Divine Mercy

divine mercy

I haven’t had much energy this month for writing. Its been one of those “everyone is fed, everyone’s clothes are clean, we did school today, everything else can wait” kind of months. However, I led a small group of women in a discussion of Divine Mercy today and I thought that I might share something that I learned as I prepared for that talk: God is love and His Divine Mercy is the outpouring of that love in response to our needs.

John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” As incomprehensible as it is, His very being is love. When that Love encounters our many needs, He acts in mercy because that is what love does when it is confronted with need. Our needs are many, so we can see His mercy manifested in countless ways throughout or lives: comfort for our sorrow, peace for our fear, satisfaction of our hunger, justice when we are wronged, the presence of His Spirit to teach and grow us, and so many others.  In all these ways God’s Divine Mercy is manifest in our lives.

Yet, the most pressing of all of our needs, the one that threatens to separate us from God and even to destroy us is our sin. That is why, the most profound way that God demonstrated his Divine Mercy was by sending his Son to suffer and die and then to conquer death and rise again. Because God is love and His love for us is unchanging, He responded to the great need that our sin created by offering this incredible gift of love and mercy.

As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I pray that we will all have the time and the energy to spend quiet moments reflecting on God’s great love and Divine Mercy as they were revealed to us on the cross at Calvary and in the empty tomb. And I invite you to pray with me that each person on this earth will be filled with a deep, heartfelt knowledge of God’s mercy, for to be loved so deeply and not know it must be the greatest tragedy of all.

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Deliberately Unfulfilled

Deliberately Unfulfilled

“Uh-oh!” cried the teenage girl who was bagging my groceries. Curious, I looked up to see her holding a box of pregnancy tests above her head.

“Is this going to be good or bad?” she asked.

The cashier and the woman behind me froze as if they were holding their breath to see what I did. But, what could I say? I couldn’t tell this girl that I had been trying to hold a living baby in my arms for over two years. I didn’t want her to feel terrible when I told her that, during those two years of trying, I had lost one child at birth, one baby in a ten week miscarriage, and four more little souls before they were big enough to be seen on an ultrasound. I didn’t want to mention that the last box of tests I had purchased at her store had been used to make sure my HCG levels had returned to non-pregnant levels after a loss. Besides that, even if I had been willing to horrify her with the reality of recurrent pregnancy loss, I honestly didn’t know the true answer to her question.

Would it be good if, once again, the test was faintly positive and then faded after several days to nothing? There would be another little soul waiting for me in Heaven but still none in my arms.  And what if it was a clearer positive and I spent weeks gripped in panic and consumed by anxiety about the little life I was carrying but helpless to protect? My husband and I had tabled the question of whether or not I was even ready to endure such fear again because I couldn’t imagine ever being ready again. The reality was that, despite my doctor’s reassurances that it was probably just really bad luck, it seemed like the odds of a happy outcome were terribly low. Still, if the test was negative and I had to deal with yet another month of waiting for something I doubted would ever come and was beginning to lose the strength to try for, would that be any better?

I looked at the teenage girl holding up my box of tests and mustered the best smile that I could. Forcing myself not to think too much, I shrugged and replied, “Hopefully good.” Thankfully, whether she saw the tears sneaking into my eyes or she lost interest, she found something else to talk about.

Of course, while the girl had moved on, I had not. This interaction was not easily forgotten and, when a few days later I had the opportunity to listen to Amena Brown’s Bible Study about Hannah,* I thought, “I feel a lot like Hannah. I might as well listen to it.”

I was very glad that I did. While I have read the story of Hannah many times, I was surprised to hear six little words in the Biblical account of Hannah’s story that I had never noticed before: “the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb.” (1 Samuel 1:6)It wasn’t that God hadn’t gotten around to giving Hannah a child yet or that He hadn’t heard her prayers.  Instead, He had deliberately prevented her from having children. In fact, other translations of the same verse made this abundantly clear. The Holman Christian Standard Bible, for example, translates it as, “The Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving.” Clearly, God deliberately chose to prevent Hannah from having a baby and, by doing so, He chose for her to struggle through a season of wrestling with heartbreak and unfulfilled desire. He actively brought her to a point of sadness that was so deep that her pleading for deliverance was mistaken for drunkenness. This dark stage of Hannah’s life was not a mistake or even a side-effect of something else that God was doing. Instead, it was precisely what God wanted for her at that time.

