Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 12 months of giving

 


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All the presents have been opened.
So now what?
The pre-Christmas retail season is largely about planning and anticipation. You spend a month or more fighting your way through the maze of shoppers at the malls; risking life and limb to string brightly colored lights on your house; and trying in vain to get a good night’s sleep despite the clamoring of sugar-crazed youngsters awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
Then, in a frenzy of torn wrapping paper, shredded ribbons and bows that are tossed away faster than Great Aunt Edna’s fruitcake, it’s over.
We are with loved ones; we attend Mass and give praise to God for the birth of Jesus. We often put aside our differences, hug, kiss, laugh, sing, tell jokes and love a lot more than we do on most other days of the year.
For a while, when everyone is gathered around the Christmas tree, we all, regardless of circumstances, celebrate the joy of giving and receiving. We stretch our wallets to help those in need to have a holiday dinner on their table and gifts under the tree. The world seems to stop its hectic pace during this unique, 24-hour period, and for a while, everyone seems to care.
Perhaps it isn’t practical to leave the Christmas tree in the living room, but how about leaving a little more joy and fellowship in our hearts and homes during the rest of the year?
What if we were kind year round? What if we carried the spirit of Christmas and charity throughout each month, and what if families carry the idea of giving to others as an ongoing and spiritual experience? The spirit of giving doesn’t have to end with Christmas; with our example, we might encourage our children to keep the practice of charity in their hearts.
Margaret Sadoski, director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish, Horicon, believes it is important to instill in children at an early age the practice of giving.
House of Peace,
1702 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee, WI 53205; phone: (414) 933-1300,
 
www.houseofpeacemilwaukee.org  Gerri Sheets-Howard,
executive director; email:
ghoward@capuchins.org.
Her parish is involved in the local food pantry, “Clothes for Kids” in Beaver Dam, and the local St. Vincent de Paul.
“We also have a Bethesda Thrift Store just down the road where families can drop off used items,” she said. “I feel children need to learn giving at an early age and then it will continue as they grow older, especially if they see their parents doing it.”
At St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, Christine Crom integrates volunteer opportunities into her Christian formation programs. As the director of child ministry K4-Grade 5, she encourages volunteers for the summer Vacation Bible School (VBS), using it as a weeklong service project for the children, as well as middle school and high school volunteers.
“Volunteers were encouraged to do chores or work at home to earn money, and the children and youth were encouraged to donate all of their earnings to our service project,” she said. “This year our project was the House of Peace Christmas brunch. The children and youth learned about the HOP (a charitable program in honor of the late Booker T. Ashe) after volunteers did a presentation about it.”
Last year, the VBS project collected books, games and toys for the Cathedral Center, an emergency shelter for women and families. The year before, the VBS program collected funds to purchase playground equipment for the children in their sister parish in Uganda.
“We have also done the Souper Bowl of Caring last Super Bowl weekend after the children learned about the social justice principles of the Catholic church,” explained Crom. “They made posters and families collected loose change into soup pots. All monies were donated to local agencies to feed the hungry, with the largest donation of $1,000 going to Ozaukee Family Sharing.”
Integrating giving with the religious education program makes sense, according to Crom.
“If we remember that, I think that there are some benefits that just happen,” she said. “We usually see how truly blessed we are and how blessed our families are. We usually feel good about tackling a big issue like hunger – but together we can do it.”
Following are some suggestions for carrying your giving and family outreach efforts throughout the year.
December
The Christ Child Society

Since 1948, the Christ Child Society has provided assistance, support and encouragement to children, regardless of race or creed. One of the initial projects that continues today is the Layette Program, providing new mothers with a handmade quilt or blanket, sweater set, sleep and playwear, undershirts, storybook, a handmade toy and parenting information. According to president Marianne Armour, the Christ Child Society always needs volunteers to join the organization, donate items and funds for the layettes or the My Stuff Bag Program.
“These are bags given to children when they are taken out of a home due to domestic abuse and taken to a shelter,” she said. “The bags are filled with pajamas, toothbrush, comb and a little stuffed animal to comfort these children and help them to know that someone cares. This is a great project for school children or for families who want to help donate money or items for these layettes.”
The society also provides scholarships for high school students, runs the Second Saturday Program for mothers and new babies, provides volunteers for the Ronald McDonald House, and runs the Christ Child Society Resale Shop and Boutique in the Merrick Center, former convent of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, 4033 W. Good Hope Road. Volunteers are needed to staff the store or to provide donated items.

Store hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the first and third Saturdays of the month, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information on how to help, call (414) 540-0489.
January
Hope Now Inc.

For those in the Elkhorn community suddenly faced with illness, reduced hours or loss of employment, there is help. The ecumenical, non-profit group, Hope Now Inc., provides emergency help for people suffering loss of income by providing assistance for housing, utilities, transportation, medical needs and holiday baskets.
The program began in 2002, after a group of concerned people from various churches, service groups, schools and county social services met to find a combined method to help those in need in the Elkhorn area.
Representatives of Hope Now Inc. meet with applicants for assistance at St. Patrick School, Elkhorn, every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. to assess options to best serve those in need.
Three times a year the organization works with schools, churches, service groups and Elkhorn food pantry to provide food baskets to qualified families.
Donations are welcome any time of the year and can be made to Hope Now Inc., Rev. Joyce Rich, Bethel United Methodist Church, W5110 County Road A, Elkhorn, WI 53121.

To find out how to volunteer, contact Rev. Scott McLeod (262) 723-3246, Eleanor Montano (262) 723-4711, or Rev. Rich (262) 742-3507.
February
St. Vincent de Paul

When it comes to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Fond du Lac, the ability to give is solely dependant on the generosity of others.
According to Jean White, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Holy Family Conference, consisting of members who worship at Sacred Heart, St. Mary, St. Peter, Holy Family sites in Fond du Lac and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Parish, North Fond du Lac, the need for donations is great after the holidays.
“There are just so many people in need, and we do try to have fundraisers to keep up the funds to fill our pantries and help those who need a hand,” she said. “We have a spring fundraiser, and often the fraternal insurance groups will match our funds and that really helps.”
With the end of the year tax deductions, Thanksgiving and Christmas, people tend to donate toward the end of the year, but food supplies are quickly depleted by spring.
“We would love to see families, schools and churches hold a Lenten offering to help us help others,” said White. “There are different organizations in Fond du Lac that often are recipients of help, but St. Vincent de Paul could really use some help. Nearly every dollar collected goes to help others as we have very low administrative costs because we are run by volunteers.”

