Tuesday, October 20, 2015

St. Frances of Assisi - Patron Saint of Animals

WOW!  It always amazes me to discover anew during troubled times that asking the saints to intervene really works. There is something about giving up control, allowing life to unfold, accepting the circumstances and being at peace with the outcome, all of which help pave our path to faith.  I have put off writing a post about St. Frances, Patron Saint of Animals, in spite of many requests.  Although I have always admired St. Frances and even have his statue gracing my gardens, I had never had the opportunity to call him to action like I did this past week.  Before, my writing would have been mostly hearsay but now I speak from experience. St. Frances, one of the most popular statues and recognized saints of our time, really can create a miracle.  

Vintage St. Frances Cement Garden Statue from Chris Hart Studio
My first recollection of St. Frances was when I was 8 and living on the family cattle ranch.   In those days we doctored our own cattle, horses and dogs. Calling a vet was rarely necessary or affordable.  I watched my dad vaccinate and worm cattle, clean barbwire cuts, bottle-feed newborns and neuter anything that hung around long enough to get caught. Our farm dog, a beautiful silver German Shepherd named Queenie was a working dog and an important part of the family.  One day she  became seriously ill, unable to keep anything down.  My mother was dedicated to restoring her health, getting up through the night to feed her water with a syringe, raw eggs, rice and chicken stock.  Nothing worked and just when my mother was packing the car to take her to the vet,  Queenie, so thin and weak, disappeared into the blackberries. We called and hunted for her, leaving food and water out hoping she would find it. After days we gave up in tears knowing we would never see her again.  My mother, whose deep respect and love of animals had cured many sick and injured that came our way, said quietly "It's up to St. Frances now."  When a rack of bones barely recognizable as Queenie appeared at our back door 7 days later we were in disbelief.  Mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle, my mother set to work nursing her back to health.

So when my healthy, extremely active 6 year old running companion, Maizey became severely ill quite suddenly last week, it was clearly time for a trip to the emergency vet. Within hours she had became catatonic, fevered and in pain. I began my vigil. That night, as I watched her slip into a coma, unable to stop vomiting or urinating, she began bleeding out internally. I told Maizey about St. Francis and his miracle with our farm dog, 55 years ago. The vet didn't hold out much hope.  My heart broke as my mind swirled with confusion about making the right decisions on behalf of my loyal friend and constant companion. I cried as I huddled on the floor of the kennel with her in my arms. I put my ear against her chest listening to her heart beat and wondered if it was really up to me to make it stop.  I prayed to St. Frances to show the way.
St. Frances was born in 1182 into a wealthy merchant family in Assisi, Italy.  He chose to go on the second crusade but on his first night out he had a vision from God. Although, thought to be a coward, he turned away from war to peace. He gave away his worldly possessions, preaching humility, poverty, simplicity and prayer to everyone.  He included all of God's creation, from insects, trees and animals, even the birds to whom he graced with his sermons.  His statue is shown with birds on his shoulders and often a wolf by his leg, symbolizing his love of animals.

Maizey visiting with my mother Mary at 100
As I held Maizey, it seemed there were no simple answers but then I remembered St. Frances's teachings on simplicity. He looked for the simplest solution to every problem believing that simplicity is a virtue that leads to peace.  That's when I found the answer. Maizey's heart was not mine to stop.  I felt a peace wash over me when I passed the burden off to St. Frances. Either she would tell me it was time or she would give me a sign she wasn't giving up.  Just because my heart was broken didn't give me a license to make a decision about her heart. Sure enough, when she raised her head painfully and recognized me the next morning, I knew then that she had a deal going with St. Frances.

Maizey is back home. While she is not her usual active self, she is getting stronger everyday. I am grateful St. Frances took it out of my hands. He freed me to just love her and be there to comfort her. St. Frances and Maizey did the rest just like he did with Queenie. And just like my mom, I found myself mumbling something about St. Frances and a miracle when I loaded Maizey into my car to go home.     



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

You Feel Like You've Got the World On Your Shoulders? Pray to St Christopher

St. Christopher medal from my mother when I turned 16
My mother gave me a St. Christopher medal in hope of keeping me from harm when I first got my driver's license .  It worked because I made it safely through lots of fast driving on deer-riddled country roads with no seat belts and carloads of friends.  I wore that medal all through high school and college.  It now resides in a special place with all the other meaningful saint medals I have collected or  been given over the years.  Even now I occasionally bring it out as a reminder of how my mother's unwavering faith seemed to come so easily to her.

