Tag Archives: God’s will

ECW: The Blessed Virgin Mary

The first ECW (empowered Catholic woman) I want to focus on in this series is Our Blessed Mother. She goes by many titles: Virgin Mary, Blessed Mother, Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, and many more. When looking at women honored and respected by the Catholic Church, you can’t get much greater than Mary. In fact, Mary is so much a part of our Catholic faith that it can be easy to take her for granted and not realize what a immense blessing she is.

From the first moment we meet Mary in the Bible, we meet a strong woman who does the Lord’s will fully and without reservation. She says YES to the Lord when asked to be the mother of the Son of God, even while she does not fully understand how this will happen. (Luke 1:26-38) Being a young, unwed virgin and finding out she was with child, she certainly had reason to say no. She could have been stoned for adultery! But she trusted in God’s perfect plan for her. That’s a pretty strong woman!

She visits her cousin Elizabeth who addresses her as most blessed among women. (Luke 1:42) And while Mary acknowledges that all generations will indeed call her blessed, she does not keep the praise for herself. She does not brag to Elizabeth  about how she was chosen or how righteous she is. No. She is quick to give all glory and praise to God. (Luke 1:46-55) And still today this is what she does. By acting as our mother, she does not take away from God but rather magnifies Him, points us toward Him and gently nudges us closer to her Son, the Savior of the world!

But Mary’s YES to the Lord’s will didn’t end there. It was more than a YES to have a baby, it was a YES to endure all that would come with being the Mother of God.  She travelled nine months pregnant on a donkey to a strange land and had her baby surrounded by animals and shepherds instead of family and friends. (Luke 2:1-20) She left the people she had known to escape to Egypt to save her son from Herod’s killing. (Matthew 2:13-17) And when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, she was met with the words of praise for the Messiah…along with a foretelling of the pain she  would endure because of her YES (and you yourself a sword shall pierce – Luke 2:35)  But she didn’t complain. She didn’t run or hide or say to God, I’m done now this is all too much. No. She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Mary raised Jesus and was with Him for 30 years.  After hearing those prophecies, I can’t help but wonder if she found herself during those 30 years thinking when will it happen? How will it happen? Can’t we just stay like this happy and together? Even if she felt this way, she never allowed it to interfere with what the Lord willed. She did not give in to temptation and hold her Son back from fulfilling His life-saving mission. Quite the opposite! After all, it was through Mary’s  intercession that Christ performed His first miracle at the wedding at Cana. (John :1-12)

Those three years of His ministry must have been filled with joy and also pain for Our Lady. Surely she was amazed by the wondrous deeds He performed, the loving message He shared, His courage to speak out for what was right. And yet as people spoke out against Him, tried to trick Him into speaking against the Scripture, called Him names and plotted against Him, I am sure her heart was heavy. What mother wants to see her child ridiculed and spoken of in such a manner? Still the pain she faced in watching Him treated this way during His ministry was nothing compared to the pain of watching her only son put to death on the cross 

Jesus’s crucifixion was beyond difficult for His followers to face. They were confused, filled with sorrow and dismay and fear. So troubling was His suffering and death, that we do not see them present with Him at His death. They followed Him for years but in the final moments could not stay beside Him.  Mary was by His side to the very end and beyond. (John 19:25-27) She did not accompany Him to Calvary to beg that He change what was to happen, to scream for the soldiers  to stop, to say to Him as did the others, “save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” (Matthew 27:40) No. She stood, stood, at the foot of the cross silently. Not buckled in grief or crumpled on the ground weeping, although perhaps inside she wanted to do nothing more than just that. She trusted fully in the Lord and through Him was given the remarkable strength to stand there while watching her son suffer and die because, though she may not have understood it, she knew that this was His plan and she was not going to go against His will. And after He rose from the dead, and even after He ascended into Heaven, she remained faithful to the Lord and devoted herself to prayer with the disciples. (Acts 1:14)

What incredible faith! We can learn so much from Mary’s example of obedience to the Father. She said YES to have a baby, but she also said YES to every bit of suffering and every moment of joy. She knows what it is to suffer. She knows that there is pain in this world because she has lived it. And now from her place in heaven, she hears our cries and seeks to draw us ever closer to her son, Jesus Christ. She wants to console us in our grief and sorrow by sending us into His loving, outstretched arms where she knows we will find peace.  She wants to share in our joy when we see the glory of God displayed in our lives.  She loves us as her children, for she is our mother. 

