Once there was a time, when my mind was so overwrought with stressors that I hardly slept for weeks. A few months prior, the doctors discovered my mother’s cancer was back. Around this same time, I decided to do a year of volunteer service with a Catholic organization called the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. As I started this volunteer service program, I kept asking myself what I was doing in Colorado when my mom was going through radiation in Indiana. On top of this, I felt like a fish out of water. I was in a service group with young adults who were much younger and more social than me. I was out of my element and an outsider. Many of my friends were married and starting to have kids. I felt as though I was almost going backward.
Swirling in my mind were these thoughts which rendered me sleepless, in turn making my days emotional and embarrassing. By embarrassing, I mean I would burst into tears at work, church, with my friends in their home, in my brother’s car, or even with the volunteer service group that I just met. To me, this was mortifying. I hate crying in front of anyone, even my best friend who I have known for over twenty years. Honestly, it still embarrasses me to think about those tearful moments! I couldn’t catch my breath long enough to see what God was doing in my life.
“Yeah, I’m a little broken right now. So what? Aren’t we all broken?”
Humility is such an interesting lesson to learn. When I was exposed and couldn’t help but show that I was a little broken, I was forced to be humble and share my hurts. Much to my surprise, I found support and love from a network of people I didn’t realize I had. Instead of facing my trouble alone, they told me of their hurts and embarrassing moments that made me feel I could get through this season of growth.
As the weeks went on, I felt immense relief at my recent vulnerability. I thought, “Yeah, I’m a little broken right now. So what? Aren’t we all broken?” It also brought me closer to the people who I was serving with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, the homeless and formerly homeless. They, too, couldn’t help but show they were going through a rough time.
The relief I experienced is hard to explain. There is so much pressure to have a put-together life and not show weakness. Upholding a perfect image of myself was quite a chore. When the curtain of fake perfection fell, it freed me to be truly myself. Sprinkled through these sleepless weeks were bursts of sunshine for my heart and I couldn’t believe how happy I was. Indeed, I could be myself and still be loved! What a relief!
“Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.” - Proverbs 4:23 GNT
Our minds are our most valuable asset and the Enemy knows this all too well. Since the start of his reign as the Prince of Darkness, he has used dark thoughts to tempt all of humanity to turn away from our loving Father’s commands. Luckily for us, we have the armor of God and numerous munitions, one of these being His word; sacred scripture. Without this armor, my mind wouldn’t be at peace now or when I was facing this crash course in humility.
“Put on the armor of God that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil…take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” -Ephesians 6: 11, 17
Years prior to this tumultuous period, a pastor suggested I memorize scripture, one verse a week. Man, am I glad that I had my arsenal ready! I clung to the Word in between bouts of frustration and tears. When I needed an encouraging phrase, God would give me exactly what I required. I discovered that drifting off to sleep while reciting a verse that spoke to me that day cured me of my insomnia. Forget about counting sheep, the Prince of Peace had 365 “do not worry” passages ready for my use! My daily hope was waiting in one convenient book.
“A tranquil mind gives life to the body.” -Proverbs 14:30
While I am still learning how to be a godly woman, and sometimes relearning lessons, I praise God for the emotional season that taught me humility, which frees my mind and gives way to an immeasurable sense of peace. I grew closer to my family and friends as mutual vulnerability helped us to support each other through our battles. Every step of the way was the hand of God, holding my hand firmly and whispering comfort in my ear.
“Yet I am always with you, you take hold of my right hand.” -Psalm 73:23
If you are ready to fill your armory, here are some of my favorite passages:
“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength.” - 1 Corinthians 10:13
“What is impossible for men is possible with God.” -Luke 28: 27
“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” -Psalm 34:9
“You are my shelter; from distress you keep me; with safety you ring me round.” -Psalm 32:7
Trouble with a relationship?
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven but dwelling on it separates close friends.” -Proverbs 17:9
Need a constant in your life?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8
Do you ever feel like your life is a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit? Or a puzzle that is near complete, but that last piece won’t fit? Do you ever find yourself trying to force it? Telling yourself if this piece would fit, then everything would go according to plan. Do you ever step back and ask yourself if the piece actually belongs there? Life is simply various jigsaw puzzles we are trying to piece together, different puzzles at different stages of our lives, and often we may have more than one puzzle being put together at the same time. It may seem hard to walk away from an unfinished puzzle, but we need to ask ourselves: Are we trying to force the piece, or are we prayerfully discerning the jigsaw? My whole life I knew I was going to work in the healthcare field, although I wasn’t exactly sure what sort of practitioner I would be, I began putting these pieces together around 6th grade. However, as an ‘atheist’ at this point in my life, I didn’t understand the concept of ‘discerning’ or the whole ‘thy will be done’ thing. So I began forcing pieces, planning my future, my college career, where I would go to graduate school, etc. I had this whole puzzle planned in my head, and to my surprise, it didn’t come true; well not exactly how I had initially planned it to be. As we know, rarely do things go according to (our) plan. Long story short, I ended up rushing to finish this puzzle too, and like the others, the last piece did not seem to fit, something didn’t seem right. It wasn’t until I took a step back and actively listened to what the Lord was calling me to do, could I be at peace. Only, after discernment, then did the pieces fit together.
