Loving Obedience: Our Relationship with God

In the middle of praying, I noticed that my rosary broke. I wasn’t doing anything that would cause this to happen and I felt unsettled seeing the broken beads which are privy to so many of my sacred prayers. Even more disturbing was realizing that the fruit of the mystery for the decade I was praying was obedience.

Was God trying to tell me something? Am I so disobedient that my rosary spontaneously separated? Was a swarm of locusts – or worse, palmetto bugs, about to descend on me?!

When I told my husband what happened, his response was, “well, you don’t like to be told what to do.” I wanted to point out how brave he was for sharing his insight but then I decided he was giving me a compliment. (That’s what I sometimes do when I am annoyed by something someone says I decide it must somehow be a compliment and then I am happy again). Besides who likes to be told what to do?

For many years, I confused obedience with people-pleasing. I don’t know if I seem particularly inept but people often seem to have a need to tell me what to do or how I should do something. Because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, I tried to comply. Of course, this never ended well. I became resentful or pulled away from anyone who I considered overbearing. This wasn’t good for me or the well-meaning bossy britches in my life so I had to quit people-pleasing and just let those who want me to make different choices think what they want. Everyone does anyway.

However fraught our human relationships may be, it’s different with God.  Obedience to him isn’t something that should make us bristle. He trusts us enough to give us free will. He isn’t going to force anything on us because he knows love doesn’t force. It doesn’t control and it doesn’t dictate. When you think how much God loves you and wants only good for you, being obedient doesn’t feel restraining. It’s what really allows us to live in freedom. I know having rules doesn’t sound as much fun as not having any but God’s commandments protect us from the bondage of sin which is heavy and hard and full of hurt that often spreads to the people we love. There is nothing freeing about that.

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Mercy at Trader Joe’s

A friend of mine told me about a prayer request for someone dear to her who was hospitalized with pneumonia in both lungs. Over three weeks his condition deteriorated and finally, he passed away. She had prayed for his healing but it wasn’t to be.

In her words, here’s what happened next.

A mutual friend asked me to bring food to the reception after the memorial service. I offered to take my “go to Blondies.” Trader Joe’s mix in a box, perfect every time, easy peasy! So a few days before the memorial service I head out to TJ’s. Three boxes of brownie mix and the required butter were all I needed.

As I was checking out, the cashier asked if I could bring one back for her. I laughed and said, “Sure.” But then I thought better of my response. I told her that these were headed to a funeral. There probably wouldn’t be any left.

I looked the young lady in the eye and said, “Covid.”

She responded and said, “Covid is for real.”

I said, “God bless you, honey.” I walked outside toward my car.

Suddenly I felt someone coming toward me from behind. I turned and looked. There was the young cashier thrusting a bouquet of flowers toward me. She held them out and said, “I am sorry for your loss!” I thanked her. When I got in my car, I wept. And sobbed. And sobbed some more.

This last year and a half have been filled with loss. People, friends who vehemently disagree about how we can live together, trust, celebrating, time, safety….the list is endless. But in the midst of all of this loss, along comes a stranger, who heard my pain and offered consolation. And touched my weary heart, by telling the truth and caring.

And, I began to heal from a very rough season.

Hi all, this is such a beautiful simple mercy. Funny how a chance encounter at the grocery store can help begin to heal someone else’s grief but that’s the power of mercy. I love that the mercy came from a stranger too – just another reminder to all of us that we belong to each other.

Speaking of which, here is a link to a podcast “Quote Me with Lindsay Schlegel,” where I talk about my favorite quote. It’s by anthropologist Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I would only add that it’s done through love and mercy.

If you have not already purchased a copy of Simple Mercies, please go to bit.ly/larabooks or Amazon. We can be that small group of committed citizens who change the world. ~ Love, Lara

Praying Is a Work of Mercy

Guest post by: Barb Szyszkiewicz

Intercessory prayer is my superpower. I’m not the mystical type, but give me something concrete to do and I’m all set. Is it odd to think of prayer as “something concrete to do”? Not for me. If you’re in a crisis and you don’t live near here, I’ll pray for you. If you live close by, I’ll bring you a dinner – and I’ll pray for you while I shop for the ingredients, prepare the food, and deliver the meal.

During a crisis, many people find that they have a hard time praying. They know they need the prayers, but they feel like God is far away or not listening – or maybe they haven’t connected with God in a while. When someone comes to you and asks for prayer, that is an act of great trust both in you and in God. This is a work of mercy that costs you very little but means so very much to others. By praying for someone in need, you are shouldering their burden right along with them.

Pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. (James 5:16)

Whether someone asks you, straight out, to pray for them, or you know they’re going through something and in need of your prayers, make sure to pray. Part of the mercy of praying for others is that they know you can be counted on to actually do the praying.

You don’t have to use fancy words or come up with something original every time. I don’t! I simply use some of the prayers the Church has already offered. A Hail Mary, Glory Be, or Memorare will work just fine.

Follow these three steps to make this work of mercy work for you:

Pray right away. You don’t have to pray out loud (maybe that’s not your superpower – it’s definitely not mine). But don’t wait. Pray right away. Read more

Project Gratitude: Lenten Reflection

Hi all, 

There have been moments during this Lenten season when I felt as if a list of 40 Things I Can’t Find at the Grocery Store would have made more sense than journaling 40 Days of Gratitude.  The world has changed drastically in ways that seem more like dystopian fiction than reality.  The days of the week melt into one long collective moment of waiting.  While the Lenten season encourages a pause, few of us have ever experienced such a drastic lifestyle change based on showing love for our neighbor by isolating ourselves from them. From “the last shall be first” to “It is in giving that we receive,” this new social norm reads like so many of the paradoxes that we find in scripture — the greatest being that through death we may have eternal life.

A lot of life doesn’t make sense.  Perhaps it was never meant to. Like Jesus dying on the cross for the will of God, for the salvation of humanity, and out of merciful love for you and for me — maybe there is something greater to all of this — for all of us.  More than ever, this Lenten season has taught me how to be okay with uncertainty.  I may know less about life than I thought I did 40 days ago, but now I have more clarity about what it is I really need to know — all of which begins on the cross.  There are a great many things to be thankful for this Easter, but what could be more important than that?

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 36: I am thankful for words.  They have the power to take us to far-away places and to ground us in the here and now.  Words can console and affirm. In this time of social distancing, they connect us and remind us that the most important word, love, cannot be quarantined nor can it die.  Love endures.

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:7).

 

LENT DAY 37: I am thankful for being a mother.  Motherhood teaches us to endure beyond what we think is possible, wise, or just.  It stretches us to the edge of sleeplessness, worry, and flat out aggravation.  It rearranges priorities and for a good while household furnishings too.

But, my heavens does it teach us love! I can think of no better example of Christ’s love than the love we pour out for our children.  A love that is both sacrificial and joyful.  A love that is both boundless and bound for all time.  A love that is forgiving and yet requires no apologies.  A love with no conditions, no caveats, and no end.

It is the love that comes from God because it is the life that comes from God.  What an incredible blessing.  What an incredible God.

LENT DAY 38: I am thankful for everyday heroes.  They battle over evils of apathy, ignorance, and selfishness by doing simple acts of kindness.  They know that serving others isn’t just for warriors or royalty or storybook rescuers. True heroism is a simple willingness to love, serve, and not count the costs.  It doesn’t require a cape or a mask.  Just a big heart.

 

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Project Gratitude: Week 2

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY EIGHT: I am thankful for impromptu kindness.

This article is such a stunning example of impromptu ways that we good humans show love.  The more simple an act of love is — the more beautiful it seems to be.

LENT DAY NINE: I am thankful for life’s twists and turns.  It’s never easy to deal with the unexpected, the unwanted, or what feels like the unbearable.

It’s hard to walk in faith when we can’t see the next step.  But sometimes the twisty parts of life have a miraculous way of turning into something beautiful.

Trust the twist to bring you something better.

 

 

LENT DAY TEN: I am thankful for small businesses that give back to the community.

No glossy public relations material, no recognition in the newspapers, no oversized checks or inflated sincerity – small, community-minded businesses remember their roots.  They are vested in and genuinely care about the people they serve.  Often giving in-kind, from their own products or resources, or by donating their services, they remind us that we belong to one another.

It isn’t about how much they have to give but their willingness to share when they can.  It’s not corporate responsibility, it’s just caring.

Picture of Raymond Solomon of Solomon Ventures, whose generosity to different people and organizations — particularly Catholic Charities Jacksonville Camp I Am Special, has been such a gift to this community.

LENT DAY ELEVEN: I am thankful for a heathy body.  In my early thirties, a good friend of mine had terminal brain cancer.  She was a young mother whose whole life should have been ahead of her.  But it wasn’t.

At the time I was an avid runner.  I ran for her because she couldn’t.   I didn’t always love it.  Some runs were hard, hot, and endlessly long.  Still, I remembered what a gift these hard runs were – it meant I could feel the thump of my heart, the strength of my legs, and that my breath was ever precious.

It reminded me that I am alive and healthy and not everyone gets that.  It gave me pause to stop running and just be grateful.

