Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Years ago, I was ill, and they suspected it was the cancer. One particular morning, struggling with uncertainty, I paced through my house, paused in the kitchen and looked outside. Sunshine was shimmering on the still waters behind our house. 

Instantly, these words surfaced:

Be still, and know that I am God.    Psalm 46:10

Peace washed over me.

Within weeks, the illness dissipated. Good health returned, leaving me to wonder:

Does God speak to us?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Maybe there's more to this prayer than we realize?

Thankfully, my parents taught me to pray as a child. Who'd ever guess that a simple, memorized childhood prayer would rescue me from the depths of fear one alarming afternoon?

My husband and I had just welcomed our third daughter into the world days earlier when I received a phone call that my younger brother was ill. At age 33, he was suffering from total and sudden kidney failure. He was hospitalized and may not make it another day.

My father and I raced to see him. 

I wasn't prepared for my first experience in an intensive care unit. Jim had tubes and needles protruding everywhere. The prognosis wasn't good, and a physician advised his condition was terminal.

Back then, there were limits to visiting hours, and Dad and I were sent home around dinnertime. As soon as we stepped into the house, I could hear my young children playing in the family room. I could smell the dinner cooking. I heard the chatter of the television.

I stiffened. My heart was breaking.

Fear washed over me.

Dad and I paused in the foyer. Maybe it showed that I had no energy for the houseful of kids we were about to walk into. Maybe it was apparent I had no taste for the dinner we were about to eat. Maybe he knew how difficult it would be for us to lose our beloved Jim..

"Do you want to pray?" Dad asked. "I'm not good at making up prayers like some people, so how about we just say 3 Hail Mary's?"

I nodded.

He took my trembling hand and began to pray.  "Hail Mary, full of grace..."  During the second Hail Mary, I joined in the prayer. By the end of the third Hail Mary, a peace settled over us.

I'll never forget the change that took place as we prayed.

After that, we joined the rest of the family, enjoyed dinner, laughed at the toddler's antics and, despite heavy hearts, had a peaceful evening. 

All because of 3 Hail Mary's.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Faith Matters!

Years ago, as a freelance writer, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the last fighter pilots to escape Saigon the day it fell to the Communists. I'll never forget his humble devotion to God. 

It was April 30, 1975. He woke up to the sound of sirens screaming. Rounds of artillery bursting. Gaping holes in the tarmac. Housing complexes blown to rubble.

What did he think about?

In that moment, he remembered how, as a young child, his family used to gather at his house to pray. He remembers them all together, praying the rosary as the kids played or fell asleep.

In those perilous moments, that's the image he clung to.

"I left my safety in God's hands," he said.

Forgetting his own fears, he was able to help others escape.

But when only he and the crew-chief remained, they were unable find a flight-worthy plane.
Dead battery. Broken fuselage. Fire in the compressor.

"Lord, save me and I'll serve you," he prayed.

Finally, with the enemy advancing, they gambled on a plane with a broken fuselage. He remembers how a tattered wind sock fluttered silently, providing their direction for takeoff.

When I interviewed him some thirty years later, it was clear that this fighter pilot lived his promise to serve the Lord. You can see it in his humility. You can see it in his demeanor.
Every breath he takes is one of worship to God. He's active in his church, works with the youth group, brings communion to the sick and is often on his knees, praying.

He wants you to know...Faith matters.

Click here for a song (Good to be Alive by Jason Gray) and I hope you have a great day!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ever wonder if your job is part of God's plan?

Months after I was diagnosed with cancer, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. My mom had already died of cancer. Are we seeing a pattern here?

My children were young, and I was working part-time in the insurance business.  These life changing diagnoses, however, caused me to, once again, question my priorities. 

After all, my work wasn't about the money.  And now, with dad's illness, even though he was states away, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Maybe I should give up the job and make more time for family. One particular day, struggling with these questions, I arrived at the office, parked my car, and prayed. 

"God, what do you want me to do?" I said. "Am I supposed to stay in the insurance field?  Do you want me to quit to have more time for family? Please make your answer obvious."

