HOW CAN I HELP?

I know it is only day one of 2021, and I am a person who neither makes nor believes in New Year’s Resolutions.  I am of the mind that if you want to make a change in your life, start now.  There’s no guarantee you’ll have tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  Having said that, my husband is beginning the Exodus 90 journey on Monday, which comes with a lot of spiritual grace along with personal sacrifice.  One of those sacrifices is no television, movies, or televised sports.  While I am not a big TV watcher, we do have a few shows we enjoy watching together.  Since we will not be doing that for 90 days, I wanted to renew my passion for reading.  So, I decided that beginning today, New Year’s Day, I would pick up one of the mounting books I have been collecting and read a few pages.  Our church was giving out free copies of the book Do Something Beautiful for God: the Essential Teachings of Mother Teresa.  In the introduction, the author, Matthew Kelly, shares about the life of Saint Mother Teresa.  He talks about her conversion in the midst of her vocation, the “call within a call” as it has been coined.  He surmises that her intimate conversation with God included the phrase “How can I help?”  He then challenges the readers with this statement:

            “When was the last time you stepped into the classroom of silence, sat down with your God, and asked ‘How can I help?’” (pg 7)

I was shook by that statement.  I often start out my day by offering it to God and telling Him I want to cooperate with His will.  But that is before I set a foot onto the floor and encounter…well, life.  Sometimes before my first cup of coffee, those words I have offered to God become a forgotten mantra that is snuffed out by circumstances that can really stretch my patience and drown my grace.  My desire to cooperate with His will is sadly conditional. 

As I said, I don’t watch much T.V.  However, I have a few shows that I watch with some regularity.  I don’t binge watch.  I just can’t sit still that long.  Most series take me forever to get through.  There is one that I enjoy called “New Amsterdam” that I am actually caught up on.  This hospital drama has only had two seasons so far,  One of the reasons this show captivates me is the non-conventional medical director of the hospital, Dr Max Goodwin (played by Ryan Eggold).  His mantra at all times is literally the phrase “How can I help?”  He doesn’t tell his doctors about the obstacles that are rather evident.  He doesn’t share negativity.  Instead, despite many odds and his own cancer, he starts nearly every conversation with an uplifting outlook and an attitude of genuine care and concern for how HE can be a part of a solution, part of making life easier, not another challenge to the doctors. 

So a fictional T.V. show and Saint Mother Teresa both invite me to consider the query…How can I help?  I may be tired.  I may be irritated.  I may be hurt.  I may be judgmental.  I may be busy.  I may be scared.  I may get rejected. I may be…well, you fill in the blank of what stops you from asking someone if you can help.  Let’s take it one step further – let’s go back to Matthew Kelly’s musing in the Mother Teresa book…. have you sat in silence with God and asked Him how you can help Him His need for us to be His helpers is enormous.  He needs simple acts of kindness which can actually be quite radical. Mother Teresa was 40 when she changed the trajectory of her vocation to exceptionally help God with His people.   You aren’t too old, or too young.  You aren’t too busy or too ill prepared.  You aren’t too incapable or too valuable.  You are equipped to help Him, right now.  I AM equipped to help Him right now. 

I definitely think God was trying to talk to me today.  Well, lets be real.  He is trying to talk to us every day!  I just think today I was in some way more open to listen.  After reading the excerpt from the Mother Teresa book, I attended Mass.  In Mass we often tune out the prayers the priest prays that are scattered throughout the liturgy.  Today, the closing prayer shook me too.  It said “May He give you integrity in the faith, endurance in hope, and perseverance in charity, with Holy patience.”  I heard “Debbie persevere in helping me out, and don’t lose patience or grow frustrated.”  Yes God, I hear you. 

Maybe 2021 could begin by picking up a spiritual reading.  For me, I often find inspiration and strength to listen harder to God when I take in a good spiritual read.  Not a reader?  How about trying a podcast?  There are SO MANY inspirational ones!  Like movies?  Why not watch one about the life of a saint.  St Ignatius of Loyola’s movie from 2016 is both a thrilling movie and a thought-provoking story. 