LENT DAY TWELVE: I am thankful for Bishop Estevez.  During a newspaper interview in the quiet of an empty basilica, we talked about Jesus, immigration, and the role of the church and the individual.  Everything he said was worth quoting.  More so, it was worth living.

I could have sat there forever in the presence of the holiness he exuded.  He made me realize how badly I want to sit with Jesus someday, how much peace there would be then, and how the words we say are nothing compared to the conversation of hearts joined in God’s love.

LENT DAY THIRTEEN: I am thankful for mentors.  People who have nothing to gain that are willing to help someone who can never repay it are remarkable examples of Jesus’s selflessness.  Endless good comes from those who share their time and knowledge.  One of the most impactful ways to change the world is to give someone the tools necessary to do it.

 

LENT DAY FOURTEEN: I am thankful for transformation.  A dead tree becomes a work of art.    Hurt enables compassion.  Defeat is a catalyst for determination.  Sinners repent and become Saints.  Faith sows the bloom of a divine eternity.  Possibilities are endless and no one is without hope.

 

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

 

Too Small Coffee Table; Too Little Faith

I am trying to center myself so I can do what I need to do and be who I need to be.  This never seems to have anything to do with my daily tasks that are so time-consuming.  Regardless of how centered I am, I still have to scoop kitty litter and make supper.  I have to do life.  Yet often, life feels more adrift than this anchoring I seek.

The need for centering pulls at me reminds me that my busyness isn’t my primary business. I sit with it sometimes and try to make sense of what is so urgent.  It’s uncomfortable and I have to fight the urge not to get in my car and drive to the store to look for a new coffee table.  I’ve decided my coffee table is too small for my living room and even though that involved a small measure of math, it makes sense to me.  This centering that I crave – not so much.  I know it’s God by its persistence and truth be told, it makes the distraction of the coffee table seem like a welcome muse.

Then, of course, I question why I can’t sit with this God I adore and listen to what I need to do and who I need to be.  Why do I resist?  Why do I let myself succumb to distraction?  God probably doesn’t think the six-inch difference in a coffee table is paramount to his plans for me.

So, I still myself.  It chafes this stillness that God commands.  I listen to the emptiness of this space and try to discern what is so relentlessly nagging at me.  Is God in the quietness?  The busyness?  The mundane?  The despair?  The spiral?  The spaces between it all?  “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  (Proverbs 15:3).

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Prayer: What a Catch

Last year, a friend of mine was taken to the emergency room.  She had the flu and was in critical condition.  Before I rushed to the hospital, I prayed a rosary for her.  The memory is like a blur.  My head was racing, my rosary beads were twisting, my stomach was clenching, my hands were shaking, and my heart was aching.  Even though I sat in a chair in my living room, every part of me seemed to be in motion.  I was anxious to get to the emergency room, but from somewhere inside a voice repeated.  Pray.  Pray.  Pray.

When I finished the rosary, I went on Facebook and begged others to pray for her.  I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I know it included “even if you don’t pray – pray anyway.”  I’m not usually that bossy in Facebook posts so I hoped people would get the seriousness of the situation.  Even if it wasn’t their friend or their situation, even if they were estranged from God, I needed them to pray.  I needed help for my friend.  I figured if someone didn’t have their own faith, they could borrow their neighbors and throw something up to God.  He’s a great catcher.  That’s what he does over and over again – he catches us.  He doesn’t get caught up in who knows who, or the grudges someone is holding against him.  He isn’t keeping score.  He just catches.

I don’t know how many people prayed for her that day but it seemed like an awful lot.  At the hospital, I prayed with her children.  Friends texted that they were praying.  I called our church and asked them to send a priest to pray too.  He came and administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick.  The doctors were doing everything they could, her friends and family were covering her in prayer, and she was fighting like the warrior she was. Read more

Hearing God in a Noisy World

From the time the alarm clock pierces the softness of sleep, we are bombarded with noise.  The daily clamor comes not only from people in our lives, but the technology that pings incessantly and indiscriminately.  Add our inner barking voice, reminding us to do this, be there, and stop that, and it can feel like a cacophony of crazy.

In the racket of the babbling noise that cocoons the day in blasphemous sound, have we become deaf to the voice of God?  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) So often, we ask God for help, intercession, and mercy, but we never pause long enough in the grace of silence to let him fill the void.  It’s impossible to know his will if we can’t distinguish his voice from the commotion that commands our attention.

Jesus doesn’t strike me as a big yeller either.  He is the essence of love and love doesn’t compete in the shrill of striving.  His message is pretty succinct.  “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mathew 22:37-39).  Our ability to give and receive love is challenged by the surmounting noise that often has little to do with our souls.