To help financially, or through donations, contact: St. Vincent de Paul Society Contributing Member Campaign, 573 W. Rolling Meadows Dr., Fond du Lac, WI  54937, (920) 322-9505.
March

Operation Rice Bowl (Lent: Feb. 22-April 8, 2012)

Operation Rice Bowl is Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten program that began in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., as an ecumenical response to the drought in the African Sahel. For more than 35 years, CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl has offered Catholics in the United States a way to connect others in need around the world through the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to help families create a quiet space each day where they can be grateful for their blessings and focus on making a difference in the lives of others.
Using the collection of recipes, prayers and stories from countries around the world, families can connect with the idea of fighting hunger by eating a simple, meatless meal once a week.
Placing CRS’ cardboard “rice bowl” on the dinner table helps families think about their brothers and sisters in need. 

To help: educationprograms@crs.org
By phone:
(866) 608-5978
By mail:
Catholic Relief Services
Operation Rice Bowl
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090
April
Love Inc.

Located in Burlington, Love, Inc. is a non-profit organization with more than 40 programs to help families and individuals live better, more productive lives. That dedication takes an active and sustained commitment from the community. Each year, Love Inc. provides more than a half a million dollars in goods and services to those in need.
Founded in 1983 by various community members, Love Inc. is a network of churches and individuals working to identify, assess, and provide for the needs of families and individuals, and to direct them to the appropriate resources.
Volunteers are needed for office work and to help in one of the five thrift stores and warehouse. Donations of clothing, medical supplies, furnishings and furniture are also welcome.
Regular fundraisers include Friday Night Lights to support the food pantry, tree sales, toy runs, post office food drive, Boy Scout food drive, and meals for the needy provided by local churches. As with most organizations, the greatest need is for cash donations not assigned to a particular program.

To help: contact Love Inc., 480 South Pine St., Burlington, WI,  53105. Phone (262) 763-6266.
May
Women’s Care Center Foundation

An unexpected pregnancy can be a hard thing to face alone. Women’s Care Center can help. Their mission is a simple one – to help pregnant young women choose life for their developing babies, deliver healthy babies, develop parenting skills and take the first steps to self-sufficiency.
Founded by a professor from the University of Notre Dame, Women’s Care Center has grown to become the nation’s largest pregnancy resource center serving more than 100,000 women since its inception. There are 17 locations in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Women’s Care Center Milwaukee opened its doors on June 21, 2010, at 1441 N. Farwell Ave. This is the only pregnancy center in the city of Milwaukee where a pregnant woman can receive a free ultrasound 40 hours a week. Hundreds of women have already come to the site for pregnancy testing, counseling, ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins and other pregnancy support. In addition, new mothers coming to the center can earn cribs, car seats, diapers and new baby clothing by participating in education.

To learn how to help, call (414) 223-2610, or (414) 645-4050, or visit www.wccfoundation.com
June
Agape Community Meal

During any month that contains a fifth Wednesday, St. William Parish, Waukesha, hosts the Agape Community Meal in Milwaukee. The Agape Center serves those who are poor in the Berryland housing area and its neighborhood. Involvement is easy and includes either going to Agape to help prepare the meal in the afternoon or by serving the meal in the early evening. This service opportunity is ideal for families and youth.
Coordinators for this meal are Jerry and Shirley Stanke and Lonnie Rubis. If you are interested in volunteering for this meal program, call one of the coordinators one week before meal date.

They can be reached: Lonnie Rubis (262) 542-9626 or Jerry and Shirley Stanke (262) 544-0436.
July
St. Boniface/St. Gabriel Food Pantry Germantown

The St. Boniface/St. Gabriel Food Pantry serves five communities: Germantown, Richfield, Hubertus, Jackson and Colgate. Referrals to the food pantry are made through the Washington County Social Services. The food pantry is located in the St. Boniface Parish Center.
The food pantry appreciates support year round, but is especially in need of assistance during the summer months when children are home from school. The pantry can always use nonperishable goods as well as household and personal items, e.g., laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
Bring your nonperishable foods and household/personal items to the food pantry within the St. Boniface Parish Center. Items can be placed on the tables outside the door. From Nov. 1 through Jan. 5, items can also be dropped off at the barrels in Pick ‘n Save and Piggly Wiggly.

For more information on how to use the food pantry or to volunteer, contact: Charlene at (262) 628-0420 or email: c.j.mal7@gmail.com.
August
Sacred Heart Food Pantry, Horicon

The Sacred Heart Food Pantry, located within the parish facility, is in need of nonperishable food, toiletries and personal items. The pantry serves about 53 families from the Iron Ridge, Horicon, Juneau and Burnett communities each month with nonperishable foods. Additionally, each Thanksgiving and Easter, about 40 families receive a special basket of food, and children of these families qualify for Tree of Life gifts at Christmas and Easter gift baskets.
To donate to this ministry, nonperishable foods that are not expired and do not have damaged packaging, can be delivered to the table near the kitchen during parish office hours at 950 Washington St., Horicon.

Volunteers are urgently needed for this ministry. If interested, call (920) 485-0694 for more details.
September
Elizabeth’s Closet

Elizabeth’s Closet, located on the campus of St. Mary Catholic Church, 7307-40th Ave., Kenosha, is organized by a group of volunteers dedicated to helping families obtain items for their babies and toddlers. Items provided include diapers, wipes, baby wash, clothing, blankets and baby furniture when available. According to organizer Rosa Herman, the group is always in need of items, including baby and toddler clothing.
“There are no requirements for people to come in and pick up items and we generally serve about 20 families per month,” she said. “We always need items, any time of year.”

Those wishing to donate can call the parish (262) 694-6018.
October
Our Lady of the Lakes, Random Lake

Teresa Mahler, director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lakes, 306 Butler St., Random Lake, understands that families are busy, and while most would like to volunteer, it isn’t easy to set aside the time, so her answer is to include volunteer activities within the religious education program.
“We have a family religious education program that meets at the same time. In October, we all went to the community, raked leaves, washed windows, trimmed trees and picked up garbage,” she said. “It was very popular and all of our families loved it. Families got to know each other and got to know the people they served and felt really good about it. They want to do it again.”

Following the service, Mahler held a prayer service and reflection where families had the opportunity to talk about what it means to be a servant and how it felt to serve other people.
November
Thanksgiving baskets

St. Francis Borgia Parish, 1375 Covered Bridge Road, Cedarburg, offers service projects through its regular Christian formation programs on Monday evenings and its regular Wednesday night classes. Each November, each class on Wednesday night in grades one through five at the 4:30 and 6:15 session fill Thanksgiving food boxes for the House of Peace. Each child in a family is asked to bring an item or two to fill the box. Children also make cards or draw pictures and these are put into the box. They decorate the outside of the box with words of encouragement such as: May the Lord bless you on Thanksgiving Day. The Christian formation program has provided this ministry for about three years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Artist captures ordinary in extraordinary way

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10-28-11-CHN-01Artist Barbara Beier poses with some of her work in her Mukwonago home. Beier, former director of music and liturgy at St. Margaret Mary Parish, Milwaukee, says she romances the past through her paintings. Her work is on display at Landmarks Gallery & Restoration Studio, Milwaukee, through the end of the month. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
In ancient Damascus, roads wind across the barren landscape, one leading to the foot of a staircase and a gate welcoming visitors to the marketplace. Some opt to climb to the buildings above, seemingly growing out of the rock face.
As they climb, others might join in the journey, leading to the synagogues where they will pay their respects and join other Jewish scholars discussing the Holy Books.
This scene and many others live in the heart of Mukwonago resident Barbara Beier, who captures the past in her large scale and often life-size movable murals. Her art is painted on Masonite in sections that can be refitted or recombined to suit a setting in another location. She captures the ordinary fulfilling their ordinary lives, but in an extraordinary manner.
Throughout November, Beier’s reflections of the Holy Land and Israel are being displayed at Landmarks Gallery & Restoration Studio in Milwaukee.
“I obviously romance the past in my paintings,” she said. “I think back 2,000 years and research what archaeologists found on walls, streets, lintels on gates and add back what the scenery looked like back then.”
Beier’s inspiration stemmed from an invitation to teach music ministry in Israel for three years in the mid-1990s. The trips, history and culture permeated her soul, and her Via Dolorosa mural was the first to emerge from her brush.
A visit to Cornwall, England, offered images for ancient towns and villages populated with characters of her imagination. Trips to Ireland, Scotland and Wales expanded her creativity while she learned of their early culture.
“My work is realistic, but stylized. I want to create the ambiance of the era,” she said. “I paint large and people often say that they feel as if they can walk into my paintings. My style is bold and very free. Sometimes even I don’t know where my art is going. I inhale the scenes and exhale the art.”
Her most profound worked stemmed from a prayer and ended up as her interpretation of the Transfiguration, a grandiose 8-foot by 8-foot movable mural, that Beier considers her signature piece. In order to portray it as realistically as possible, she used live models to create the characters of Jesus, Elijah and Moses.
“I have done this before and sometimes people just appear at my door and will pose for me when they know I am working on a painting,” she said. “I have a friend who is a seamstress who designed the clothing for me to fit the period and has made the clothing in all sizes with many different headpieces.”
The inspiration to paint the Transfiguration happened more than a year ago, and Beier was unable to shake the vision, nor the reason why she continued to think about it nearly every day.
“I had this picture in my mind of three figures in a circle and a year went by; I had done other exhibits, but hadn’t tackled the Transfiguration. One day, I just couldn’t control it and found myself painting it – and I didn’t know why,” she said. “I feel as if the Holy Spirit just took over. It wasn’t an easy thing to do spiritually, and it was scary to draw a 4-foot Jesus facing out. Each time I look at the painting now, I see the man who posed for the painting, except for the face and head, and that’s where the vision of Jesus took over.”
Beier’s formal art education began at age 8 as a student at the Notre Dame motherhouse in Milwaukee. She excelled quickly, and in high school won Journal/Sentinel calendar competition awards and scholarships to the Milwaukee Art Institute. She minored in art and majored in liturgical music, Scripture and theology at Alverno College, and earned her master’s degree in composition at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
Until 2005, Beier served St. Margaret Mary Parish as the director of music and liturgy. While she is a full-time artist, she continues to play the organ for Mass, rotating among three or four parishes in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
“Since I was a little girl, music and art affected me so deeply that when other kids were doing foolish things, I was into my music and art,” she explained. “It is who I am – it’s my identity and I can’t even separate it.”
While Beier paints nearly every day, she finds that she is unable to paint for long stretches of time, as spiritually and emotionally the work is exhausting. Most projects take six weeks to two months to complete.
“I compare it somewhat to the story of where Jesus was in a crowd of people and when someone touched him, he felt the energy go out of him,” she said. “It is like that when I paint. I feel my energy going into the painting at a fast pace. There was a time a few years ago when the Village of Mukwonago asked me to do a major painting for the fall harvest. It was a big size and I managed to finish it in two days. It was a major painting and I was pretty happy about the results, but then I felt very depressed and nervous afterwards. It took me a while to realize that this work – physically, emotionally and spiritually – drains me. I was blowing part of myself out into the work.”
Beier’s Landmark Gallery showing, titled “Antiquities,” features the ecumenical paintings of The Transfiguration, The Damascus Gate, Kidron Valley, Descendants of Ishmael, and Fishing Boats at the Sea of Galilee.
“This is a biblical showing, but is not specifically Catholic or any other religion as I did not want to eliminate anybody,” she said. “I would like this art to be available to any denomination, including Muslims, because of our commonality. I am careful not to make anyone feel out of place. For example, in some of my work, the Christian will see Jesus, but a non-Christian might see him as a shepherd. I hope people will be interested in seeing my work, my life’s passion. I get so much joy out of what I do; I am a very enthusiastic person and it is uncontainable.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

‘Legion of angels’ helping Racine family

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RACINE — It is difficult to imagine that anything good could come from being beaten into a coma.
But for Heraclio (José) Torres, a 42-year-old family man, a legion of living angels stepped into his life since he was nearly beaten to death by two men on June 19, 2009.
p.3Torres-Family-mh-002Maria Torres poses for a family photo last December with her husband, Heraclio, and ther children Alexander, 2, and Litzy, 5. Shortly after Heraclio returned home from the hospital after two men nearly beat him to death in 2009, Litzy was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and Maria had to quit her part-time job to care for family. (Mark Hertzberg, copyright the Journal Times)As he left his home to go to work, the men savagely beat and kicked him repeatedly, and stole his car. Despite his near fatal injuries, José walked into the Racine County Offender Correctional Facility on Albert Street for help.
A rescue squad took him to Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints hospital, but due to his severe head injury, was transported to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa.
Unable to communicate clearly, the Racine police listed him as a John Doe for two days, until his wife, Maria, filed a missing person report. After police showed her photographs, she identified the badly beaten man as her husband.
For three months, Maria, 40, traveled to Froedtert with their son, Alexander, who was just 1 at the time, while 4-year-old Litzy attended school. She spent every morning at José’s bedside, praying for a miracle. Each afternoon, she went to work at her part-time job, while her brother cared for the children.
Family dealt another blow
When José finally came home to their one-bedroom Racine apartment, he was unable to walk, talk or sit up on his own. With no medical insurance, the family was unable to get any in-home rehabilitation services for José.
Not long after José came home, the family was dealt another blow – young Litzy was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. Maria quit her job so she could take Litzy to Children’s Hospital for treatment, sometimes for three days at a time.
As Maria’s world crashed around her, the angels stepped in to help.
According to Fr. Esteban Redolad, pastor of St. Patrick and Cristo Rey parishes, he learned of the plight of his parishioners about a year ago after Litzy’s diagnosis.
“Here the otherwise average life of the Torres family was dramatically put to the test: José was bedridden, Litzy, his only daughter, was sick, Alexander, the 2-year-old, was needing all the attention 2-year-olds need, and Maria, José’s wife, was in the middle of it all,” he explained. “It was difficult when Maria had to quit her job, but she knew she couldn’t take care of her husband and daughter. It was especially difficult since José would not qualify for any social service that would allow him to have some home care while alone in the house.”
Parishes create roster of volunteers
Once word spread about Litzy’s condition, St. Patrick and Cristo Rey parishes created a roster of volunteers that included parishioners as well as others who knew of the devastating situation.
“This generous group of people took care of José during the hours, at times 12 hours a day, so Maria could go to the hospital with her daughter,” said Fr. Redolad.
Normally, private and self-sufficient, Maria learned to allow others into her home to care for her husband’s personal needs while she kept watch over Litzy in the hospital.
“Some volunteers would care for her husband, others would do chores for her, and some stayed at the hospital overnight with her daughter so she could go back to visit her family,” said Fr. Redolad. “She was strong enough to somehow realize she had to trust others because it was impossible for her to cope with everything on her own. She accepted the fact that she had to have faith in a group of basically unknown people.”
Angels at work behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, other angels were at work. When Joe Hanneman, member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, learned of the Torres’ situation at a Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids last February, he ached for them.
“My fellow Knight, Bill Fayer, and I were discussing how the free coats would help the families during these tough times. Dr. Shirley Heck, director of the Blessed Pope John XXIII?Educational Center in Racine, mentioned one family that was having a very hard time,” said Hanneman. “I sat in stunned silence as Dr. Heck described the family’s situation and found it hard to imagine one family having to shoulder so much pain. I immediately told Dr. Heck that the Knights of Columbus would help this family.”
After learning that parishioners of Cristo Rey and St. Patrick were helping care for the family, provide meals, and funds for medical supplies and rent, the Knights were determined to build on the efforts to lighten the family’s burdens.
“Our Racine Knights of Columbus council cut a check for $250 to help with immediate needs,” said Hanneman. “I drafted a grant request to the Wisconsin Knights of Columbus charity fund and was grateful it was approved for $2,500. But we were just getting started. As the Torres’ story was told to our membership, Knights stepped forward to organize a fund drive to help.”
Parishes take ‘bucket brigade’ collections
After Knights’ officer, Matt Nelson, approached St. Lucy pastor, Fr. Mark Jonas, the priest approved a “bucket brigade” collection after all Masses.
“As Father read the story of the Torres family at the end of the Masses, you could see tears in the eyes of parishioners,” said Hanneman. “The response was very humbling. One older woman came up to one of the Knights and dropped a few coins in the bucket. With great emotion, she said, ‘I wish it could be more.’ We thanked her for such a heartfelt gift. We had children collecting and children donating. At the end of that weekend, we had raised just over $6,000.”
A similar collection at St. Edward Parish raised $2,000. So far, the Knights have raised approximately $10,500 to assist the family, but they are not finished.
After meeting with Fr. Redolad and parish staff to learn what more could be done, Hanneman contacted Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Institute in Milwaukee and they agreed to evaluate José to map out a therapy strategy.
“We stand ready to work with some of our other Racine parishes to raise more money once we know the potential costs of therapy to help Heraclio gain back some of his life, and assured Fr. Esteban that we would see this through to make sure he gets the help he needs,” said Hanneman. “This story has touched everyone’s hearts and giving was made from the depths of the heart, whether the donation was the handful of change or a large check. Our Catholic community responds with great generosity when made aware of a family that is hurting.”
Faith has grown despite challenges
In spite of the challenges, Maria said her faith has grown the past couple of years. Though she only gets about four hours a sleep each night, she finds blessings on every level. Litzy completed chemotherapy and José’s health has leveled.
“He doesn’t have his bad cough any more,” she said. “He stays the same, but at least he isn’t worse.”
Recently, thanks to the Make-a-Wish foundation, Maria and Litzy traveled to Walt Disney World where they forgot their trials for a short time.
“She said to me, ‘Mom, can we take a couple more days?’ laughed Maria. “It was hard to return to real life.”
Back to work again, Maria hopes to qualify for medical insurance soon in order to get José ongoing medical treatment. Despite outside efforts to obtain physical therapy, because her husband isn’t a resident of the United States, and they have no insurance, José is left with no treatment to get him back on his feet again.
“I am hoping that in three months I might get insurance and then I can get him some PT, but right now, there is nothing,” said Maria. “All the people who have come to help us have been wonderful, but I worry that people might get tired of helping me.”
‘God gave her angels’
Though tired, Maria insists she has never asked God why this happened to her family, because she knows that he has never left their side.
“He has never let me alone all the time we have been going through this,” she explained. “He gave me angels to do things for my husband and me and he gave me patience and everything I need to take care of my family. I don’t feel bad or depressed, but just tired – all the time he helps me. Every day I am thankful to God because he has given us these angels and made me stronger and closer in my relationship with God.”
Her strength is encouraging to Fr. Redolad, who has witnessed Maria’s vulnerability and total dependence on others – yet, a strong faith and purpose for her life.
“I am sure many times she felt lonely and wondering,” he said. “I am sure, too, that her faith in God, her love for her husband and daughter and her capacity to struggle has been and still is even stronger than her fears and doubts. Maria is no quitter. She won’t stop thinking about what is the next step to take, or the next plan to discuss. She is a sharp thinker, but she knows her limits. She has grown the courage to act, but also the courage to ask for help.”
Through the trials and the loss of what was once normal, a community of strangers banded together to pray, donate money, provide food, and volunteer time to care for the most personal aspects of the Torres family.
“People were compassionate; they prayed for the family and tried to help as much as they could,” said Fr. Redolad. “I can confidently say that it was the help of many individuals that made it possible for the Torres family to move forward. We hope there will be even more people ready to assist in giving faith to a struggling family.”
“To me, what I admired the most was, and still is – Maria’s strength and Litzy’s smile,” said Fr. Redolad. “They are both contagious.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Angels among us

Today was another of those days--the St John of the Cross, "Dark night of the soul" days. As I was unable to sleep at 2 a.m. I got up and began to pray for everyone that God placed on my heart. I prayed for all those estranged from us, prayed for all those who chose to forget us in our time of trial, prayed for those who hurt us and asked for forgiveness for those whom I have wronged. I also prayed for certain spiritual leaders in our life who have acted as anything but spiritual leaders and then, asked our Lord for one small miracle today to show me that He had heard my prayers. 

I can honestly say that I did not get one, but three: Heard from a friend who is also struggling with serious issues, but, for some reason, he decided today to send me an encouraging note. God bless you Joe. My son, Erin came home from boarding school and filled my heart with joy, and then later, I heard from another dear friend whom I have known for about 20 years. She wanted to see how I was doing after my surgery. Blessings abound, and despite it all, they are all living proof that God does hear my prayers. He knew what I needed today and blessed me with that. 

As we weave into Thanksgiving this week, the following words of encouragement helped me through the day and perhaps they will help you as well. Thank you for sending them to me, Maureen! I love you.

Scripture: John 14:27
"I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid " NLT

A young man whose life is in severe turmoil has a dream. In his dream he has a discussion with the Lord. As they are talking the young man asks the Lord a question, "What type of changes would be appropriate for my life? The Lord responds, "Are you sure you want to know." The young man thinks for a moment and says, "yes, this is heavy on my heart."

Jesus accommodates the young man as follows:

1. Stop Worrying: I am here to take all your burdens and carry them for you

2. Put it on MY list: I can't help you until you turn your burdens over to Me.

3. Talk to ME: I want to be your best friend and hear all about your day.

4. Leave it alone: Place your burdens with ME and forget about them. 

5. Trust ME: Know that when you ask I will answer --- yes, no or wait.

6. Love Yourself: You are very precious to ME just the way you are.

7. Have Faith: That I will do the best for you in all circumstances.

8. Share: Giving is not a money problem --- it's a faith problem.

9. Be Patient: MY timing is in your best interest and perfect.

10. Be Kind: To yourself and to all others.

Then the young man awoke with a peace he had never felt before.

Prayer: Father help me implement these 10 guidelines to bring the peace of Jesus into my life and stick with 'em. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Spiritual quest leads woman to Catholic church

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Kristine Siegrest finds it hard to explain what drew her to Catholicism, but she knows how she feels when she steps into her new church.
Kristinesiegrist4Fr. Charles Zabler, pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope baptizes 32-year-old Kristine Siegrest in the baptismal font at Our Lady of Good Hope Church, Milwaukee, at the Easter Vigil in April, where she also celebrated the sacraments of Communion and confirmation. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)At home. Welcomed. Part of a community.
“The congregation has accepted me into the fold with open arms,” said Siegrest.
Becoming a Catholic was the culmination of a spiritual quest for the 32-year-old who became a member of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish at the Easter Vigil. Siegrest was not raised in any faith, but had occasionally attended Mass with her Catholic grandparents while she was growing up.
“I had moved to the neighborhood about two years ago. Last spring, as I was seriously considering the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process, I began to attend Mass to check it out,” she said. “I instantly felt a great respect for Fr. Charlie (Charles Zabler) and, after having several discussions with him, I decided to join.”
For years, something was missing, and often Siegrest felt her heart leading her to the Catholic Church. She attended Mass on Christmas Eve and Easter with her aunt, Deborah Wierzbinski, and her family.
“It was around this point that I had felt that there was something missing from my life,” she admitted. “After I began attending Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope, I realized what it was – God. I had not allowed him completely into my life.”
Fr. Zabler was touched to see Kristine’s spiritual life develop through attending various liturgies, such as weddings, funerals, and Easter..
“Over the past year, Kristine began to attend our 5:30 evening Masses on Tuesday and Thursday, and then entered the ‘period of inquiry’ and attended RCIA sessions,” he said. “She began to realize that she had found a faith tradition and felt called.”
With her aunt serving as sponsor, Siegrest participated in RCIA in addition to working full time as a patient care assistant, and attending MATC full time as a nursing student. According to Barbara Krieger, pastoral assistant and RCIA coordinator at the parish, despite her long hours, Siegrest was energetic and joyful for all of the classes and parish activities.
“Her faith journey was a true priority. People just seemed drawn to her, and part of her exposure to the parish involved helping out at our St. Pat’s Fest. Even though she was coming off a 14-hour shift at the hospital, she still maintained her magnetic smile, worked an extra shift, and said at the end, ‘That was really fun, everyone here is so friendly and nice,’” said Krieger. “I always say that I get more out of their journey than I put into it. Walking with the catechumens and candidates is one of the best parts about my ministry. Kristine reminds me that really being present to others is far more important than whatever chapter we have read; that Jesus did marvelous things without a written agenda and committees; that childlike wonder and awe at the mystery we call faith is not reserved for children.”
Going through the RCIA gave Siegrest a connection to OLGH parishioners and helped her understand the Catholic faith.
“It was just an amazing experience; Barb and Mary (Dunn, RCIA team member) are wonderful!” she said. “We were able to have very open and frank conversations about the topics we were discussing. These women have made me feel so accepted into the church and I could not have gone through this journey without them.”
Despite the Catholic family background on her mother’s side, Siegrest has no regrets about her mother’s decisions to raise her without religious roots. On the contrary, her call to the faith as an adult has made her more appreciative of being in full communion with the Catholic Church.
“My family is very proud of my decision,” she said. “My mother chose to not raise me within the church because she felt that it should be my decision as to whether I wanted to be Catholic or not. Because of this, I feel an even closer connection with the church. I am a member by my choice and not just because I was raised within it.”
During the Easter Vigil, Siegrest celebrated the sacraments of baptism, Communion and confirmation in the ancient rituals of the church. While the celebration was lengthy, Siegrest said she was moved deep within her soul and felt a stronger connection to the parishioners.
“I can’t even put into words some of the things I was feeling; all I can say is that I feel I have a certain glow that I didn’t have before,” she said. “I feel closer to our Lord due to everything that occurred during the Easter Vigil and I was overwhelmed at the time with all the other events that were going on.”
Siegrest’s enthusiastic spirit captivated the parish as well, according to Fr. Zabler.
“She was welcomed at the Lord’s Table to great applause, tears of rejoicing and ovation,” he said.
For Krieger, it was a moment that reminded her why she chose to become involved in the RCIA ministry.
“She was a delight to get to know, and I was privileged to have journeyed with her,” she said. “She is truly a blessing to this parish and especially to me.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Finding God in the midst of change and suffering

Proverbs tells us that "The more things change, the more they stay the same"

Sometimes that passage makes my brain hurt.  We all know that nothing stays the same. We all know that life is constantly changing. However, I think that we all under-estimate this fact in many ways. What I mean is, when things are going great in our lives, we don’t think about the times that they weren’t so great and with it, we often forget to thank God for the innumerable blessings that are gift to us.

And, when things are going badly and we are feeling down, it is sometimes hard to remember that we were ever happy and that somehow, in God's eyes--perhaps we have failed or done something wrong.

In both these cases, it is important for us to not only remember, but to also reflect that God is with us through the difficult as well as the abundant times--and there are lessons for us on both sides.


If we take some time to reflect on the bad days, on days that are going well for us, we can get a better perspective on our lives. Seeing a bad day from the perspective of a good day, allows us to become “aware” of the notion that time heals. Something, that on our bad days, we may not be able to fully appreciate.

On our bad days, the notion that “time heals”, may seem like a small consolation. That brings me to the reason that on a bad day, taking some time to reflect on the happier times, can be helpful in not allowing ourselves to spiral into those hopeless feelings.

Our perceptions of the changes in our lives, both good and bad, are what will determine our reactions to those changes. So, if we can react with the “awareness” that nothing stays the same, and that nothing is meant to stay the same, then we are creating a more comfortable reality for ourselves.

A lesson for me is not not take my highs, so high, that when something brings me down, I crash. And, not to let my lows, bring me so low, that when something comes around that could pick me up, I am so deep in despair that I can’t even realize it. This may seem easier said than done with all that has been stripped from our lives lately, but, as with everything else, the more I practice it, the easier it will become.

For today, the sun rose this morning, the dog woke me with an abundance of kisses, my husband read the paper we me and we talked.  We enjoyed our home brewed coffee and spent an hour talking with my sister from Arizona. Free, non-stressful and a gift from our Lord.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Find Healing in Assisi

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Day after day, Thomas Sears became one with the jungles of Vietnam, rifle perched on his shoulder, hypervigilant and anticipating sounds of incoming fire. Day after day, he maneuvered through the odor of death, climbed over bodies and watched his fellow Marines die during combat. Then, just as suddenly as he was plucked from the comforts of modern society to wielding a weapon in the war-ravaged country, the call came that he was to return home to New Jersey. It was 1968 and the end of his tour, but the war would rage within for more than 40 years.
group_military_2011Pilgrims on the September 2011 pilgrimage to Assisi for former military personnel pose for a photo with Archbishop of Assisi Domenico Sorrentino. The pilgrimages for military veterans are offered through Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, headquartered in Franklin. (Submitted photo courtesy Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs)“I remember getting off the plane literally 48 hours out of the jungle and standing in the middle of the airport not knowing how to get home,” he said. “I was 19 years old and just stood there trying to figure out what to do. I had been on duty 24-7 and suddenly couldn’t figure out what to do in this airport where all I saw around me were people giving me dirty looks because they thought I was a baby killer or a drug addict.”
Finally, a police officer approached the disoriented young soldier and asked what was wrong. After explaining that he couldn’t remember how to get home, the officer called Sears’ father who came and took him home.
“The initial days were stressful,” he confessed. “I wasn’t able to sleep because I was still in combat mode. I was up at night, heard noises all the time and wasn’t even able to get used to home cooking. It was odd; I just couldn’t comprehend eating a full meal or the fact that I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen and she was making me food.”
After a year and a half, Sears returned to some sense of normalcy, but without any counseling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the road was never easy. He felt as if his life was in constant turmoil, and to this day struggles with the dark, strange noises, hypervigilance and nightmares.
Faith, personal life fall apart
Although Sears, 64, was a lifelong Catholic, he struggled to make sense of God’s presence in Vietnam, and why so much suffering occurred.
“I couldn’t understand why God allowed this to happen, why we had to kill and do horrible things and had to live constantly in this battle,” he said. “You begin to lose your faith and start to believe that you can do anything you want because there are no consequences or afterlife, and for me, my faith began to mean nothing.”
His personal life took a toll as well – a failed marriage and difficult relationships with his children and grandchildren. While he has held a good job for 39 years, his life lacked purpose and meaning.
When Sears learned this past September about a Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome for former military personnel, he wasn’t sure it was for him. After all, he felt so far removed from God that surely there wouldn’t be anything of benefit.
“But there was one person at our Veteran’s Center who told me that I might get something out of it, and maybe find peace, so I signed up. Until the evening before he was to leave on the nine-day journey to Assisi and Rome, he nearly backed out – but something inside his soul urged him to complete this tour.
St. Francis was former soldier
According to Franciscan Fr. John Cella, director of the Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, the idea for the military pilgrimage developed following a conversation with a friar who was retiring as a military chaplain after serving in Iraq. The experience deeply affected his life and he planned to go on retreat following his tour of duty.
“It came up that St. Francis was a soldier in battle who probably killed people before ending up as a POW for about a year,” said Fr. Cella. “When he was out of prison, he was a lost soul, suffered depression and PTSD, but was able to find God through it all. Fr. Conrad Targonski, who was a Marine chaplain in Iraq, and I were talking about starting a new program for the military to help those with post-war issues and we thought it might be helpful to take veterans on a pilgrimage to walk around with St. Francis.”
Three tours a year are planned and each can accommodate up to 20. Because the Franciscans want to reach out to veterans of all ages, having a religious faith is not a pre-requisite. The pilgrimage includes trained staff, meals, visits to sacred Christian and Franciscan places, historical background, free time, sightseeing, spiritual conferences and daily prayer and Eucharist at holy places.
For Sears, the tours and historical landmarks were interesting, but nothing seemed to crack the shell surrounding his heart until they visited The Portiuncula, the smallest church in Assisi. It was Francis’ new home where his new band of brothers gathered and where Francis provided “The Pardon” as an alternative to the Crusades.
If you want to go:
Tours run $1,250 per person from the United States and include airfare, all expenses and most meals. The next tours will be held March 5-13 and Sept. 29-Oct. 7, 2012.
Scholarships are available on request for those who may need financial help. The terrain in Assisi and Rome is uneven, making it difficult for handicapped mobility. “Barrier free” is not a description of Italy.  People with physical handicaps will find the pilgrimage too  difficult because of lack of accessibility. For more information or to register, visit
www.franciscanpilgrimages.com.
“I touched those walls and listened to the story of St. Francis and felt so much peace,” he said, sobbing. “When I crossed the threshold of the little church it was like breathing that last breath and realizing that ‘My God, this is all real.’ Touching those walls weakened my knees and I felt that I could understand that God was there; he had been all along and it touched my heart in a way that I cannot explain – but everywhere we went after that seemed to bring more life into me.”
Trip brings understanding for veteran, mom
When Navy veteran Patricia Murray, 66, learned about the pilgrimage through her work as parish receptionist at the Shrine of St. Stanislaus in Cleveland, Ohio, she wasn’t sure if the trip was meant for her. While she did not serve in Vietnam, she served in the 1960s – a time when it was not popular for women to join the military.
“I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be any women veterans going on the trip, but then after speaking with (Franciscan) Sr. Anne (Bremmer), who was on the pilgrimage staff, I decided to go,” she said. “It was a spiritual and enlightening experience for me, as well as for all the other vets who went. It gave me the opportunity to realize how many men came back from my era who harbored a lot of feelings from back then.”
With a daughter who has served two tours in Iraq, Murray admitted she attended this pilgrimage as much for herself as to understand her daughter, who has not been the same since she has returned.
“Through listening to the others, I was able to feel her hurt and wonder now, how much of her story that I don’t know,” said Murray. “After the pilgrimage I was so full of energy and realized what a gift we have to be Catholics, and to have the Mass. When Fr. Conrad said Mass in Assisi, he said it in such a way that the consecration seemed more real than I ever experienced it before. Now, every time I go to Communion, my eyes tear up and I have such a God moment. I cannot wait to go to Mass each day and am so fortunate to work in the rectory so I can bop in there anytime, say a prayer or light a candle. Without this pilgrimage, I would not have realized what a gift we have in our faith.”
Foot washing no sign of weakness
The pivotal moment for Sears happened one evening as the group celebrated the ceremonial washing of the feet in La Maddalena, where St. Francis worked with the lepers. As a proud Marine, accustomed to self-sufficiency, the idea of someone washing his feet was a sign of weakness to Sears.
“Nobody washes my feet – if I can’t do it myself, they don’t need to be washed,” he said, “but I had to do it, as I made a commitment to this pilgrimage and I wanted to see a change in my life.”
After one of the men washed his feet, Sr. Anne asked everybody about their experience, and after a while, Sears was ready to share and to allow God to heal his brokenness.
“I told her that we are soldiers and warriors and are trained to travel a road that requires us to either kill or hurt a person. Our training as a Marine is to win at any cost,” he said. “I was able to see this washing of the feet as being able to step off of that old path and onto a new and different path and it is a road of life and peace.”
Since his journey, Sears has grown in his faith and attends Mass regularly. He is already planning to go on another pilgrimage and hopes that more veterans take advantage of the opportunity.
“I found the peace I needed and I found faith inside myself,” he said. “I know I have to go back because God has yet not shown me all that I need to see.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sufficient

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 
2 Corinthians 12:9

So easily flipped from my tongue
......the passage flowed to others struggling with loss of health, wealth, relationships, jobs, marriages, and lives.
Often,  I was the pinnacle of strength--strong shoulders, the right words, box of tissues,  a helping hand and what I felt was empathy towards those who were suffering.

Despite personal difficulties faced along the way, somehow God gave me the strength--the grace which was sufficient to rise above my weakened state. 

Through his strength, I survived inexplicable horrors, trials and abuse and managed to rise, battle-weary and scarred, but still, His grace was sufficient.

This latest battle has robbed us of nearly a decade of health, relationships, finances and for a long time, I have no longer been able to feel the grace, to see the blessings, to feel His comforting arms and gentle reminders that He has not forgotten us.

The darkness looming around me has been oily, drawing me into a mire of self-loathing and to a place, no one can understand. I'm on the sidelines, as if a member in an audience in a Colosseum watching our lives wracked, bloodied and robbed of everything.   I weeped for these people I know longer seem to know.

Yet, today as more belongings leave our precious home, and the For Sale sign is hammered between the nearly frozen brown blades of grass--I am feeling something new.

Peace.

Has the well of tears run dry? Have I given up? Have I succumbed to the voice of the evil one whose horrible mantra of my failures runs like a tape loop in my mind?

Surprisingly, no. Instead, I hear the gentle words again--words I longed to hear but could not. Perhaps they would not penetrate through the din of my own internal screaming. Or perhaps I am now in such a weakened state to finally listen.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

And, somehow--through His mighty hand--we will be just fine

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Soul Freeze

My friend Gale told me months ago that I would learn much about myself during the recovery of my total knee replacement---I had only a slight understanding of what she meant.

