this, but some days I struggle with irritability. I can easily get annoyed with my own children and other people around me. Don't worry, it's probably not you ;). 

The meditation from Friday's Magnificat was a real gold nugget for me and I've been chewing on it since. It is from Father Simon Tugwell, O.P. Here is a shortened version of it in case anyone else needs greater freedom in this area as well:
Faith, when actualized, leads us to fear God, which leads us to make some attempt to introduce order into our lives. And it is this attempt which shows us what is wrong with us. And it is here that we need to be attentive. The demons will, for instance, try to get us into a frame of mind in which we think that we are entitled to be annoyed at somebody. If we succumb to this, then we shall devote our attention to the thought of the person with whom we are annoyed. What the ascetic needs to do is to focus his attention instead on the fact that he is annoyed. Instead of seeing some other human being angrily, he tries to see his own anger. He can then begin to fight against it. And at first he has to use any device for restraining anger that he can think of.
But more essentially we need to reclaim anger for its proper purpose. It is always a waste of good anger to get annoyed with other human beings. Instead we should turn our anger precisely against our thoughts and against the demons who deploy them. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Devil Doesn't Exist

At least that is what the devil would like you to believe!

I didn't always believe in a spiritual realm myself.

Back in October of 1988, when I was 19 years old, my world was turned upside down. Before that I thought I had a good understanding of the way the world worked and I didn't think God was part of it. 

When I was faced with the reality of God's existence, my whole worldview changed. I came to realize there was a spiritual realm. There were also angels and demons.

Many people, even Christians would like to ignore the reality of demons but they are real and we should be aware of them and their tactics. The bible says the devil prowls about the world, looking for someone to devour - 1 Peter 5:8; and yet many post-modern Christians like to believe and teach that hell doesn't really exist.

Despite the lack of belief in the devil, he seems to be very active in the world today.There appears to be a lot of spiritual warfare going on. There are wars, factions, terrorism, abortion, human trafficking, an overall breakdown of morals in society and division even among Christians. 

Since choosing to follow Christ, twenty-seven years ago, I've had both angelic and demonic encounters. Some of the demonic encounters were due to my own stupidity.

When I was a new, young adult Christian, my friend and I, looking for something to do on a Saturday night parked our car next to a teen debauchery party and we sat in the car and prayed for them and tried to take authority over the demons that were influencing them. Well, I'm not sure that is something God was calling us to do and therefore we placed ourselves outside His protection. In that situation we became very aware of the spiritual realm as demons were flying at us and attacking us.

An angelic encounter I once had was actually through a dream but yet I have no doubt that it was real. Leading up to the dream, the Lord kept telling me I was going to have a visitation. I wasn't sure what kind of visitation He meant or when to expect it but one night I had a powerful dream that was very real. In the dream I was in a dark room, wading around in murky water along with many other people. In the distance, I started to hear singing. It sounded so beautiful but I had to strain to hear it. The song started to become louder and louder. The words of the song were, "Follow God and walk in the light." Then in the middle of the room, an angel appeared on a rock. She was the one singing this song. It was the most beautiful song I had ever heard! The angel then lifted up her wings and as she did, the whole room was filled with light. She was so big and so beautiful! She then disappeared. After she was gone, I stood on the rock and said to everyone, "Did you hear the angel?! We need to repent and walk in the light!"

Back in 1998 when we still lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we lived in a historic, 2 story home. There was a door at the bottom of the stairs. One morning, around 6 am, I woke up before everyone else and decided to go downstairs and pray. I closed the door leading to the stairs and sat on the couch and prayed. While praying, I felt like the Lord asked me if I would like to be like a fly on the wall and see the schemes of the enemy. I was a little nervous but said, yes. As I was continuing to pray, there appeared to be what sounded like a rubber ball bouncing down the stairs and hitting the door. This kept happening and I was getting angry, assuming it was one of my kids. I fought through the distraction and continued to pray. I then started having visions of people fighting and being divided. When I was done praying, I opened the door and nothing was there. The kids were still sleeping. There was also no ball. I was a little freaked out but what I gathered from that experience is there are three main schemes of the enemy:

  • Cause distractions - he likes to distract us from God and our main goal in life.
  • Cause anger - he loves when we become angry with each other.
  • Cause division - he loves to create division. He especially loves when Christians disagree and argue among one other.
Since the Lord showed me that, I have become very aware of how the enemy tries to do this in my own life and the many times I fall prey to these things. We are called to love and to love well. Anything short of this goes against who we were created to be.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Ultimately, this type of prayer of humility is how to wear the armor of God, fight and overcome the enemy that very much DOES exist!

Ephesians 6:10-18 - Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your waist girded with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having your feel fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace, and above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit always with all kinds of prayer and supplication. To that end be alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Kingdom of God is Within

If you have been following my blog, you know that I haven't been blogging as often as usual lately. To be honest, Tom (my husband) and I have been going through a tough time and have been trying to figure some things out. 