As one of the most recognized symbols of sainthood, St. Christopher medals are worn by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Most of us know St. Christopher is the Patron of Travelers,  safe journeys and of transportation workers. The story goes that he was a big strong guy looking for a way to be of meaningful service after he converted to Christianity.  Having a strong back and a wooden staff, he decided to serve God by carrying people across a treacherous  river where many had perished in the past.  Sort of a personalized ferry service.  It is thought that much of the story is simply a legend and not based of historical facts which is why his sainthood has been in question.  I'm not really bothered by that because I love the message regardless of the factual details.

St. Christopher Shadow Box from Chris Hart Studio
As legend tells us, it had been a long busy day and Christopher was very tired when he was asked to carry a small child across the river.  He figured it was an easy way to end his day.  As he began his treacherous journey he realized the child on his back was much heavier than he had appeared.  He struggled under the weight and went slowly and carefully not wanting to stumble.  The burden of the child became heavier and heavier, like no one else he had ever carried. The river became swollen and the current raged.  He felt that he had the weight of the world on his shoulders but finally exhausted, he made it to the opposite bank with his passenger unharmed.   He said, "I do not believe the whole world could be as heavy on my shoulders as you were."  The child replied "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but He who made it." To prove his revelation, he told Christopher to plant his staff in the ground and it would flourish.  The child then vanished.  The next day the stick sprouted leaves.  

As I cared for my aging mother,  I worried for her safe journey into the next world just as she worried about me as a teenager when she gave me that St. Christopher medal.  When you care for someone who can't care for themselves, you become an extension of that person, living two lives in one.  The weight of her world rested firmly on my shoulders.  Not a moment went by that I didn't feel the burden of carrying someone who was unable to carry themselves, protecting her every step of the way.  I was honored to do it but I felt more and more overwhelmed as the months turned into years.  I felt the heaviness of the burden grow.  I felt the river rise and the current become a torrent until I thought my back and mind would break.  It felt that if I made one misstep, I would drown and so would my mother.

Caring for my elderly mother was like traveling in the dark, on an unfamiliar dirt road, in a car I'd never driven before, with an empty gas tank, no cell phone signal, the bridge out, having forgotten my glasses and not really knowing if I would recognize my destination when I got there anyway.  Even a saint would have a hard time finding their way.  I was brought to my knees daily.  I was unsure of the journey and unsure of the destination. That was when I took that St. Christopher medal out of my jewelry box and held it tightly in my fist and prayed that he still enough strength left to help me.

St. Christopher is not only known as the saint to pray to for safe travels but when you ask him to intervene on your behalf, he willingly shoulders the burden for you.  St. Christopher is the one to whom you hand over your worries, your confusion and your fear, freeing you to travel safely forward.  He can block the rising waters and stave off the raging current and protect you if you stumble.  He can hold the weight of your world on  his shoulders, easing your weary load. I marvel at my mother's insight when she gave me that St. Christopher medal.  She must have known that I would need his help. All I had to do was ask but I still wonder about the stick she planted in her vegetable garden that turned into a beautiful crab apple tree.    


Saturday, May 23, 2015

St. Agnes-Patron Saint of Young Girls, Innocence & Gardening

St. Agnes Holding the Lamb of Innocence
Today I received an order for a St. Agnes statue from a mother looking for a confirmation gift for her young daughter.  St. Agnes is a frequently requested saint for this occasion.  She is a beautiful statue, depicted as a young woman holding the lamb of innocence with a serene look on her face.  She is the Patron Saint of Chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples, rape victims and virgins.  Her name is derived from a Greek word meaning chaste, pure and sacred, of innocence.  She was born in 209 AD.

When I paint a St. Agnes statue, I am reminded of the innocence of my own childhood and the things that impacted me the most.  I am reminded of the people I love who taught me what was important and how they unknowingly influenced  my life.  Not a day goes by when I don't remember the things I learned even though at the time I didn't realize I was learning a thing.

