Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy...think about such things.                

Philippians 4:8

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Friend, My Friend, What Do You See?

While visiting my grandchildren recently, they got a hold of my phone and were scrolling through the pictures. I heard the usual ooohs and aaahs, but then one of them said, "That's boring." I took the phone and flipped through the pictures until I found the 'boring' one.

It was a picture I took several days ago after a friend of mine texted me an image of a lovely floral, china teacup, set on a table covered in pastel pink linen. Next to it, carefully placed in a fragile white china vase, was a bouquet of delicate purple pansies and yellow sunflowers. 

The image was so beautiful, it made me smile. It awakened my soul. It just made me feel good.

In response, I searched my own home to find such beauty and discovered a beautiful white ginger urn with a stunning image of vibrant pink peonies and lush green foliage. I held the precious cup at arm's length, admired it, and set it on a table covered with white linens. Then I stepped back and studied it through the lens. I considered different angles, and, choosing the perfect perspective, photographed it, allowing the background to blur for effect. 

Then I texted the image to my friend.

"I loved the beautiful picture you sent this morning," I wrote. "It made me want to capture and appreciate the beauty right in my own home, so here's my attempt!"

Imagine that! That exact same image is the one that my nine-year-old granddaughter called "boring!"

So, I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

And I guess our God-given free-will allows us to choose to focus on the splendor that surrounds us...or not.

Look around. What are you beholding today? Can you see the image of God? Do you see the beauty surrounding you?

Remember, the choice is yours.

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy...think about such things.                  Philippians 4:8

Monday, April 24, 2017

Does God Speak To Us?

It took me years to wade through the quicksand of grief following my brother's death. These Monday posts are stories of the stepping stones of faith that helped me recover.  Incredibly, my unspoken fears were put to rest in this story, which took place years ago, when I attended my first Orlando Magic basketball game:

Does God speak to us? 

By Debra Tomaselli

At age thirty-three, my younger brother, James Holmes, died in my arms.

I experienced his spirit leaving the body minutes before physical death occurred. While this experience confirmed my belief in separation of body and soul, a resulting doubt and fear about the fate of our souls consumed me. 

I was especially concerned for James, because he wasn’t a mainstream person.   He fought mental disabilities, was unemployed, could not drive, and possessed nothing of value.  He was uncomfortable around most people except immediate family.  He did not attend church and spoke very little about God.  In the measures of this world, he was last.

After his death I was in turmoil questioning the existence of God and the condition of my brother’s spirit. Was James “good enough” to get into heaven?  Was I?  Was there even a heaven?

But James was honest.  He was kind.  And grateful for any simple act of kindness we offered.  Beyond words, he was an innocent, kind and gentle soul.  His life was unfairly flawed by his mental disabilities. 

At the time I most doubted the providence of God, I attended my first Magic basketball game. My husband and I were chatting during half time when a message blinked on the marquee for only a few seconds but stayed in my heart for a lifetime.  I’ve often mused at the prospect that not only did I happen to look in the direction of the marquee at that precise moment, but also that this message would be displayed at the only game we happened to attend.

“Happy Birthday, James Holmes,” the sign flashed, “from your loving wife.”  The thought of my brother James having a “happy” birthday and the possibility that another could forever love him addressed my deepest concerns.

Does God speak to us?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

He who created us without our help
will not save us without our consent

- St. Augustine

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cancer - Here's an Update For You

To my loyal readers, amazing family, and incredible husband - thank you. You are the wind beneath my wings. You are my inspiration. You are my encouragement. I appreciate that you are willing to share this journey with me, to remind me that the human spirit is not alone, that we are never alone.

Some of you have asked how I'm doing, and here's the update:

As you may know, I underwent intensive chemo treatments from August 2015-November 2015 and while they can't get the cancer in remission, they can keep it at bay. As a result, I will always need periodic, ongoing treatments. (Next month starts a new set of rounds.)

While these drugs are successful at holding back the cancer, the side effects have been debilitating.

There's rashes, intestinal issues, abdominal pain, bone pain, headaches, muscle aches and fevers. As time passes, the issues peel away, each like a layer of skin on an onion, exposing a new set of  underlying agonies.

Since chemo began, my brain has felt like it's wrapped in barbed wire, stuck with push pins, or embedded with razor blades.  But thankfully -  recently...the sharp pain has diminished...and on some days...there's no pain!

Almost simultaneously, the bone pain is retreating too!

I'm beginning to feel like a new person!

Well, comparatively.

There's still something disorienting going on in my head, something that's still off (I know...some of you have known that all along LOL).  It keeps me from driving, although I have gotten behind the wheel a few times for short drives in recent weeks. And although the agonies have recoiled, they've left my body feeling war-torn, making a slow recovery. 

