Mary of the morning glories…..

(In tribute to the loveliest Mother of all…a favorite post from the archives.)
Happy Mother’s Day, Sweet Mary!

The above statue of Our Lady has accompanied my husband and me throughout almost our entire life together.

He surprised me with it at our first real home in Greenville, NC, three years after we were wed. He placed it on a pedestal beneath a large maple tree in the backyard. Then he planted a vine of large blue morning glories at the base of the tree. It quickly took root and wound gracefully around the trunk, creating a blanket of blue each morning behind Mary’s statue.

I loved looking out of my kitchen window, sipping my first morning cup of tea and seeing morning glories and Mary. As the day wore on, the warmth of the sun would cause the flowers to fade and by afternoon, their beauty was gone. But each morning, they returned, glorious, with the dawn.

During those happy days, I never imagined how much Mary and the morning glories would soon come to mean to me. Only a year after she took her place beneath the maple tree, I was diagnosed with the cancer which destroyed all of our dreams of having babies…an unexpected tragic end to four years of trying to conceive.

I packed a small statue of Mary to take to the hospital with me, and placed her upon the window sill where I could glance at her comforting presence. But there were no morning glories for me, and I felt that there never would be again.

Eventually, I came home, and I would sit on the backyard swing, near Mary’s tree and pray my rosary..over and over. I prayed to live, and I prayed for some relief from the unbearable pain of losing children I had never even known. And Mary listened, and the morning glories brought beauty into an otherwise barren, thirsting, aching season of my life.

We moved back to our home state in the deep South a year later. My husband could not get morning glories to grow in our sunny yard which had no mature trees. So, he placed Mary’s statue in front of the rose garden he had planted. And she reigned there for twenty years.

She smiled, I know, on the day we brought home our adopted infant son. And as he played in the yard as a little boy, I imagined Mary watching over him. When he was old enough, we sometimes had May crownings with his friends who lived next door. And when he became a teenager, I would run sobbing to the rose garden and unburden my heart to Mary…just as I had years before with the cancer. Only this time I was too distraught to even say my rosary. But I knew she understood.

Now, it is just my husband and I again, and we have moved to yet another home. As you can see, Mary’s garden is now filled with lilies and roses and other assorted flowers which change with the seasons. Right across from her statue, there is a garden bench, a place where one can sit and pray or simply enjoy the sounds of the birds and squirrels playing. Often my husband will relax there with a beer, after cutting the lawn. Sometimes, I pray my Divine Office or a rosary in this shady spot. Glancing at Mary’s statue, I feel a certain peace. She is still with us, and we have survived the many crosses which have fallen upon us since Mary of the morning glories first took her place beneath the maple tree.

Her statue reveals the toll of decades spent in the sun, wind and rain. The surface is no longer a smooth gray color, and her features have been worn down from their original loveliness. She, like my husband and me, reflects the passage of time. Yet we would never dream of replacing our precious statue with a new one. She has watched over us all these years…through all the joys and sorrows life brings. And we want her with us until the last page of our lives has been written.

The blows of life have buffeted and scarred us as well. But they have taught us to depend on God alone and to put all of our faith in Him. Gone from this life forever are those carefree morning glory days of youth …now we dream of the glory of Heaven. There we hope to see, no longer a faded statue, but our Most Beloved Mother in all of her eternal beauty….

Thank you, Mary, for accompanying us with your living presence, throughout our lifetime together. I know you have held us when we were broken with sorrow and that you have rejoiced with us in the good times. What a comfort to know that you will always be with us until that day when at last we behold Your Divine Son Jesus in Glory.

Stay near, dearest Mother, until the morning glories bloom again….forever.  I love you!

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Suffering….on a silver platter please!

Princess_and_the_Pea_by_nataliesmillieI am lying propped up in bed, surrounded by furniture, paintings, curtains and other assorted items which my husband carted from other places in the house into our bedroom this morning. On the other side of my door, I can hear the painters working. The paint fumes have been overwhelming for the past week. So, on this cold rainy day, I have all of the windows open in my bedroom, and a towel stuffed around the opening at the bottom of the door.

My night stand is covered with medicine bottles and “home remedies” to help combat this miserable condition of shingles with which I was diagnosed on Sunday.

As I lie here, it is hard not to think, “But Lord, why this week? If only the painters weren’t here, I could be making pots of herbal tea and eating healthier food than the stash of protein bars in my purse. If only there weren’t paint fumes everywhere, perhaps I would not have these horrible headaches in addition to the shingles’ pain.

My Jesus, surely You know that lots of rest and freedom from stress are essential for recovering from this illness. But everything about my situation is so stressful. My doctor’s office hasn’t even returned the call I made yesterday. I may have to sleep in another bedroom tonight because the painters will want to get in here tomorrow…into my little sanctuary.  How inconvenient that will be!  Oh, woe is me!

I’m tired Lord. I can’t sleep with the pain, and strangers arrive at 8 am every morning. All of my warm socks are in the dresser which is now encased in plastic so paint won’t drip on it. So are my warm pajamas. The temperature has been in the 70’s, but is now in the 30’s. Lord, what were You thinking?