The Seedling My Aunt and  I planted when I was seven 
When I was 7 years old my Aunt Gertrude lived in New York City over looking Central Park.  It was exciting when she came to visit.  One evening she took me for a walk, carrying a bucket and a shovel.  She was determined to find just the right seedling.  Finally, she dug up a tiny fir tree that was  no more than 6 inches tall as she explained the importance of the taproot.  We carefully placed it in a bucket and carried it back to my house.  We planted the seedling in an area of the yard where there were no other trees.  She taught me to water it regularly and she said "Someday this tree will be bigger than you."  I simply couldn't imagine.  Today when I look up at that tree I think of the great lessons I learned from that one simple act. 

She taught me that time passes and things change without ever saying a word.  She taught me that nurturing and caring is something important to do for other living things.  She taught me that one modest deed could make me remember her every time I look at that tree even 56 years after we planted it.  How did she know the effect it would have on me to see a 6" seedling grow into an 80 foot tree?

"Clasp your hands together and interlace your  fingers.  Now, make a steeple with your index fingers and put your thumbs up to make the doors."  To this day, I have never clasp my hands in prayer without remembering my mother teaching me how to pray.  With those modest instructions she taught me symbolism and the meaning of prayer.  She taught me how to be respectful and how to be humble in my requests.  Did she know with that one simple lesson my heart would swell with love every single time I clasp my hands, especially after she was gone?

On my 5th birthday, I had a swim party with 6 other little girls.  We went to the river at the park on a hot day in June.  We swam, ate sandwiches, made sandcastles, and swam some more.  Then with sun-burnt noses, we went back to my house to have cake and ice cream.  It was then that the sheriff knocked on the door looking for a little girl who had been celebrating her birthday at the park where we had just been.  She had disappeared.  And for a split second, before we sorted out the details, they though I was that little girl.  For my entire life, I have wondered why she drowned and not me.  We both had birthdays on the same weekend.  We both had friends to play with, adults watching us and cake and ice cream to eat.  I have never had a birthday where I didn't think about her. I have since looked up her name and I know she would be 63 this year. Her name was Cheryl Johnston and she had a brother.  I have not forgotten her or the day we unknowingly shared.

St. Agnes Statue from Chris Hart Studio
That same weekend as the sheriff posse searched for her, I learned to tie my shoes.  Even though I had just turned 5, I had struggled to learn that task because I preferred to go barefoot and tying them wasn't important to me.  As the search party moved across the bottom land of my parents ranch, I wanted badly to go outside and watch their horses.  My brother said, "When you can tie your shoes by yourself you can go out." and he showed me one more time.  I have never tied my shoes without remembering my brother and appreciating his knowing how to motivate me that weekend so many years ago.

When I look up at the tree Aunt Gertrude and I planted so many years ago, I appreciate St. Agnes, the Patron Saint of Young Girls and Gardening.  When I interlace my fingers in prayer as my mother taught me so many years ago, I think of the virtue of St. Agnes at a young age challenged for what she believed.  When I have a birthday or I tie my shoes, I remember the innocence of a young girl as she finds her way.   

The simple acts of others in our lives  become the fertilizer out of which grows something meaningful. Our experiences get tossed in and turned under, then percolate and transform into something richer. St. Agnes helps us appreciate the innocence of our childhood and the influence of others as we grow.


Friday, May 1, 2015

St Peregrine. The Patron Saint for Those With Cancer

St. Peregrine is the Patron Saint of Cancer and Incurable Illnesses
May 1st is the feast day for St. Peregrine, known throughout the world as the the Patron Saint of Cancer and Incurable Illnesses.  Feast Days are assigned to saints because they may have died or been martyred on that day or because some other event ties the saint to that particular day.  Feast Days are celebrated in all kinds of ways depending on the country in which you live and that particular saint's meaning.  While some celebrate a Feast Day by attending mass or even traveling on a pilgrimage, for most it would entail praying and partying on behalf of that saint.  May 1st seems like a good day to thank St. Peregrine and to say a prayer for his intercession on behalf of those who are sick and suffering.      