When it comes to empowered Catholic women, perhaps none was more filled with the Holy Spirit than Mary. And what a tremendous gift that we have her, not only as an example to look up to and admire, but also as an advocate for us! She is not just a distant holy woman we can read about and that’s that. She is present to us here and now through the the communion of Saints to pray for us and guide us on our faith journey. May we learn from her  example to live according to God’s will for us and to accept our joys and our sufferings.  And when we find ourselves struggling to do so, may we turn to her that she may intercede for us and bring  us closer to God. 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. 

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Answers to Prayers

Whenever discussing our struggle with infertility, I always remind myself that I know God has a plan and we will have a baby.  Recently I was asked how I can be so sure of that despite all the obstacles we have faced and are still facing.  I have faced the same questions myself on more than one occasion.  Every time I begin to look down another path and give up on becoming a mother, something happens that  calls me to be patient and continue on my journey.  It may be some good medical news, a particular verse in the Bible that seems to jump out at me, or someone sharing a story of their own struggles.  But each time, I am reassured that being a mother is in fact my call.  Even so, it is certainly difficult to remember at times.

Almost a year ago I was having a very hard time with it all.  I decided to delve deeper into my faith and make an honest effort to keep myself truly open to whatever God’s will may be.  Around that time my parish women’s group was beginning the 33 Days to Morning Glory retreat in preparation for Marian Consecration by Father Michael Gaitley.  And I decided to participate.

MaryThe purpose of the retreat is to bring you closer to Mother Mary, and thus grow closer to Christ.  My mother participated in the retreat long distance.  She and I would discuss the daily readings and I would call her after each weekly meeting with my women’s group to tell her what we talked about.  In late November, while in the midst of our retreat, my mother called me early one morning to tell me something wonderful.

She told me that the previous night, she had a visit from Our Lady.  She was unable to see her face but could see her robes, could hear her voice, and knew without a doubt that it was Mary.  This was not a dream.  It was more than that. In her visit, she told my mother to let me know that she sees my pain, she knows how deeply I long for a child and that I will have a baby!  She did not say how.  She did not say when.  But she did say how important it was to remember my blessings and to keep praying because our prayers are so very powerful.  She said that there is something else that must be finished first, but that I should not be sad because God hears my prayers and I will have a child.

Now some might say that is just a dream but I know it was more than that.  The peace that my mother felt and that I had upon her telling me this was surely from God.  I truly believe that the Mother of Our Lord came to my own mother here on earth to deliver a message for me, in a way that perhaps only a mother can.

The message from Mother Mary was an answer to my prayers.  I didn’t find out when or how I would become a mother. And almost a year later, I still am not pregnant.  It can be tempting sometimes to say that my prayers have not yet been answered but I know that is not the case.

I was at a crossroads praying for direction.  My heart and soul longed to be a mother and I felt such pain in the thought of letting go of that dream.  I believe I was led by the Holy Spirit to participate in this retreat because through the 33 Days, I found myself letting go of more and more of my own desires.  I was giving more of myself up in preparation to fully give myself to Jesus through Mary at our consecration.  And by opening my heart up in this way, I received the answer to my prayers.

I received confirmation that motherhood was indeed my calling.  And just as important, perhaps even more so, was the message to remember my blessings and to continue on in prayer.  There have been many struggles since then and many times when I do not know how in the world I will become a mother.  There are times when it seems like I should give up.  But I remember the message from Our Lady and hold tight to my hope and faith in Jesus Christ who I know hears and answers my prayers.

Answers to prayers come in many forms.  It might be the answer you were looking for.  It might be a gentle nudge to move in another direction. It might be the pull to a particular Bible verse that speaks to your heart.  For me, I am incredibly thankful for the blessing of Our Lady in her visit to my mother which uplifted my spirit, renewed my hope, and led me to a greater faith in her Son, Jesus Christ who gives me the strength I need to continue on my journey.

How Can this Be…?