You see, it’s one thing to be sick; that’s quite a sacrifice, You know? But I thought that I might at least be able to do it on my own terms…with satellite TV to entertain me, and my house all nice and neat, the fridge stocked with my favorite foods and maybe a fire blazing in the fireplace. And oh yes, certainly no paint fumes. You do remember those migraines I’m so prone to? I really had a plan Lord. Weren’t You paying attention? This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.

Now, I am very pleased that You have been sending my husband in with a steaming mug of tea each morning, and that he checks on me periodically and that He just brought me a cold Coke and a fresh ice pack. That’s good Lord.  That’s more of what I had in mind, if I am to suffer well.  But, I still think You should consider my other suggestions above.

You see, I know how I suffer best….surrounded by as many comforts as possible.  I’d like my blue flannel PJ’s….if they weren’t in that inaccessible dresser.  And, oh, my new cozy socks….if only the washing machine was re-connected.

I love You Lord, and I want to suffer well for You.  I really don’t like having to complain about all of these things that aren’t to my liking.

Well, thanks for listening, Jesus.  I think I’ll take a nap now….after I check my text messages and make sure my iPod is charged.  Yes, all of this suffering has worn me out. I know You understand.

Okay, so hopefully everyone will know that most of the above was written tongue-in-cheek….sort of.  I really am sick, and confined to my bedroom away from the painters..but unfortunately, not the fumes.

Everything is a wreck around here, as need be for the job to get done.  And, although I haven’t been quite the protesting “princess” in the version above, I have indeed said more than once, “Why did I have to get so sick just when the painters were scheduled to start?”   (As if I wouldn’t have minded at all had it been another time!)

Isn’t it so true that suffering on our own terms isn’t quite so bad?  We can even imagine that our halo (if we had one!) might be glowing a bit more brightly.  Everything is so much easier when we are at least somewhat in control.  There can be quite a bit of pride in that.

Last week, when I kept having one mishap after the other, I was quite pleased with myself when I managed to keep a sense of humor about it all.  I felt very much in control…not even the pain of a severe earache could vanquish me.  I put on a brave smile.

But when I saw the first sign of shingles on my face Sunday, I thought the Lord was perhaps asking a bit too much. I already had stitches in my finger and cotton in my throbbing ear.  An ugly, painful, protracted illness like shingles wasn’t in my plan....especially on my face.  Ah… vanity.

It is at times like this when I turn to the crucifix for strength.  When everything is out of my control, and a particular cross seems too much for me,  I look at Him. There is nothing I have ever endured in my life,  that I haven’t found in the sufferings of Jesus.

Looking at the raw, red, swollen quadrant of my face, I picture the face of Jesus after He was struck by His torturers..  I can still see His disfigured countenance as depicted in The Passion of the Christ. The pain I am experiencing often feels like a  thousand needles piercing my scalp all at once.  But He wore a crown of thorns, pressed into His flesh until His Precious Blood flowed into His eyes and down His face.   And although I am confined to a room, He was nailed to a Cross…how can I complain?  And my pain?  Well, I have pain medicine….and Jesus had none, and He even refused what little relief was offered to Him in the drugged wine…..for love of us.

My face is wounded, but His whole body was raw.  I cannot imagine how He endured so much pain.  Surely it was His Infinite Love for us which sustained Him…and that makes me cry, to realize how much He loves and how little His love is returned….by me.

At night, when I awaken in pain, I am immediately reminded (guardian angel?) to pray and offer my little sufferings for family and friends who are especially in need of prayer.  And, I am somehow comforted in doing so.  How good God is…no little effort goes unrewarded.

He Who shed every drop of His Blood for us, welcomes every little pittance we offer to Him.  How kind He is!  How magnanimous!  How compassionate!

Suffering is more tolerable when you know it has a purpose.  I am so grateful for the Church’s teaching on redemptive suffering, and so thankful that our Savior invites us to unite our sufferings to His, so that He can infuse them with merit…..turning them to gold, as it were, by His Grace.

Yes, it has been a difficult month thus far, and I would have planned it all differently, but His ways are so far above our own.  His plan is perfect….even the paint fumes.

And I just love what one of my favorite mystics, the anchoress, Julian of Norwich wrote:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Amen!

I’m looking for someone I used to be….


If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
  John 8:36

On my recent retreat, I thought deeply about the one thing which still holds me back from completely, unabashedly abandoning myself to my Lord.  And I know it well….FEAR.

It’s not that I am unwilling to carry the crosses which come my way.  But, the thought of kneeling before God, and deliberately speaking a total and complete surrender to Him stirs a visceral reaction within me, and I quake at the unseen dread I imagine will soon fall upon me. 

Whenever I do offer myself to Him, it is always with a slight disclaimer… oh, but please not that or I hope You won’t ask me for this.  Sadly, it is not a generous and courageous gift of myself to Him…. such as He has made to me.

I trust God… that His Grace will be sufficient for any adversity, but it is the anticipation which terrifies me.  And that is enough to restrain me, even  though I know quite well that my caution in no way affords me any additional control….and do I really imagine that I know a better path than the one my Lord has chosen for me?