For years now, we have been trying to figure out our ministry niche and what God's will is for us. Tom has a degree in Theology but for the last seventeen years he has been working in insurance at a company in Clearwater. Ten of those years we have lived in Lakeland and he has been commuting to and from work. That means for three to four hours he is in the car everyday. He usually leaves the house around 7am and arrives home between 7 and 8 pm.

It would be one thing if it was a job he loved but it is not his passion to say the least. It also is a very stressful and demanding job with unrealistic expectations that cannot humanly be met unless he lived at his job 24/7. It sucks the life out of him! By the time he gets home after a stressful day and 2 hours in the car in rush hour traffic, he is SPENT! Also since he doesn't usually arrive home till close to 8pm and around the time the kids are also getting ready for bed, the most stressful time of the day, this has not been good for his relationship with our children. It also does not allow him the time to be involved in much ministry at the church. We are thankful that it pays the bills but feel there must be more to life. 

We have been crying out to the Lord about it for some time. I know the Lord has used it to build character and whatnot, but I would love to see Tom find a job where he could use his gifts and talents and a job that is rewarding and he enjoys going to. A job that doesn't suck the life out of him and take up all of his time.

Several months ago Tom came across a ministry position that made his heart race. It was a national, young adult ministry position that would have availed him the opportunity to also work from home. This sounded like a dream job and made us both excited. He applied for it and even was interviewed for the position. He ended up being one of the five final candidates. We were hopeful! For six weeks we prayed together every night and even prayed a couple novenas. Well, after six weeks of waiting, we found out he didn't get it. It was very disappointing to say the least even though we knew that if he didn't get it, then it wasn't God's will. If it wasn't God's will and his best for us then we wouldn't want it anyway, but it was still disappointing. 

So, now we are in a place again of seeking and waiting. We are continuing to pray together most evenings, which has been very uplifting and faith-building. The Lord showed me that through us praying together, he is able to build infrastructure so we can eventually fly spiritually. Kind of like the bones in a bird's wings. Praying together has been helping build those bones.

If both Tom and I search our hearts, what we ultimately want to see is God's Kingdom manifest in our lives and the lives of others. God's Kingdom is His presence, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, lives changed and transformed, and also miracles. I think for us to get to the place where we see this kind of Kingdom manifestation, we need to continue to surrender to the Lord's transforming work in our own lives. We have been doing this for a long time so we are probably closer but there is probably still more the Lord wants to do before releasing us.

Needing some encouragement, Tom and I were praying together recently and the Lord showed me a coconut. In the middle of the coconut is the rich, nutrient filled coconut milk. First however, you need to break through the thick, outer shell. In this analogy, the coconut milk represents the Kingdom of God. The hard outer shell represents unbelief, fear and doubt, to name a few. I share this because I don't think Tom and I are the only ones that can use more faith and may struggle with unbelief at times.

Last Thursday's Gospel reading was from Luke 7, which says,The reign of God is not “out there” but is already among us.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” 

The Kingdom of God is within us. If we are believers, we have the Holy Spirit. If we want to walk in the fullness of that knowledge and see the Kingdom manifest around us, first it needs to burst forth within us We need to allow the Lord to break through the walls of unbelief, fear and doubt that have accumulated through trials and giving into worldly mindsets. We need to have the faith of little children again, knowing that we serve a good and loving Father that withholds nothing from His children (Luke 11:11)! It is then that others around us will also be able to taste and see that the Lord is good!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Now is the Time to Cultivate Your Heart!

There are a lot of people right now going through tough times. Maybe you are one of them and it seems that there is one trial in your life after another and you will never catch a break. Maybe it feels like you are in a washing machine that is constantly on spin cycle and you are being stretched and wrung out to the max. Be encouraged that the Lord has a plan and is in control! What you are going through is not in vain! He is trying to get you to the point where you can stand and have faith even in the midst of adversity.

I believe the Lord has shown me there are dark times coming.The good news is however that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more! During such times, the Lord plans to pour out his Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way. Now is the time for his people to cultivate their heart so they can receive as much of the fire of God's love as they can possibly handle. His love and the power of his Spirit is what is going to sustain and propel people forward when darkness blankets the earth. It is his love and the power of His Spirit that will help us to stand and share the Gospel. You were born for such a time as this!

How do we cultivate our heart? Through prayer, fasting, penance and service to one another. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Worldly attachments can distract us from intimacy with the Lord and our destiny. The more we are able to let go attachments and surrender, the more the Lord will be able to pour His love into our hearts and transform us into His image. Only then will we be able to become more authentically who we were meant to be and fulfill our destinies!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be Happy! Don't Sit In the Seat Of Scoffers!