Loving someone who has cancer is the ultimate challenge of both selflessness and selfishness.  You find yourself correcting, controlling, trying to outwit the disease, while you pray and you bargain and you  live with the thought of cancer almost every moment.  Everything you do or think is filtered through the illness.  You watch what they eat with the eyes of an eagle.  You observe their exercise and sleep habits holding tightly to your tongue.  You try not to waste the time you have with the one you love by hovering like a mother over a newborn but focusing on the very desire to save them does that for you.  Finally, in a split second of exhausted clarity looking for help, you stumble upon your answer.  You discover St. Peregrine, whose shoulders are broad enough to help carry your burden.  It is possible to find your peace by praying to St. Peregrine to intercede and petition to the Almighty on your loved one's behalf.  His life story teaches you to have unconditional faith, let go of what you wish for and embrace what you have.
St. Peregrine's (1260-1345) story is one of a rebellious, opinionated youth finding faith through another's unexpected forgiveness of him, and finally joining the Order of Friar Servants of Mary.  He disciplined himself to observe silence and solitude as much as possible and for 30 years imposed a penance on  himself to not sit down unless it was absolutely necessary.  He was beloved for his preaching and dedication to the sick and poor.  At age 60, he was afflicted with cancer of the leg and was set to have it amputated.  During the night, as he prayed, he dreamed of being visited by Jesus from the Cross. Upon waking, his leg was miraculously healed and he lived another 25 years. The story spread and peoples devotion to St. Peregrine grew.

Statue of St. Peregrine from Chris Hart Studio
Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert has a beautiful St. Peregrine statue placed in an alcove with an altar and a kneeler.  When I have the privilege to attend mass led by Father Howard Lincoln, I always visit the St. Peregrine statue.  There is usually a line of people, many in silent tears and with notes of request to intercede on behalf of those who have been afflicted.  The paint on the statue's leg has been rubbed off and the wound worn smooth by the their touch.  When it is my turn to kneel in front of St. Peregrine, I ask for guidance and strength for those I love to maintain an immune system that defies cancer.  I ask for calm and focus in my life while I care for those I know with cancer.  I pray for the faith to help me be steadfast in my belief that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence but rather a reminder to serve those I love.  I ask for his help to be of value to just one person by showing my love in the smallest ways, to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and have faith that whatever happens will never be more than I can handle even when it doesn't feel that way.  It's a tall order but St.Peregrine has the inside track to make things happen when it comes to sharing the burden of suffering. 

The lesson of St. Peregrine’s life is not that God worked a miracle.  Instead as a faithful servant, he placed himself unconditionally in the hands of a higher power.  As a person who knew suffering and sickness, St. Peregrine’s trust in the Divine serves as an example for us to ask for help in deepening our love, to not waste a minute trying to control that which cannot be controlled and
to have faith that our burden is lightened
when we ask St. Peregrine's help in carrying it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Patron Saint of Breast Cancer. Pray to St Agatha

All Saints Bracelet from Chris Hart Studio. 
Cancer knocked lightly on my door last week and I'm not sure yet if it is going to come in. For some of us, we don't recognize it early and we carelessly leave the door ajar. There are times cancer is invited in by a family member or because of our own actions, thinking we are invincible. It can simply come because it is determined to be in our lives and it can choose to visit many times. It's not a guest we welcome with an intentional invitation but one we have to learn to live with. When I heard the knock, I rushed to the door hoping it was only a fear and not a reality. Only time will tell.

We all known someone who has cancer.  I didn't realize the lady at the Post Office, who cheerfully helped put a hold on my mail was scheduled for a double mastectomy the next Tuesday.  The nice retired man, who works one day a week at the gas station is struggling with lymphoma and the businessman hitting balls on the driving range is waiting for his 3 month PSA results.  These people live their lives with an unwelcome guest, continuing to appreciate the ordinariness of their days.      

My grandmother had a radical mastectomy at 92 and lived another 10 years.  My aunt had a lumpectomy and radiation at 85.  She lived a long time before her heart wore out.  They lived with this inconvenient guest but they were not defined by it.  It was an inconvenience to rub soothing lotion on radiation burned skin.  It was an inconvenience that clothes no longer fit right.  It was an inconvenience to go for treatment daily for 8 weeks and an inconvenience to take a pill every day for five years.  These were inconveniences that they were grateful to have. I have St Agatha to thank for hearing our prayers and interceding on behalf of the women in my family. 