I paused, exited my car, and approached the office.  Dorothy, our marketing representative, met me in the foyer. 
She'd just returned from an office-sponsored trip to Portugal.  Her bright eyes were brimming with excitement. "I want you to see what I got for you," she said.
I cringed. Before leaving, she'd offered to get me a souvenir, but I didn't need anything. I didn't want anything. Besides, I hardly knew her.
A small group of co-workers gathered.
“I want to see Debbie’s face when she opens it,” one of them murmured. A sense of dread filled me. Probably it was some obnoxious tourist gift that she'd wasted her money on. 
Strutting, Dorothy led the way to her office.
“Here it is,” she announced.
I looked, but saw nothing.  No flamboyant tee-shirt. No flapping foul. No camels carved in cork.
“Don’t you see it?”
I shook my head, still expecting a galloping elephant.
“Here.”  Dorothy motioned toward the corner of the desk.
My gaze landed on a small, white, round case placed there. I immediately recognized the sweet image of Our Blessed Mother...Our Lady of Fatima and the iconic figures of three children kneeling beside her in prayer. I gasped. It was so pure...

Speechless, I picked it up and gingerly opened the case, which contained a rose-scented rosary. Gently, carefully, I lifted the sacred beads one-by-one, astounded.
Back then, I didn't  discuss my faith in the workplace. Dorothy had no idea that I prayed the rosary daily. 

I struggled to speak. “How did you know I would want this?”

She wiggled in delight.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It just screamed ‘Debbie’ at me when I saw it!”

Dorothy's gift amazed me. She wasn't Catholic, she wasn't particularly religious, I don't know how she chose it, but her gift hit home.

Not only did I treasure the rosary, but the timing was incredible. Clearly, it was an answer to my curbside prayer that very morning. God used Dorothy to deliver his message that day.
The answer was obvious.

For whatever reason, yes, God wanted me there.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

The Great Recession that began in 2008 made it's impact on many households, including ours. The news was abuzz with falling stock markets, defaulting companies and economic doom.

I remember a moment of fear, where I stopped dead in my tracks while walking through our living room. For the first time, I realized how we are helplessly out-of-control of so many factors that determine our economic well-being. Fear began to creep in.

In that moment, I flipped open my bible and randomly read this passage:

And the God of all grace,
who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and
make you strong, firm and steadfast.

1 Peter 5:10

Pretty much, that's what happened. The economic downturn was scary for awhile, and some of my friends lost much, but in the end we all agree we've been restored. Yes, we turned to our faith. Yes, we've been strengthened. It's all good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When people rush you, here's what to do

One of my first jobs was working for an insurance agency and this particular day I learned a very important lesson. Ken, one of the owners, was leaving for a critical meeting, and needed me to prepare and type a certificate of insurance for him to take to our client. The co-worker who normally handled that was out for the day.

I was new so I felt rattled as Ken stood, watching and waiting for me to get the form ready so he could leave. 

Nervously, I cranked paper into the typewriter and began typing information into the correct boxes. Rushing, I accidently input the wrong information. Then I got a new certificate and this time made a typing error. Ken looked at the clock.  Heart racing, I grabbed another blank certificate and began again.

My hands were shaking as I finally handed the completed form to Ken, which he took, quickly thanked me and raced out the door. 

Relief washed over me as I sat back in my chair and exhaled.

I didn't even notice that Ed, the other owner of the business, was nearby, observing all this.

After Ken's car left the parking lot, Ed approached my desk. He paused briefly, barely long enough to deliver his bit of advice. I'll never forget his gentle manner or his counsel, which was packed with understanding and guidance.

"When people rush ya," he said, looking my way. "Don't let 'em rush ya." 

With that, we went on about our business.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The sickness, the travel and the outcome

I remained healthy for several months after the cancer diagnosis, but eventually my energy began to flag. I fought sore throats, swollen glands and fatigue. By the time I tucked my kids into bed, I'd collapse, only to begin anew the next day.

The struggle reached a peak days before I planned to travel, coinciding with a regularly scheduled oncologist's appointment. I dreaded the appointment. What if these health issues cause me to cancel my trip? I cringed at the thought.

Please God, I prayed. Please let me go on this trip. I don't care what happens after it. Just, please get me through the next week. Please let me go.