It has been a little while since I have blogged. I have been doing a lot of ministry lately and felt the need to retreat to make sure I am remaining centered in Christ. I think that is always a good thing for us to do. There should be an ebb and flow in the spiritual life; time spent alone with the Lord in silence and times of being active in service to others. There needs to be a balance between being and doing, otherwise one risks the temptation of becoming puffed up, prideful and losing one's way themselves.

In retreating, one Psalm from scripture I have felt led to reflect on is Psalm 1. I have always been a little baffled by Psalm 1. It seemed a little Pharisaical to me and like putting oneself up on a pedestal. It says we shouldn't sit in the seat of scoffers but Jesus sat with sinners. I knew I must not have the right understanding if I saw it that way. After all, God's Word is true so I began to seek understanding. 

After much reflection and reading it daily, through the  Holy Spirit's help, I think I am understanding it better. 

Psalm 1:1-3 says, 
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
I believe there is a difference between someone who is wicked and a scoffer and someone who is struggling with sin. The definition of a scoffer is someone who mocks, jeers, doubts and speaks derisively which means to express contempt and ridicule. The definition of wicked is - immoral, iniquitous, corrupt, vile, nasty, and capable of harming someone. I have witnessed this with non-believers and ironically people who call themselves Christian. The "Christian" scoffers can be the worst scoffers of all! They go to church every Sunday but they won't let go of their pride and let Christ's love into their heart. They often don't believe in prayer or that God is alive and still works miracles today. They also scoff at the suggestion of it and when they hear stories of God's intervention in the lives of his people they roll their eyes and sneer (2 Timothy 3:5).

The most prevalent scoffing I have encountered among Christians and non-Christians has been in regards to Tom and I being open to life in our marriage and also being pro-life. This seems to be pretty typical in our society today as people can not see beyond the temporal and material world.

Psalm 1 says we will be happy if we do not follow the advice of the wicked, take the same path of sinners, or even sit in the seat of scoffers. The first two suggestions are self explanatory even though it is not always easy to reject the advice of the world and the same path that everyone else is taking. I have always wondered however what it means to sit in the seat of scoffers. I believe one way we do this is by getting into heated discussions with scoffers. You often see this being done on social media. Occasionally it may be necessary to speak the truth in these situations for the sake of others who may be listening and observing, but for the most part, it is useless to get into debates with these people because they are not interested in the truth. Their hearts are prideful and they are not open to any other opinion other than their own. They are also not open to change. They just want to mock, jeer, show contempt and sow doubt and discord. Taking the time to get into a debate with such persons will only distract, sow division and rob us of joy and peace. Also, we risk becoming what we hate and becoming a scoffer ourselves.

We are called to meditate on God's law day and night. The most important law that also sums up all the other laws is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is hard to do that and distracting if instead we are trying to prove our cause and get into arguments with scoffers and wicked people.

When Jesus was confronted with such people, he usually turned the tables by asking them a question (Mark 12:16), or he chose to be silent (Matthew 26:63) but he did not get into back and forth heated arguments. He knew who he was and he was confident in that. He didn't need people to follow him, believe in him or understand him. He kept his eyes on his Father and the mission his Father had for him.

Yes, Jesus did sit with sinners however. He sat with those who were broken, dejected and struggling with sin. Often because of their struggles they were able to recognize their need for a savior. They were humble and open to God in their lives. They realized they were sinners. Because they recognized their need for him, they were open to the truth and Jesus was able to transform them from sinners into saints! 

If we avoid negative discourse with the wicked and scoffers, stay focused on the Lord and drink in the stream of his goodness, like Psalm 1 talks about, eventually we will bear great fruit in our lives. The fruit of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control will then be evident to others. If people are going to be attracted to Christ through us and His truth, it will be only then! If you are looking for a good modern day example, I would say Pope Francis is a pretty good one!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Thing About Fasting

So, I haven't always understood or been a big fan of fasting. Hence the name of my blog - Beautiful thorns. When given the choice, I usually choose comfort. The Lord in his goodness and mercy however has lovingly given me "thorns" so I can progress in my spiritual life and be more transformed into his image. I am learning however that it is better to fall on the rock and be broken than have the rock fall on us and be crushed - Luke 20:18.

I am starting to get the whole notion and importance of fasting as I am trying to be more obedient to a life of penance I believe the Lord is calling me to. Let me tell you though, fasting is not for the faint of heart! It causes all the junk and impurities in our heart to come to the surface more quickly, things you didn't even know were there! Satan likes to then play on those weaknesses and try to get us to lose heart. Should we be surprised at this - Jesus was even tempted in the desert - Matthew 4:1-11. If we persevere however, I think we come out ahead.