The progress is still there, albeit slow.

With the recent improvements, I'm thinking of all the things I hope to be able to do someday. Sometimes my mind races with ideas and dreams, reaching far beyond my current abilities. 

I try not to get ahead of myself though. 

I remind myself that it's okay.

After all, my real strength is believing that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him, and God knows how I do love Him. I may be feeble, weak, and flawed in that love, but God knows I try.

So, it's okay. I just keep calm and carry on.

And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him. Romans 8:28

Monday, April 17, 2017

Can You See Me Now?

It always amazes me that the disciples didn't recognize the risen Christ.

Mary thought he was the gardener. Thomas couldn't believe the other disciples really saw him alive. The guys walking on the road to Emmaus thought he was some stranger that joined them along the way.

How could they not know? How could they miss it?

And it sort of makes me wonder - How many times have I not recognized the presence of Christ in my world?

I was driving home from the downtown dentist when I saw her. The girl in the yellow shorts was sitting under the overpass, alongside shabby housing projects. She had her knees pulled up under her chin and was staring at the ground.  Something urged me to help her, but I didn't know what to do. Maybe I could have rolled my window down and offered an encouraging word, but when the light turned green, I drove away. I knew, even as I accelerated, that I'd made the wrong choice.

I'm here, Christ seemed to say. I'm in your world. Can you see me now?

Once, when I was at the hospital on a particularly scary and lonely day, I noticed a laundry worker in the hallway, pushing her cart. She paused to ask if I needed anything. Since the room was chilly, I asked for a blanket. As we spoke, I had the feeling that I’d known her all my life. Her presence was such a comfort. This stranger offered understanding and compassion just when I needed it most.

I'm here, Christ seemed to say. I'm in your world. Can you see me now?

During a difficult struggle in my life, I suddenly decided to hurry to a weekday Mass. It was like something was calling me to be there. During the consecration, even though I was alone in the pew, I felt a presence surrounding me. It was like somebody was standing with me.  It was undeniable. It was unmistakable. I left that Mass humming, feeling strengthened and peaceful.

I'm here, Christ seemed to say. I'm in your world. Can you see me now?

When Mary thought he was the gardener, and she asked where they put the Lord's body, Jesus calls her name. "Mary!" And with that, she recognizes him.

When Thomas tells the disciples that he needs to put his hands into Christ's wounds to believe it is him, Jesus appears at the next gathering and invites Thomas to 'see and believe.' 

The guys walking to Emmaus realized their 'hearts were burning' during their discussion with the stranger, and they recognized him at the end of the journey, in the breaking of the bread.

Like the disciples, whatever is happening in your life, you can believe Christ is there. In the depths of grief, in your everyday responsibilities, in the trials of life...he is there.

He's calling your name. He's inviting you to see and believe. He's speaking to you through his holy word.

I'm here, Christ says. I'm in your world. Can you see me now?

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's Good Friday - What Are You Doing About It?

We despised him and rejected him - a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised and we didn't care.

Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! Bet he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was chastised that we might have peace; he was lashed - and we were healed! We are the ones who strayed away like sheep! We, who left God's paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us.      Isaiah 55 3-6

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Listen...Do You Want to Know Another Secret?

"Tell me," I said to my housekeeper. "What do you do to draw closer to God?"

She stopped sweeping, leaned on the broom, and smiled.

"I pray," she said. She paused, searching for the right words. "I ask God to change my mind."

Although I generally understood her broken English, this comment stumped me. I cocked my head. "Change your mind?"

"Sometimes we focus on one little problem," she said. She held her hands up and pinched her thumb and forefinger together, "and we fail to see the good that is around us..." She paused, collecting her thoughts.

I could only imagine the problems this humble Hispanic woman had, struggling to learn the language and earning a meager living cleaning houses.
"Yes, that's true," I said, nodding in agreement.

"We have so much to be thankful for," she added, "...the family, the friends, the sunshine, the air we breathe." 

She shifted the broom, pushed several strands of thick dark hair away from her face, and offered a knowing smile. 

"God is so big and I'm so little," she said. She looked at me, waiting for my response.

"Right," I said, still a little confused. "What's the change you pray for?"

"I ask to see him, not with my eyes," she said, "but with my soul."

Wow! Such a simple, yet powerful prayer.

It's why I love talking to her. It's why I keep her employed. Our conversations are priceless.

She summed it up beautifully.

"We are here to do His will, not the other way around," she said. "He sees the bigger picture. He knows what's best for us...not just here...but for eternity."

With that, she returned to sweeping the floors. 