Painting by Giovanni Lafranco showing St. Agatha healed by St. Peter. 
St. Agatha (231-251) is best known as the Patron Saint of Breast Cancer and Diseases of the Breast.  She is also the one to pray to for help with earthquakes, fire and natural disasters, victims of sexual abuse and rape, torture, wet-nurses, sterility, jewelers, bakers and nurses.  She is an very busy saint.  Called upon by many for a variety of reasons. 

St. Agatha was born into a wealthy noble family and she was quite beautiful.  As a devoted Christian, she was persecuted when she refused the advances of Quintianus, a top military commander and consul in the Roman Empire.  Angry because of her steadfast rejection, he sent Agatha to a brothel.  When that didn't change her mind, he sent her to prison, thinking she would give in when faced with torture and possible death.  She endured months of assault and misery, never wavering.  She was repeatedly burned with fire, stretched on a rack, rolled naked in broken glass and hot coals and finally, had both breasts viciously cut off.  The story goes that in her final moments, an earthquake occurred and she was heard to say, "....You granted me victory over the executioners' tortures.  Grant now that I may happily dwell in Your never ending glory."      

Cancer forces us to acknowledge that our life on earth is temporary, that we are simply passing through. Some of us have an uneventful journey into the next world and some of us, like St. Agatha, have struggles and challenges that defy description.   A path is made when those who traveled before us find the best way to get to where they wanted to go.  How we travel the path of our journey is the true measure of our success on earth. St. Agatha's path reveals to us that faith, trust, love and kindness are what really matters.    

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Joan d'Arc, Patron Saint Against Swearing. Pray For My Soul!

Dammit!  I hate that I am so inclined to use swear words to describe things.  I see nothing wrong with using the occasional curse word to emphasize the importance of something, like you might use an exclamation point.  Sadly, I have a propensity for using profanity arranged in a variety of creative ways when I am overwhelmed.  Believe me when I say I have certainly had some periods of time in my life when I thought only swear words could work to express the intensity of my feelings.  As a middle aged woman wearing pearls, it's not easy to look a priest in the eye, asking the Father for forgiveness for being able to embarrass even a sailor.

Profanity is sneaky.  It slides into empty spots in conversation like a banana slug, slowly over time until you get used to it.  When I am overwhelmed and tired sometimes it is just easier to use a swear word or three rather than get in touch with the right words to describe my real feelings. 

Prayer card found in my Grandmother's bible
Lenten Season seems like a good time to face my weaknesses, engage in some spiritual self-discipline and spend some time scrutinizing my sins, hopefully fostering a growth spurt in virtue.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and is the 40 days prior to Easter, which as most of us know, celebrates the Resurrection.  Most commonly we hear about what someone gives up for Lent....Chocolate, red meat, junk food, sugar seem to be the ones people talk about but giving up sinful behavior usually goes unmentioned.  So I am making a commitment to give up curse words for Lent and hopefully, with a lot of prayer and contemplation, to continue beyond the seeming eternity of forty days and forty nights.        

I learned to swear from my sister when I was 10.  She methodically taught me every curse word she had learned from my brothers and being as good student, I memorized them with gusto, not understanding their meaning but liking the forbidden sounds.  My mother was furious when she heard me.  Using her strongest term, she said she was "Sore as a boiled owl" at my sister, a colorful phrase I am personally trying to resurrect in place of other colorful phrases I am known to use.  I've decided that I will need the help of a saint to intercede on my behalf and assist me in maintaining my resolve.

Most people don't know that Joan of Arc is the Patron Saint of Profanity. Instead we know her as the Patron Saint of Soldiers, martyrs, captives, the military, prisoners of war and women who have served their country.  She was born in France in 1412 and her full name was Jeanne d' Arc... no, she did not build the Ark...Noah did and that's a future blog.  Only the French, who had tried everything and failed would allow an illiterate farm girl claiming she had hear the voice of God, to take charge of the country's army and  lead it to victory against the English.  It is a remarkable story if you consider Joan was 17 years old when she became the heroine of France.  Later she was captured and burned at the stake as a heretic by the English in 1431 for not renouncing the voices she heard and her resulting actions.

Jeanne d' Arc in Prayer After Battle
As far as miracles go, St. Joan got an army full of battle hardened soldiers to cease swearing.  It is told that she chastised a soldier for swearing in her presence and he laughed at her.  Later in the day he fell in a well and drowned.  Dang, the girl's got some connections, I'd say, when it comes to motivating people to quit swearing.