The trip was somewhat of an annual pilgrimage and I longed for the anticipated prayerful experience. I was traveling to Conyers, Georgia, where a visionary was reportedly receiving messages from the Blessed Mother. Thousands would gather and pray the rosary at noon on the country hillside. It was quite an experience that no words can describe.

I held my breath as the oncologist studied the reports. Finally, he spoke. "When you get
sick(er)," he said, "I'm the one you call. Not your family practice. Not an internist. You need to call our office."

I exhaled! No change in plan! I could go! I come!

And next, dear friends,  is what God wanted me to hear...and I'm sure it's what he wants you to hear, too...

It was a simple question, posed by Bill, a fellow parishioner. Before leaving town, I happened to see him and another friend, Anna, on the steps of church after Mass. There, I updated them on my health and my upcoming pilgrimage to Conyers.

Bill inquired about the trip, then asked an interesting question:

"When you go there (Conyers)," he said, "why don't you ask the Lord if He can use your life more than you can?"

What? Say that again, please?

I had to think about it, but it made sense so, while away, I did ask the Lord if He could use my life more than I could. 

I asked over the throngs gathered to pray the the solitude of the Georgia countryside...all weekend long, those words surfaced again and again . Lord, can you use my life more than I can?

Days later, I returned home, thankful for the prayerful experience.  It doesn't matter if I need to start chemotherapy now, I thought. The other shoe can drop. I've had my pilgrimage.

Surprisingly, though, I didn't get sicker.

Instead, my strength slowly returned. Before long, I was rollerblading around the block with my kids. Life resumed full swing.

Through the years, I've never forgotten Bill's simple question. It's become a lifelong prayer. It changes everything. It reminds me of who God is and who I am. It empowers me every time the words leave my lips...

Just think. Whatever is going on, you can free yourself from the trappings of your own expectations and limitations. All you have to do is ask...and really mean it...

Lord, can you use my life more than I can?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts

Years ago, our pastor asked me to lead a weekly bible study. My first response was, "How much time will this take?"

As he mentally calculated the effort needed to run the study, a scriptural verse popped into my head.

Christ was speaking to Simon Peter, but he may as well been addressing me:

Do you love me?
Feed my sheep.   John 21:17

I paused for a moment, but the verse resurfaced:
Do you love me?
Feed my sheep.   John 21:17

I waved my hands at my pastor, who was still deep in calculations. "It doesn't matter," I said. "I'll do it."

I don't know how this happened, but I led the study and I didn't feel any kind of a squeeze on my time. In fact, I actually felt I had more time than before. It was one of my best decisions....ever!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Too busy to pray? Try one of these easy suggestions

Peace is the benefit of prayer, and who doesn't want to be at peace?

We're in trouble when our prayer life is crowded out by our daily demands. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Prayer takes effort.

So, how do we fit prayer into our busy days? Here are 10 simple suggestions:

1. Play holy music. I used played praise and worship songs after the kids came home from school and while I was fixing dinner.  It makes a difference!

2. Choose a simple, meaningful prayer and say it daily. When my kids were young, I bought a small framed version of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis (Lord, make me an instrument of your peace) and kept it in our kitchen. I prayed it daily for a year, and those simple moments changed my day and transformed my life.

3. Feeling stressed? Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Connecting with the passion of Christ is powerful.

4. Read your bible. It's quality, not quantity. Or join a bible study. It really is a good book.

5. When driving, pray the rosary.

6. Intentionally build a community of faith-filled friends.

7. Listen to holy podcasts, or recorded sermons.

8. Volunteer at Sunday church. Be a reader, an usher, a sacristan, a Eucharistic minister. It's fun! You're there anyway and we receive so much more when we give. 

9. Surround yourself  with holy images. Hang crucifixes. Holy art and pictures of Jesus.

10. Lift your thoughts heavenward throughout the day. Pray the Lord's Prayer and really put meaning into each phrase.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Here are three powerful words spoken to me and meant for you too

There's one more story I must tell you before we leave the days when I was first diagnosed with cancer some twenty years ago. This story is one I want to remember, too, because it shows us how God never leaves us. God is always guiding us, directing us and, in quiet whispers, is speaking to us. We have what we need when we need it, if only we listen.

