Monday, January 30, 2012
At our Bible study group, I learned a little more about giving. Growing up in church, I always knew we should give money in the collection being passed around. As I became older, I learned of tithing ten percent of your income. I also learned to volunteer (tithing time and talent) to help your church function in all sorts of areas. I have worked in the nursery, music, Vacation Bible School, youth group, dinners, Eucharist, retreats, and coffee. The Bible passages we read opened my eyes to another collection I need to add to my routine.
A little side note in case I have never mentioned this before and in case it is unknown. The Catholic Bible is different than the Standard Bible. The Catholic Bible has a few more books in the Old Testament. The reading I am using comes from two such books. The first reading comes from Tobit 1:6. “I, for my part, would often make the pilgrimage alone to Jerusalem for the festivals, as is prescribed for all Israel by perpetual decree. Bringing with me the first fruits of the field and the firstlings of the flock, together with a tenth of my income and the first shearing’s of the sheep. I would hasten to Jerusalem….” The next verse comes from 1 Maccabess 3:49. “They brought with them the priestly vestments, the first fruits, and the tithes;….” As we discussed these verses, one of the ladies talked about her daughter volunteering at Food Share. First fruits and Food Share all clicked into place like the last piece of a puzzle.
I have never given of my first fruits. Every year, I have cultivated flowers and many years I cultivate vegetables and herbs. I never give these. Now in the summer and fall, I want to take some of my vegetables, fruit, and herbs to the Food Share pantry. I need to make my garden bigger! I won’t be able to take much because my crops are not all that big, but if everyone where to give a little, Food Share wouldn’t run out of the healthy items so quickly during the growing season.
Flowers, what can I do with flowers? I want to take them to the Big Sky Care Center. Now, in all reality, I don’t pick my flowers. I love to see them in the gardens as I walk up my driveway from getting the mail and along the sidewalk coming to and from my outings. However, this past fall I started working on a new flower project. I am adding a strip of garden down the other side of my driveway; plus, I am going to work on a secret garden on the south side of our garage. In a couple of years, this should yield flowers that I can share with others.
Finally, sitting at Mass, I loved the message Father shared with us. We need to do more than just attend church on Sundays. We need to work on our faith throughout the week as well. Many of us do that and some people are working so hard to make ends meet or have huge family responsibilities that they find it hard to volunteer and give more of time, treasure, and talent. Yet, I started thinking of first fruits in another area. When I go to church, I am filled with God’s love through the Eucharist and my fellow Catholics/Christians. The love that flows from handshakes and hugs gives me strength beyond understanding because all those gestures come from God Himself through us. These can be considered “fruits” of love.
We need to share these fruits of love we receive at church to the rest of the world. One of my adopted kids shared with me a story about a lady having a birthday party at the place my adopted daughter works at. The lady was very rude and unforgiving about a couple of mix-ups that happened on Saturday. Ironically, they ran into each other at Mass yesterday. Neither knew the other until that moment. A bit awkward to say the least! We all have bad days and should forgive. However, the older woman should have used her first fruits in the situation for the glory of Christ. I challenge you all to use your first fruits of love this coming week!
Blessing to you all.
Friday, January 27, 2012
The next questions to look at are a conundrum. “Could it be that he himself (God) is the reason we are suffering?” Page 89. “Could it be that we have offended him (God)?” Page 89. Is suffering really our fault? Page 90. The Old Testament is packed with examples of God inflicting suffering on His people. “Even the people of Judah, however, did not keep the commandment of the Lord…So the Lord rejected the whole race of Israel. He afflicted them and delivered them over to plunderers, finally casting them out from before him.” 2 Kings 17:19-20. God was angry. In Genesis chapter 7 and 8, God sent the flood destroying all the people except Noah and his family. Noah was the only good man God could find worth saving. However, even the good suffered in the Bible. He allowed Satan to wreak havoc on Job, a very good man, causing him great suffering in the book of Job. Wow, God held these people to the fire.
