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

Tagged with

Long lost…   Leave a comment

Well, it has been a long time; a long time since my fingers tapped out my feelings, my musings, and even my grumblings. Even though I’ve been away, I haven’t stopped holding my Mother’s hand. That is, not entirely.

It’s been a hard year, and I’ll admit to slipping my hand out of Hers on occasion. Yet She keeps seeking me out. She never grabs my hand, or squeezes it too tightly. No, my Mother gently taps, lovingly caresses, and patiently waits. Eventually, I remember that I’m not as steady on my feet as when She’s holding me up and walking beside me.

So, here I am again. What will come from the tap, tap, tapping of the keys, I don’t really know. But it feels good to be back; and I’m pretty sure my Mother will continue to hold my hand.

Posted November 8, 2013 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

The Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos (or…Happy Birthday, Mary!)   Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of the Blessed Mother, and it is a special day for my husband and me. Three years ago on this day a man from Western Pennsylvania was prompted by a friend from St. Ann’s (my home parish) to contact a woman who was “single, from a good family, and with a brother who is a priest.” We are convinced that Mary herself brought us together, and that it is no accident that we (virtually) met on her birthday, and were to be engaged one year later on the feast of her Queenship. Our Mother loves us dearly, and like our earthy mothers, she keeps loving us and caring for us even we we don’t appreciate her, or don’t realize just how much she does for us.

Yesterday I was feeling a little down, pensive as I ran about town doing my errands. I went to a department store, and as I walked across the parking lot to the entrance I was overwhelmed by the scent of lilacs. Lilacs…in September. I went in, did my shopping and exited the store, making my way back across the parking lot to my car. Again, the scent of lilacs was overwhelming. I stopped in my tracks and looked around; actually, I spun around, making a 360 degree scan of the area. No lilacs – and no flowers at all. “Is that you Mary?” I said aloud. No audible response. Then again, none was needed.

Thank you Mary, my Mother, for your many gifts. And thank you St. Ann, my “heavenly Baba,” my holy Grandmother in the Faith, for never losing hope and always calling upon the Lord in trust. How good is our God, to draw us into communion with so many wonderful women (and men) who constantly intercede for us, even when we haven’t the strength to ask their help.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Mary, Virgin and Godbearer, pray to God for us!

Anna and Joachim, parents of Mary and Grandparents of Jesus, pray to God for us!


The Birth of the Theotokos

St. Ann Byzantine Catholic Church

Posted September 8, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

To be…or “knot” to be   Leave a comment

I am continuing to pray the novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots, and I am not going to over-dramatize things by saying it has changed my life. However, I do believe it is bringing me peace; that Mary is bringing me peace. When I prayed the first day I was feeling so hopeless, like I was falling rapidly from somewhere, and no one was there to catch me. Or, I guess the feeling was more like uncertainty about whether or not someone would catch me, which is a worse feeling. I have not been sure where God is at any given moment. It’s as if He is there before me, and then hides and watches as I search for Him to no avail. This is not at all what He is doing, and I know this in my heart; but in the midst of the pain almost all rational thought – and faith – gets confused.

So in my first day of prayer I needed the knot of Hopelessness to be untied. On the second day I asked Mary to choose the knot herself, to tell me what knot prevents me from being close to Jesus and to believe that He is not hiding from me, or playing games with my heart. As I prayed I thought the Knot of Sadness was keeping me from Jesus. Then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I heard the word “resistance.” Sadness is an emotion I definitely feel, and was feeling acutely on that day. The knot I really needed to be rid of, however, was not that emotional feeling which was simply keeping me wrapped up in me. Mary wanted to untie the Knot of Resistance because it was my resistance to letting go of all of the emotion, the stress, the worry – and most of all myself – that was not only keeping me from Jesus, but keeping me from life and all of the people I love. Letting go of oneself is the most difficult thing to do, and I stubbornly resisted doing just that. My Mother still held my hand though, and I think this time she pulled me out of myself and led me by another way.

Yesterday I went to Adoration and prayed once again that Mary would show me which knot needed to be loosed. She led me to the Knot of Being Filled with Myself, which is very much related to resistance. I learned years ago that we must empty ourselves in order for Jesus to come in and give us life. I will speak for myself: I am so filled with “me” that sometimes there is no room for…me! God only wants to fill us up with Himself – His love and truth and goodness – so that we will be who we are. I used to think that if I opened myself up so completely, became so vulnerable, that He would overtake me, and I would vanish. That is not at all what He wants. I know that He wants me to be fully me, but I lack trust in Him (even after all this time, and all His faithfulness). I must stop clinging to myself because I can’t survive on my own – and He doesn’t want me to have to be alone.

