Categories
Devon Wattam Domestic Church Spiritual Growth

Military Friendships: Bringing Me Closer to Jesus, One Duty Station at a Time

 

“God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends, we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.” -St. Maximilian Kolbe

“I love you, Walter!” I still hear my friend’s voice calling out to my son, echoing in my ears as my boys and I walked away from telling her and her family “good-bye” as they prepared to PCS from our little street on a Navy base in nowhere California to sunny Florida. Biting my lip to hold back the flood of tears that would unleash the second I made my way into the safety of my living room, I squeezed my infant in one arm and gripped my two-year’s old hand with the other – I could feel my heart breaking a little. Why did it hurt so badly to tell someone I’d only known for two years good-bye, as if she was family? I tried to describe it to a girlfriend on the phone that afternoon but felt silly and quickly changed the subject mid-sentence to something different.

The truth is, it’s difficult to describe the bond that forms between strangers who come together from completely different walks of life but share the commonality of a husband in harm’s way and a young family to be strong for. When Ben and I were preparing for marriage, I always anticipated that everything would fall on our shoulders. We would be strong for one another when things were tough, and of course that has been the case, but we quickly learned that when you enter the military, you get so much more than a uniform. You get an entire community of people who are experiencing the exact same struggles you are, and with that comes the opportunity for special friendships to blossom. Every friendship is a blessing from God, but some have enriched my life in ways that I never expected. Through each one, I have learned a little bit more about myself and others, and in doing so, have been brought into a deeper friendship with Jesus.

One of the first things I learned as a new Navy wife was how many opportunities there are to practice (and receive) the Corporal Works of Mercy. Most everyone in a military community is far away from family and friends, which means there is always someone in need of a friend to help lighten her load. I’ve been inspired and encouraged by how hospitable, and quite frankly Christlike, so many fellow military spouses have been to my family in our times of need. When I was eight months pregnant with our first son, Ben and I moved from Virginia to California in an unexpected transfer. We went from being 14 hours away from family to 36 in the blink of an eye, making us feel even more alone and vulnerable in a very delicate time of not only preparing for our first baby, but also our first deployment. When we got to California, we were met by warm strangers who were eager to support us right from the start. Neighbors introduced themselves with baked goods as movers still unloaded our trucks, a wife who I had never met before picked me up to take me to my first spouses’ meeting, a meal train was provided from the day we brought our son home from the hospital, some meals from complete strangers. I was blown away by the love and compassion we felt from people we didn’t even know – how easy it would have been for them to turn the other way or leave us alone having not known us, but how much it meant to us that they didn’t!

It was through that experience that I learned to always “bring the food.” There are so many occasions when I see the opportunity to help someone else in need, but I talk myself out of it for so many reasons. I’m too busy with my own problems, I don’t know the person in need very well so maybe it would be uncomfortable for both of us if I tried to help, that person already has a lot of support so they don’t need mine. These are all ideas I’ve had to push from my mind and remember how significant it was for me to be taken care of by strangers. Now when a mother has a new baby, I make an effort to bring over a meal or offer to hold the baby while she showers. If someone’s husband is gone, I might babysit her children for a few hours so she can run errands or offer to take her to the airport if she is traveling to visit family. Or I’ll try to send a text to another wife who has been alone for a while or seems like she’s having a hard time. The important thing is showing up. When in doubt, I always remember “bring the food.”

The Corporal Works of Mercy are just stepping stones into reaching a deeper communion with people. After bringing the food or lending a helping hand, the door is opened the get to know those acquaintances better. Being an outgoing introvert, it is sometimes challenging for me to break down my walls and reveal my heart to my neighbors, but when I do, I’m thankful. By allowing myself to love my fellow Navy wives openly as Jesus would, they go from being acquaintances and friends to family. Holding the baby while the new mom showers or driving the neighbor to the airport when no one else can turns into heartfelt conversations about missing our families or the struggles of raising children alone and makes evangelization nearly effortless. Suddenly, we both feel a little less alone and a little more loved. It’s in those moments that I feel the presence of the Lord.

These military friendships are bittersweet because, of course, they are only temporary. Duty stations change every few years, and so right when you feel like you’ve found “your people” one of you is destined to leave. Whenever this happens, there are always so many thoughts and emotions that wash over me. I am tempted to be angry with God at times for giving me something so beautiful but then taking it away, but once the anger fades I am always left with immeasurable gratitude. Gratitude for Christ revealing Himself in sometimes the most unlikely of faces, gratitude for Him inspiring me to be better through each of those people, and gratitude for loving those people enough to have the pain that’s left in my heart when they’re gone. And when my friends are gone and the heartache ensues, who is left? Jesus.

Categories
Advent Anni Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Year of Mercy

Sacramentals, Mercy, Advent, Oh My!