What about today? Is God still angry with us? The Old Testament Bible showed us pictures of an angry God, a vengeful God. He was a new parent without a manual on how to raise His freewill children. He used the rod to discipline by causing plagues to descend on His idol worshiping people. God grew in His parenthood and formed a new game plan. He sent Jesus to die for our sins because so far throughout all of time, not many could die still in good standing with God. He became more loving by watching His own son work in this world filled with temptations. He stopped sending plagues. This didn’t stop the plagues or suffering, but He no longer inflicted the pain. The judging of a society stopped and He began to see each individual. I won’t believe God causes suffering since the time Jesus lived on this Earth. Natural disasters are a part of the law of nature causing suffering. Our freewill to turn to evil causes suffering for ourselves and others. But it is no long God whom causes suffering.
I offend God on a daily basis. Well, so far today, I don’t think I have, but yesterday I got angry at a car passing me. My son had to shush me because I was thinking bad thoughts about a stranger. I was not being loving or understanding. I offended God. I lost my patience with my daughter and yelled at her. This offended God. Did I suffer? Yes, I felt miserable about the way I treated my little ladybug. I did apologize, but I still felt bad. If I continued to yell at her, never had patience, and never apologized, I would cause myself great suffering. Our relationship would be destroyed, my fault.
When we offend God, we are at fault when we suffer. We aren’t struck with blindness or other plague like sufferings, but we do suffer in ways that apply to our act of offense. We steal a car; we suffer through jail time. We are mean to others; we suffer in relationships. We destroy our bodies with cigarettes; we will possibly get cancer. We participate in gossip and drama; our relationships crumble.
So, yes we offend God on a daily basis. We do cause our own suffering. No, God doesn’t cause suffering, but the natural world and laws that rule it causes suffering. I have had a few people send me their ideas of suffering. Many of them have expressed that through our suffering, we will then be able to appreciate our life more fully and we will long to be with Christ. In my own life, I enjoy my pain free days more than I ever did before. The reason is I know the pain of a body being consumed by ache so bad it leaves me bedridden. I now grab the pain free days and milk them dry with enjoyment. And yes, I long to be with Christ. I do want to wait for another 60 odd years, but I do look forward to that joy.
Blessing to you all.
Monday, January 23, 2012
“’No one goes to heaven without suffering. And as a child of Mary, you may never put down the cross you bear,’ she stated.” Location 569 in Our Lady of Kibeho; Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Stated to Anathalie (one of the visionaries) by Our Lady.
While reading Immaculee’s book about the apparitions in Kibeho, many of the statements spoke to me. I would like to share a few with you in the coming weeks. Of course, I will add some of my reflections. I realize and hope my audience for this blog expands further then Catholic readers. With that, I know not all of you see Mary in the same light, but please read along anyway. Whether you believe Mary appears to people or not, the quotes I will share are good material to reflect on to help us in our own lives. In reality, I will not know for certain if these appearances are legitimate until I make it to heaven and can ask. Yet, I do believe I can learn and become better for the faith expressed. So, please join me.
We will not go to heaven without suffering. Really this seems to be a given. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t suffered. Yet, how hard do we work at avoiding that suffering which is the cross that we are to carry on our journey to holiness? One of my crosses to bear is my health. When I have a flare-up from either the RA or the fibro, I rest to avoid more pain. If I have obligations I can’t skip, I take ibuprofen. Also, I do take my RA medicine to stop the tide of joints being eaten away which will cause more suffering. Granted this isn’t a cross I will ever be able to completely avoid and with health issues I believe we can get away with trying to avoid some of the suffering. Yet in the suffering the true cross is to not let my pain be reflected in my attitude and the way I treat those around me. During my last year or so working full-time, my cross weighed heavily on me. I shared this with a few of my coworkers, but many of them had no idea what I was going through because I worked at not having my cross become their cross. Unfortunately, my family did feel my cross.