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_AnnunciationMary’s YES to the Lord can seem incredibly daunting.  How could Mary, as a young virgin girl, hop on board so easily?  Why do I struggle so much with discerning God’s will for my own life?  Why can’t I say YES in the same way?

When Gabriel greets Mary he tells her that she is full of grace and that the Lord is with her.  What wondrous words!  God’s grace had already filled the Blessed Mother.  And while this was her biggest YES to the Lord, it was hardly her first.  Gabriel tells Mary she has found favor with the Lord.  She has been living a holy life, following the Lord, and placing her trust in Him.   She was given a special grace from God to prepare her for this moment.  In short, she was given everything that she needed to make this decision.

Our God loves us.  He does not desire to put us into situations we are completely unprepared for.  Instead, He calls each one of us and is by our side constantly in life to prepare us for what He has in store for us.  He gives each of us the grace we need to say YES to His call in our own lives.

But as I am only human, there are times when I still feel confused by it all.  Times when I want to know more, to understand what will happen next.

Then I read those words again,

“How can this be…?”

Mary did not understand it all either.  When Gabriel greets Mary, she is troubled and confused.  Even after Gabriel tells her not to fear and that she will be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will reign forever, she asks, how?  She wanted to understand.

Eve wanted to understand, too.  She was literally surrounded by God’s goodness, but she still wanted to know more.  She wanted to know the how and the why of it all.  She also had a choice to make, and she chose to follow her own path, to turn away from God.  Rather than trusting in His promises, she took matters into her own hands, choosing sin over God.

Mary chose differently.  She was still confused.  She still wanted to understand more.  But rather than trying to figure it out on her own, she turned to God.  She asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”   And she took the explanation that was given to her.  Gabriel did not explain exactly how it would all work.  He didn’t tell her how to deal with the questions from others, including Joseph! He didn’t reveal everything that the future would hold.  But he did remind her “nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary didn’t continue to question the specifics of everything.  She knew what she needed to know.  And so she put her trust in the Lord and said YES.

Sometimes saying YES to God means we can see it all clearly before us.  And sometimes, saying YES means knowing that we need to trust in Him even when we can’t understand how it will all work out in the end. We may ask the Lord, how can this be?  To ask Him this is to seek His guidance.  And though we may not see it right away, He will always answer with whatever it is we need to know.  Even if all we need to know in that moment is that nothing is impossible for God!

When we are faced with confusion and doubt, when tough decisions come our way, when we simply feel the need to know and understand, we have two choices. We can choose to give into the temptation and place our quest for knowledge above our trust in God, as Eve did.  Or, we can use the grace He has given us to say YES to God even though we may not understand it all. We find hope in the knowledge that nothing is impossible for God.  And through this hope, through His grace, we can follow the example of our loving and holy Mother Mary and say “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

Helping God Out

urlDo you ever feel the need to help God along in His plan? Maybe we don’t say those exact words, but I think it’s something we all end up doing at one point or another. Sometimes it may be that we are called to pursue certain goals, work towards specific accomplishments, or follow a certain course of action. We believe that this is what God is calling us to do and so we do what we can on our end to work towards His will.

When we feel called by God to a certain direction in our lives, there is always something we can do to follow His call. But if we place the full responsibility and burden on ourselves, we become pulled down by the weight of it all and stressed out by trying to figure out and plan every little detail. We may become obsessed with how we feel we need to “help” God and lose sight of the fact that He already has is under control!

It has been almost two years that my husband and I have been trying for a baby and it has been a struggle emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Anyone who has dealt with infertility in any manner knows that there are tons of things you “should do”. Things to track, things to chart, things to eat or not eat, medicines to try, and so on. At the same time, the number one thing everyone tells you is “Don’t stress so much!” or “Just try not to think about it.” That can be frustrating to say the least. Especially when the act of daily charting, tracking, doctor’s appointments, medicines, and so on, makes it near impossible to take your mind off of it for even a little while.

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 3 year anniversary. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful man as my husband. As I thought about our marriage and our life together, I began to reevaluate my “plan.” I believe without a doubt that I am called to be a mother and I know in my heart that it will happen in God’s perfect timing. But before being called to motherhood, I was called to be a wife. On days when I feel frustrated at not fulfilling my call of motherhood, I need to remember that I am so blessed to be carrying out my vocation as a wife.