I guess that explains why I have been in a funk lately...Tom and I have been doing a 40 day fast for Tom's job situation and for us to come into the things God has for us. I believe it is the fasting that has caused all kinds of emotions, doubts, insecurities, and fears to rise up in my own heart. I know however that if I can persevere through it, I will grow in my spiritual walk with the Lord and it will be fruitful. I think being aware of what is going on is half the battle. I also think this is causing me to be a fan of fasting. I am finally getting it!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Funks of Life

I don't know if anyone else can relate, but sometimes I find myself in a funk. I usually try to avoid giving into negative thoughts but this week the negativity has gotten the best of me. 

It has been really hard for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am having a hard time seeing how God is going to fulfill the desires of our heart, especially as my body is wracked with pain and fatigue, causing me to be irritable with my children. My thoughts say, "Gosh, I can't even be faithful in the little things!" We also have some very pressing financial needs and Tom for the past 10 years has been driving a 3 to 4 hour a day commute to a very stressful job that he doesn't exactly enjoy and causes him to miss out on a lot of family time. I probably need to be thankful that at least his job mostly pays the bills.

One thing that has brought me out of the funks in the past and is working to bring me out of the current funk is the thought that, "I am going to feel really silly when the Lord finally comes through for us!". I am trying very hard to keep my eyes on Jesus and believe in his promises. I would love to hear from my readers! Please share some faith building stories of how you have persevered through tough times and the Lord was faithful to his promises...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I have often been bewildered by different extremes you find in society. You see it in religious circles and in the world. You see it among Catholics and Protestants. 

In Catholic circles, one extreme group of people is called the "rad trads". The "rad trads" are ultra-traditionalists who are more Catholic than the Pope. They believe in following rules and regulations, the letter of the law but often miss the mark and forget about love. Oftentimes they do not have a correct understanding of the true nature of God and what He is really like.

The other extreme Catholic group are the liberals who reject church doctrine. This group throws themselves into social justice and the plight of the poor but they often fail to believe in moral absolutes. They also miss the mark when it comes to giving people Jesus because they haven't learned the art of being still and receiving his love for themselves before going out and serving others.

In Protestant circles, you have the Fundamentalists who are like the Catholic "rad trads". They are very legalistic and take everything in scripture literally even if it is not meant to be taken literally. They tend to take a stand on insignificant details that don't matter to faith but forget about love. 

The other extreme group Protestants fall into is the "cheap grace" group. This term was coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This group of Protestants focus on a form of grace, but a grace that is separate from the Cross of Christ. A grace without repentance. A grace where everything is accepted in the name of "love". They often view people striving to be obedient to God as foolish and legalistic. The type of "grace" they have bought into however isn't true grace and it isn't true love.

In the world you often see these extremes in politics. There are the "progressives" and the "conservatives". 

These extremes try to separate justice from mercy and mercy from justice. However, you can not have one without the other. Both extremes are missing it. They are two sides of the same coin and they are not founded on the Cross of Jesus or rooted in true love! The different extremes try to separate sacrifice from love but true love requires sacrifice and true sacrifice is founded in love.

This tendency to go from one extreme to another is human nature. It all started with the Fall of Adam. Through the Fall, we lost our center and our souls became fragmented. We lost our focus on God and became distracted. This is when people started to choose the good over the best. They started to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of eating from the tree of life in the middle of the garden. We started to do things our way, apart from God. We also lost control over our passions. Paul says we do what we don't want to do and we don't do what we want to do (Romans 7:15-20). In order to justify our passions, we now try to separate truth from love and love from truth and we find ourselves opposing God. 

So, the question is, how do we get back to our original state, the way we were originally intended to be? How do we keep from extremes and become fully integrated, fully human, and once again focused on God? Our only hope is Jesus!

Jesus set the example. He is the way and he showed us the way. He was always centered on God the Father. He carried his cross and laid down his life. Through him, truth and love kissed. 

We are also called to center our lives on God through the cross of Christ and be willing to lay our lives down out of love for Him. 

The way we can center our lives on Christ is by growing in intimacy with him. The ways we grow in intimacy with him is to learn to rest and abide in him (John 15:4); seek his face (Psalm 105); and eat from the tree of life which is Jesus himself (John 6:51).  When we do these things and allow him to consume us, we realize we can do nothing apart from him. We recognize more fully that we need him! He is the true bread that came down from heaven. We discover that Jesus alone can satisfy the longing in our hearts, integrate us and transform us into his image. Once we realize this, it is easier to keep Him at the center of our being. 

Only Jesus can keep us from seeking extremes which are not rooted in anything real.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Another Radio Interview

I had the opportunity to be on Real Life Radio yesterday. I talked a little about conversion, a Eucharistic miracle I witnessed in college, my leaving and coming back to the Catholic Church, spiritual warfare, and homeschooling. Here is the link for the podcast: Real Life Radio

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Nature of Intimacy

People often ask me how it is that Tom and I left the Catholic Church for ten years, especially after I had a dramatic conversion experience through the Eucharist, witnessed a Eucharistic Miracle, and started a women's household devoted to the Eucharist. I do not have an easy answer to that, except obviously I didn't get it.