What would happen if tomorrow morning when you wake up, you don’t instantly look at your phone for the weather, or to see what was posted in Instagram since last night, or check your Snapchat, or what your favorite sports team is doing.  What if instead, you sit in the classroom of silence, and ask God:

“How can I help you today?”

Wouldn’t that change 2021 for you and for everyone around you? 

Dear OT Job – I hear you

Mother Mary, you are full of grace.  Oh, how I was NOT this morning.  Upon being woken up by my husband’s alarm (that he let snooze one too many times for my liking), I awoke with a list of dreads occupying space in my mind.  I would not say that I am a morning person in general. My mind, once turned on, begins racing.  I enjoy the fog of consciousness that precedes this, and do NOT like being taken from my fog.   I truly prefer a cup of strong hot coffee and quiet time in prayer reading the daily scriptures before I have to interact with any human or furry being.  That is quite opposite of the life of a Mom, wife, and pet owner.  Now I am an eternal optimist, but recently my overflowing cup has been spilled on the floor, where I have slipped and fallen in the sticky sweet liquid, only to want to scream or cry. 

Let me vent my laundry list of “papercuts” as my wise Dad likes to call them:

  • I’ve been quarantined for the past 11 days.  A year ago, we didn’t know anyone quarantined and those words sounded quite dramatic and frightening.  Today, they are common vernacular in our English language.  However, my quarantine had to be labeled as “unique”, for the county health department couldn’t decide if the contact I had with someone truly qualified as “close” contact.  I had to wait for a supervisor to finally declare that I was quarantined.  As a Campus Minister with no other full-time staff, my quarantine also meant that our ministry center had to be closed which makes me feel terrible for my students who go to our center for refuge from their stressful day.
  • We found out that we had termites in our house.  Now that is no easy or cheap battle.  After consulting two companies and settling on a treatment plan that includes drilling holes around the foundation of our house, these pesky wood eating bugs are hopefully heading to their eternal rest.
  • Along with termites we found out we had carpenter ants!  I guess they heard there was wood to be chewed!
  • Our yard looks like it has had a recent terrible aeration job, as the armadillos have chosen to dig and play in it at night!  I wish that they ate carpenter ants or termites, but alas that isn’t the case. 

(Note – the previous three things make me wonder if the locusts are next……)

  • Three times in the past 3 months someone has hacked into my bank account and attempted (and to some success been able) to take money from me as well as steal my identity.  (I filed a report with the FBI just this morning) 
  • My son totaled his car (thanks be to God no one was hurt)
  • My cat, who has chronic undiagnosed diarrhea, has decided that my closet is his new litterbox.

So back to this morning…. once I was up, I trailed through the dark house to get my dog from his kennel and take him for a walk.  But before doing so, I vented to my husband about how he was rude to wake me up and about all of the above injustices in my life.  Again, there was no grace to be found in me.   As I stepped out into the windstorm we were having, I muttered to Carter (my dog) and truly to God.  The “Why me?” mentality had set in. 

Then I was reminded of the book of Job in the Bible.  Poor Job.  He got in the middle of a battle between Satan and God.  Job was a good man who did good things, and yet so much horribleness came to him.  His oxen and donkeys got obliterated.  Then his sheep and shepherds.  Finally, a terrible windstorm tore down the house where his children were basically partying, and they were all crushed.  All of this horror (makes my papercuts look puny), and still Job says,

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Job 1:21b

His buddies come to give him comfort, but they were overwhelmed by his suffering.  After seven days of no talking, Job says to them “I have no peace nor ease; I have no rest, for trouble comes!” (Job 3:26) They are good men, for they try to give him a bit of tough love.  One says “Your words have upheld the stumbler; you have strengthened his faltering knees.  But now that it comes to you, you are impatient; when it touches yourself, you are dismayed.” (Job 4:4-5) 

Ouch.  When I read that, it hits me.  I work in ministry.  I spend much time patiently listening to students who bear big and small crosses.  I offer them genuine words of comfort, encouragement, and hope.  But here I am, sniveling about my own crosses, as if I shouldn’t have to bear them!  After Job and his friends have a dialogue that goes back and forth for some time, God has a “come to Jesus” talk with him (insert smile, as Jesus IS God).  Multiple times the Scripture says, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm”.  Does the Lord address me out of my storm?  Of course.  Do I listen?  Only sometimes. 