The second thing I thought of was how complicated it has all become. If I truly believe in my heart that God has called me to be a mother, why do I stress so about doing everything “just right” in order to make it happen? Do I feel the need to help God out? Do I doubt that He can do it on His own and requires me to meticulously plan each detail for Him? As much as my mind screams “No!” in answer to these questions, I know that my actions seem to state otherwise.

I have become so wrapped up in what I have to do to make this happen, that I have seemingly forgotten it is not up to me. All the charting, all the doctor’s visits, all the medicine in the world does not make a baby. God alone is the Creator of life. Despite what I may or may not do to “help out”, the truth of the matter is that I cannot control it. When it is God’s perfect timing, we will have our baby. But until then? I am resolved to stress less about what I need to do and to put it in His hands and trust more confidently in Him.

Of course there are things we can all do to follow God’s will for our lives. There are things I can do to help my body out as we prepare to have a family.  But in following His will, we need to be attentive to how He is calling us. Is He telling us to take a specific action? Or is He telling us that He has it under control and we need to trust? We need to remember that even though there are things we may be called to do and actions we must take as we follow the Lord, at the end of the day He is the one in control. He can do all things, and He doesn’t need our help to make them happen.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;

-Psalm 37:4-7

 

Spring Will Come

Yesterday when I got home from work I checked the weather forecast for today: 52 and sunny!  Oh how wonderful that sounded!  I laid out my clothes to wear for work today with spring weather in mind.  This morning I awoke and hurried to get ready.  I grabbed my spring jacket and ran out the door only to discover frost on my windshield and tiny snowflakes beginning to fall.  By the time I got to work it was snowing in earnest and within a few hours we had easily accumulated an inch of snow to cover the ground once again in a blanket of white.  We all looked out the windows shaking our heads.  Where was the 50 degree sunshine we were expecting?  And as usual, we blamed the weatherman who gave us such an erroneous forecast to begin with.  But it wasn’t his fault.  

We become so fixed on our human plans, interpretations, and explanations.  We see the logic in the scientific radar and the weather forecast and so we take it as fact.  We plan accordingly based on what human reasoning tells us is appropriate.  And when our plans are foiled, we are left frustrated.  We look at the calendar telling us it is the first day of spring and we “decide” that the weather should follow along.  With the wealth of information available thanks to the internet, we feel that we have the knowledge to plan out every part of our lives. 

But the truth is we cannot tell the future.  We can plan and prepare all we like but sometimes when you least expect it, despite all contradictory information, it snows.  And somehow, though it happens time and time again, we are always surprised when our plans do not work out the way we had hoped.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

It is fine to plan.  It is good to prepare.  It is even better to pray.  Although we do not know what the future holds, we know that God is there.  His thoughts, His plans, His ways are far greater than our own.  Praying for His will does not mean we will suddenly have all the answers. Nor does it mean that we will always know exactly what to do next.   But by keeping God at the center of our decisions and prayerfully opening our lives up to what He has in store for us, we know we are in the best possible hands.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

God’s plans for us are the best possible plans there could be!  Because regardless of what we may face, we know that His plan is filled with the hope of eternity in Heaven with Him.  His wonderful plans for us lead to salvation!  

We may not know what the weather will be like tomorrow, but we know that spring will come eventually.  And you know what?  Maybe those weathermen weren’t too far off in their forecast.  The sun is again shining and has melted the snow from this morning.  Perhaps spring is here after all.  We just need to be patient and wait with hope in the plans of the Lord that the sun will shine, the flowers will bloom, and spring will come again.

Handing Over the Wheel

When we were kids we used to go out on my Grandpa’s motor boat in the summer.  Sometimes, if we were in a calm area without other boats around, going very slowly, Grandpa would let us steer!  He would be there guiding us the whole time, but we got to be “in charge” even if it was just for a few moments.  There was no way we could actually have steered his boat all the way back to the dock.  We didn’t fully know what we were doing.  And even if we did, surrounded by water we had no idea which way to go!  Our control of the situation was limited to the small and short “safe zones” where Grandpa knew we could handle it.  For anything more, we needed his help.  We didn’t mind handing over the wheel.  We could relax and enjoy the beauty of the lake without worrying because we knew we were safe with Grandpa and trusted he would take care of everything.