I think often times we unknowing keep God at arm's length and we hold things back from him. Often, we think we want more of God but really what we are seeking is a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. If we are just seeking a feeling, well, we can feel his love and his presence in other places other than a Catholic Mass.

If we are truly seeking intimacy with the Lord, there is no greater intimacy that we can have with Him a part from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Some Protestants however put Catholics to shame in this area and are able to have deep, intimate relationships with the Lord without having the Eucharist.

True intimacy requires sacrifice. To receive all the graces available through the Eucharist, we need to be willing to give it all, just as Jesus gave it all. Not only did he die for us, but he gives us his flesh to eat! We are called to surrender our whole selves back to Jesus and not withhold anything. The Eucharist is not meant to be one-sided. Soon after I left the Catholic Church, the Lord began to work with me in the area of intimacy. Through difficult circumstances, the Lord began to teach me to be still and rest in Him; to surrender all.

After coming back to the Catholic Church, I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; often receiving him would even bring me to tears as I contemplated the intimacy available by receiving him. When I go up to receive him, I often pray that he will enter all the hidden, dark chambers of my heart that have not yet seen his light.

It could take a lifetime to comprehend, but it wasn't until I had a miscarriage a few years ago that I really started to "get" it. After my miscarriage, I realized that I had the opportunity, like St. Thomas the Apostle, to touch the wounds of Christ and join my wounds to his wounds.

I also love the metaphor of the pelican. If the baby of a mother pelican does not have anything to eat, the mother will rip at her own flesh in order to feed it. In a sense, that is what Jesus does for us! He knows that it is only himself, the Living bread come down from heaven, that will truly satisfy our souls (John 6:51)! He gives us all of himself, holding nothing back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Creating a Domestic Monastery

When I was in college I actually spent time discerning the religious life. I visited several convents and even spent 10 days during Lent, leading up to Easter with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr, St. George

That time with the Franciscan sisters was one of the most powerful spiritual encounters with the Lord I have ever had. The Lord was very tangible there and it seemed like he was physically walking around the convent. When I was in their Eucharistic adoration chapel praying, it felt as though I was floating off the ground. Those ten days of monastic living wasn't easy however. There were lots of sacrifices made, especially in the area of sleep as we would start morning prayer at 5:30 am followed by mass, but those acts of mortification proved to be very fruitful and I definitely grew in my relationship with the Lord. I came close to joining but in the end I told the Lord I needed him in the flesh and he asked me, "What about marriage?" Soon after, he brought Tom into my life and the rest is history.

Even though I didn't join a convent, the seed and longing for monasticism had been planted through my time at the Franciscan University and the convents I had visited.

Don't even ask me how we detoured and left the Catholic Church for ten years because I'm not sure, except that we were impatient and wanted more doors to open for us in ministry and we were longing for community. What drew us back however was a longing for a "sense of the sacred" as well as the Eucharist and other Sacraments. The time away produced in us a deeper appreciation for the Catholic Church.

Soon after we came back to the Church, we came in contact with a member of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic expression. We were familiar with this community, started by John Michael Talbot from our time at the Franciscan University but we did not know they also had a Domestic expression. We only knew about the Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas. Our hearts burned within us when we found out you could belong to the community and not have to move to Arkansas! Everything they offered, we had a longing for. Their spirituality was Franciscan and Benedictine, charismatic and contemplative. They were monastic, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and practicing simplicity. Through them, we saw that monastic life was possible even in the world with a family. Right away, we knew it was right for us! We contacted the regional minister, checked out the community and soon after, started our formation with them. We have now been a part of the community for five years. This past weekend we went on our annual regional retreat. Every year that we go, it reinforces this idea of  living simply, being in the world but not of it, and practicing monasticism, even with a family. The community has definitely been an instrument in helping us deepen our relationship with the Lord and grow in intimacy with him and with his people.

Practicing Monasticism in the world, especially with little children, can prove challenging but it can be done.

Here are some ways we try to practice it in our home:

Create a Sacred Space
We have a room that we try to keep clean and uncluttered. The kids are not allowed to have toys in there. We mainly use this room for prayer, individually and as a family. We have religious art on the walls, candles, and we usually burn incense when we are in the room. Sometimes when in there, we read and play sacred music. 

Keep it Simple
We try to limit the number of toys, especially "junk" toys that we have in our house. We try to purge our clothes often and get rid of anything we do not need or wear.  We also do our best to live within our means.

Sacred Music
We often have sacred music like Gregorian chants or contemporary worship music playing in the background throughout the day.

We commit ourselves to morning and evening prayer, both individually and as a family. For Tom and I this usually includes the Liturgy of the Hours. We have been pleasantly surprised how much our children like praying the Liturgy of the Hours with us. We usually start with a couple worship songs. When we are not able to pray it as a family, our children miss it and ask when we will be able to do it again.