Not long ago, I attended an event where an icebreaker game was played. The icebreaker was to count up how many Sacramentals we had on each of us, and whomever at the table had the most won a prize. I happened to be at the table with our chaplain, who gave us a run for our Sacramentals, until he was told he had his own gift set aside for him.

Before he had stepped out of winning the Sacramentals game, our chaplain posed to us, “Do you think each individual is a Sacramental? Because, I count all of you as a Sacramental,” as he tried to tally us up as some of the Sacramentals he brought to the table.

His question, while posed in jest, has stuck with me several months later.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in 1677,

Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

Every baby baptized into the Catholic Church has been anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, that child takes on a conscious decision to reaffirm the baptismal vows their parents typically, initially undertook on behalf of the child. And, the individual then becomes re-anointed and re-sealed with the Holy Spirit.

In essence, our chaplain was correct – we do become Sacramentals. We become a living, breathing, walking “sacred sign instituted by the Church,” to spread the Good News and the Joy of the Gospel.

Knowing we are sacred signs, what are we doing with that knowledge? Are we hiding our light under the bushel so as to not attract attention? If so, how do we get back on course?

I once confided to another Army chaplain that I wasn’t cut out for evangelizing. The “E word” scared me, and I was afraid I was too immature in my Faith to be able to defend it against questions. He chuckled at me, and asked me if I was a mother. I looked at him strangely, and answered in the affirmative because my oldest at the time was a year and a half old. He then shared that evangelization as a mother or father looks a little different than evangelization of others – by virtue of teaching our children their prayers, we are evangelizing. By ensuring our children go to church, we are evangelizing. By living and encouraging the Works of Mercy, as identified by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are evangelizing.

Being a sacred sign comes with responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to our neighbor – to the soul we see next to us… looking past the physical presence before us, to recognize the soul behind the eyes. The Works of Mercy are such a beautiful, powerful reminder of the stepping stones to living as the hands and feet of Christ.

The saints are prime examples of having the faith and trust in God to recognize God’s children in those suffering, destitute, and in need. St. Francis of Assisi embraced a leper shortly after his conversion, while amazed at how his former self would have been repulsed to see someone else do the same. St. Damien of Moloka’i, and St. Marianne Cope would go on to not just embrace lepers, but to live amongst them, and tenderly care for them. The list of saints who lived the Works of Mercy can go on for days!

Through Christ, we get the promise of entering Heaven. Yet, in order to truly pass through Him, we are challenged to meet Him on the road, to recognize Him in others, and to extend His reach through us, to another person.

And, the Church, in her infinite love and wisdom, has shown us how to do this through the Works of Mercy. While we may no longer be in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are still called to extend mercy to those in our lives – whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.

So, as we enter Advent this year, I encourage all of us to spend some time focusing on how we are a living Sacramental. Commit to a Work of Mercy each day during Advent, knowing you’ll repeat some several times. Don’t be afraid to take the Good News and Joy of the Season to those to whom you may initially be afraid to reach out.

Recognize Christ in your neighbor, and better yet, be Christ to others.

It is our duty and our sacred responsibility.

Categories
Ink Slingers

Deliver Us

Sometimes I wonder what the world would look like if no one prayed. And then, I thank God for all those who believe in the power of prayer and use it. Right this minute there are cloistered nuns and monks praying for you and for me. These men and women have dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and Adoration. Every hour of everyday a Mass is being celebrated somewhere in this world. Prayer, it is a beautiful wonder.

But, why and how should we pray?

Jesus prayed. And, He taught us the perfect petition, giving us the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray the Our Father we are praying with Jesus. We orient ourselves toward God, recognizing we are neither the center, nor the Creator of the universe. We beseech Him as brothers and sisters of Christ. It is our family prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven, reminds us that in this world we are in exile. We are seeking our homeland as we lift up our hearts and minds to our heavenly Father, who desires that we be united with Him in this life and life everlasting. Keeping it real, means our perspective should be eternal.

God, our Father, is mysterious and majestic. Holy is His name. (Luke 1:49) He is love and mercy, He desires our holiness and says “Be holy because I am holy” (1Peter 1:16). Let us pray that our hearts would be yearning to be made holy. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come reveals not only is God our King but we, as His children, are royalty. We didn’t choose God, He chose us. He calls us to follow Him. We are to live as Christ. For I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me…when we meet the needs of others from the love in our hearts, we are Christ made present on earth.

My prayer life often sounds a lot like me telling God what and how to fix up my life. I begin with a litany of complaints, wringing my worries out to Him. I think my current unpleasant situation would change if only I convince God to do things my way. Regardless, God receives my petitions. Though, I am awfully shortsighted. I am usually only looking as far down the road as tomorrow or next week or year. But, God is a Father that truly knows what is best for me, for us. His plan is always more reliable, if only I would follow it. He desires our eternal salvation more than we do. He is God, we are not. Let us pray that like Jesus, we would be obedient and surrender our will, choosing thy will be done.

