Still trying to hold Her hand   Leave a comment

I’m not sure exactly what is prompting my return to writing from a long “hiatus;” or why I stopped writing in the first place. Perhaps it was the ability to hold on only tenuously during the turbulent movements of a life in flux: unemployment, bad employment, death of loved ones, spiritual upheaval. Or perhaps just laziness. Whatever – I was prompted to open up again, because I needed to.

The road of infertility has stretched longer than I could ever have imagined. Every time a woman thinks she may finally be healed of the emotional pain, and the scars on her heart are no longer raw and tight, allowing the heart to stretch and open up with charity and generosity…BOOM. A trigger slaps her down again. Slaps me down. The surprise news of two pregnancies from women who’ve been down this same road – and even longer than I – comes as no less a shock and (truth be told) disappointment than it did four years ago. Four years ago I was a newlywed; albeit, not a young, idealistic, freshly-minted adult . Now, just shy of my 48th birthday, the realization that I will not be a mother permeates every part of my body. It reaches to my soul.

A strange feeling, a mix of emotions. I feel at once sad and unburdened; free…and yet still bound by the unshakable sorrow of what will. Never. Be.

“Blessed are the barren: for they shall be called to fruitfulness in other ways.” Yes. But not in the way we so desperately wish.

My consolation is the few women I still know who walk this road with me, who still feel guilty for selfish thoughts, and still cry at diaper commercials. My body is telling me, It’s time. It’s time to finally let go, because the end of the road is near. That, too, is freeing, even in its deathly finality.

Sweet Mother, hold my hand this night. May I have a share in your Motherhood? Will you open my eyes and wipe away the tears that blur my vision when the opportunities to love are right in front of me? Dear Mother, hold the hands of all the women who will never hold the hand of their own precious child.

Posted February 27, 2015 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Praising God when it’s hard   Leave a comment

Recently a friend and I shared some prayer time. She invited me to consider Job chapter 29, although she didn’t know what significance it might have for me. (I invite you to read it as well, and ponder what God might be telling you.) In it the prophet recounts all the ways in which God blessed him “when the Almighty was still with me” (v. 5), and the renown he enjoyed among those around him. I knew almost immediately what this meant for me; but at first blush, like the prophet, I recalled the time of fervor and zeal with which I praised and proclaimed the Lord, in contrast to (what I sometimes perceive to be) His forgetfulness of me. Here’s what I mean:

About 15 years ago now I experienced a (re)conversion that changed me profoundly and set me on a new course of seeking God, and knowing His will. I learned that God was waiting for me (and He continues to wait even when I take my eyes from Him and try to walk on my own); that He loves me deeply regardless of my past or my sins or weakness; and that He longs to pour His mercy upon me. I learned that I must acknowledge all of this, and come to Him always seeking forgiveness, help in my walk, and find comfort in His love. I must rest in His love – and share that love with as many people as possible. God extends His hand – He always does – but He waits patiently for us. I wasted a lot of time ignoring His hand, or just not seeing that it was reaching for *me.*

Life goes on. We’re up and we’re down; sadness and joy wend their ways in and out of our lives. Somewhere along the way though, I, like Job, started to think of the days “when the Almighty was still with me” as reminiscences, as scenes from the past that I longed to relive. Soon there was no praise and thanksgiving (as there had been before), but only the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

It’s easy for any of us to fall into this slump, a place where we find the faithfulness we’ve taken for granted has been somehow betrayed. It may be something big in our lives, or something relatively small; but it’s easy to fall into a “fair weather” relationship with God if we only focus on what He does for us. That’s the ditch I’d landed in.

Pondering Job 29 made me angry at first. “Yeah, that’s right God, where are you? You used to love me!!” But a few moments of hearing Job’s words coming from my own lips were like a splash of cold water as I began to take stock of all of the blessings He has given me – and continues to give. Even the things that don’t work in my life, the disappointment and sadness, can be blessed. God doesn’t will them on me. There is no lottery in heaven that broadcasts the daily list of losers – those people whom God chose to “smite” that day.

No. No. No, sadness and disappointment – and sometimes tragedy – are the state of things this side of the Fall. But God is good!! He is faithful, and we have to believe that. The alternative is despair. I learned from my reading of Job that God is *still* with me and always has been. I learned that often I have turned down my “spiritual hearing aids” so I can’t hear Him, or jammed the signal on purpose because I don’t want to hear. I learned that I miss the good things and don’t experience the joy when I focus and fret only on the lack.