Religious Art
We have religious art and crucifixes in almost every room in our house. Religious art and symbols can be wonderful tools to draw our attention upward and is especially important for children.

Limit Electronics
This can be one of the hardest disciplines to follow. Sometimes it is easier for us busy moms to just turn cartoons on for our little ones to keep them out of trouble. I am still working on this one but we do try to limit TV and computer time.

Limit Activities Outside the Home
Busyness is usually a big obstacle for hearing from and drawing close to the Lord. We try to limit how many activities we and our children do outside the home.

Make Everything an Act of Prayer
Sometimes it is hard to find Christ in the mundane and ordinary but he is there. One way I try to be mindful of him throughout my day, while doing dishes and folding laundry is to say the Jesus prayer in my mind and picture myself leaning back in him.

Of course this is not an all encompassing list but I think it is a good place to start!

Audio of a Eucharistic Miracle Story

On the feast of Corpus Christi, I posted a link on my Facebook page to a radio interview I did but forgot to post it on my actual blog. So, for those of you who don't get my Facebook messages, here is an audio story of a Eucharistic miracle I got to experience in college. It is the June 2 podcast and starts around 12 minutes.
Ignite Radio

Monday, June 1, 2015

Let Me Off!

The Lord has truly blessed Tom and I with an amazing church community. There are so many good people at our church who love the Lord and desire to draw closer to him. If we had found a community like this 18 years ago, we never would have left the Catholic Church for ten years.

One way we try to build community is to have what we call "Pasta and Praise" once a month. We rotate who hosts and then we have a simple meal, fellowship and worship. The last one we had was last Saturday and our theme was Pentecost. The Lord was very gracious to us and his Holy Spirit was so sweet and manifest in the house where we were worshiping! His presence was very tangible!

While in worship an image came to my mind. The image was of children on a park merry-go-round. I'm not sure if these are still around but I remember them from when I was a kid. You would get on and then hold on for dear life as another child would spin the merry-go-round as fast as they could. 

In my image the children were laughing and thoroughly enjoying this amusement. What came to me however is that an adult in the same situation would not necessarily enjoy it. Vertigo would set in and an adult might lose their lunch and want to get off. 

Life can often feel like a merry-go-round. When you are a kid you might enjoy the thrill but the older you get, the responsibility of life sets in and daily life can sometimes feel more like drudgery than fun. We can lose our sense of wonder, awe and excitement, especially if we have experienced suffering.

The sense I had was the Lord wants to renew and restore a sense of wonder and the faith of a child. I don't think this just applied to our little group but something the Lord would like to do for all his people. Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Indulge Me

I have been Catholic most of my life however the topic of Indulgences is something I never really thought much about. Until this year, the topic of indulgences never really came up. The only time that I thought about indulgences in the past was after reading through one of my grandma's Pre-Vatican II prayer books. After each prayer, it would say how many indulgences a person would receive after saying the said prayer. I thought that was a little odd! After all, shouldn't we be doing spiritual acts out of love for God and not just to gain an indulgence?!

This year, the topic of indulgences has come up multiple times among Protestants I know, who are considering Catholicism. Also, a group I belong to at my church had a discussion about indulgences recently. These things have provided an opportunity for me to look into the topic more closely.

The Catholic Church teaches that we can repent and ask for forgiveness of our sins but often the effect of the sin on our soul is still there and we need to be purified. It is not too hard to comprehend when you think about the emotional wounds we receive when we sin or when someone sins against us. When we receive purification we also receive healing. 

Another example or analogy would be if you stole something, you can ask for forgiveness but you still should give the item you stole back. Spiritual acts or acts of penance can help purify us of the effects of sin here on earth or for someone else who is in Purgatory. The official definition of an indulgence according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is:
The remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven. A properly disposed member of the Christian faithful can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions through the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority of the treasure of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial if it removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment (1471).
One reason people have a problem with indulgences is because there were abuses in the middle ages concerning them. Corrupt members of the clergy would sell indulgences, however the Church ended up condemning this act. One stipulation for even receiving an indulgence is that you have to have the right heart attitude. So, I was correct in thinking that you should not be doing a certain spiritual act just to receive an indulgence but primarily out of love for God and to draw closer to him.

It is ironic that some people have a problem with indulgences the Church offers but they have no problem being indulged by the things of the world. It is getting harder and harder to even tell the Christians from the unbelievers because so many Christians have given in to indulging the spirit of this age. Some Christians have no problem indulging in greed, excessive technology, premarital and homosexual acts, abortion, and consumerism to name a few. It is becoming harder and harder to even be an integral part of society without agreeing or partaking in these and other worldly things. 