I realized that the same was true of me. I wasn’t losing my children because God had forgotten me or because He had some other great plan that made us collateral damage. The fact that my arms were still empty wasn’t a mistake and it wasn’t punishment. I was exactly where God wanted me to be – constantly wrestling with heartbreak and unfulfilled desire. I don’t know why God put me in such a dark place, since unlike Hannah, I haven’t yet held the answer to my prayers. Nonetheless, I know that God is deliberately orchestrating my life and, because of that, my answer to the girl bagging my groceries was the truth: I have hope that whether the tests are positive or negative, it will be good.

 

 

* You can listen to Amena Brown’s talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1moOAN6UJZQ

More

 

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“God, I know, its all of this and so much more, but God right now this is what I’m longing for…Heaven in the face of my little girl.” – Steven Curtis Chapman

I was thinking about the day Mary got to Heaven the other day. In my limited understanding of what reaching Heaven is, all I could think of was the incredible joy she must have felt to see her Son again. I just can’t imagine how it must have felt for her to touch Him and hold Him. Her rejoicing must have been beyond anything we have experienced in this life.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I realized that all of my thoughts about Mary’s assumption into Heaven centered on the very earthly delight of seeing her Son again, not on finding herself in the presence of the Living God or seeing His face which would also have been very really aspects of her joy. This focus on seeing her Son made me consider my own dreams of what it will be like to reach Heaven and I realized they were also completely focused on one thing: reuniting with my daughter.

Its silly, really how I can cognitively know that being brought into the presence of the Creator will be a much bigger deal than wrapping my arms around my dark haired child, but honestly, that act of holding my living little girl would be the most amazing and heavenly thing that I can imagine in this life on earth. Everything else is too far beyond my imaging to even begin to comprehend it because I just can’t imagine anything more wonderful than embracing my daughter in God’s eternal kingdom.

Yet, I thank God that He is far beyond the confines of my simple imagination and that He has prepared wonders for me that I simply cannot fathom – the greatest of which is Himself.

Nativity

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Last week, my husband hurled our Christmas tree out of our living room window. We discovered this method of getting the tree outside last year and it saves us from having to collect needles that were, in previous years, strewn across our living room to the front door. Pushing a tree out the window is also just ridiculous enough to feel liberating. While our tree (which was so dry that it was ready to go up in a fiery blaze) had to be disposed of early this year, our Nativity set reminds us that it is still Christmas for one more day. However, it is a different Nativity scene that I find myself contemplating as I write this.

Unlike the peaceful statues that depict the birth of Christ in my home, the Vatican Nativity scene this year has caused quite a bit of controversy. If you haven’t seen pictures of it, I would encourage you to look it up. Far from the usual tranquil and picturesque scenes that tend to depict Jesus’s birth, this one is chaotic and messy. The walls behind the Holy family appear to be crumbling. The figures are crowded together, so much so that it is sometimes hard to tell which appendage belongs to which statue. When we really think about the Christmas story, we realize that this is how it should be – Christ’s birth was chaotic and messy. His family was “living out of a suitcase” as they stayed in a town that was overflowing with visitors. They were sleeping in a shelter for animals which, no doubt meant that they were enjoying all of the sounds and smells that accompany a quaint barnyard birth. Into this environment that was far from homey, came unfamiliar visitors from diverse social classes. To top it all off, the king already wanted Jesus dead. Certainly there was peace and joy on that night, but that had nothing to do with Jesus’s surroundings. Instead, God Himself reached down and drew peace and joy out of a virgin womb. It was this act of God that brought those two gifts into the hearts of those who worshiped the newborn King who was born to dwell in the desperation, filth and despair of humanity.

While the infant Jesus is at the center of the Vatican’s Nativity scene, the figures that surround the more traditional Christmas statues reveal another aspect of our Savior through the corporal works of mercy that they are performing. In one corner, a woman quenches her neighbors thirst. In another, a man offers dignity to a boy lying naked beneath him by offering him clothes. At the bottom of the scene, with arms outstretched, a figure walks toward an invalid who is bandaged and flushed with fever. Next to them, someone visits a prisoner and, in the far corner, a young man provides burial for a dead body. These figures not only prod us to do what Jesus calls us to do, but they remind us that the irresistible baby lying in a manger would grow up to be a man whose teachings divided families, who demanded that we take up our cross daily, and who told us that to truly serve Him, we must care for others.

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:34-40

If you know this passage, you will also know that Jesus’s next words are some of the most terrifying in the Bible:

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’” Matthew 25:41-43

Every time I read these words, I shudder. For how much food do I have in my pantry, while there is still great hunger in the world? How easily do I open my faucet that flows with pure water, while children are dying from diseases borne by unclean water? How many strangers have I failed to welcome into the safe, little world that I exist in? How many homeless men and women are shivering on the streets, while hats, gloves, scarves and coats hang unused in my closets? How many times have I been too busy or afraid to offer help to the sick or to those who are cast aside or imprisoned by society? The reality is that I do not measure up well to the standard that Jesus has set before me. However, one of the incredible mysteries of our faith is that salvation is available only through Christ even though we do not deserve it and, yet, Jesus Himself has commanded us to perform great acts of love and sacrifice.