Please do read and ponder Job 29 for yourself, and see what God might be telling you. And then – praise God! Praise the Father Almighty who willed you from all eternity and loves you with a heart of mercy and compassion. Praise Jesus Christ who sacrificed every last drop of Himself for you, and would do it again for love of you. Praise the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who desires to breathe His peace and joy into you and preserve you in His love.

Praise God in good and bad, in disappointment and triumph. Praise you Lord God who saved me – and continues to save me every day!

Posted July 16, 2014 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

A Brief Reflection on Grief   Leave a comment

The loss of a beloved one – their death – brings with it the unpredictability of emotions, diminishes our facility with language (the words “death” and “died” don’t flow easily from our lips, may be caught in our throats), and so often challenges our faith in God, the Church, and prayer. After the death has happened, the arrangements have been made and accomplished, and what seems to everyone else a sufficient “mourning period” has been fulfilled, life goes on around us. The sun rises and sets. The mailman brings our bills, the grocery stores and malls are filled with shoppers acquiring their daily needs and fulfilling their material desires. People marry, divorce, have babies, get jobs and lose them. Seasons change, new buildings are raised and people move into and out of the neighborhood. The world turns, life happens, people move on. But we, who have lost a piece of our hearts, our spirits, and our being, still remember. The life-stopping, reality-changing event remains with us, and it is like a secret we carry with us into the world. We look like everyone else from the outside, whole and complete; but inside, the missing piece of us creates a hollow, open space that no one recognizes. And that can sometimes make us sad or even angry: that while the world turns, there is no longer recognition from others that a part of us is gone.

What I know from my experience is that the process of grief is truly unique to each of us. It seems to me, at least at this point in my own grieving, that grief has its seasons. Right now I am still in its spring, where my grief is in almost full bloom, but its scents are subtle and its breezes mostly gentle. But some days my grief turns to summer, and the loss of my mother is searing hot on me, the heat of it is stifling, and I struggle to find shade. In time, I would suppose, my grief will transition to autumn, and its colors will change to reveal beautiful memories. And then again, the autumn might make way for the pain of loss to go dormant in its winter, with just enough of an icy reminder to make the memory of loss present, but mostly wrapped in quiet and peace.

This is just what I’m supposing, and how I’ve come to visualize my grief and to try and cope with it. Maybe it will be just like this, or nothing like it; I don’t know. Grief – its stages, seasons, the face it assumes, or however one chooses to characterize it – is one’s own; but not only ours. It is also the season, the Face, the sorrow, the loss, and the Redemption through, and Life in, Jesus Christ. It is all His, if we allow Him to be with us in it. I had thought to say, “If we allow Him to take it from us.” But that’s not at all how it works – or, only very rarely. The loss is real; the pain is real; the empty space is really, really empty. It will remain so, even as we experience it in its shapes and colors; its ebbs  and flows. The loss is ours, and always will be. But Jesus Christ – God and Man – is there to experience it with us, to comfort us, strengthen us, to weep with us, and simply be with us. And so coping with the loss of a loved one is really all about Him. Because in being about Him, it becomes about us and our beloved one, and the new way we must travel without him or her physically present to us, but now fully alive in Christ. Jesus Christ, the One who stared Death in the face, submitted Himself to it, and then overcame Death, is the Bridge between our life here and the New Life experienced by the one we love and miss. Through Him our love survives and thrives.

Posted March 28, 2014 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Making my heart a manger   Leave a comment

Today is Christmas, the birthday of the Lord. How amazing that is! God Himself – the Creator of you, and me, and the universe and EVERYTHING – has become a little baby. He entrusts Himself to Mary and Joseph. And, to me. As I consider that reality, I am excited, bewildered, afraid and comforted, all at once. 

Today in his homily, our pastor said that our hearts are to be mangers for Jesus. I really pondered that, and will have to continue thinking about what it means. From a mystical/spiritual perspective, the fact that the Baby Jesus was laid in a manger is highly significant, and has a deep theological meaning. The manger is literally the “feed box” for the animals, the place from which they receive their sustenance. Being tucked “Away in a Manger” is not only, or even primarily, about the humility of God – made – man (although it certainly is that). This little Child will become our sustenance, the Bread of Life. Not only does God (the Creator of you and me and the universe and everything) humble Himself and enter into His creation in a most intimate and tangible way; but He then gives Himself to us in a way that makes us acutely aware that He sustains us, that our life is dependent on Him, and that we are because He Is. St. Paul tells us that “In Him we live, and move, and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). But nothing makes these words more clear, more perceivable to us than Christ within us in the Eucharist. We come to the manger at each Liturgy and we are fed by Him. 