"Are we trying to force the piece, or are we prayerfully discerning the jigsaw?"
Like many experiences we encounter we must ask ourselves: are we actually listening and absorbing the information or is it saying hold true: ‘going in one ear and out the other’. For example, how many people actually listen and give their undivided attention towards the safety features of this Boeing 737 aircraft. ‘To fasten your seatbelt please place the’, are your headphones in? “In the unlikely event of a water evacuation, your seat cushion’, are you asleep yet? ‘Although not expected, should sudden cabin pressure change’ are you talking to your neighbor? The best is all this information can be found on the safety information card in the seatback pocket, but do we pick it up and take the time to go over it? Likewise, are we picking up our bibles and reading them? Or are they just sitting in the seatback pocket? Our deposits of faith, and especially the writings of the Communion of Saints, have given us some tools on how to discern our own jigsaws. St. Ignatius of Loyola, before he died, created a method for discernment, specifically establishing rules for discerning the spirits. The rules are consistent with a contemplative form of prayer. Often, they are followed and given through silent retreats over a four week period. However, the rules can and should be applied to our daily lives in order to enable us to better discern the Lord’s will for us. The first four rules consist of definitions that create a foundation for the ones to follow.
RULE 1: When a Person Moves Away From God
This describes a person who is going from mortal sin to mortal sin as if nothing is wrong. The devil advocates a pattern by ‘promising’ sensual delights. The reason why we sin is because we like it, there are certain pleasures, however, as we are all too familiar with, it is short-lived. Just like in every cartoon there is a devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. In persons who are moving away from God, the Spirit uses our moral judgement to ‘bite’ and ‘sting’ our conscience.
RULE 2: When a Person Moves Towards God
This rule describes those persons who are moving towards God. There is inherently nothing wrong with conforming to this definition, even if at some points it stirs up some discomfort. This person is moving forward with purifying their sins, through strength, courage, tears, consolations, inspirations, quiet, and easing all given to us from the Spirit. But just like anything else, nothing is easy. The devil may place obstacles in our way and try and give us false reasons to turn away.
RULE 3: Spiritual Consolation
Spiritual Consolation is an interior movement in which our soul becomes ‘inflamed with the love of its Lord and Creator.’ The good Spirit provides good counsel via his presence and peace.
RULE 4: Spiritual Desolation
On the contrary to rule three, spiritual desolation is darkness of the soul, a disturbance in it. Creating a feeling as if one is separated from their Creator and Lord. The bad Spirit (satan and his minions) provides bad counsel.
RULE 5: Spiritual Desolation: A Time for Fidelity
This rule only applies to those who are in spiritual desolation. ‘In times of desolation never make a change, but be firm and constant in the proposals and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation. When in a state of desolation, this rule is one of the most difficult to abide to. Largely, because our human instinct takes over to try and escape the current situations, but we need to realize it is the bad Spirit giving us counsel, and very often attempting to lead us astray from the right answer.
"The rules can and should be applied to our daily lives in order to enable us to better discern the Lord’s will for us."
The rules provided above can help us step away and allow the Lord to place the pieces, because only he knows where the perfect piece fits. When we try and force the pieces, we are forcing our expectations on God. However, when we allow God to place the pieces. We are giving him control, and those are Him listening to our authentic desires and expectations lead to desolation, while authentic desires of the heart lead to consolation.
Let us ask our God to bring us to peace and understanding of the puzzle he has created and the one in which all of the pieces fit together perfectly. May we fearlessly trust in God's will.
AMY LANGHAM DIRECTOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION PORTER
Blessed are they who mourn; For they shall be comforted - Mt 5:4
My mama was my best friend, my confidant, my editor, my bad singer in crime, my kindred spirit. I went to her for advice, I fought with her, she was the first one that taught me my Catholic faith and how important it was to her. Her actions showed me how to live the life of ministry.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is one of the toughest challenges any of us will ever face. You never know how fast life can be taken away from you.
"I am sorry to say... your Mom is gone."
