Posted by: wordofthevine | December 6, 2015

When Holiness Means that You are Not the One!

I recently attended a conference on caring for those with Alzheimer’s. The presenter was a very compassionate person as well as a gifted acaring-for-elderly-parentsnd engaging speaker. I am sure that her abundance of joy and energy grew from her ability to use her gifts and charisms to their fullest. It was a day well spent; filled with tips and strategies that were built on love.

At one point I remembered thinking how lucky her parents were to have her in their lives… to help them live until they die; rather than spending life waiting to die. On a personal level, she shared that even though her own dad had attended her conferences and knew what she had to offer (as a nurse and as an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s), it was not she who he turned to for assistance as he aged.

All families have strained relationships and even though you are able to work through issues and forgive; the past often cannot be forgotten and in some cases, remains a barrier to having the perfect relationship with everyone you love. Her advice to those in the room was…you are off the hook. Do not beat yourself up if you do not help, even though you may be the logical and most qualified person.

These may be wise and accurate words, but for those with a tender heart; whose gifts are caring and nurturing, it is difficult to sit on the sideline and watch. For my sister who once was a nurse and who may be more qualified than me to care for my dad who has Alzheimer’s, these words do not ease her pain of not being the caregiver-of-choice for dad. However, her gifts will be the grace needed to help the father of her close friend who is battling cancer. God put her in the lives of those He wanted her to touch with her gifts and charism.  It is not hers to question or doubt.

Last year, my 104 year grandmother (who lived 3 hours away) did not die alone; my aunt and other volunteers remained by her side till the end. It was a comfort to know someone was with her. I only wish it could have been me. As a Hospice Volunteer, I occasionally sit with total strangers so they too, will not die alone.  I may not have been able to use my gifts with my grandmother but I was able to use them with a member of God’s family. The conference speaker was not able to use her gifts for her own father; yet many like my own father, benefited greatly from her gift shared with me at the conference.

It is a very humbling experience to be in the presence of Christ through the people we serve. Even more so to trust and go where He calls us, rather than where WE think we need to be.  ~Brenda

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 30, 2015

Cyber Monday Renamed “Transcendent Monday” for a Purpose!

thanksgiving15Today is Cyber Monday, an online super shopping day which is designed to super charge our spending towards Christmas. What about your walk with God? How are you trying to super charge your prayerful actions in Advent as you spiritually move towards Christmas? I’m not just talking about how to incorporate more prayer in your life. A new, growing edge for me is to integrate my faith/prayer with my life. I am trying to make my practical actions of relating to others, a prayer and an off shoot of prayer. I am remembering St. James’ adage, “Faith with out works is dead.”

We’ve all just celebrated Thanksgiving with many of us encountering our extended families during the celebration. While you can’t pick your family like you do your friends, how did you choose to relate to those that you struggle with. Maybe I’m making an assumption here, but I think most of us have certain family members that take more energy for us to relate with. How did prayer allow you to be unglued from your own perspectives to see issues and life through the eyes of these challenging people? Most want to experience that they belong, that in their wrinkles and struggles, others are willing to hang in there with them.

I am reminding myself these very things. I am in the middle of supporting my elderly mother’s move to a senior apartment. My brothers had different ideas than I about how to address mom’s needs. She has a value of letting “the boys” be in charge so I felt frustrated in sharing my perspectives. I tend to talk things out, to process thoughts and feelings, while my brothers are “doers” and couldn’t understand the need to work any relationship dynamics out so we can proceed together as a team to address Mom’s needs. I decided to let go, let mom move ahead with the boys’ plans for her as she seemed to desire and to show her support, even though I felt hurt by the interaction.

We want to work on ourselves and our reactions here so that these people can experience the fruits of our prayer as loving action through us. Who knows, we might be right next to them in heaven and we want to be alright with that, even happy for them. They helped us buff off rough edges to  our loving here on Earth and our undue need for control. We need to be grateful for them if our goal is fullness of life here and in the age to come! These are the thoughts that I am reminding myself on this Cyber-Monday, which I am renaming Transcendent Monday! ~ Mary

 

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 21, 2015

Letting Yourself Get Lost in the Word!

Six owordofGodr seven years ago, my husband and I participated in a 21-week bible study that followed the story line through the old and new testaments. It was a rich and engaging experience that brought the Mass alive for us and fueled a hunger for more. Because we were the leaders for the study, we were obligated to read every last page AND prepare personal responses to the reflection questions. Some of the reading assignments were quite lengthy and time consuming and really took the fun out of the journey through the bible. I felt pushed to complete it rather than let myself be lost in thought with Him. But, what were the authors suppose to do? The class was already more than 5 months long…a commitment most won’t sign up for. Shortening the readings would lengthen the commitment to participate in the class…a definite barrier to most.