The manger is also the place of rest – the place where the Child cooed, cried, and slept “in heavenly peace.” And so my heart must be a manger, a place for Jesus to rest with me, but also a place for Him to cry with me, be content with me, and love in me. That’s a more difficult task, I think, because of all of the noise that surrounds me, and that lives in my head. Bad influences, gossip, anger, jealousy, boredom, temptation –  concupiscence in general, I suppose. And then the noise in my head: grief, self-doubt, wondering, questioning. but above all of that noise, from within and without, there is seeking. I seek Him and long to have Him resting in the manger of my heart.

Amid all of the chaos and nonsense in the world, in my own life, I still possess hope. Why and how, I don’t know. It can only be His grace, His gift, and I am so very grateful.

Make your heart a manger for the Lord, and let Him live there.

Let Him cry and coo and rest with you.

Posted December 26, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Crossing the Threshold   Leave a comment

Today is the first time I haven’t felt sad since my mother became sick, declined and passed away; the first time since that period of preparation, when I was so busy doing things that I barely had the time to navigate my emotions, to just be. Today is the first time I haven’t felt to sad and empty since my mother’s funeral and burial…and then the aftermath in which I am left alone with myself and my grief. 

Upon our arrival at the church, before the funeral, my immediate family and I waited in the narthex. I stood next to my husband as the pallbearers brought my mother in, and I gazed upon that casket, the box that held my mother, kept me from seeing her face or holding her hand ever again in this life. Prayers were chanted at the threshold, a Gospel read – and as I stood watching my brother preside over our mother’s farewell to this earthly presence and her initiation into a New Life, I was struck with a vivid memory. Two years and almost six months prior to this day I stood at the very same threshold: my parents together at my left side, my brother before me in almost exactly the same place, and my husband-to-be waiting at my right. This is where my new life as a wife began, at this same threshold, surrounded by the same people.

At this morning’s Liturgy a baby was baptized. His parents and godparents held him there, at the threshold. The pastor stood before them, prayed the Rite of Exorcism, received this little child’s assent to the Faith through his godparents, and a new life in Christ began. All at the threshold.

As I watched this child begin his walk into the Light of Faith, into this parish family, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and joy. I was not sad at the loss of my mom (I hadn’t forgotten her, but there seemed no need to be sad). I didn’t feel that familiar sting of hurt and even resentment at not having a child of my own. Instead, my mind flashed to the scene of my wedding day; those few days earlier at my mom’s funeral; and now, at the baptism of this child whom I don’t know, who is not part of my family – but now really is, because he is my brother in the Faith, the son of my Father. All of this began, begins, at the Threshold. As the Liturgy continued I had a realization that I suppose comes rather late in my “Christian career” – but, better late than never! I realized that I have crossed that Threshold into the church hundreds of times, and for each one of them I might as well have been crossing the threshold of anyplace: a house, a store, work, school, a bar…a church. We open doors and walk over thresholds every day, and it’s all about getting from Point A to Point B. Oh, sometimes we’re excited, maybe nervous; scared, angry, happy. Often, we’re just going in or coming out; in and out of our lives.

That threshold is where it all begins and where it all ends, and that is highly significant. But today I finally tuned into the fact that what happens in between, in all of those times we cross back and forth over the threshold, is the most significant of all. What I bring to God is important to Him, the good and the bad, my thanks and my supplication, my joy and my sadness. He wants me to bring me to Him – all of me – without hesitation or fear. At the same time, I know that God wants me to take something away when I cross the Threshold back into the world. He wants me, more than anything, to take Him with me. 

All of this hit me like a tidal wave this morning, as if I were a child who’d just learned some profound truth in Sunday school. I absorbed it with just that same wonder, as if discovering that God exists, that He loves me, for the very first time. 

Jesus, the Bridegroom, is coming. He is near. He is more near to me than I realized, and I am so grateful. The desert through which I have been wandering these weeks is is still near, too. I am walking along its edges, and I have no doubt that I will find myself there again. But the Door to the Threshold is always open to me, and to us all. He is asking me to open the door to the threshold of my heart, too, and for the first time in a while I want Him to come in and rest with me and in me.