When was the last time I begged God to transform me? When have I pleaded with God to conform my will to His? Am I offering God, God my Father, God in heaven praise and thanksgiving? Am I glorifying God in the way that I am living this life I have been given? I am weak and I am in need of the Holy Spirit to encourage and teach me to live in such a way the love of God is present on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. We need both material food and spiritual food to live. God generously provides us with exactly what we need, not always what we want. We need Jesus. We need to be Jesus, to make Him present on earth by being his hands and feet bringing food to the poor so that they may be filled. And, we need to seek Jesus. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. (John 6:35) God through his only Son, Jesus Christ, has given us the bread of life in the Eucharist. We can receive this bread daily at Mass; we can be fed daily in His Word. These are necessities for our pilgrimage. ( CCC 2837)

I am a sinner and I need to be forgiven. Daily. I must ask God to forgive me for what I have done and especially of what I have failed to do. I need to learn to hate my sins because they separate me from God. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I need to forgive in order to be forgiven. And, the generosity with which I forgive will be returned to me. Am I holding a grudge or praying for those with whom I’m angry or estranged? Forgive me as I have forgiven…this leaves very little room for my proud ego.

Lord, make haste to help me! I am being tempted to sin. I am wrestling with the right thing to do. Lord, I need your strength. Help me discern the right from the wrong. Lead us not into temptation.

But deliver us from evil. Literally protect us from Satan, the Evil One. The devil is that fallen angel who is seeking to ruin God’s plan and our salvation through Jesus. Deliver us, O Lord, from the evil that prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls! Amen.

Let us pray.

Categories
Ink Slingers Michelle Pro-Life Issues Spiritual Growth Year of Mercy

How to Make a Blessing Bag

Blessing bag

A little over a week ago I returned from a mission trip with our parish youth group. We traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to work with the Franciscans for the Poor. We worked at many different worksites throughout the city tending to those experiencing homelessness, poverty, and/or special needs. The trip was amazing and a wonderful reminder of not only how blessed we each are, but of how beautiful every single one of God’s children are, regardless of their circumstances and despite what our society tries to tell us.

homeless 1The world likes to think that all Americans are rich and each lives a life of luxury. The truth is that on any given night 564,708 people are experiencing homelessness. Over a half a million people have no place to call home. If we are the richest and best country in the world, how can so many of our brothers and sisters be without a place to rest their heads, to take a shower, or to eat a meal?

Our Catholic faith tells us that we are to take care of these people. The Corporal Works of Mercy tell us it is our Christian duty to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to give shelter to the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; and to bury the dead.

It can be difficult to be able to take time off to visit the imprisoned or work in a soup kitchen. It is probably even harder for people to take an entire week off to travel hundreds of miles away to serve on a mission trip. While it can be challenging to figure out a way to serve, there is a very simple way that almost everyone can help those who are in need.

Blessing bags provide a simple way for us to reach out and touch the lives of those who are suffering. They allow us to connect in a way that tells those who are experiencing homelessness that we not only see them but that we value them and love them. A simple gesture, a blessing bag can provide the hope and the little bit of extra faith that those who are downtrodden need to just make it through one more day. You can easily keep them in your car to pass on to those you see in need of a little bit of help.

To make a blessing bag first collect the items you want to put in the bag. Some of the most important items that many people experiencing homelessness say they need and appreciate the most are toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and socks. These items are always needed and yet they almost never have access to them. The ability to keep clean is often overlooked and yet those who are experiencing homelessness want to keep clean every bit as much as you and I.

blessing bag 2

In our bags we also put a small snack of a juice box, crackers, and a granola bar. We included a razor, tissues, and a small amount of money.

I know. I know… you are thinking that if you put in money they might by drugs or alcohol, right? Most people who are experiencing homelessness are not addicted to drugs or alcohol. Instead, they will use this money to buy a coffee or a small hot meal. Regardless of what they spend the money on it is a gesture of love and hope to offer it to them.  Please trust that your gift will be used in the manner most fitting to their circumstance.

Last, after packing your bag put a small note in to tell those you will give your blessing bag to that they are cherished and loved; that there is hope. Remind them that they can trust in Jesus and that He has not abandoned them.

blessing bag 3

A blessing bag is a small gesture of love and hope to someone who believes that the world has forgotten about them. It reminds them that despite their current circumstances they are cherished.

To many who are experiencing homelessness one of the greatest trials in their lives is the feeling that no one sees them and no one cares. Each day people pass without offering a glance or they spew hateful things at them. A blessing bag can counter the hate they experience and instead replace it with love. It can help to restore their dignity and their faith.