It was Friday morning, I was at work early because I was going to spend a few days with my Mama at the hospital in St Louis. She was diagnosed less than three weeks before with aggressive cancer. My uncle called my siblings and I (we were all on a four-way call), he said, I am sorry to say... your Mom is gone. I was in shock; we found out less than two weeks prior that she had cancer, but she was supposed to get out of the hospital and treat the cancer. How did this horrible cancer take her that fast? I am still in shock; it’s been a month since I lost my Mama. I thought reflecting on my feelings about losing my Mama would be a good idea to help my grieving process and overcome with God’s grace. To die, suddenly seemed to be a blessing and a curse. It has been hard trying to write about her passing. After a few hundred words, I find myself tongue-tied with shaking hands that can’t seem to plunk the correct keys to describe my emotions and tears running down my cheeks. There is a huge hole in my heart, which will never, ever go away. I have told my friends, I thought it was going to be like my maternal grandparents passing because I was really close to them but I cannot describe this ache in my heart. My theological mind set is like: she is in with our Lord, but my heart is getting in the way. Grieving death is far more than a theological topic it is the deepest human experience.
My strong faith provides the comfort of knowing that my Mama is no longer suffering, but the reality drags my attention and the sudden availability of time across a jagged and unforgiving ocean of heartbreak. Waves of grief smash upon the shorelines and break like china cups as my day-to-day life has moments of inspiration that remind me of what has been lost. I know time will heal the pain. When I hear the song “Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds, I think of my Mama’s favorite scripture from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15. This isn’t my first loss, but it is differently the hardest.
"Still, spiritually, she is holding me through her prayers. Even typing these words, I know she is with me."
In case you wanted to know where my head has been lately, or if you’ve been asking if I am "OK". I would typically respond with “Yes I am ok...but maybe not”. I have been crying at a simple word MOM or CANCER. At first, you don’t cry because of the shock, you then cry a lot, and at very random times. Like when you hear “Amazing Grace,” and remembering how much you and your Mom loved singing it in the car and that time that you sang so loud and botched the song because you both cannot sing. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a hallmark movie with a mom in it and started sobbing hysterically. Maybe the character’s Mom was cheering them on, or maybe she was just giving them a hug. Literally, anything that shows another mom in it will have you crying. Being sick reminds you how much you wanted your Mom when you get sick. When I got sick or felt down, I always said: “I want my mommy”. I said those words a week and a half ago and realized I wanted my mommy because I am sad. Still, I am sad because of her passing and her not being here. Then, realizing she is around me and although it may not be her holding me physically like she did when I was hurt. Still, spiritually, she is holding me through her prayers. Even typing these words, I know she is with me.
When you lose your Mom, you suddenly realize that you need your family’s support and strength more than ever. I know my sister, brother, and I have relied on my mother’s brother. There’s something special about sharing this together and being able to reminisce. You realize that you start telling your family member about your day in the same way you used to tell your Mom, in hopes that maybe things will feel normal. It doesn’t, but it does help a little to know that someone still has your back, and you’re not going into every situation alone.
Just trust me, nothing will have the same brightness after you lose your Mom or Father. That cute purse at the store you were eyeing suddenly just seem like a stupid idea. That time you told your friend, you will go out but you don’t because you really just don’t want to be around someone. You’ll get back in the routine someday, but it won’t be today. Prayer is the only tool that will put you back together.
The day when my Mom passed away, I had to push my grief back because I really didn’t want to think about her being gone. Funeral arrangements having to be discussed, and not having the funeral right away and having that feeling that you’re in denial because her passing hasn’t really hit home. I heard that grief is the last act of love. You want to make sure love is all around and keep being around people but your heart doesn’t want to be around others. Isolation will not help you push through your grief; Either will ignoring it. I tried to push through and disregard my grief. But, pain would slip out of me and I would find myself hysterically crying, especially on the Sunday after she passed. During the offertory at Mass hearing Amazing Grace. I didn’t want people to think I was falling apart. So instead of crying hysterically in front of people, I simply went to the back and cried. So, I held a lot of my sadness inside. It’s the way I am. I am a caretaker; I think of others before me. You just learn to accept the grief; it will be part of your daily life. I know that in the Lord’s time, and through his grace, the grief and pain will be healed.
"I am now even more dependent on my relationship with Christ."
The only constant in our lives is the love of God. I trust in him, and he will hold me tightly in his arms as my Mama always had. Since my family lives far from me, but I have my church family around me. My church family has been consistently supportive, and they have blessed my biological family and I with cards, donations, prayer, and the most significant gift of all LOVE. Through this time, my faith has been challenged. God’s grace has triumphed. I am now even more dependant on my relationship with Christ. And, I trust in him to walk me through the grieving process. His sacrifice will enable me to see my mother again.
I will always cherish the last words she said to me on Sunday before she passed. Four simple words, “I love you, Amy”. The battle with cancer did not take away the love of a mother for her children; love won. I cannot help but draw a comparison to the passion of our Lord Jesus’ including his death. This death, and painful grief that followed allowed the love of God for his children to win the day. I love you, Mama!!!