As I finished my windy walk with my dog, I realize that while these things I am dealing with I truly would rather not have to, He has equipped me with all that I need to handle themWITH GRACE.  My list of things to be grateful for is longer than my papercut list.  And my little pity party of “it’s not fair” is just me having an immature, but very human, temper tantrum.  Life is NOT fair.  Our abilities to deal with life seem finite.  But God’s abundant mercy, love, and grace are infinite.  Job ends up realizing that while there is much he does not understand, God also provides things far too wonderful for us to comprehend.  Job is restored in faith and life.  I too am given the chance to be restored in spirit.  But it’s my choice to receive it. 

Heavenly Father, I am sorry for my weak spirit, for my whining, for my lack of grace.  Help me to be more like Job.  To bear the trials I am given, with courage, faith, and grace.  Let me recognize Your voice in the storm and listen to your words.  Thank you for your infinite love and pursuit of me! 

A letter to Coronavirus

Dear Coronavirus,

While I have not personally met you, you have come in contact with some of those closest to me.  You are quite presumptuous in your arrival, and to be honest, you are rude.  You come without invitation.  You displace families.  You wreak havoc in schools, gyms, places of worship, work, entertainment, and more.  You cause people to be sub-human, wearing masks that greatly reduce facial expression and comprehension of conversation.  You cause us to stand at odd distances, while still striving to “connect” with each other.  You make every movement we as humans have something we must second guess.  Should I go here?  Should I touch this?  Is he/she sick?  Oh, I need to sneeze but if I do someone will think I have “IT”!  You cause hypochondria.  Feeling warm used to be something that might be chalked up to living in Texas in the summer.  Now it throws us into finding the nearest thermometer and isolating into a far away room.  You create division, not unity.  You create excessive jobs at Purell, yet eliminate jobs in many other sectors of society.  You cause us to judge others even harsher than before this came into our lives.  If I were reading C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, you would surely be Wormwood’s greatest minion.

For catharsis, I need to make a list of all that you have taken from me:

  • The wedding we had planned
  • Our honeymoon
  • Our reception
  • The ability to visit my brother and sister in law and sweet niece this summer
  • A musical I could not wait to watch my son perform in
  • Family gatherings
  • Seeing my husband light up at the sight of his Godson and hearing both their laughter
  • Being able to see my in-laws (you have held them hostage for 5 weeks and counting)
  • Adoration at church
  • Mission trip to Guatemala
  • Pool parties
  • Gathering with my Cinq Chic Chics

However, dear virus, you will NOT take me down.  Like David slayed the giant with a mere slingshot and a LOT of faith, my God is so much bigger than you and your spread.  Through prayer and trust from us, He will defeat you.

Here is a list of what I have gained because of you:

  • A small, intimate wedding with those closest to us
  • Many more home-cooked meals
  • Dates with my husband in the backyard
  • Miles of walks with my dog
  • Lots of pool time
  • Zoom 1 on 1’s with college students that often end in intercessory prayer
  • A face mask made in Guatemala that lets me tell others about that beautiful country
  • An increased desire to attend Mass despite the low numbers of people, face masks, and social distancing
  • An answered prayer for my campus ministry next year
  • Creative ways to still do ministry, feeding the hungry physically and spiritually
  • Seeing some pretty artistic and creative people post their talents online
  • Attending virtual conferences with national speakers from my own living room for free
  • A greater recognition of my lack of control and God’s greatness
  • A new group of Catholic couple friends who share faith, food, and laughter with us
  • Time….to ponder, read, pray, and just be
  • A greater appreciation for meaningful time with people in person

I am very ready to bid you farewell and appreciate humanity up close and personal.  Perhaps God knows we, as a society, still have a bit to learn, and that is why you still are raging here in the U.S.  Or perhaps this is a group opportunity to be molded and shaped.  God knows we ALL need some refining.  Whatever the case, I will lean into God, and recognize each time I bend towards fear and worry, that I am moving towards the wrong team.  I will pray for those who are suffering deeply and let the little moments like watching my dog smile (it sure seems like he is!) when I splash him with pool water soothe me.  I want to spread light in this world.  I am done with the masked darkness that wants to take over.