How about you? What do you do to draw closer to God? Sometimes I listen to music and make the song my prayer. Here's one that does just that:

Click here for today's song, Draw Me Close by Michael W Smith

Monday, April 10, 2017

Friday's Here, But...Sunday's A-Coming

Years ago, I was still new at this Good Friday thing. Again, I debated whether or not to go, and this time I ended up racing to church as the service was starting. Good thing. Turns out there was a sermon I needed to hear.

I was still struggling with my brother's death. I'd come a long way, but I still harbored feelings of guilt- anger turned inward- for the way things turned out.  In fact, I'd resigned myself to the thought that I'd feel miserable about his death forever. Somehow that felt the right thing to do.

But I was drawn to God, and for good reason. That Good Friday afternoon, Christ tapped me on the shoulder, letting me know I had more to learn.

I slipped into the packed church. The lights were dimmed. A red cloth was draped over the life-sized crucifix on the altar. The reverence of the congregation was contagious.

That day, Father Tom's sermon had one central message. It got my attention. It was short and direct. It hit home.

"We are not to get stuck in the suffering of Christ," he said. "Remember, there's a resurrection. There's always a resurrection."

My head snapped to attention. Could the priest read my mind? Surely I'd never be as happy as I once was, before Jim's death. I was resigned to that, and I thought God was okay with that too.

However, while Father Tom talked about the crucifixion, he again advised us not to get stuck there. He summed it up in a simple phrase, which he repeated several times throughout his sermon:  "Friday's here, but Sunday's a-coming."

That phrase changed everything for me. It shined a light in a dark place. 

So did Christ's resurrection.

In closing, Father Tom repeated his message. His words were meant for you too, you know.

"Remember this," he said. "Friday's here, but Sunday's a-coming...Don't get stuck in the suffering....Friday's here but Sunday's a-coming."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

If you cling to your life, you will lose it;
but if you give it up for Me, you will save it.

Matthew 10:39

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Are You Where You Want To Be?

Years ago, I walked into the church office and exchanged greetings with two fellow parishioners who were discussing how their golden years weren't so 'golden.'

One had been widowed recently. "I thought my husband and I would be enjoying retirement," she said. "I didn't want this."

"I never expected to be struggling with financial issues," said the other, a short woman with curly grey hair. "I thought these years would be fun and easy. This isn't my dream."

I agreed, complaining about how busy my life was, even now, after the kids were off at college. This stage of life didn't exactly meet my expectations either.

The conversation spiraled downward when suddenly I snapped to attention. What were we thinking?  We were women of faith. We were standing on holy ground. We knew better than this.

"Wait a minute," I said.

They looked at me.

"We really are where we want to be," I said. "We really are doing what we want to be doing."

One cocked her head. The other frowned.

"We want to be in the will of God, don't we? And if these are the circumstances He's given us, then we definitely are in the will of God," I said. 

"And if we want to do the will of God, then this is exactly where we want to be."    

This song helps pray my way into the will of God. I hope you enjoy it too. Click here to listen.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Are You In Good Hands?

Time passed following Jim's death, and God continued to beckon me. Listen to what happened next:

It was Good Friday and although I hadn't attended a Lenten service in years, something nagged me to bring the family to church that night. I struggled with the idea all day.

After all, how could I change our plans?  My husband and I took the kids out for pizza every Friday night, and this Friday was no different. If I suggested going to the Good Friday service, it would disrupt our routine. It would rock the boat. I'd have to sell the idea. 

So I said nothing.

But that night, as we motored to the pizzeria, we passed our church. I noticed the Good Friday service had already started, and the parking lot was packed.

We had to be there. I just knew it.

"Pull over," I said to my husband, who was driving. I motioned toward the church.

It was late. The kids were hungry. The service was well underway. But I insisted we stop.

We found space on the grass and parked the car. I slung the baby onto my hip while Joe grabbed the hands of our other two young daughters. Amid mild protests, we rushed across the darkened parking lot and slipped into the back of the church.

 A few empty seats remained, and we slid into them.

The life-sized crucifix on the altar was draped in red cloth. The lights were dimmed.  The congregation was blanketed in reverence.

We joined the assembly as they began singing a traditional Lenten refrain. I sang from the depths of my heart. I meant every word. It was more than a song, it was an earnest prayer: Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

Sitting in the back of that church, immersed in the moment, I released the fears, doubts, anger, and resentments that plauged me in the wake of Jim's death. No wonder something beckoned me to show up for the Good Friday service. I was at the right place, at the right time and it remains our tradition to this day.

That day, as we sang, my perspective changed.  I realized, perhaps for the first time, that it wasn’t my life, but Christ's life within me, that mattered.

A divine exchange was taking place. I could give Christ all my troubles and worries, and receive, instead, His comfort and peace.

Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

I finally meant it.

Abba, Father, I put my life in your hands.

I’m trying to live it.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem , and he told them what would happen to him there. He ...