I recently bought a Didache Bible which contains comments based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the front of the book, it suggested reading the Word until something really speaks to you, stop, and spend time in contemplation…Lectio Divina.
It was once explained to me, that the repetition of a word, phrase or the retelling of an event, indicated importance that demanded my attention. One example being John 21:15…’feed my sheep’…repeated three times. My habit of prayer includes the Divine Office, reading the reflections for the daily reading from The Word Among Us, sometimes a chapter from a book written by a Catholic author and always ending with me picking up where I left off as I work my way through the bible.  Nearly every day my attention is drawn to a word or phrase that is repeated. Sometimes, like John 21:15, the repetition comes in one chapter of the bible. Often times, the word or phrase will speak to me in two or more of the pieces I spent time on in prayer. Other times, the word appears in everyday life…a song on the radio, a message from my boss or a news clip on TV and I am drawn back into contemplation of an earlier time in prayer.
As an educator of adult learners, I know that allowing time for reflection is a best practice. I also know that it is often hard to get adults to come to classes because time is scarce in their busy lives. Personally, I know that unless I spend QUIET, uninterrupted time alone with the Word, I will never hear Him speak.  As much as I loved that first study we participated in, I wonder if a better way to evangelize might be to teach people how to know God by encouraging them to read the bible…giving them a list of the books and chapters to read, which brings the story to life. Teaching and modeling  Lectio Divina; and providing quiet uninterrupted space and time that will allow them to hear and recognize his voice when He speaks to them. ~Brenda
Posted by: wordofthevine | October 13, 2015

The 10 Commandments

dad.jpgPinned on the bulletin board behind my desk is The 10 Commandments of Alzheimer’s Communication. #1 – Never argue, instead agree; #2 – Never reason, instead divert; and the hardest one for me to keep…#5 – Never say “remember”, instead reminisce.

Dad has lost his “filter” and like a child, can be brutally honest at times. Last night, as I tucked him in, he was distracted and a bit upset. He wanted to know why he doesn’t know how much money he has. “Don’t I get that thing from the bank?” – Yes. “Is it addressed to me?” – Yes. “Well, how come I never see it?” Typically at this point I would break commandment #5 and say, “Don’t you remember….” Of course he doesn’t remember! Why else would we be having this conversation!

We have this discussion once or twice each month. At first I was quite offended and hurt by the accusation. I would go and retrieve the old statements and show them to him. I even had him sign the statements after he opened them, so later he could see his name written on it to prove that he had seen it. The joke was on me…he would see his signature and then ask, “How did my signature get on that piece of paper from the bank?” Every time I show him his bank statement, he would hand it to me and admit that he doesn’t understand it. I would give a detailed explanation and he would then ask, “So, how much do I have?” I ask him what it is he needs to buy. Sometimes he did have a want. Most times he didn’t know what he needed; and…around and around we go.

So, last night, when the conversation about money started (again for me and anew for him), I agreed (commandment #1): “yes, you get the statement from the bank”; and “yes, it comes addressed to you.”

I then shift to commandment #2 – “How about we look at them tomorrow?” This time, I did not break commandment #5. AND, the good news: he woke this morning not remembering last night’s conversation.

Helping an aging parent takes a great deal of patience and can be the source of much frustration. At times it is like working, loving and protecting a 3 year old. It occurred to me how truly patient God must be with me. He knows the plan he has for me; he provides me with much light for the path I must follow and still I struggle and frequently break His Commandments. This moment of insight gives me strength to carry on to I have peace knowing He is with me when the path seems too hard.  ~Brenda

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 25, 2015

Learning to Live Like we are Dying!

One of the things that I do as a hospice chaplain is to help people review their lives, to find the themes and the values that have added meaning to their lives.Most often, they are not worrying about surface concerns, buying a bigger house or car, getting an advancement at work, redecorating their hopope-francis-chair-msguse. While these everyday concerns play out often in our minds, at the end of life, short of having enough money for a funeral, most concerns center around making a difference in the world and in the lives of other people. While having enough food, clothing and housing to meet our needs are undeniably important issues, our lives involve more than this for ourselves. We want to give to others and receive what we need through the lens of faith.