Shannon Sonderman Daughter of God, Teacher, Vocalist
When I was young, I was able to interact with God in many different ways. As I got older, people talked about a personal relationship with our living God, and I thought that sounded good, so I began to speak to God more just in my spare time. Instead of getting “bored” during the downtime, I would try to talk to God about what was going on in my life and what I was thankful for within my young life. This is how I thought I was supposed to build a personal relationship, but it was often hard for me because I don’t see the responses to my questions and searches. I know now that those answers are there, but I just don’t speak the same language as God. Occasionally, it is still hard for me to continue my relationship with God in that personal and close-friend way.
I find that the best way for me to build upon this relationship is through music. From a young age, I have always loved to sing and would sing in Church. This love for singing started in my Church. Every Sunday, we would sing familiar songs and others that were new. Soon these new songs would become a part of my musical memory. These church songs are a part of my whole being. They could not be separated from my religious experience. Through these songs, I grew to have a deeper understanding of the readings, gospels, and homilies from the weekly mass celebration.
One of my teachers mentioned that “singing is like praying twice” this simple line has stuck with me throughout the years. As I got older, I clung to that idea of singing as a type of prayer. I began to sing more and more inside and out of Church. And, I found that as I grew, so did my love of singing. I found that through this singing, I could share my love of God with others. I could express prayer in song with others and help them understand what I was feeling through the words of the song. I so often find that my prayer, through song, brings joy into this world for me and for others.
"Singing is praying twice".
When I sing, I try to not just sing the words and notes, but to sing the words with meaning. It is also amazing to me when I am listening to a Priest or Deacon give the homily, they will say something, and it will immediately pull me into a song that is about that topic. The songs that I haven’t heard will come flooding back clear because of a single line that was said. When this happens, I am reminded that songs are connected to the scriptures. There are verses embedded in every Catholic liturgical song from the Bible. I can’t help but wonder if this is a way that people learned about God before the written word was accessible to the masses.
These songs help me fight through hard, good, sad, joyful, and confusing times within my life. There is a song for every emotion that we will feel throughout our lives. God understands us completely. He feels our feelings, and he is there to help us through them. When I am having a hard time with something, I often find myself turning to a song to talk to God about what is going on in my life. He is able to hear my prayers within the notes and words that I sing to him. In this way, liturgical music has helped me to realize that these unpleasant emotions that I was feeling are okay to have. Through prayerful songs, I will get through these feelings and process what God is attempting to tell me through them, all the while being supported by God.
While I was writing this, I was listening to a playlist, and Oceans by Hillsong United came on 3 separate times. This song is talking about not being strong enough alone without God. But with him, we will have the strength to strive above whatever obstacle is put in our path. There have been times in my life that I feel like I am drowning, and there is nothing that will be able to pull me to the surface, but then I remember that God is always there to pull me up. It does take me a bit to get to that point sometimes, but music helps me get back in tune with God, then I can seek comfort in God’s embrace.
If you think talking and crying is hard, just try to sing and cry at the same time. Almost impossible...
I think that many of us are blessed with a “musical memory, so to speak. Music is a way to remember the time that we have passed on this Earth. Have you ever had a song pull you back to specific moments in your life? One that always pulls me back through the past is “On Eagle’s Wings”. I sang this song with my brother at our Grandfather’s funeral. This is the song that my Grandfather loved most and requested that it be sung at his funeral by my brother and myself. Singing that song during the funeral mass was one of the hardest moments of my life. Throughout the song, we said good-bye to our Grandfather, allowing God to take him home. If you think talking and crying is hard, just try to sing and cry at the same time. Almost impossible. I poured all of the memories of my Grandfather into that song and offered him up to God.
Throughout this song, I always remember that God is greater and still there lifting us up to him. No matter what happens in life, “under his wings your refuge, His faithfulness your shield,” He is always there to protect and shelter. This is also true in death; he is there to bring you up to his loving embrace. When I hear this song now, I am pulled back to the Church where my brother and I sang this for my Grandfather’s funeral, and I am reminded that he is with God now in heaven and that he is looking over us.
I have learned while singing that I am never alone even when singing by myself as there are choirs of angels there to singing alongside me. I also often sing within the congregation. And together, although many of us are untrained singers, we sing for the love of God and the love of community. This congregational singing is something that I grew to love. When we sing with others being supported by their voices, it does not matter the quality of our own individual voice. No matter what happens throughout the song, the others singing alongside you are there and will not let the song pitter out. They will build you back up if something happens within the song that each person singing. Communal prayer and thanksgiving to our creator are the reasons why we gather as a community at Mass on Sundays. We can allow music to be another form of this communal prayer; if we raise our voices in song united with the rest of the singing congregation. We support each other through this active participation in prayerful music. By singing collectively in mass, each member of the congregation is there to support you; just as you are there to support them within these songs of praise. Will you join your voice with the congregation? Will you be united with us in these hymns of praise to our good and gracious God?