The first few weeks of living with a cancer diagnosis was unsettling. I remember one day in particular when concerns began to overwhelm me. What if I had to deal with chemotherapy next week? What would happen to my kids? What about my husband? Would I die?

Remember how I happened to meet Linda when my Brownie troop paired up with her Girl Scout troop for a camping trip? And how she'd shared stories of her earlier bout with cancer? (You can click here for the story.)

Anyway, I could take my concerns to Linda. She understood like no other.

So this particular day, a Sunday, I was really unnerved and by chance, I spotted Linda at Mass that day. I longed for her advice. I longed for her encouragement. I didn't know this yet, but I longed for her faith. She was seated way across the church from me and after Mass she got lost in the crowd. I lingered, chatting with a few other friends but hoping to connect with her before heading home.

When I finally turned to  leave, only a handful of people remained on the church steps. Linda was not one of them.

I slumped my shoulders and sighed. My one ray of hope was gone. Somewhere inside me, the weight of my concerns dropped with a thud. How would I cope? How could I shake off the fear? Who would understand?

As I began to leave, I had to walk toward the side entrance of the church. As I headed that way, I had the feeling I should go inside the church, but I resisted. Why? Mass was over. The church was empty. Why?

I shuffled along my way, and now, as I began to pass the side doors, something still nagged me to go inside. Again, I resisted. What's the point of that? The place is deserted. Nothing is going on.

However, a few steps later, that little inner voice grew stronger, and I couldn't resist. Ok, fine. I am pretty unnerved. I'll go inside and say a prayer. Maybe it'll help.

As I grabbed the handle and opened the door, guess who was on the other side, heading out? Linda!  We stared at each other in amazement!

"I'm happy to see you," she said. "I was hoping we could talk. How are you doing?"

She listened intently as I dumped my fears on her. Just having her acknowledge how scary this is was helpful. Just having her listen, even though she couldn't really fix it, was helpful. Just verbalizing my concerns was helpful.
"I'm scared," I concluded. "I feel so alone." I shook my head. "I feel so alone."

She understood. It's that bone-chilling fear that this can't be fixed. It's the dreaded problem nobody can really help you with. There's no escape. No one can do this for you.

Finally, we said goodbye and headed to our cars. I walked slowly, absorbing all we'd discussed.

When I got to my car, I put the key in the lock and looked up to see Linda driving toward the exit. As she drove by, she rolled her window down, leaned out and shouted these few parting words. They stuck with me for a lifetime and I've got to share them with you:

"You're not alone," she said. "Remember, you're never alone."

I hope these words help you too.

Because she's right.

So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 
Isaiah 41:10

Click here for the song, I Am With You by David Haas.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Need to calm down? Try saying ths...slowly...and put meaning into every single word

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine
All Praise and All Thanksgiving
Be Every Moment Thine

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine
All Praise and All Thanksgiving
Be Every Moment Thine

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine
All Praise and All Thanksgiving
Be Every Moment Thine

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feeling down? Here's a simple antidote!

Years ago, when I had my first insurance job, an older gentleman named Jake Jacobs worked part-time with us. 

Jake handled odd jobs, like going to the store for more carbon paper (imagine!) or typewriter ribbon (what's that?!). Back then, there were no computers or email, so if we had a signed application that needed a quick delivery, Jake would drive it to the underwriter for us.

Jake always had a smile. He loved telling stories. He loved talking about his wife, their kids (who were grown by then) and his days in the military.  He often offered words of wisdom.

One piece of advice I'll never forget. I can still hear Jake making this recommendation when one of our coworkers was complaining to us. Life just wasn't going her way. She said she was miserable, in a rut, and didn't know how to get out.

Jake listened, then paused briefly before speaking. His words still resonate in my head.

"If you're feeling down," Jake said. "Do something nice for someone else."

My coworker and I looked at each other. What? What did he say? Then we looked back at Jake.

"Try it," he said, smiling. "You can't feel down when you are making someone else happy."  

Guess what?

He's right!

Try 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 ...