Once upon a time, I stepped out into the unknown, and offered myself unreservedly to God.

It was the first New Year’s Eve after my adult conversion. I was then 26 years old, and totally consumed with this God of Love Who had truly come “bounding over the hills” into my life. I had also immersed myself in the writings of St. Therese, whose passionate and daring protestations of her love for God delighted my young heart, so close then in years to her own.

Putting pen to paper, I sat on the floor by our Christmas tree and filled several pages with effusive thanksgiving to God for all that He had done for me during the past year… His coming into the darkness of my life and filling it with the Light of His Love, the torrents of Grace He had showered upon me, as though beside Himself to make up for all the lost years…calling me to daily Mass and an irresistible attraction to His Eucharistic Presence…. the holy, paternal Irish priest who had taken me under his wing, and in whom I saw a reflection of my heavenly Father. There was so much to thank Him for!  My pen weaved into words the thoughts spilling out of my heart. And then, longing to make a return to Him, I ended my thanksgiving with an invitation:

“Even though I long to help save souls for You, I am too weak to ask You to send me suffering, but I simply want to say that if You desire me to suffer something for love of You, let it come, and I will know from whence it came.”

The following October, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was completely unexpected. My doctor was shocked. Young women simply don’t get uterine cancer of the type I had. And then there was the cure…a total hysterectomy, which would remove not only organs, but also my cherished dream of bearing children.

When the nurse phoned to ask that my husband and I come in to see the doctor, she didn’t say why.  But somehow, I knew.  My sister was sure that the procedure I’d had the previous day had revealed something related to why I hadn’t been able to conceive in the four years we had been trying. But I knew better.

I locked myself inside my red and white bathroom and cried aloud to God, “I can’t have cancer. I can’t deal with it. I just can’t.”

And then, for the very first time, I heard an interior voice, clear, riveting, incredibly powerful, yet reassuring. “Yes you can,” the voice said. “Yes you can.”  And I walked out of the bathroom and got into the car with my husband. The doctor was nervous, but I was strangely calm.  Because I knew.

And yes, I dealt with it…dealt with it in a way which surprised me. With a peace and calm and strength which can only come from the Lord.

But, you don’t forget something like that. You just don’t forget. And the devil knows well our weaknesses, and how to exploit them.

My earliest memories from childhood are of lying in a pool of blood on my pillow. I suffered severe nosebleeds for the first nine years of my life. Because of this, I was anemic, and my mother hovered over me much more so than over my sisters. I was her “sickly” child, or so she unintentionally made me feel.

Yes, the devil knows our woundedness, and that terrified little girl who woke up in pools of blood, long ago learned to fear what could happen to her body…how little control she had, and she has been trying to protect herself ever since.

But somewhere inside of me there is also that brave, 26 year old…the one who stared down fear and surrendered herself, not to sickness and suffering, but to the Will of the One she loved, whatever form it might take.

She’s the one I’m praying to find.

And when I do, I will borrow her strong heart, and take my wounded child by the hand and together we will go before the One Who came to cast out all fear….

We will kneel before Him and say,

“I am Yours. I give myself to You completely.  Do with me whatever You Will.”

And this time, I mean it forever…..

The lost hour of Gethsemane…

 “Could you not watch one hour with me?”  (MT 26:40)

 
It was Thursday night.  I wrote Father’s words down on the crisp white page of my new journal: The Church is still trying to recover the lost holy hour of Gethsemane.

I had never thought about that before….the “lost holy hour.”

Jesus did not receive the comfort of this first holy hour from His closest apostles, who fell asleep when He needed them most. But was it to them alone that He implored, “Could you not watch one hour with me?”

Was His voice not resounding throughout the centuries, imploring the heart of each man and woman…

Watch with me…Oh please watch with me!
Care that I love you so much
Care that My Blood poured out as sweat upon the ground.
Care that I pressed My Face into the dirt,
unable to bear that so many would reject My Love.
It was not the physical suffering which tore at My Heart,
but the sight of all who would refuse My Love, even hate Me.
This was the chalice I begged My Father to remove from Me..
The chalice of rejection…Love would not be loved!
I would lose forever, so many precious souls  
Whom I gladly paid for with My Blood.

You at least, watch with Me!

 

THE FIRST STATION

Jesus is condemned to die.

“His cheek still burned with the kiss of betrayal.”               

O my God! I too have left You such burning kisses, betraying You by my sins
after You have given me Your Very Life.

My Jesus, grant that I may now cover You with sweet and tender kisses of love.
Time grows short…this could be my last moment on earth….to love You.

Jesus, You burn; You thirst; You die for those tender kisses.
You gave Your Life for them.
You gave Your Life for Love…our love.
“I THIRST.”  You cried out.
“Give Me to drink.”  You begged.

Must you always be so parched, my beloved Jesus?
Oh, give me the Grace to comfort You, for without You, I can do nothing.

My Jesus, quivering in your suffering,
I will put my arms around You.
I will try to cool your burning cheek with grateful kisses.
I will watch with You.