This change in vantage point reminds me of what St. Ignatius of Loyola used as part of a rule for discernment of spirits when we have to make a decision, consider yourself on your death bed and see what you would decide about this concern from this vantage point. In many ways, this vantage point is what attracts me to work as a chaplain for hospice. Many concerns fall away when we are faced with the reality of the end of our lives. We pick out and decide things consistent with our deepest values rather than fleeting concerns. I think that this reorientation of our priorities is what our faith in God is meant to engender in us. Isn’t this way of being what attracts so many to Pope Francis. He lives in a way consistent with the Gospel rather than what culture would dictate to him based on his position as pontiff. Rather than drive around New York or Washington DC in a limousine, he transverses the cities in a small fiat.

I started thinking about these ideas at morning Mass with Father’s blessing. He said, “Let us go forth to live the mystery of our Faith in the context of our lives.” Let us learn from Pope Francis’ example and from the perspectives we would take at the end of life to live in line with the values of Jesus. Rather than focus on small self focused concerns, let us look outward to make a difference in the lives of people who  need a touch around us.

What about you? Where are you directing your energies today: towards the mystery of faith in the context of your life, towards ultimate concerns.  We want to learn like a song I heard on the radio, we want ” to live we were dying.”~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 18, 2015

How Do We Use Our Words for the Glory of God?

Besides being a mom, a wife and a friend, I am also a theologian and a chaplain for Hospice. Yesterday I visited an elderly womathCAFV186Rn who really touched me. She was in her 90’s and in a care facility and she was really struggling with a severe breathing condition. Her nurse warned me when I went in that she was awake but was sleeping 18 hours of everyday. Her body was shutting down and that she talked really slow because she didn’t have enough breath to speak in long sentences.

I went into her room and was immediately touched by the loving presence emanating from her. Yes, she spoke haltingly, gasping for air in between breaths but she pushed herself and told me all about her deep love for God…that “God was always at her side.” She tried to offer each breath and even each word to Him for his glory. All of her life she tried to find God in her circumstances. She had loved her husband of many years who had died recently. She told me that she tried to love God even in the midst of deep grief in losing her husband. She said, “I don’t have any children. I guess I wasn’t lucky enough to have them.” With that, a twinkle appeared in her eyes. I could tell that she would have welcomed kids, but this too, was part of her obedience to the providence of God and part of her life cross.

What about you? If you only had a few more words left in this life, how would you use them? Would they be to praise God and offer what you could to reflect God’s love for you? Let’s be like my little lady. Let’s not waste opportunities to share our love for God. ~ Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 15, 2015

Let God’s Word Surprise You! Ideas from Pope Francis

Because Pope Francis is arriving in the US in about two weeks, I think that it is a good idea to take up some of his ideas and learn about his prioritipope+francis+happyes. Today, when I reviewed The Joy of the Gospel , an apostolic exhortation from 2014 by Pope Francis, I read something that changed my trust in God and awareness of my faith.

In the first chapter, paragraph 22, Francis wrote: “God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (MK 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.”

If we really took these words to heart, wouldn’t this change how we approach our lives and the expectations we have of our faith. We are to be taken out of our comfort zone with authentic faith. We aren’t to stay safe and circle the wagons but engage the world and people around us and let God, the Word Made Flesh take root in us. God can do this even when we are sleeping.

Maybe I particularly like these ideas of the ultimate power of the Word because I just went through a period in my own life when I encountered some set backs. I got discouraged and even though I kept praying, my faith felt cold. It wasn’t until a friend listened to me and then spoke God’s word to me to encourage me. She said, “Mary, get back up in the saddle. These obstacles, the Evil One is using to bring you down. You are doing what God wants of you and that is why you are being bothered by discouragement.” Her words, which God inspired her to share with me, shook my out of my complacency. They took root and set me to flight. God was working in me even when I felt like I was sleeping. Now, I will take God at his words, that he shared through Francis, that once God’s word sprouts, surprising things can happen, things even outside of our own reckoning. ~Mary

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 10, 2015

Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families

When I consider this upcoming exciting event for American Catholics: that Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia this month for thpope francis 2015e World Meeting of Families September 22-25, 2015, I am thrilled. America is a lead country. What happens here spreads to other parts of the world for good or bad. We have a responsibility to hear what the Pope and the World Meeting of Family highlights to us. We need to  live our faith deeply and dramatically for others, and not simply for our own holiness, especially when it comes to issues involving the family and marriage between one man and one woman.