Yesterday I gave everything to Him: myself, my husband and our marriage, our money, our worries, and our desires for a child. Have I really given everything over? I am trying. It’s a daily struggle, a daily opportunity for conversion. That’s all God asks of us. This is important to remember as well, because whenever I regress I think I’ve failed, and I want to give up. All God asks of me – of any of us – is to keep trying, keep asking for His help, even when the supplication rings hollow to our own ears.

For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. Psalm 22: 25.

Later today I will pray again, and I will leave it to Mary to choose the knot that is tightening its grip on me, and keeping me from trusting in the Lord. This novena has become something very different from what I’d intended at the start. I have been praying so hard to become pregnant, and everything has focused on that goal. Yet Mary has led me where I really need to go, which is away from me, and toward Jesus. I will just continue to follow her, because I know it’s what I need to do.

I am struck by the contrast between the prayer to the Undoer of Knots, and the Jesus Prayer. It is a contrast that is complementary, if that makes any sense. Mary is untying the knots that keep me from experiencing what is most important in life, and from experiencing God in a meaningful way. These knots keep me from myself – my true self – too. The knots are blocks to freedom.

The Jesus Prayer is most often prayed on a chotki, which is sometimes made of beads and looks a bit like a rosary. Traditionally, the chotki is made of wool, and each “bead” is a knot, carefully and meticulously formed, its twists and braids intricately tied. The knots are tightly tied in a complicated pattern so that the devil cannot untie them, thus drawing us away from a firm belief in the efficacy of asking God’s mercy on us. This tightly held knot brings freedom, the freedom that can only come in abandonment to God’s infinite mercy.

Two knots: one that binds us, and one that sets us free. I am more in love with Mary at this moment, because I know that she brings the Divine Love to me. She is untying those knots that are keeping me bound to sadness, desperation and loss of hope, freeing me to be tied to Jesus alone.

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me

Posted September 5, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

(Bitter) sweet surrender   Leave a comment

Recently I thought all my tears had been spent, that the last ones had streamed from my eyes, and that the sun had broken through the darkness I’ve been feeling for weeks. Yet, when I feel sure that all the crying is done, a few more tears still manage to replace all those I’ve already shed. Today was that kind of day, where in the morning I collapsed in my husband’s arms, sobbing (almost wailing, really). He is so faithful, so loving and kind when I become nothing short of a basket case. Yes, today was one of those days, when I again battled the feelings of hopelessness, and the confusion about just what God is planning to do with us. Today I heard the good news of the birth of a child, which set me back five steps from where I thought I’d come only days ago. Earlier I had felt so happy, so secure in the belief that God will answer my prayer, somehow, some way. Now I felt that, yet again, my prayers lacked the weight of others’, or that my faith lacked the strength of others’ – or that my God lacked the love for me that He has for others.

All of this is highly irrational, and frankly, quite selfish. And yet, these feelings, this darkness creeps up on me and suddenly overpowers me. I feel as if I am swallowed up by a force of emotion that has the power to annihilate me. I feel helpless, and as if no one understands my pain. Selfishness, again.

I swallow the pills – one, two, five, 12, 16 – to help my body to remember to ovulate. My 45 year old body that should have borne children by now. My 45 year old body that needs coaxing to do what it was created for, should do naturally. It’s not supposed to be like this, I think to myself. How much more of this can my body take? How much more can my heart stand? It is already nearly broken.

Sometimes, in the secret depths of His mystery, God allows our lives to take turns, to experience peaks and valleys, in order to form us into the men and women He knows we are. I had a lot to learn and needed to be formed and prepared for the great gift that is my husband. We found each other later than we would have liked but…we found each other! There is no one with whom I would rather share this burden – and no one who could share it with me as he does. The shape our love takes now is cruciform, the pain is real, and the cry of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” wells up in me almost daily. And yet…I cannot be more grateful to Him for this gift of my husband. The suffering is hard, and the pain is more than I ever thought I would experience; but in those moments when the clouds break, I know it is all for His glory.

My sister-in-law, Susan, shared with me the prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Today I prayed that Mary would untie the knot of hopelessness. I know that I must surrender completely to the Lord – give everything to Him, including the pain and the fear, and even the jealousy for the happiness of others. I must also surrender my hope, so that He can make it real, make it true. I have to entrust my hope to God so that He can gift it to me. I must surrender my whole self, my marriage, my body, my heart. I must entrust myself to Him completely. This knot of hopelessness is the knot in my stomach, the one that caused me to weep today in my husband’s arms. This is the knot that Mary will untie, the knot that I tied so tightly, that I must finally let go. If I continue to hold on to it, how can I hold my Mother’s hand?


Posted September 2, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized