A Rose in Winter: An Invitation to Grace

 

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A big part of the story is the roses in winter – Juan Diego brought the roses to the bishop as the miraculous sign that it was Mary who appeared to him. Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patronness of the Americas, her miraculous image on the tilma can still be seen today, and there is much rich symbolism in that image.

I don’t feel much of a connection with Our Lady of Guadalupe, but I do have a connection to Mary and roses in winter. As I was reading a reflection this morning on the roses, my mind was drawn to the winter I spent studying abroad. Before the semester in Austria began that January, a few of my friends and I travelled to France for a week. One of our stops was to Lourdes. As we were visiting the grotto, I noticed a single rose growing out of the side of the grotto. In January, I found it unusual, so I took a picture of it:

rose in winter 1

Excuse my terrible photography skills, but trust me, it was a rose.

I wrote in my journal on the third and last day we were in Lourdes:
“We prayed at the Grotto and that pink rose was still there on the hill. That spoke volumes to me. A single rose in the winter, alone in the midst of stunted growth and the death of winter. “

For me, it was a rose of hope. That no matter how dead our souls are, or the world seems to be, there is hope. Mary, our star and our guide, leads us to the grace found in her son, Jesus.

I wrote this about the miraculous water at Lourdes: “There are so many spigots of water I could hardly believe it! The millions of people who come by to drink, with no limit on how much, and there’s an abundance!

To me, that’s grace. There is no limit to God’s grace, love, and mercy that he pours out on us each day. “Living in God’s grace, there will be trials, but God’s grace is more than enough. Jesus came for the sick and needy, not for the strong and hearty. I came here to Lourdes for the deeper conversion of my heart, and I placed Mary in charge. Mary, the Grotto, and the spring only point me toward the Mass and the Sacraments. Drink at the fountain and discover where the richness of grace truly lies. It’s a simple call to conversion, a purifying call, a cleansing time here in winter.”

So, maybe I have a connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe after all, as her message to Juan Diego was announcing the love and mercy of God, hearing our weeping and sufferings and loving us as a merciful mother. And in her message at Lourdes that winter, I heard the same thing. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us to receive the grace and mercy of God, especially in this Year of Mercy!

 

You’re Doing A Great Job

I take great comfort in knowing that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for 3 days. I imagine their conversation went something like this:
M: Joseph, where’s Jesus? I thought he was with you.
J: no…I thought he was with you.
M: NO….I told you to make sure he doesn’t dally.
J: Oooohhhh, I thought you said that’s he’s with Aunt Sally….

So they retrace their steps and of course he’s in His Father’s House, a 12 year old prodigy on all things torah-related.

But could you imagine losing your child for THREE DAYS? Oh my goodness. I’ve lost my children in my own house for 5 minutes and almost had a heart attack.

I’ve had some time to reflect on the Holy Family, given all the recent feasts since Christmas: Feast of the Holy Family, Feast of Mary, Mother of God, and just this past Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus.

And I’m taking comfort in knowing that not even the family of God was without it’s oddities and perhaps a certain level of dysfunction. Mary and Joseph weren’t even living together yet when Jesus was conceived. Obviously, it was to preserve her perpetual virginity that she became pregnant when she did, but think of the times they lived in. The scandal; the unconventionalism. And then don’t forget about Elizabeth, her cousin. She was PAST MENOPAUSE, people, and her husband even older than she was. And bam, a baby. You don’t think people questioned? Thought it was odd? And then to be born in a stable where animals live (the thought of the germs and the smell just kill me!). Packing up your family and running for your lives because someone wants your child dead? And then to lose Jesus for 3 days, just to top off his childhood.

Jesus! Where have you been? I've been looking for you for DAYS!

Jesus! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for DAYS! Don’t you ever scare me like that again!

I read a story the other day about a house that burnt down and killed a little 3 year old inside because her mom left her for the afternoon alone in her house. Heart-wrenchinging, I know. But stories like that remind me that I’m doing a pretty good job at this whole parenting thing.

A mom in my mom’s group last week asked that to our table: When was the last time someone told you you were doing a good job? Everyone was silent, and the first person I thought of was my doctor. Bless him, for telling us young mothers that. I know my husband and mom have also said it on occasion. But we modern day mothers can be so hard on ourselves. So I gave myself a little mothering test based on stories I have heard in the news.

Have I fed my children this week? Have I taken drugs around them or beaten them? Have I left them alone for long periods of time? Have I seriously neglected them or abused them? Have I buckled them in their car seat and put shoes on them when its snowing?

On the contrary, I tell my children I love them multiple times a day. I feed them a well-balanced diet and take them on trips to the museum, playground, etc. They have clothes and toys and games, and I do bathe them occasionally. We have prayer time at night and they know who Jesus is. They know their shapes, colors, ABCs. I nurse the baby on demand and change his dirty diapers, using rash cream when necessary.

Sure, I lose my temper sometimes and I yell, and I let them watch more TV than the doctor recommends. But it is winter and we have been sick and cabin fever is a real thing. So a little more TV and a few extra sugary treats to bribe them into good behavior and a “mommy meltdown” or two do not mean I am failing at being a mom. It just means I’m being human, and hey, the Holy Family wasn’t exactly perfect, either. (But close, poor Joseph.)

So I hope you take the test with me to see that you are doing a great job. Maybe I’m the first one to tell you: You are doing a great job! But even though our failings can overwhelming us sometimes, take comfort in knowing that God’s favorite way to come into a family can be very unconventional, and I do believe there’s nothing He likes more than to enter into our dysfunction and save us.

P.S. i really enjoyed these reflections on the 7 Sorrows of Mary. It reminds me that being a mother, especially for the Blessed Mother, wasn’t always easy.

From the Spotlight to the Hidden Life

I used to be a youth minister.  I worked in a church where I was in front of people all the time. Talking, leading, and ministering. I had to be on top of my game, spiritually speaking, if I was going to be effective.  Sometimes it was more about deepening my personal relationship, but sometimes it was that outside pressure that kept me going to the UnknownChapel and waking up for daily Mass.  And so there I was, at the Church all the time because I was the face of the youth in our church. I was in the spotlight.

And then I got married. And immediately the kids started coming and I was now at home. All the time. It was more of a hidden life now – for most of the day it was just me and babies who can’t talk. The way I was used to praying involved daily mass and frequenting the adoration chapel, and I no longer had those luxuries for my prayer time. And so my priorities became eating, dishes, and laundry, and it became difficult to find time to pray. “They don’t even know what prayer is; they wouldn’t notice the difference if I prayed or not.” Or so I thought. I convinced myself that my spiritual life wasn’t as important now that I wasn’t in the spotlight.

But I was incredibly wrong. I remember when it hit me. I was in line for confession examining my conscience. It has been a while, but I hadn’t really done anything that bad. I’m a mom now, so I don’t really have time to sin, right? And then I started to recall every time that my husband and I had fought. Every time I had lost it and yelled at the kids, every time that I had failed to discipline in love. I realized that my spiritual life was more important now than ever before because I was responsible for the souls of these tiny children who do not know any better. That I am accountable to my husband and our vows to be leading him closer to heaven.

So while the hidden life, the “interior house life” of a mom may seem inconsequential, it will impact your family and society for generations to come.

I think of Mary, who we know so little about in the Bible, but yet she was the most important person in Jesus’ life. Her role was so great, and yet so hidden. With every newborn comes an adjustment in routine and schedule. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of prayer; I think it increases it.images-2

So now it’s time to be motivated out of love for God, love for my vocation, and love for my family to be striving for sanctity and to find time to pray. Not just to say grace before meals and bedtime prayers, but to find time to be anchored in prayer and to be more like Mary.

“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Matthew 6:6

 

Humility…and the Crown of Thorns

I have an appreciation for the Rosary, but I’ve never gotten giddy over praying it. I always knew it was important, but it wasn’t until this year that I have looked forward to praying it. There’s something about dropping off my tiny bundles of energy in the nursery and gathering with other moms for some prayer and sharing every Wednesday that makes the rosary so much more appealing! Peace, quiet, prayer, meditation. Ahhhh.

The other week at my mom’s group while we were praying the sorrowful mysteries, the meditation on the crown of thorns hit me in a new way. In recent weeks we had talked about ways to bring our kids into the Lenten season, including the toothpick crown of thorns for sacrifices leading up to Holy Week. So my first image as we started the third decade was Jesus wearing that toothpick crown, but as we were praying, I was wearing the crown and realized Jesus was telling me something about my motherhood.  I kept thinking about the humility Jesus had to wear that spiked crown, knowing all the while that He is the King of Heaven, yet quietly submitting to the pain and injustice of it all.