Our souls crave the quiet that is God.  Often, when it comes to problem solving and big decisions, we rely on intellect.  Reasons, facts, and logic become the trinity we turn to.  The noise in our head sputters off a list of pros and cons.  We ask friends for advice.  We read books to guide us.  We troubleshoot and play out different scenarios, alternating the variables, and exposing flaws like a crime-scene detective.  Inadvertently, we create more noise for ourselves — obscuring the voice of God with the chatter of our reasoning.  The head talks, talks, and talks.  It means nothing if the heart is pulled toward something different.  Our hearts hold the voice of God.  Without quiet, we will never hear the whisper of his wisdom, the lull of his compassion, or peace of an answered prayer.

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Dog Days of Mercy Work

Reunited and it feels so good,” are lyrics from the 1978 song by the vocal duo, Peaches & Herb.  But upon returning a stray dog, the lyrics that played to the song’s melody sounded more like, “Reunited, and it feels like crud!”

It was far from peachy.

When I found the elderly dog, he was thin, filled with fleas, and uncharacteristically aloof for his breed.  After twenty minutes of convincing him I wasn’t a serial killer, he reluctantly succumbed to my coaxing him into the backyard. Within minutes he escaped and sat stubbornly in middle of the road.  I directed cars to drive around us while begging him to follow me.  Perhaps, the dog binge-watched Criminal Minds before running away, because he clearly knew the finer points of stranger danger.  After getting him into the backyard for the second time, I  jammed logs in the passage in the gate he eluded, creating fine fence folk art that I am sure would become the envy of my neighborhood.  Then I went back inside to post his picture on lost-dog websites. Read more

Connections not Coincidence

In the ninth grade, a classmate accidentally shot himself and died.  His death was 30 years ago, more than twice my age at the time so it seems odd to notice these connections to it now.

I don’t recall much, other than feeling stunned and sad.  But I do remember leaving the funeral and seeing my Spanish teacher across the street with this pained looked of sympathy acknowledging the enormity of his loss was inexplicable, even to grown-ups. I sensed how bad she hurt for me, for all of us young people who had such little experience with death and tragedy.  The one who always had the answers had no more than her students.

Death is the great equalizer.

I haven’t thought of him in years until a friend acknowledged his birthday on Facebook.  But this isn’t about tragedy or death, but the way we are connected, albeit in ways that can easily be passed off as coincidence.

I recently returned from a trip and told my mom about deceased loved ones I lit candles for in different churches.  I lamented that there were others who I’ve known who died that I wish I lit candles for too.  She suggested that I light one candle for all those who passed.

Then she mentioned how this would include the boy from ninth grade who had died from the gunshot wound.  It had been three decades since we spoke of him.  It seemed like such odd timing: my mom thinking of him the same day I prayed for him at weekday mass and only two days after his birthday, without having any knowledge of either.  This convergence of recollection seemed like one of those God things. It had been 30 years and for all this to surface in a period of three days seemed supernatural.

I hesitated to write about it because it sounds either trivial or mystical.  We live in a world where we want to believe only what we see, hear, touch, and has been validated by science or a positive review on Amazon.  We brush off connections as coincidences and miss opportunities to acknowledge glimpses of God, which aren’t constrained by time or logic.

A fellow classmate honoring the birthday of a deceased friend, reminding others of a joyful life and a tragic death, inspiring prayers said by someone who remembers more the face of mercy in a teacher than the details of the funeral, and a mother who has known many of her children’s peers pass away acknowledging just this particular one, reminds me of our connection to each another that is undoubtedly threaded by God’s hand.

I suppose it sounds crazy to think these connections mean something and if you are open enough to think that they could the question easily becomes what do they mean?  But I don’t have any more answers than my Spanish teacher did on that sad day.  It’s by acknowledging the connection that I feel joy, more aware how those we mourn live on, and the very real ways that God connects all of us through him.

Too often, I am unaware.  I look at the concrete, the to-dos, and the should-have done, and I miss the many ways God shows his presence in the physical world.

I was lucky to be reminded of that presence by someone who has long since stopped having a tangible existence himself.  Yet he lives on in ways that can seem as elusive as the flicker of a candle, but nonetheless burn bright.

In memory of Michael Field. 

You may also want to read a post I wrote about another connection here.

Do you notice “coincidences” in life?  Those things that make you pause or send a tingle up your spine.  They always remind me how we are connected to one another through God and they always make me feel more hopeful about all that I cannot see and understand.  What do you make of them?