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 n 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!

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The Birth of the Theotokos

St. Ann Byzantine Catholic Church

http://stannbyz.org/website2011/Default.aspx

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

Embracing “The Great Why”   Leave a comment

I’ve returned to blogging following a physical (weekend visit with the Western PA-wing of the family) and emotional (couldn’t move myself to write) hiatus. Today is the feast of St. Philomena, and I have prayed her Novena these nine days, each day with my husband, and today with the parish family of St. Philomena Catholic Church in our town. As I made my way to venerate her relic, I prayed that the teen aged martyr would help me to surrender: myself, my marriage, and my desires – all of it – to God. I prayed that if I cannot know why, that I can at least embrace this great why, and allow the Lord to do His work with me. So now here am I, trying so desperately to embrace this why, and to remember that I am not to attempt to do this on my own. I ask Philomena, who in her youth displayed a level of courage and strength of faith that leaves me in awe, to help me carry this fear I have, which is too heavy for me just now (and has recently become almost unbearably so), and lay it at the feet of the Lord. I need to lay this burden down because carrying it renders my hands too full to hold my Mother’s.

St. Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us!

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Posted August 11, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Forgiveness is a hard-won virtue   Leave a comment

I went to confession yesterday. That’s not big news; it wasn’t like it had been months or years. But I needed it, and my pastor was the person to go to because he knows what I have been going through lately. [Sidebar: isn’t that funny: I had to “go to my pastor because he knows what I’ve been going through.” It’s so very Catholic of us to decide to go to a priest we don’t know for that very reason. After all, we don’t want our own priest, of all people, to know what we’ve done. Our Church needs to do a lot more catechesis on the purpose and meaning of the Holy Mystery of Confession. But, maybe that’s another post….] I am having a hard time forgiving the loss of my job, and the blame for that one is easy: the hierarchy of the Archdiocese. But the problem comes when, in my mind, I start to get specific; I “name names,” and compile a dossier of evidence to support my claim for unjustly having been let go. And that specificity starts to grow physical characteristics. It ceases to be merely a thought form and morphs into an almost physical presence. Not a person, not someone alive, but a darkness that is palpable, that I can envision in my mind’s eye, landing squarely in my chest, right there in the center, festering, brewing, smothering and cannibalizing.

So going to confession was something that took motivation – because the dark, smothering specificity doesn’t want you to let fresh air into your lungs – but I knew I had to do it. And it was good. That forgiveness is still going to be hard-won, but before I hadn’t even begun to fight. I also put my St. Benedict medal on for the first time on more than a week. Wow. That made a huge difference.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17

While I am working on forgiveness with regard to my job, I still have a mountain to climb in my sights: my desire for a baby. This isn’t like the dark, palpable “presence” stuffing itself inside my chest, trying to expand. No, this one is a mountain, high and formidable, with plenty of dangerous terrain. Wild things prowl, ready to pounce on me. Instead of feeding on me, they feed me, lies and half-truths and distortions. They ask me who is to blame, and if I don’t know, they bid me to investigate further, to discover the culprit, the author of my frustration and unhappiness. God is an easy suspect, since He is the Author of Life. Yet strangely, I don’t end up blaming Him. I wonder at Him – I even have trust issues with Him on occasion – and yet I don’t find a compelling case against Him.

The next suspect on my list is the one closest to me: my husband. It must be his fault, I reason (that’s what I call it, even though it is patently unreasonable to blame him), because…well…because!! He’s in this with me, so he must bear some of the blame. Oh hell, why not all of it!! Someone has to take the blame, after all. Then I remember why Catholics should go to their pastors, their Spiritual Fathers, instead of being an “anonymous Christian” kneeling before an anonymous priest: because my pastor knows me – but he also knows my husband, and he reminds me that my husband bears my frustration and sadness and all the unjustified, irrational junk I heap upon him, because that’s what love does. And suddenly that mirror that sometimes shows up in my husband’s hands (without him ever knowing it) shows me in truth, in my selfishness, and those wild things slink away into that mist that covers the mountain. And again, I see how hard-won the virtue of forgiveness really is.

So I am left back at square-one. I guess that’s where everyone ends up eventually; actually, all the time. Because we always have to start over. Sometimes the rungs on that Divine Ladder are a little slick, and our eyes get clouded over so that we lose sight of Christ. We don’t have proper, sturdy shoes to grip each step, and to crush the snakes that slide onto the rungs, trying to make us slip off again.  Our feet are clumsy, and our knees are weak. My friend Dawn Eden writes so beautifully about the gift or forgiveness in her book, My Peace I Give You. She says, in part:

[W]hen we pray for those who have offended us, we transform the detritus of evil into a seedbed of goodness – not by our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. working in and through us. the Catechism says that the effect of praying for our offender is so spiritually potent that it purifies our memory: “it is not in our power to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2842, 2843).

All this is not to say that forgiveness is without pain. Union with Christ demands interior martyrdom (2 Cor 4:11). But we’re in good company. The Cathechism says our acts of forgiveness connect us with all the saints who gave their lives for the faith: “Forgiveness…bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (CCC 2844).

Truly, forgiveness is not by our own power. And I do want my heart, my home, my marriage to be a seedbed of goodness.  I think perhaps the offender I should be praying for is me. It is time to stop looking seeking blame and look inside myself. Time to stop trying to figure out what I should do – or stewing over what has been done to me – and just…be.

The mist gathers again. The mountain peak seems to have grown so high it’s disappeared into the clouds. The darkness waits for an opening into my heart. I need to take hold of Someone’s hand.

Posted July 30, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized

Planning life around the baby who never comes   Leave a comment

I really want to have a baby. I mean, I want to be pregnant, grow a big belly – even if it means growing big ankles, too – have the glow a woman has about her when she is carrying new life within. I want my husband and me to experience family life from the inside out, from ground zero, from within our union. I want to hold a precious little one in my arms. More than that, I want to see my husband hold him or her close, fearful at first, but every day growing more and more into his role as “daddy.” I want us to raise a child together who will be a child of God, who will know His love even as he or she knows ours. I want my mom and dad to be grandparents, and my brother to be an uncle (since he’s a priest, will he be the child’s Uncle/Father:-) I want someone to call me “mommy,” and I want to be able to live up to that title. I want a little one to hold his or her mother’s hand, even as I am trying to hold onto my Mother’s.

So here I am again, in that time where my body becomes a chemistry set, a biological experiment. Sometimes I think it’s more like a time bomb. Diet, supplements, pills, charts and stickers, calendars and counting the days. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s supposed to be simpler, isn’t it? It’s supposed to be miraculous and wonderful and a surprise in the good way that happens when a group of your friends plan a party and all show up at once to be with you, taking your breath away with how it was all orchestrated around you, without you knowing it would happen, just because you’re loved.

Here I am again, waiting and hoping that the surprise will show up, taking my breath away, orchestrated from up above…just because I am loved. And if this is just one more month where the guest we so eagerly await doesn’t show up…are we not loved? I’ve gone through this one a million times at least, and the answer still comes up the same: no. No, it can’t possibly be that we are not loved by God. For us, perhaps, in His infinite love and mercy – and mystery – this will be the shape that Love takes. Who but God Himself knows?

We will continue to plan life around the baby who may – or may not – come. And we will continue in the struggle to surrender our plans and our desires to the One who knows us best…and loves us most.

St. Ann, my patroness and patroness of those desiring a child, pray to God for us!

Posted July 21, 2012 by palsa99 in Uncategorized