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I started to realize that I have almost zero of that humility that Jesus had in wearing his crown of thorns. I don’t allow injustices. I correct them, even (especially!) with my husband and children. I want to appear to have it together in front of other people. Who doesn’t want to seem like an amazing parent? Who doesn’t want to other people to respect and admire them? Well, Jesus.

So it’s making me think: Am I, like Jesus’ acceptance of the crown of thorns, quietly submitting to the will of God or am I trying to have other people congratulate me on what a great job I’m doing? Am I writing this blog to get other people to like it, or am I writing because God has given me insights to share? Am I posting things on Facebook or sharing with other moms because I want to wear the glorious crown of appearing like a good mom, or am I like Mary who quietly and humbly kept all things in her heart?

As Lent approaches, I want to spend more time meditating on the crown of thorns and how I can grow in humility. What kind of mortification is it going to take to help me to be more like Jesus? How can I humbly accept the pains and sacrifices of raising children without kicking and screaming along the way? How can my motherhood be more of the simple and humble way of Mary?

Lord, show me what my crown of thorns needs to be this Lent so I can grow in humility and become more like you.

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Is There Makeup In Heaven?

I was in fourth grade when I shaved my legs for the first time. I was in sixth when I started to pluck my eyebrows thanks to the incessant teasing of my older sister that I was hairy. By adolescence I was convinced that no one would ever marry me because I was too hairy. (Ironically my husband has alopecia and has no hairJ)

I really tried hard in high school to rid myself of my insecurities about being beautiful and let God love me, but it was hard! I had been teased and bullied so much in my short lifetime thus far that there was a lot about me that I hated, and looking in the mirror and thinking I was beautiful never happened. I guess I just figured when you grow up and become an adult you don’t care what people think anymore. I was wrong.

In college I challenged a friend of mine to go to daily mass every day for a month. He said he’d do it if I didn’t wear makeup for that same month. Daily mass I could do, but no make up? How was I going to have any friends or be able to leave my dorm room? Because I cared about his soul, I did it. And you know what? People didn’t treat me any different. I still hung out with the same friends, no one ever said anything about me being ugly, and over all I saved myself at LEAST several hours of getting ready.

Make up isn’t bad, but it can be if we are using it to hide our insecurities or try to cover up who we really are. Will my husband still love me if I don’t look pretty? Will somehow I be less of a mother if I can’t put out a good image? These are things I still struggle with sometimes. If you absolutely can’t leave the house without putting on your face or wearing a nice outfit- even to run errands or go to the park- something might be wrong. If you can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror without hair and makeup done, than there is probably some healing that still needs to take place. I certainly don’t want to pass on these insecurities to my daughter and give her the wrong idea that she will need makeup to be beautiful, either.  Makeup can accent our beauty, but God didn’t design us to need makeup to be beautiful. He made us beautiful as we are, plain and simple.

ImageI think the best thing we can do is look to Mary as our model. I’m sure she never wore makeup, and she will always be the most beautiful woman that ever lived. The visionaries of Medjugorje describe Mary as beautiful beyond anything of this world. When asked how is it that she is so beautiful Mary responded, “I am beautiful because I love.” And when all of our sinfulness and insecurities are purified and we stand before the throne of God, we won’t need makeup in heaven!!  We will all be transformed into the perfect, beautiful, and glorious image of God.

I’m thankful I have a husband who loves to tell me that I’m pretty, and that he actually prefers my natural beauty over lots of “face paint.” And so I’ve been trying lately to go with less makeup, remind myself of my desire for heaven, and try to clothe myself with virtue over fashion. I recently came across this verse that sums it up well:

“A gracious wife delights her husband, her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones. A gift from the Lord is her governed speech, and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth. Choicest of all blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person. Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home. Like the light which shines above the holy lampstand, are her beauty of face and graceful figure.” Sirach 26:13-17

 Makeup, fashion, accessories- in and of themselves are not bad. But they need to be ordered to what is true and good and holy first. They need to be balanced with cultivating the inner virtues of womanhood. Like Mary, let’s be beautiful because we love.

 Some other scriptures to ponder:

1 Peter 3:3-4
Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.

1 Samuel 16:7
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Proverbs 31:30
“Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Matthew 6:28-29
“Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.”