The spirit of this age is pervasive! It is nearly impossible to function in society without the latest technology. It is becoming harder and harder to buy anything without supporting abortion or slave labor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for businesses to sell goods without agreeing with gay marriage or providing abortificient drugs. It is nearly impossible to buy food that hasn't been stripped of it's nutrients and contaminated by pesticides because of unconcerned corporations. (It reminds me of Revelations 13:17.)

The good news however is there is another way! God is calling and even beckoning us..."Come away with me, my beloved! Leave this world behind! I know you like to be indulged! Here, accept my indulgences! I offer you life and life abundantly! All you have to do is take up your cross and follow me! My cross will bring you peace and joy overflowing! You are worth more than all this world has to offer! There is nothing you could give up, that I won't make up for 100 fold in the age to come!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Get Ready for Rain!

It is easy to look at the state of the world and get discouraged and distracted. It would seem as if the devil is triumphing. It is often easier to lose faith and just focus on circumstances. However, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more - Romans 5:12. I believe God would have us look beyond the evil forces at work around us and focus on him, his beauty, grace and goodness.

Imagine it is a beautiful, clear day. The sun is shining, there is a soft, cool breeze and you are canoeing along a beautiful river. You are taking in the beauty of God's creation and through this experience, you encounter him. This encounter brings you much joy. Then out of the corner of your eye you start to notice an alligator on the bank. Then you notice a couple more in the water. Instead of losing peace and getting distracted, you decide to continue to focus on God's beautiful creation and abide in joy. Ultimately that is what God is asking us to do in our everyday life and in this hour. Even though the storms of life rage, the waves are coming up over the boat and the world seems to be overrun by evil, we are called to abide and even rest in him.

This past Sunday's Gospel reading was from John 15 about the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine and we are called to be branches that bear fruit. The fruit we bear is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We bear this fruit when we stay connected to and focus on Jesus.

We are currently in a season of preparation. God is preparing his people for the times that are coming. He wants us to be able to stand even in the midst of adversity. He is preparing us to help bring in a harvest of souls when chaos ensues upon the earth. People are going to be looking for answers and we need to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us - 1 Peter 3:15.

Knowing the signs of the times
In 1998, while in prayer, I saw an image of Paddington Bear. He had his little raincoat, rain hat, and rain boots on and I felt like the Lord said, "Get ready for rain!" This was his way of telling me that he had plans to pour out his Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way! I do not think it is a coincidence that a new Paddington Bear movie was released the beginning of this year. I believe it is going to happen soon!

Currently we are in a season where Jesus is calling us to himself and leading all his "sheep" through the sheep gate. 
"But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice." - John 10:2-4
Jesus entered through the gate and is holding the gate open for his people to go through. Once this process is complete, he will walk in front and there will be a lot more clarity and Kingdom manifestations. It will be a lot easier to know what he is doing and to hear his voice. Miracles will be more prevalent!

Here is another analogy to describe the season we are currently in:  Imagine you are standing in ankle deep water. The sun is behind you, reflecting on the water. You see something shiny on the bottom but because the sun is behind you, you can not tell what it is, due to the reflection and sun rays bouncing off the water.

These are exciting times! We are about to enter a season where there is going to be a lot more clarity because the Son will be out in front so to speak. What we will see, others in the past have longed to see! Now is the time to get ready!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Purgatory Might Be Like

Last night a group of us that meets at our church was discussing Purgatory. The Catholic Church teaches that this is a state of being purified after death for those who are already saved, before entering heaven. This got me thinking about what it might be like. People always talk about the pain and suffering that people experience in Purgatory. I think that pain is due to the fact that they are closer to God than they were here on earth. Our God is an all consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He purifies us with the fire of his love that burns away the impurities in our heart. 

Here on earth we can have the tendency to try and "hide" from God like Adam did in the garden. When impurities (fear, sinful thoughts and tendencies, wounds, shame, unforgiveness, and disturbing memories) come to the forefront of our mind and heart, we often have the natural inclination to stuff it down and escape. We drown out those thoughts and feelings by using our phones, turning on the television, sitting at the computer, busyness, etc.

I believe the pain of Purgatory is that we no longer have those idols to escape to. We are closer to God, his eyes are on us, our hearts are laid bare, we have nowhere to run, and we must receive his purifying love! The amount of time it takes for this to happen in the afterlife depends on how much we surrendered to this process and his love here on earth. He desires to perfect us in his love and transform us into his image!

One way I view Purgatory is based on an experience I had several years ago. I saw an image of the Lord's eyes.  They were periwinkle blue and see through like glass. They were beautiful beyond description and when he looked at me they seemed to pierce right through me and my heart was laid bare. I asked him how to back up my experience with scripture because the only scripture I knew of that described his eyes was from Revelation 1:14 - "His eyes were like blazing fire." He lovingly asked, "Can't you just take things at face value?" but then he answered my question and asked, "What is the hottest part of the flame?" I then realized that the hottest part of the flame was the bottom of the flame which is periwinkle blue. 