“First: [we must] recognize our dryness, our incapacity to give life. Recognize this. Second, to ask: ‘Lord, I want to be fruitful. I want my life to give life, that my faith be fruitful and go forward and I can give it to others.’ ‘Lord I am sterile. I can’t. You can. I am a desert. I can’t. You Can.’”  

~ Pope Francis, Homily 19 December 2013

Posted December 22, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

“I love you more”   Leave a comment

In his homily for our mom’s funeral, my brother related a final conversation with her in the hospital, while she was still able to communicate. He told her that he loved her, and her response was, “I love you more.” I’d heard those same words countless times myself, and probably took them for granted more often than not. When someone you love – who obviously loves you – speaks in this way, you become used to it. It almost loses meaning because you don’t imagine those words will one day cease to be uttered.

My brother’s homily drew the connection between our mom’s deep and unconditional love, and the love God has for us (and, most comfortingly, the love He has for her). God does “love us more,” and He has shown, and continues to show it in countless ways. For me, finding the “more” in the decidedly “less” I am experiencing is a challenge, to say the least. The tears have stopped – for now – and an empty space just hovers somewhere over my heart. It hovers because it hasn’t found a space. Not a place even for emptiness just yet. I don’t know where to put it, where to put anything. I’m in a fog.

Right now I have to rely on the saints to pray for me; that is, to do my praying for me. I say my prayers, but right now they are just the words I’m supposed to say. I know they’ll gather meaning again, but for now all I can do is say them. Even with all of that – the fog, the emptiness, the disconnect between words and feelings – I am aware of Jesus. I am aware that He is here, that His wounds are open to receive mine. I am aware that He loves me more. I am grateful. I’m just not there yet.

Posted December 20, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Mary Mourned   Leave a comment

On December 10 my mom passed away. Well, actually, that evening she coded and the medical team on the floor swarmed her room and worked on her for…who can say how many minutes. It may as well have been five seconds or five hours. Time meant nothing – and, everything. And then, she died.

During the week my mom was in the hospital there were ups and downs, prayers for miracles. Bad reports, good reports, better reports, setbacks and then the inevitable slide we’d feared. I couldn’t go into the room as they worked on her, but my dad was there. Like Mary, he had to be there for the awful, unbelievable end. But I think that, too, like Mary it was a picture that would imprint itself on his heart, and in his mind. I often thought of Mary during mom’s illness, for a couple of reasons. The first is that mom loved the Blessed Mother so much, and prayed to her whenever she had a very special request – usually to do with the family. I prayed that Mary would hold her hand whenever she got scared in the hospital. We were there with her around the clock, holding her hand – my dad, my brother and me; but we needed that “fourth hand” to hold mom…and, I suppose, to hold us up.

The second thought I had about Mary was that she mourned – really and truly. It’s Christmastime, so the solemn carols and goofy “holiday” songs are playing everywhere. Once in a while the song “Mary, Did You Know?” breaks in from among the 100th airings of Rudolph and Jingle Bell Rock, and begs for reflection. Allow me a moment of theological speculation: I kind of think Mary didn’t know – or, not entirely. The Angel gave her the good news, Mary gave her fiat in (I believe) full faith and trust in God. And that faith remained with her, even when she was told a sword would pierce her heart; when the town hailed her Son, and thought Him completely crazy. She knew God was at work, had something great in mind, and if she didn’t understand just how it would all unfold, it didn’t matter. Mary believed God was faithful so she was, too.

But I think that when Mary stood at the Cross, she mourned. I think she mourned hard. The Pieta is a beautiful and timeless piece of art; but the serene Mother cradling her child, almost offering Him back to God (and to us) is a wonderful spiritual example for us, but probably not a true representation of the moment.

I think Mary was sad, bereft, filled with an unimaginable emptiness at the loss of her only Son, the fulfillment of a Promise – God’s Anointed One. I don’t posit for a moment that she lost faith, that she despaired and gave up on God. Mary mourned because she experienced a profound loss, and her faith in God could not override the depth of that feeling.

So as I sat with my mom in those last days I thought of Mary standing by the Cross, probably wondering what all of this meant, how it would all play out…how this had even happened. Mary mourned, and I mourn. Christ suffered (terribly, horrible, graphically), and my mom suffered – at least a little, when she was aware. I believe with all of my heart that Christ Himself was present with her in that suffering. I prayed that His wounds would absorb hers. And I believe, with great confidence, that Mary was holding my mother’s hand – and that she still is.

Even so, it hurts.

Posted December 17, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

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