The 2017 Vatican Nativity, portrays both of these truths: that God loved the world so much that He sent His son to be born amidst a desperate people and that He sends us to minister to that world today. It reminds us that faith in Christ has little to do with adoring the little Lord Jesus who made no crying and much more to do with following a man whose message was loud and painful. It forces us to consider the reality that, from birth, our God made His home in the often dirty, fragrant, and chaotic company of the poor, the forgotten, the sinners, the hopeless. It makes us wonder whether or not we have made our homes with Him there, too.

 

Preparations

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“Uh-oh!” I thought as I listened to my preschooler say, “I have to be really good now because Christmas is coming and I want to get all of my presents, but it’s so hard to be good!” Last year she asked us if Santa was “really real” and because she was in the midst of learning that Heaven is “really real,” and that her sister is alive there, we told her the truth. I was surprised, therefore, that she thought that Mommy and Daddy would give her coal if she was naughty.

“You know,” I said, “I want you to be good because you want to be good, but you don’t need to be good to get Christmas presents. We can never be good enough to receive the gift of Jesus, but He came anyway, right? Mommy and Daddy give you presents because we love you (not because you deserve them), just like God sent us Jesus because He loves us and not because we deserve Him.”

As we prepare ourselves for Christmas during Advent, it is easy to focus on the many ways that we are not ready to stand in Jesus’s presence. Since it is a season of penance, we rightly examine the state of our souls, but we can become preoccupied with our sins and feelings of unworthiness. We forget that our failure to measure up is the very reason that Christmas is such an unbelievable gift: Jesus came into our world in the midst of all of its unworthiness because He loves us. He doesn’t love us “if we do something.” He doesn’t love us “if we don’t do something.” He just loves us.

It is in response to this love that we should begin to prepare ourselves for His coming and to set out on our journey towards becoming the people who He intends for us to be. It is because He loves us that we should persevere through hardship and do the work that He has set before us to do. It is due to His love that we should be willing to go where He leads us. It is only ever in response to His love that we prepare for His coming and never to obtain His love, for it cannot be obtained.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

“…his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:22)

Advent Series 2017

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Beginning on Friday, December 1st, myssutaininggrace.com will be celebrating advent with a series of reflections. Every Friday throughout Advent, a reflection that corresponds with the candle meanings for the coming week will be posted. May you have a joyful and reflective Advent season this year!

Heart Scars

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As many women do, I have scars from both of my daughters. In both cases, the wounds that turned to scars were the result of urgent to emergent situations and I had little warning that they would occur. As a result, when my skin was first cut, I couldn’t bear to look at it. It was gross. It was painful. It looked horrible. In fact, one of them was so ugly that my obstetrician said, “Wow, you can tell that (the surgeons) were in a hurry.” Over time, however, I grew to view my scars as cherished reminders of my children and the physical manifestations of my mother-love for them. This is especially true of the scar I bear from the daughter who died because it is one of the few physical reminders that I have of her.

In addition to my external scars, my second daughter’s death also left scars on my heart. In the month after Noemi died, I took the above picture because I believed that, just as God had turned a scarred and broken city landscape into a place of peace and beauty,  He would take my wounds and turn them into something beautiful.  A year later, I am beginning to see that transformation. I will always have sadness – we were made for eternity, not death – but because of eternity, I am increasingly aware of the gift that my daughter’s short life here on earth is.

In light of this, I should not have been surprised that, while I dreaded the first anniversary of Noemi’s death, it was truly a blessing. In fact, I had so much joy on that day that I woke up the next morning and wished I could live it all over again. Rather than making myself visit her grave, look at her pictures, rummage through her hospital box, and remember every detail of the hour of her death, I spent the day with my family and friends. We taught kids, had an adventure, and went out to dinner. Certainly, I remembered and celebrated both Noemi’s earthly and heavenly birthday, but I also felt a strong conviction that I was not supposed to spend the day picking at my heart scars and trying to feel their sting. Instead, I felt that I was meant to behold the peaceful beauty of those scars in the light of Heaven. I believed that I was meant to hear Jesus speaking the words he spoke to Mary, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you’re looking for?” (John 20:15) and to know the power of His resurrection that makes my heart scars precious beyond anything I could have imagined.