I do avoid another cross that I am not sure is legitimate like my health. Relationships are a cross to bear for many if not all people. I am no exception. There are people in my life who help me carry my cross and others that seem to jump up and down on it causing me much suffering. Some people, I have kicked off my cross. One in particular, I feel I need to put back on, but how much are we to carry those who don’t want to be carried and bring about pain? I really struggle with this. When do we let go and when do we hang on to this jumpers? My husband has jumped on my cross a ton especially while he went through the worst moments of PTSD. Many spouses have dumped their spouse because of this issue. Are they right or wrong? It is a cross military spouses are asked to bear. Though I struggle with it at times, I could never drop this part of my cross. Besides, I know I jump on his cross as well. I just wish I dealt with the jumping as gracefully as he does.
So, how are you doing with bearing your cross? I pray you are holding up. And speaking of praying, we need to pray for strength to hold the cross high. We need to pray to not put down our cross, but to let Jesus hold the parts we just can’t seem to handle. I pray daily for Him to help me.
Blessing to you all.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Last night I semi-reluctantly attended our monthly Ultreya meeting. All people who attend a Cursillo are invited to come worship, learn, and fellowship. Each month the leader team brings a new topic of interest to the rest of us. Throughout the year, we always have a family picnic in August and a Christmas party in December. Another regularly schedule activity is to hear people talk about the prison ministry. I have heard this theme a few times. To be honest, I get bored with this issue, but since my husband in now on the team, I went mainly to support him. I left the meeting contemplating my lack of ministry in my journey to holiness.
The Bible passage read came from Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus talks about how people will be divided into two groups to be judged, goats and sheep. Now, I love goats and sheep, but I really don’t want to be a goat. The sheep get to go to heaven because “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” verse 35-36. The goats did none of this; thus, there is no place in heaven for them.
I have heard and read this reading many times in my life. I always feel guilty. Really, I don’t do much of this. I give food when I remember and I do give baby clothes and the afghans I make for the babies of unwed mothers. That is the extent of what I do in these specific areas. None of it is outside my comfort zone. Granted, I do a lot of things for my church and children, but one of the guys that spoke last night made a good point. Giving all the bushel baskets of money to the marginalized will do nothing to help their hearts. They need us to show up whether it is in the prison, nursing home, homeless shelter, or other areas they frequent.
I have a major hang up, okay hang ups. The independent, judgmental, red neck in me has a lot of issues with homeless people and prisoners. I worked three jobs to get through college with no help from my parents or anyone else. I make sure I don’t overspend by buying a house I can’t afford or any of those big priced toys that would be a lot of fun; boats, jet skis, snowmobiles. I also abide by the laws of our community. This way of life is not difficult. If I can do, so can everyone else.
Yet, the other part of me knows that I was raised with a strong moral code and work ethic that others aren’t blessed to be guided in by mentors. They suffer circumstances in their lives that I can only imagine. They lack the skills to pull themselves out of the eternal cycle of poverty. Others are placed in positions with no support that they just can’t get out of without drastic measures because they don’t have the tools to do anything else. Other people simply just make one bad mistake that sends them to jail. Another guy stood up and talked about this. He gave examples of one good man drinking and driving killing someone with his car. Another person was abandoned by his family at age 14 leading to issues that sent him to prison. These people still have good in their heart. Besides, who am I to judge them?
As an early teen, my youth group went to the local nursing home to visit the marginalized. I hated these trips. The smell, drool, vacant eyes all grossed me out. One mentally disabled woman would grab us, scaring me. Only one of the patients did I like to visit, an older gentle who loved history. I enjoyed talking with him. When I step into an old folk’s home now, I still feel all those old feelings come back to me and just want to run back out the door.
I am left wondering what is a person like me supposed to do about ministries in this area. At the moment I am a goat, a very busy goat. My life is very full with my volunteer work, kids, house, and projects. Someday I may join the prison ministries. Now, I need to be the one to stay home with the kids while my husband performs this duty. The prison ministers talked about needing prayer and letters. I can do this. Also, I know I could easily fix a dinner at our church when we host Family Promise there. What about you? Do you minister to the less fortunate? I would love to hear what you do for Jesus.