Through the film industry of the United States and the shear appeal of our life here for many, people from many parts of the world are attracted to the United States and our life here.I am reminded of a conversation that I had with one of the foreign exchange students that my family hosted. When I asked the adolescent girl why she chose to come to the United States for a year of high school, she answered me, “Because what you have here is so appealing. Better than anywhere else in the world. We all want what you have and live here. When I attended class the first day, I was amazed that it really looked like the schools in the movies.”

While we await the message of Pope Francis, let us take stock of how we are living our faith and more importantly, how we are impacting in real life, the people and structure of society. We need to pray for priests, but even more, we need to pray for on fire lay people who can carry what they celebrate in the Sacraments, out to the world to bring renewal.

Posted by: wordofthevine | September 7, 2015

Today, the Nativity of Mary

Today, let us celebrate the birthday of Our Lady with renewed practical zeal. We want to celebrate the impact of her life but even more, celebrate what her life nativity400reveals and offers to us as a renewed reality here and now. Mary is often called “the Mother of the Living” because she shows us what is freely offered to us in our human life. As the “New Eve” her conception and birth help us all be more aware of the fact that Jesus is the Son of the Father of both Heaven and Earth. Mary shows us that we don’t want to grow closer to God, more holy, by denying life here and now and moving into a “Catholic bubble” but by embracing all that we are body and soul, life now as a foretaste and bridge to heaven.
Like Mary, we want to move towards God with all that we are, our energies, our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions. We want to understand our faith, not as a process of following all the rules, of simply being orthodox, but rather, as a way of life where the fire of God bubbles up from inside us because we are made in God’s image. Mary knows deeper than anyone that God can be alive inside us. When the holy fire ignites within us, we become able to receive grace anew, as Mary did, and available to bring God’s healing living light to other people around us.
We want to ask ourselves, in pursuing truth, God, have we become hardened by orthodoxy rather than a living flame of its beauty. Think about this when you attend and engage the Mass or study the Faith. Are you more concerned with wearing a mantilla at Mass and doing more holy hours or do you seek to live fully the mission and vocation that God has given you?
We have to take what we experience alone with God and take it outward to the World. We each has received a unique unrepeatable mission that we received as seeds at the time of our conception and birth and as a summons that we each must bring to birth in the World. The World awaits our gift.Let us proclaim like Mary, on the celebration of her birthday, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name…The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49,53).
Let us make our lives a living prayer of mission by praying the prayer penned by Christopher West in his book, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization:
Mary, set ablaze with God’s Eros, pray for us that we would not fear the Fire that Christ, your son, came to cast upon the earth. Teach us, how to burn.

Posted by: wordofthevine | April 14, 2015

The Power of the Eucharist: Grafting us to Jesus!

Thought for today by Elizabeth Erk

We are sheep ranchers. 3f622adfdc18c44d016278868ffbda5aMy husband is the third generation to raise sheep on the Erk Ranch in South Dakota which is a centennial ranch. I love it and I learn a lot every day. It is such a blessing to see firsthand the natural order and instincts that God gives His creatures.

We have an intern and we were discussing the observations we have made and things we have learned when grafting an orphan lamb to a ewe. The ewes fight off lambs that are not their own. In the past, the ranchers would skin the lamb that died and tie the skin to the orphan lamb so the lamb would smell like the lamb that belonged to the ewe. (This is one of my husband’s least favorite things to do.) Now he uses perfumed spray and sprays the ewe’s nose and the lamb, and puts the lamb in a pen with the ewe. The ewe will usually fight the lamb for about 3 days. My husband has to get in the pen and hold the ewe so the lamb can be fed. After 3 days of nursing on the ewe the lamb gets to know the smell of the ewe and the sound of her and the lamb starts to smell like the ewe’s milk. The ewe usually adopts the lamb and knows the smell and bawl of the lamb. We move them to a bigger pen to watch them for a few days to make sure the ewe looks for the lamb and the lamb can find her to nurse. After another few days, if the ewe takes the lamb, they are turned out to pasture with the other sheep. This is such a blessing to watch. The lambs do so much better when they are with a ewe than from the bottle, and the ewe can raise the lamb.

Today when I was thinking about grafting a lamb onto a ewe, I thought of the gift of the Eucharist that Jesus sends to us. The Eucharist: the Heavenly food that Jesus sends down from Heaven so that we will know the Father though Him. We consume the precious body and blood of Our Lord. Just think of it. We smell like Him. We know Him and the Father and we will be sure to know how to find Him always because He has nourished us with His body and blood. I know this is just the surface of what the Eucharist does for us. As adopted sons and daughters of God, God sees us as natural sons and daughters. What else can nature tell us about how God loves us and what he gives us through the Eucharist. ~ Beth

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