Surely I would suffer pain--yes, quite a bit
I would feel frustrated--even more so
Perhaps a bit depressed at my lack of independence--incredibly so.

Far beyond the external pain and personal frustration is a parallel internal struggle of trust. Specifically, trust in Church leadership, trust in my vocational hierarchy, trust in relationships that I expected would withstand the tests of time. The erosion of trust is injurious to institutions and untrustworthy leadership leads to venality, cupidity, and faulty leadership and decision making.

How do we regain trust when trust has been fractured?  Whether it be in the large design of an organization or on personal level...breakdown of trust can be reprehensible and heart breaking. 

Whom do I trust?  Since my early childhood, this is one of my lifelong quests...trust has been shattered and restored, ripped and rebuilt, and then desecrated once more.  I trust God. But I am an unsure if I can trust myself now...as it feels that I have suffered irreparable damage to my soul.  I am unable to trust the establishments right now, but I will think more about what motivation stems from poor decision making from this point forward to gain some interpretation.

And I will continue to pray for additional comprehension of this journey

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Healing from insincerity

"Feel Better"
"Praying for you"
"Thinking of you"

All are comments people tend to hear when faced with grief, illness, surgery or whatever trials come their way. The words seem to flow so easily--as if when greeting a stranger with "how are you?"

Honestly, how much sincerity is behind those 'oh so easy to fall from our tongue' phrases?

In the past when friends or relatives were faced with tremendous trials, I would drop to my knees and earnestly pray for healing or relief to end their suffering. Now, I am more apt to offer a rosary, include them in my morning or evening offerings or send up an urgent prayer to the Divine physician, as well as include them on my prayer chains. While I was often powerless to do something physical, due to distance or other situations, I knew that my prayers went right to our Lord above and that He truly heard me. 

When friends or relatives suffered with surgeries or sicknesses, I'd try to send a card, make a phone call, visit, send a gift or flowers or make a meal--it wasn't a lot, but it was part of me, reaching out and showing that I cared. 

My recent surgery has taught me so very much about myself, my value to those I thought cared, and the apparent lack of compassion there seems to be. 

Where I thought there would be empathy, there was none. Where I least expected it, it was abundant-such as the unexpected bouquet of flowers from a friend in North Carolina, a couple of cards from some online friends, meaningful email encouragement from friends, a meal from a dear friend from my parish. And yesterday, the sweet old man who grasped my hand at Mass and promised me that I would soon feel better-he had the face and sweet aroma of Jesus. 

But others were strangely silent--the ones I work for--nothing, not even a card or note on my paycheck. My pastors--not even a phone call. Most of my family--so absorbed in their own lives to focus on their mother or sister's health. I thought of the years I sacrificed for them and suddenly felt it all for naught.

When I nearly reached my bottom and felt a despair I had not known for a long time, an email from a man I interviewed for the newspaper a few times shone like a star in my inbox and became my lifeline, sent by God. 

He explained a much more painful situation and the utter and total abandonment he felt by others in his parish, his family, and circle of friends. His feelings of insignificance shocked him to the core as like me, he always tried to be there for his family, his parish, and his friends--but when he was down, he was not only ignored, but kicked and left seemingly unwanted. He compared his feelings to those of Jesus suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, only without Divine Consolation. I could relate!

He then spoke of grace that would come from unexpected places in the faces of others, through the compassion and kindness of strangers--all who assisted him in carrying his Cross. 

He spoke of a book, by Jeff Cavins, called "Amazing Grace for those who Suffer."  The book is a collection of personal stories of how Catholics have overcome terrible tragedies with strengthened faith. In one story, about a lawyer unjustly convicted of a crime who spent 3 years in prison, it quotes St. Paul saying that in our total weakness is found perfect strength. That really made me think. That strength is from God when we abandon ourselves to His will. He was so kind as to make that his prayer for us both. He promised to send the book to me when he is finished, and I can't wait to read it.


He wanted me to know, that when we feel most alone, we are being silently embraced--and I know that it is Our dear Lord who is embracing me now as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other and learn to walk again. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Missing the Souls in my life

Each year the Feast of All Souls brings with it, the familiar and personal--tangible, yet spiritual remembrances of those dear to me who have passed on. It is both a lonely feeling as well as a comforting one to remember those who influenced me since my early youth.

I think often of my parents--home life could be tumultuous and yet, warm and loving. When I was young and stupid, I focused on their faults and how they caused me great pain. Thankfully, now as I age, I see the sacrifices they made to feed, clothe and love their five children the best they could. Each could be my confident, my best friend and yet make me so angry that I wanted to explode. Imperfect yes, but we all are imperfect and they were the best parents they knew how to be.

How I miss them.

Despite the tragic loss of their passing at such young ages, the only advantage to this, is that I no longer have to call them to catch up on the day, to ask for advice or seek their companionship--they are with me always and I feel their comfort and sorrow as I mourn my own disappointments and hardships. They are also with me as I celebrate our joyful moments.  I try to thank them often for all they have done for me, but today in particular, I remember and know how much I am blessed.

My mind wanders to my wonderful grandparents who treated me as if I was the most special little girl in the world. From treats in Grandpa's lunchbox after a hard day working in the automobile factory, to Grandma baking cookies for me, taking walks together to see the latest travelogue at the area high school, to helping me make doll clothes for my Barbie look-alike--I remember and treasure each day with them, with great fondness. I often pray to them that they give me the ability to be as wonderful to my grandchildren as they were to me. 

I remember my friend Jeanne who I was blessed to care for as she died of cancer--how much she taught me about life, faith, forgiveness and compassion. She suffered greatly throughout her life, but was always cheerful and filled with God's grace. Though she has been gone about 15 years, we remain close in spirit-for a part of her lives within me.

Then there was Ruth-the mother of my best friend. When my own mother was unable to be a mother to me, she stepped in and filled the void. I cry when I think of her and her selflessness. How she scooped me up with her daughter and treated me as if I were a member of the family. Always welcoming, always supportive--she too suffered greatly with chronic pain, but was there for me. Thank you Ruth.

There are so many souls from my past who have passed on, but yet their passing gives hope of new life in our next world. For if they were all so wonderful in this world, I can only imagine what they are like in our heavenly one.  I pray for each of them and know they pray for me--thank you all.