              “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5

 

Hindsight is 2020

I won’t sugar coat it. This has been a tough week. It began with the painful realization that I should have been in Guatemala. Our annual immersion trip was scheduled for this very week, and it has been a difficult reality to face that the virus that has changed the face of our world took away the opportunity to go to a place that I find more peaceful than any other on Earth. I know that it doesn’t mean we can’t ever go, and I know that it is for the protection of the beautiful people we encounter there that we do not go right now. But all those things do not take away my heartache or longing to be there. Since we go around the same time each year, my Facebook has been haunting me with “memories” from years past filled with photos and videos of Guatemala.

In addition to this (or because of?) I have had strife with loved ones. I have cried more than I care to. I have been angry, disappointed, and hurt. I miss terribly my weekly hour of adoration in our tiny chapel at Sacred Heart….yet another thing that the virus has taken away. In the past, I have taken all of my worries and hurts (and joys and gratitude!) to Jesus in that sacred space and left feeling comfort. Now, I cannot go there, and try as I might to make new places for adoration, they do not have the same feeling. It’s like I keep trying to crawl up into God’s lap and let Him hold me, but as soon as I do, He gets up or disappears. Now, I know with my intellect and my faith that God NEVER disappears. He never ever leaves us. It’s us who leave Him. Which then spins me into guilt. I must be the one getting out of His lap of love, comfort, security, and reassurance.

A moment of clarity came to me when mowing earlier this week. Mowing is often my spiritual re-boot. I was listening to a Catholic podcast, and of course THE VIRUS came up in the conversation. They were speaking about how bizarre 2020 has been. It suddenly made me think of the phrase “Hindsight is 2020”. Hmmm, here we are, in the year 2020, and it has surely been one of the most unexpected years in most of our lives. Each of us has a story of how this year has affected and changed us. And it is not even half over! Whereas some things come in ripples and affect pockets of people, I would say that the COVID-19 crisis has widespread affect on the entire world. It is like one giant ocean-crashing wave. And we don’t yet have the hindsight. Our vision is far from perfect as to what to make of it all. It has had economic, spiritual, mental health, and physical health impact. It has drawn some families closer. It has torn others apart. It has created bad habits of binge watching and being stuck to a screen for work and pleasure. It has created good habits of taking walks outside, learning new skills, home cooked meals, creativity, and slowing down. But we do not have hindsight yet. 2020 is still fully upon us. Will that hindsight and understanding of why all of this occurred wait until 2021?

Saint Paul speaks such wisdom of hindsight being 2020 to the people of Corinth. He says:

“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12

It isn’t just in the year 2020 that people want to know and understand now. Over two thousand years ago, the first Christians wanted to know. Paul was reminding them that in the moment, we rarely have clarity. We don’t know why this virus came, or what it can teach us. But I do know that God uses every single moment in our life for His good, if we lean into Him.

Personally, I still don’t understand why I had to have a tiny, masked wedding where I could not hug those who were able to be there and I could not stand immediately beside the women who have literally stood beside me through thick and thin, my bride tribe. We had to be socially distanced and masks conceal so much of someone’s expression. But, I do know that God was perfectly there and that I am incredibly blessed to have been married, despite the virus. It did not take away the sacrament from us.

I also do not know why I cannot take a most incredible team of young adults to a country where sickness and poverty are abundant, yet God’s love surpasses all that lacks. But, perhaps it’s a not now, but later scenario. I want to know when, I want to have a specific date to look forward to.   That is my human selfish want. I can wait. There is NO reason I cannot wait.

We long for 2020 vision right now, in this 2020 year. Yet even the most educated scientists cannot give us that. It is as if God is reminding the world, “Be patient. You cannot see distinctly. But I have perfect vision, and I see you. I see your trials, your disappointments, your hopes, your desires. You know partially, but I know fully. Wait my love. And know I am here right beside you in the waiting.”

Heavenly Father, please help me to wait. Help me to know that understanding will come, slowly, and later. I shall not want for later, but instead live in the day that I am given. I will love better, with your help and your Son’s amazing example. I will be grateful for today, instead of longing for a different tomorrow. I will recognize that there is a lesson to be learned, and a story to be shared. I will listen to You, and to those whom you put in my presence. Thank you for your patience with me.