So, I recall my mother's favorite sayings.  Make a vow to incorporate them into my vocabulary in place of my more commonly used phrases..."On the Peck" "How the Cow Ate the Cabbage" "Pinch a Loaf" "Oh,Spit" "Acknowledge the Corn" "Addlepated" "Copacetic" "Even and Odd Ate the Cake"  Knowing 40 days means a really long time, I'm more than a little nervous about being successful in my quest.  So like Joan, I get on my knees and pray humbly before all to stay focused, calm and clear about my petition, remembering St. Joan's saying "I am not afraid.  I was born to do this".  






Thursday, February 12, 2015

St. Valentine, Love is Not for Cowards!

Postcard found in my mother's jewelry box.
I'm always uncomfortable with Valentine's Day.  I get nervous because it seems like expectations get in the way of reality for both men and women leaving a pathway for helplessness, disappointment and confusion.  I loath the ads for teddy bears, rose bouquets, chocolate covered strawberries, pajamas and whatever other inventive things marketing experts come up with.  The man that loves me would know those gifts would be the easy way out, buying silence and a smile but not really reaching deep into my heart.  I want a man who knows that any time of the year the simple bouquet of tulips, the love note left on my car window, the respectful conversation about my bad habits or the drive out to the river with sandwiches is valued over how many roses I get on the 14th.  It's easy to suddenly remember you need to show someone you love them one day a year while you've been busy with life.  Steadfastly showing you love them the other 364 days is what's hard.  

The truest love I know is the one I saw my parents had for one another.  They first met on the steps of the catholic church in Portland.  My father had just come from Germany with his "Doctorate of Mercantile", the touted brilliant nephew of the Columbia Brickyard and Building Supply founders.  I've seen the pictures.  Both my mother and father looked young, painfully thin and scared but eager to begin a life.  As they would tell the story, it was love at first sight.  My mother always said she was "18 going on 19" when she married my father and every time I would howl with laughter at her defense of marrying so young.  

I don't recall my father ever buying my mother a dozen roses but his skill at growing roses was legendary. The early morning hours he spent in the rose garden propagating, pruning and feeding each plant in his quest for the perfect rose led to many breathtaking bouquets on days other than February 14th.

Our strawberries were grown in a raised box so my mother wouldn't have to stoop over to weed them.  Dipping them in chocolate wasn't necessary since her strawberries were warm, sweet and juicy right from the plant.  We chose not to mask the taste of an honest strawberry grown in the earth, using rain water and real sun instead of a plastic greenhouse to ripen.

Where have we lost our way?  Teddy bears?  Pajamas?  My parents used what we had.  These things were handed down.  Each of us was a conduit for stuff that passed through our hands to the next until no more passing was possible.  Valentines wasn't a special day.  It was a way of living a life with meaning and a commitment to daily acts of love no matter how hard it seemed in the moment.

Little is known of St. Valentine but historians believe he was a real person since acheoligists uncovered a catacomb and a church dedicated to him.  It is believed  that he was martyred for not renouncing his faith and was found guilty of aiding Christians who were persecuted and marrying couples in a Christian mass.  For this he was beaten, stoned and finally beheaded sometime around 270AD.  In 496AD, the pope named February 14th as the celebration day in honor of his martyrdom.

My parents on their wedding day
St.  Valentine is the Patron Saint of Lovers, bee keepers, engaged couples, traveling, against epilepsy, plague, fainting and more.  As you can see,  he has been a very busy saint, called upon to intercede for a variety of reasons.  Most of all, he is known for his commitment to his beliefs and determination to his love of God, willing to give up his life rather than give up his love.

Some believe love shows a weakness and vulnerability.  Not my parents.  My mother showed such a fierce love for my father that no one, not even her children could come between them.  My father had a  steadfast, strong and committed love for my mother that never wavered even in the darkest times.  The name Valentine comes from the same root as valor or valiant, which implies a nervy stouthearted undaunted strength which is what is needed for real love to endure. Chocolate?  Roses?  Pajamas?  Those are for the cautious and timid, weak of heart.  Cowards all.  When it comes to love, St. Valentine teaches us that love takes strength, commitment and fierceness.  St. Valentine showed us love is not for cowards..              


Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Gratitude with Attitude" Flip the Coin, St. Therese!

It's complicated....With age comes both grief and deep gratitude, a strange friendship. They are opposite sides of the same coin that you can easily flip which ever way you like.  I find myself grieving for the things I have lost as I age while feeling grateful for how those things changed my life.  I'm no longer able to run 15 miles on a Sunday morning.  My body insists I find my sanity elsewhere.  I no longer catch the eye of the cute guy shopping in the produce section on a Thursday evening.  Instead I have a few close women friends that recognize my moods before I do.  I don't think as quickly, have the wit I once had, have the confidence in my fashion decisions or my hair but it doesn't seem to matter as much anymore.  I find age brings with it a sense of loss and with it a deep ability to feel grateful. 

It grieves me to know I will not compete in another Western States100 race in this lifetime but I feel intense gratitude for having found many answers under the stones on that trail.  When I look in the mirror, it grieves me to have spent all that time in the sun.  Now I am grateful the sun comes up each day for me.  It grieves me to realize that my beautiful smoothly shaved legs are fast becoming a thing of the past but I am so grateful they still get me to the bathroom in time.  I am often upset by losing my keys but I am grateful for St. Anthony's help in finding them.  Grief and gratitude make for an interesting soup, sometimes tasty and nutritious.  Other times, I have to choke it down. 

St. Therese Statue from Chris Hart Studio
I don't always feel gratitude and often have to remind myself to be grateful especially when things don't go the way I think they should.  My mother always told me...."be thankful" but sometimes it's easier to whine. When good things happen I find it easy to take them for granted and feel smug.  When bad things happen, it is my nature to blame not forgive,  hold onto anger and stir  up the muck of self loathing.  That's when I know I need to call upon St. Therese, the little flower.  I keep her statue by my work table to remind me that gratitude for little things is what's important.

I was too young to remember when our house burned to the ground.  My family only had what was on their backs that day.  My mother said over and over "Thank God, it was something, not someone".  Her greatest regret was that she had lost all of the family photographs.  No mention of her fur coat, her jewelry, her favorite mixing bowl and recipe book  or the handmade silver service my father brought from Germany years ago  for their engagement party.  What was it like to have all your stuff taken away in an afternoon house fire?  " I'm just glad no one was hurt." she would say with grace.

For me it is harder to have something taken away than it is to wish for something I may never get.  Getting the Golden Artist Set for Christmas was not as much fun as wishing I was Leonardo da Vinci.  Hoping for a horse to win an Olympic gold medal when I was 6 was more fun than cleaning stalls.  Losing a relationship is harder than dreaming of a relationship with someone.  Fantasy is fun because you get to play in the fog of illusion without the drudgery of real life.  The rewarding work begins when we learn to be grateful for what we actually have.  St. Therese said on her deathbed "I love only simplicity.  I have a horror of pretense".

St. Therese Holy Card
St. Therese dreamed of being a missionary but her ill health at a very young age prevented her fantasy from coming true.  Instead she was accepted into the Carmelite Order at 15 where she died  in 1897 at age 24 of tuberculosis. She teaches that our challenges and sufferings are opportunities for compassion and forgiveness, to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and that the smallest action done with love is more important than great deeds done for personal gratification.  St. Therese saw herself as a child of God.  She scrubbed the floor as if the Divine himself would be walking on it.  She washed the dishes as if God himself would be eating from them. She was mindful that God was in every situation, in every person and in the daily details of life.  The power and simplicity of her message is why the church declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

St. Therese is the one I pray to when I have to do things I don't want to bother with because I'm tired or too busy.  She helps me do the cooking and cleaning when I would rather not.  She shows me the value in doing small tasks for those I love without keeping score.  She makes me slow down and appreciate the littlest flower in my garden that blooms without much light or care all summer long.  St. Therese helps me seek grace in my pain and compassion for those I want to blame for it.  She helps me open my heart when it's closed tight and she encourages me to forgive those around me for my own short comings.  She puts my focus on the tiny things I can do and to not be overwhelmed by the big things that seem impossible as I grow older.  Grief and gratitude, opposite sides of the same coin.  I pray to St. Therese to help me choose the side of grace.