Blessings to you all.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
While reading God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman, I became bombarded with all of his questions that he asked especially at the beginning of the book. I didn’t write them all down, but I did record forty-five of them. I won’t do posts for all of the questions and some of the questions will be added together in one post. So, fear not, we won’t be spending all of 2012 on suffering. Well, at least when it comes to Mr. Ehrman. Please always remember, I love to hear my readers comments whether agreeing with me or not. Much of what I will be writing will be my ideas and answers of how I see God’s role in suffering. I don’t know if they are right or wrong. They are just my way of making suffering easier for me to travel through.
I also want to note that right now in my life my suffering is minuscule. When people, myself included, are in the middle of a tragic time in their life, the natural reaction can be anger, depression, and a rejection of any positive thoughts during any given time in their struggles. Also of important note, I wouldn’t necessarily discuss these ideas with a person in the middle of suffering. Usually, they don’t need an answer to why they have lost a loved one or are experiencing suffering. Instead, they need our empathy, understanding, listening skills, and to validate their suffering. Let’s face it, life is excruciating at times. To deny this fact is wrong. Love those in need.
“If God is all powerful, why does he let his faithful suffer?” page 1. “Why are the sick still wracked with unspeakable pain?” page 5. “Why are babies still born with defects?” page 5. Many questions of this nature riddled the book. These questions have been asked of me by people when we discuss issues of God. Non-believers really struggle with the fact that there is suffering in the world especially when it enters the life of an innocent child. All of us struggle with this. But let’s break all of this down in smaller chunks.
Is God all powerful? I believe he is. All things are possible through God. However, He is a logical God who believes in the natural order of the laws of science. Yes, He could take away the suffering for the faithful. However, He expects us to live good lives following the commandments and the example of Jesus. He would be a hypocrite if He didn’t follow His own laws that He created when He built the universe. Earthquakes will not only hit under sinners homes. He doesn’t have favorites which is why even the faithful suffer. All of us are equally loved by God thus it is only logical that we all suffer. Granted our suffering isn’t equal, but it is there just the same. Viruses will randomly strike all of us. Diseases will not decide first if we are His faithful or not. Thus, all people are exposed to suffering. He never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer. He never promises we will live on Earth forever. We will suffer; we will die.
He is our parent. I know He wants to take away our pain. All parents want to take away their children’s pain. We learn from pain, we become stronger after we have suffered. Though I want to take away my daughter’s struggle with homework which she suffers through, I would be doing an injustice to her. She wouldn’t learn to work hard. She wouldn’t feel the joy when finally getting 100% on a spelling test. We need the pain and suffering to fully appreciate life to its fullest. We need to be able to conquer our shortcomings. We need to let our loved ones pass on to experience the grace of heaven. God gives us the strength to do just that if we ask for help.
The very tough question of “Why are babies still born with defects?” strikes a chord in all of us. We all want babies to be born healthy and perfect. But again it comes down to biology, laws of science. God does not break those laws. I won’t explain any further about genes or chromosomes because science has never been one of my strong suits. I do need to express that though I understand the struggle with this question it also really ticks me off. All human life is precious to God. He doesn’t care if we are cross-eyed, blind, crippled, or any number of things that are considered “defects.” All of us have a defect. Granted many of our imperfections are hidden from the world or overlooked, but we have them just the same. To consider one baby superior over another because one is considered to be defected is breaking the laws of God. And please don’t get me started on discovering the “defects” before the child is born and terminating the pregnancy. We need to see all children through the eyes of God. They are precious and they are perfect.
The facts are simple. We will get sick; some of us will be crippled; some of us will have diseases; we will suffer; we will feel pain; and we will die. I can’t help but add this quote from the movie The Princess Bride spoken by the Man in Black to Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Suffering is part of our journey to holiness. Turn to God for strength, give strength to other people, and by all means enjoy the beautiful moments! They are out there. We just need to open our hearts.