Faith, Hope, and Charity…especially in pandemic pandemonium

Last week was Holy Week, and despite our current restraints of physical space, I desperately wanted to be present to Christ and draw nearer to Him in one of the most holy times of our Church year.  On the morning of Good Friday, my fiancé invited me to pray the rosary with him outside.  After all the virtual liturgies, I was thankful for an in-person prayer encounter.  As we began, before the first three Hail Mary’s, we prayed “for the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.”  I feel like those are words that tumble out of our mouths without much thought in our Christian journey. Faith and love are so overused that they fall on deaf ears.  However, for some reason, those words stunned me in that moment.    Instantly, my sweet seven-year old Goddaughter came to mind.  She attends Catholic school, and they have a virtue of the week that they study.  She often tells me about the virtue.  Her younger sister also likes to taunt her about her not displaying a particular virtue.  They are adorable!  I deeply contemplated what those virtues we were praying for meant.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that these three virtues are “theological virtues” (CCC 1813). “The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character.”  (CCC 1813)

To animate is to move or bring to life (according to the dictionary of Debbie). So, faith, hope, and charity make alive our moral activity…in other words, they help us make right choices. Would therefore a lack of these virtues cause wrong choices?

In our COVID-19 reality, we might not embrace our theological virtues so well. Day in and day out, we are quarantined inside our homes, and often grow tired of our mundane reality. Our virtues may not animate, but rather become stagnate. I deeply love my sons, but we are all tired of the “Groundhog Day” (sorry for the 90’s movie reference) saga…it’s the same thing every day, except for the multiplying laundry and dishes. We desperately need faith, hope, and charity now more than ever, but are they animating us?

FAITH – this is our belief in God Himself. In terms of a pandemic, it is also the belief that this will end, and that our God is bigger than COVID-19, even when the media tries to tell us otherwise. It is not falling into despair, or desolation, because that is turning away from Him. I can tell you that I myself have had moments of desolation throughout this. I have cried. I have felt huge doubt. I have fallen into fear. I have lost faith. Thankfully, my glass is half-full attitude wakes me up anew each day and reminds me to look up, start in prayer, and be thankful for one more day to try to follow God’s will. It is also important to not dismiss that others may lose faith and not bounce back so quickly. I need to have faith for them when they have lost theirs and remind them they are loved.

HOPE – to me hope is about our attitude – having a positive attitude and knowing that things will get better. However, the theological virtue of hope is Heaven focused. It is the desire for Heaven and “eternal life as our happiness” (CCC 1817). If I am to animate hope into my life during COVID-19, then I should be recognizing that Christ’s journey to Heaven was mixed with joy and persecution, disciples and mudslingers, and ultimately dragging a heavy cross. So, this journey we are all on that is filled with angst is also shaping us into the more perfect version of ourselves, readying us for eternal happiness with Him.

CHARITY – this word is difficult for me. Somehow, I have charity tied up with “pity” and I get a negative vibe when I hear it. I have a student who is from another country, and he talks about doing charity instead of going on a mission trip, and it always causes me pause. Yet the Catechism defines charity as the theological virtue by which we “love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.”  (CCC 1822) Well my student is right! When we go to Guatemala, it is for charity!  We love others for God and with God’s love in us. So during COVID-19, where is the charity?  It’s easy to point out where it is not. It is NOT in the people who are hoarding toilet paper, elastic, flour, etc. However, it IS in so many people in so many other ways. I have seen many groceries given away, many people singing or performing in lawns of nursing homes for the residents, many children drawing inspirational messages in chalk on sidewalks, many random acts of kindness.

When we pray for the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, those are BIG asks. They come with big responsibility. But if we trust God and know that He wants to fill us with these virtues so we can bring them to life in His world, then we know He will equip us to grow them in our daily lives. Tomorrow when I wake up, we will still be in quarantine. I will still be trying to figure out what is left in the freezer to cook for dinner, and what positive words I can give my teenagers to inspire them for another day being shut in. But with faith, hope, and charity animated in this very house, we will not just survive, but possibly thrive in pandemonium. I hope you take a moment to really consider these theological virtues, and how God is calling you to grow them in your own quarantined life.