The next several weeks proved rather challenging and were bittersweet as memories from my past started coming to the surface and the Lord came into those memories with his purifying work. In much the same way as gold is purified in the fire, the dross in my heart came to the surface and needed to be skimmed off. This is not necessarily a fun process but necessary to become more like Jesus and become brighter so his glory can shine through us. 

I hope that I can get to the point where I am able to fully surrender to this process here on earth and some day people will be able to look in my eyes and see the love of Christ looking back at them!

Hebrews 4:12 - "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Few Random Thoughts

The Grace of the Resurrection

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter and had a blessed Lent! One year I was feeling sad at Easter because I felt like I could have done a better job taking advantage of the grace available during
Lent. The Lord encouraged me however and told me, "There is even more grace available with the Resurrection!" So, if you are one of those persons who could have taken advantage of more of grace during Lent, you have another chance during this Easter season!

Divine Mercy Sunday
I had an interesting thing happen this past Sunday. Right after Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, we stopped at our local grocery store to pick up some lunch food. I was at the deli counter and right in front of me a fight almost broke out. There was a man in line but he did not get a number. Another man came along, got a number and right after, his number was called. Well the guy that did not get a number was ticked because he was there first. He started calling the other man, who by the way was elderly, all kinds of names and told him he deserved a punch in the face and he even aggressively rubbed up against him. I was very impressed at how the elderly man handled himself. He just kind of smiled at the other man and didn't try defend himself or fight back. Meanwhile, I was right in back of them with tears welling up in my eyes. I had just left Mass, was very moved when I received Jesus in the Eucharist and then encountered this unsettling scene. That was just a small glimpse into the sins people commit everyday. Further proof that the mercy of God is a bottomless ocean since he sees everything and doesn't decide to annihilate us all!

Faith Alone
I have picked up on the fact that there seems to be an overwhelming presumption among many Protestants that Catholics think they are saved by their works. Some of these Protestants feel that it is their duty to clarify to Catholics that "It is by grace through faith alone that we are saved and is a free gift!", as they quote Ephesians 2:8.  First of all, I do not see the word "alone" when I read that passage. Secondly, I find this very ironic because often times these same Protestants believe that children are not "saved" and can not be baptized until they can vocally profess faith in Christ. If it is by grace and a free gift, then wouldn't it make sense to allow even a baby who can not do anything to have it too?! Instead that child has to do something, like say, walk down an aisle as they respond to an altar call to get it? Also, how do these same Protestants reconcile passages like James 2 that talks about faith without works is dead and Acts 16 that says your whole household will be saved? And for those of the "once saved, always saved" camp, how do they interpret Philippians 2 that says we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Behind the Name, Beautiful Thorns

Years ago I went through a severe trial and very intense spiritual warfare. After that happened, I cried out to the Lord and told him, "I just want a normal, leisurely life"! Well, he heard my prayer and he left me alone for the next 6 years. Needless to say, I was miserable! There were no spiritual consolations; I did not sense or hear from the Lord at all during that time. The worst part about it though was my passion towards him was gone! I had no desire to pray or to serve him. I felt like Jesus could have appeared in all his glory right in front of me and I would not have been moved. It was a very scary place to be and even made me question my salvation.

At first I did not recognize that this was an answer to my prayer. When I finally realized it, I repented for praying that way and began pressing in to have God's presence again in my life.  I cried out to the Lord and asked for passion to return. I also asked for the intercession of St. Raphael (an Archangel found in the book of Tobit, associated with bringing God's healing). Well, to put it mildly, he heard and answered my prayer. I received a great spiritual and emotional healing. It was more like St. Raphael took a burning coal from the throne room of God and touched my heart with it and it caused me to bawl like a baby for hours.

Since that happened, I have been very careful not to go back to that place of desolation and lack of passion for the Lord. I even told the Lord never to let me go back to that place again and to do whatever it takes to keep me from it. You see, I am human and when given the choice between comfort and carrying my cross, I usually choose comfort. I flinch at the idea of fasting and doing penance. The Lord knows that my flesh is weak so he sometimes gives me what I call "thorns". He lovingly hands me thorns from his crown, an opportunity to share in his sufferings. He does this so I can come up higher and deepen my relationship with him.

I have not always received these thorns well and out of fear and false humility would tell Jesus in my heart, "Oh, I could never handle even a fraction of what you went through!". I have learned over time however that he knows best and I can trust him. He knows the best and quickest way to transform me into his image and draw me closer to him. When everything is going well, I am less likely to cling to him and recognize my need for him.

When the thorns or trials of life come and when I am not feeling well physically, the temptation is still there to get discouraged and depressed but I am learning to lean back in him and let him do a work in me. When I do cling to him and he pulls me through it, I usually come to a place of greater love for the Lord and others and am able to receive greater revelation. Hence the name Beautiful Thorns!
2 Corinthians 4:17 -For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!