Blessings to you all.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
During the week, I go out to look at a few blogs that help give me inspiration. My aunt rekindled her site a couple of months ago. Not only does she encourage me, I also feel more a part of her life since we don’t get to see each other all that much. I follow a couple of writers and a very dear friend. To take a break from my own writing on Friday, I went to see if my friend had written anything new. She had. What a journey it has taken me on.
She wrote about a family tradition her and her family participate in every year. They each draw a saint’s name. Throughout the year, they study the saint and keep a special spot in their heart for that historical hero during the twelve months. Such a cool idea! While I was reading, I kept thinking, I have to e-mail her to have her pick me a saint. At the end of her post, she invited all her readers to do just that. I immediately wrote to her. My next writing project, as I have shared with you, is going to be about suffering. Who would God pick for me to spend time with? Then I waited in great anticipation. I mean, this was better than waiting for Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one.
As I waited, I thought about what a great project this could be for all Christians. Many people could enjoy learning more about the great historical heroes who helped pave the way of all walks of Christianity: Sir Thomas More, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Elizabeth Ann Seton, Billy Graham, or Brigham Young. Hey, maybe even Tim Tebow. What about picking people from the Bible: Paul, Martha, Abraham, or Peter. It dawned on me that I had actually done this last year without even knowing it. When I started my blog, I went out to find the patron saint of writing which happened to be Saint Francis de Sales. I read some of his work, studied his history, and chatted with him about my writing. Within a couple of hours, I excitedly looked at my e-mail to find my saint had been delivered: Our Lady of Kibeho.
Yes, it is a Mary thing. You know how we Catholics are. We love Mary. Even before I became Catholic, Mary has been a part of my life. Since my childhood, I have had a statue of her that was given to me by Father Smart at Christmas. During BASIC training, I prayed with her to feel comforted and loved so far away from home and my new husband. Where two or three are gathered there also will be Jesus. Many times, I have needed someone with me to pray with and Mary is awesome at it. I could go on and on about this topic, but the reality is that once we die, I think we get to heaven and have work to do. Some of us will be working here on Earth, you know like Touched by an Angel. This is theology according to Lisa of course, but I do believe at the very least the souls in heaven pray for us and can pray with us. Also, if we Christians can’t believe in divine miracles and actions, what really is the point? God can do all things.
Immediately after reading the e-mail, I went to my kindle and downloaded the book Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa by Immaculee Ilibagiza. I read the book in a day. Throughout the year, I will do some posts to share the things I find. A quick history is that Our Lady came to seven primary visionaries in Kibeho, Rwanda from 1981 through 1989 to tell the world to pray and repent. Of the seven, three of them have been acknowledged by the Vatican. Also of note, Jesus came to a couple of the visionaries as well. Mary also warned the people that blood would flow in Rwanda which it did take place in 1994. She also asked one of the visionaries to reintroduce to the world the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. This prayer was prayed during the middle ages but was forgotten. I couldn’t have asked for a better saint.
My writing project on suffering will be enriched by studying Mary’s sorrows through Biblical text. I will also be able to study the life of author Immaculee Ilibagiza who survived the Rwanda massacre though she lost her parents and two brothers to this evil event in history.
I challenge all of you to go out and find a Christian project to help your faith grow though the coming year, to help you on your journey to holiness.
Blessing to you all.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Six years ago when my husband went to five months of military training and on to Iraq, I began to contemplate suffering in a different way. In the past, I saw it as a logic response to stupid things we did or a natural part of life. The worst suffering I felt while he was in Iraq came from friends and family criticizing the way I raised my children and handled the tasks of everyday life without a husband. I did have people who stood by my side and helped in tremendous ways, but many didn’t. The ridicule they thrust at me like a dagger cut to my heart.
E-mail contact helped tremendously as I tried to keep the depression at bay. My husband knew what I was going through. He pointed out that Jesus’ friends also let Him down during His time of need. They all denied knowing Him and ran the other direction when He went to trial, was flogged, carried his cross, and died. Before Jerry mentioned this, I had never really grasped the suffering in the Bible by applying it to my own life. I knew the stories and understood the suffering as a story, but not as an example of all those Biblical heroes being human just like me. Knowing Jesus went through a very similar trial gave me strength.