He is our Shelter in Place

Life has been admittedly weird since Friday the 13th. On that day, the college students in my campus community were informed that their Spring Break may be extended because of the coronavirus. The President issued a social distancing order, and as we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, I wondered if we were too close in our tiny chapel. Since that time, things have grown even more strange, with mandates of ten people or less in gatherings, and recently Shelter in Place orders being issued by cities and counties nearby.

All of it has struck me nearly silent. I do not know what to make of each day’s newsfeed, and I struggle with remaining the eternal optimist that I normally am blessed to be. All of our normal daily lives have been altered….across the entire world. I cannot wrap my brain around something that has altered life across the globe. I also feel I cannot complain, as everyone is affected by the lovely COVID-19 term. I am extremely blessed to have a job that I positively love. For the past 19 years, I look forward to going to work. The college students I minister to grow my heart and touch my soul. While some people may be happy to not have to report in to their office daily, I am absolutely missing my job greatly. The new landscape of trying to do ministry virtually is so hard. My favorite thing is ministry of presence. Despite what everyone tells me, presence is NOT virtual to me. Virtual reality does not satisfy the human soul.

I am also supposed to be getting married in a little over a month. The plans for a beautiful wedding, sacramentally celebrated with family and friends, have been hijacked. The reception postponed. The dreams I have been dreaming for the past year dramatically altered. Now my fiancé and I struggle to determine if we can include our parents in the 10 people or less rule, and I face the truth that my children will not be able to be there with me. Yes I know that what is most important is that God is with us, and I do not want to dishonor that fact. Still, I am allowed to grieve the loss of all who I thought would surround us on that special day.

Other consequences of COVID-19 around me: Forced homeschooling for high school. Online only learning for college. Mission trips rescheduled (yes our Guatemala trip). Senior proms, UIL competitions, even graduation ceremonies – ALL CANCELLED or postponed indefinitely.

Quarantine. Isolate. Social Distance. Desolate.

Yet, there is a silver lining. Probably multiple. As we hear terms like “Shelter in Place” I am reminded of the lyrics to the song, On Eagle’s Wings…”you who dwell in the shelter of the Lord.” The word shelter has taken on a very negative and fearful connotation in the past few weeks. However shelter is a positive term. To have shelter is to not be out in the elements. To be given shelter is to be cared for. God is always our Shelter in Place. Throughout my life, I have felt the shelter of God. It is almost like imagining myself crawling up into His lap and curling up in safety there. In these very traumatic times, God is opening His arms wide and inviting us to take shelter in Him. He is bigger than this pandemic. He wants us to lean into Him, and bring others along with us.

When I do choose to get on social media, I have noticed so many beautiful outcomes of this crisis….

  • Music artists writing inspiring new songs from their living room or kitchen and sharing it with the world (check out JJ Heller or Jeremy Camp, just to name a couple)
  • Celebrating Mass practically anywhere with anyone (my fiancé and I “attended” Mass at our home parish this morning, and then joined Bishop Robert Barron for Mass and finally Father Mike Schmitz)
  • Praying in Eucharistic Adoration with the Pope from my kitchen table
  • Zoom meetings with people I have never met (recently with campus ministers from across the country)
  • Google hangouts over lunch
  • So many sharing their performing art talents freely with the word

In addition, in my own family I have found that we:

    • Eat more meals together
    • Find time to have game nights often
    • Talk without the constraint of having to hurry to be somewhere
    • Bake, build, create, imagine

I hope to continue to be stretched during this time. I know God is using every bit of this mess to grow us, if we let Him. He does not waste one ounce of what we endure to teach and mold us. Please God, keep molding me.

“Our word describes reality. God’s word creates reality.”

Bishop Barron said these words in his homily today. Think of the words you use to describe your current reality. If you are like me, they are not complimentary or positive. Yet God’s word creates reality. What reality are we allowing Him to create? He is our Shelter in this place. We have 8 days left until the Easter Triduum. Lent has been sacrificial for us all, even if we didn’t choose the sacrifice. May we embrace our scratchy cross filled with slivers, and walk with faith towards our Resurrection.

Jesus, I trust in You.