Sometimes my brain is like the little child trying to steer the boat.  Except now that I’m grown, I seem to forget that there are times we need to hand over the wheel.   I try to take charge of the whole trip, planning out every little detail.  I seem to think that I can steer the boat to shore all on my own.  But when waves come crashing around, when bigger boats go zooming past, when the wind whips up around me, I have no idea where to go next.  I need someone else to take charge.  I need God.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-16

I have always been a planner.    During confession once I expressed my frustration to the priest that no matter how hard I try, I always seem to struggle with letting go and allowing God to take charge in my life.  I always try to plan my own way instead of asking God what His plan is for me.  The priest reminded me that planning is a gift from God.  Many people struggle with planning a daily schedule that allows time for family, prayer, work, etc.  It is good to be able to plan.  But the key is knowing when to let go.

I cannot plan what will happen in our lives two weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now.  There are things I can prepare for.  But only God truly knows the way back to shore.  It is not my boat.  He simply lets me steer for awhile.  God is there beside me and it is only because of the gifts He has given me that I can plan at all!  It is only through Him that I can steer even for a short while.  Instead of worrying and planning for events far beyond my control, I need to hand the wheel back to God and take time to enjoy the beauty surrounding me while trusting that He will guide me safely back to shore.

Believe

As the ball dropped in Times Square and we all toasted and cheered for the new year, I couldn’t help but think about New Year’s resolutions.  I have never been very good at New Year’s resolutions.  I always feel pressured to come up with something at the last minute and therefore it is never something I truly want to work towards.

Last year I chose a sort of abstract resolution to keep a song in my heart all year through.  It was something that I kept in mind throughout the year and did indeed find myself singing songs of praise in my head and out loud throughout the year.  There were even times when I felt I just had to find the perfect song of praise before going to work so that I could sing it silently in my head while I worked.  I plan to keep it going into 2014 and beyond as I truly feel it lifts my spirits.

But what of a new resolution?  As I tossed several ideas around in my mind, I wanted to choose something simple.  Something that I could easily remember and reflect on.  Something that would bring comfort, peace, and joy and would bring me closer to God.

I decided to choose one word that I could focus on for the year.  One word to embody everything I was hoping for from 2014.  After thinking it over for some time I chose Believe.   Prior to Christmas I read an inspiring blog about the power of truly believing by Lara Campbell Patangan and it caused me to reflect on the word in more depth.

I know God has plans for us.  I know His promises and love are true.  I trust these things.  I have hope because of them.  But there are times when, despite the faith, despite the trust, I feel that I forget to believe. 

Not that I forget to believe in God or in His love, mercy, and grace.  Not that I doubt my faith or forget to believe in Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for us.  No. It is much more subtle than that.  It is the moment when you pray and pray and pray for something.  You trust that God will take care of it.  You have faith in His plan.  But the without-a-doubt belief that your prayer will be answered waivers ever so slightly.  The times when we cover up our momentary disbelief with the tag-along “Your will be done” at the end of our prayers, almost as if we are afraid to believe too hard and be let down.  

Of course I know that just because I pray for something does not mean it will be answered the same way I envision or that it will be answered in the time frame I see fit.  But sometimes I am so caught up in the details and planning of how my prayer might be answered, that I forget to just simply believe that it will be answered.  To believe deep down in my heart and soul that YES God hears my prayers and YES He will answer them! God is all-knowing, all loving, all-powerful and I would be a fool to doubt His Almighty plan!  I only need to believe stronger and stronger every day that He knows my heart and knows what is best for me and my family.

So this year my New Year’s resolution is simple.  It is to pray to God for strength in my belief.  I echo the prayer of the father found in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!”  This year I resolve to worry less about the details of God’s plan for me and instead to simply believe with my whole body, mind, and soul that God hears my prayers and will answer them.  How will they be answered?  When?  I do not know and I do not need to know.  I only know that God will provide and the things that He has in store are far greater than anything my little mind could fathom.  I need only to trust in Him.  To have faith that He will guide my heart so that my life and my desires match His will for me.  I need only to believe.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” John 14:1
 
“So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24