The last couple of months, I have thought of ways to write about suffering. I feel a tug to understand better and maybe help others to see suffering in a different light. I went to the library and found a very interesting book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman. I almost didn’t check it out. The author now claims to be an agnostic. Before doing the work for this book, he worked as a minister. Because he didn’t find any answers to suffering that he liked, he stopped worshiping God. I feared he might try to change the minds of Christians, but after reading the first few pages, I could tell that wasn’t his agenda. He truly did try to find his answers. What his conclusions ended with is that God caused suffering and he could no longer be a part of this faith any longer. I do find it ironic that he still is a professor of religious studies.
While I have read the book, emotions have bombarded me. Part of me weeps for this man. Through his words, I can see he is a caring man of intelligence. I have prayed for him. The search has left him bitter. However, he twists all of his thinking like a spoilt child. Since the world isn’t the way he thinks it needs to be, he stomps his foot and stops believing. This attitude drives me crazy making me very angry. I want to yell at him to grow up, get over himself, and deal with it. I feel very sorry for his limited insight.
His book tries to answer the question of why we suffer. I want to write about how we can turn to the Bible to find peace in our suffering and the suffering of others. I would like to show suffering through the eyes of Biblical heroes to help us get through our times of pain. Much of Bart’s writing didn’t apply to what I will eventually get written though I think my ideas of suffering have deepened. Plus, he did challenge my ideas. He asks a ton of questions. I thought I would share some of my thoughts about his work here on the blog starting next week by answering some of the questions. Until then I would love for you to tell me why YOU think we suffer.
Blessings to you all.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Happy New Year!!! Yes, I am running late on posts. I thought of doing more Christmas posts especially one on gift giving. I also considered writing about the one year anniversary of my blog. Alas, both those dates have come and gone. Instead I enjoyed time with family and friends. Yay!!! Being it is only two days since the New Year began, I believe I will chat a little bit about resolutions.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. There, I said it. In the past, I have spent time working out different things I want to do for the coming year and then work like mad to do them in January until life derails me ending in ultimate failure. Winter months are gloomy and depressing enough, why do I want them to be worse when I fail at resolutions? I also get really irritated with other people’s resolution. I don’t like to watch them fail. I also don’t like it when they take my favorite treadmill at the gym. Yes, you can call me the Grinch of New Year’s resolutions.
Admittedly, I reflect on how I can make myself a better person during December and January. I read the thoughts of other writers about how I can accomplish this task. Chuckling, I envision these people with no children, no real life, and never getting sick! But, I also reflect on doing better February through November. My areas of needing to improve are plentiful. I want to have a cleaner house, a healthier budget, a skinny body, athletic stamina, a prolific writing career, a stronger prayer life, and the list can go on. But ultimately, I love who I am right here and now. Putting off these tasks to goof around with my kids or work on a craft project brings me great joy.
Everyday of the year, unless on holiday, I wake up and strive to get all my chores/resolutions done. I write lists of things to do that I can check off throughout the day. Rarely do I get them all checked. Take today. I woke up. Thank you God!!! My first task was to start cleaning house and get my daughter off to school. Back home, I planned on researching at least twenty-two pages and edit for an hour along with more housework. My oldest child derailed the process. Instead, I did get housework done and about twelve pages researched, but I haven’t touched my editing. If I had made the resolutions, I would already be a failure on January 3, 2012. No thank you. Instead I can grin that I will be marking off some of my daily tasks and that I took time out of my day for a loved one. I am a success.
Each day of our life, Christ asks us to become better people, to live to our great potential. Yet, He knows we are human. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions each year, wake up every day and strive to do the tasks before you with the knowledge that life happens. And thank God that it does. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have friends to have coffee with or children to make me laugh or a beautiful day to entice me to forget my chores and play in the dirt/garden. He gave me these gifts and I plan on enjoying them even if it means taking another year to edit my novel or having people see my messy house. So go out and work on being a better person, but enjoy the derailments as well.
Blessings to you all.