I have no doubt you have heard it said many times, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Do something small today and it may be the biggest thing you ever do for someone. Our tiny gestures of love have the ability to change hearts, inspire hope, and fan the flames of a dying faith. Be the blessing that someone needs today.

believe 1

 

Categories
7 Quick Takes Christi Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year

Seven Ways to Love

Seven Ways to LoveWe are coming into Lent and right smack dab in the first week we have the feast day of St. Valentine, just four days after Ash Wednesday. Typically we associate Valentine’s day with flowers, candy, and sweet, happy thoughts. While love does indeed encompass all these things love is also often a call to sacrifice. In fact, St. Valentine himself is a symbol of sacrificial love, a fact that has been lost over the years.

When we talk about love and marriage today we often forget that love, as it matures and grows, becomes a decision, a choice. We choose to love even when we find ourselves living through difficult times with our spouse or children. On rough days we may find ourselves having to choose to love our families. Marriage, and parenthood, offer abundant opportunities for sacrificial love.

In addition to loving our spouse and children, we are also called to love our neighbor. In fact, our Church has defined seven corporal and seven spiritual works for loving friend, foe, and neighbor (more on the spiritual and corporal works here). With Lent and St. Valentines just on the horizon I’m going to walk us through some practical ways to live out the seven Corporal Works of Mercy, focusing on how we can teach our children sacrificial love through these acts of mercy.  

Quick Take One: To Feed the Hungry

Seven Ways to LoveThose who are parents know this one well since we are responsible for providing three squares 365 days of the year. And sometimes it is indeed a sacrifice to come up with a meal as we stand before the bare cupboard like old Mother Hubbard. This might be because family illness or a broken vehicle has kept us from shopping or because we have experienced a crisis of finances. If it’s the latter, it’s a true act of love to swallow hard and ask for help. It’s important in that moment to remember that Jesus lived a life of poverty and, as hard as it is to be the recipient of help, those feeding the hungry need to help as much as the poor need the help. It brings both parties closer to Jesus. When we teach children to make snacks and eventually how to cook meals, they are learning to show love for their families and eventually to even share the fruits of their labor with neighbors. There is little that my children enjoy more than bringing fresh hot cookies to our neighbors. 

Quick Take Two: Give Drink to the Thirsty

Seven Ways to LoveIt is indeed a corporal work of mercy, as well as an act of sacrificial love, to get up at two in the morning to give a thirsty child a cup of water, especially if you have only just returned to bed from nursing the baby. But how can we help our children to experience, in a tangible way, what it means to give water to the thirsty? I mean, other than teaching them to help a thirsty sibling get a drink. Within our own communities we can have bottled water available to hand out to those whom we encounter on street corners, a wonderful witness for our children. In addition to taking actions close to home, we can participate in worthwhile programs that raise funds to drill wells in poorer nations where people walk miles, daily, to haul fresh water back to their home. We can encourage our children to tithe from their birthday money, allowances, or summer jobs to give in some way to the poor – whether by donating food and water to shelters or investing in an overseas program. Additionally, as a family, we can participate at local food banks with our time. This coming Lent might be a good opportunity to practice the idea of tithing our talents, not just our money.

Quick Take Three: Clothe the Naked

Seven Ways to LoveAny mother worth her salt has invariably climbed Mount Laundry only to tumble back down the mountain into the very mire of laundry she just climbed out of. She gets “clothing the naked”. But how to help our children learn about this need – besides making them fold every blessed piece of clothing in the house? I don’t know about you but I have to regularly purge our closets of excess clothing – in our case largely due to generous donations of friends and family. Have your children help you with this task and make the sacrificial decisions of which favorite shirt to give away (the one in better condition?) and which to keep. The added bonus to this is less laundry for the mountain.  

Quick Take Four: Shelter the Homeless

Other than volunteering at a homeless shelter – how can we teach our children the value of helping those without refuge? I think sometimes we have to look outside the box especially when we are in the throes of raising a young family. I mean it’s not really practical to drag four children, six and under, to assist at a women’s shelter. During those years when they are too young to actually help at a local center, our children can make crafts and drawings to send to a homeless shelter to add cheer to the atmosphere there. When they get older we can help them collect necessities that shelters are always looking for, whether through organizing fund raisers or earning the money themselves to buy soaps and tooth brushes.

Quick Take Five: Visit the Sick

Seven Ways to LoveWhen we are overwhelmed with the every day chores of getting several children fed and dressed ourselves, how can we possibly be worried about others who are sick? And yet, there are many shut-ins and lonely elderly living in extended care facilities that would love selections of your children’s artwork that is flowing over and falling off your fridge door. These art efforts can also be directed towards designing handmade cards and mailed to soldiers recovering from injuries in vet hospitals. (Can you tell that I’m really into sharing children’s art?)

What can we do once our children are past the art stage? I remember one year we had almost every child down with strep throat and they were sad and miserable. A close friend’s children gathered up favorite games, toys, and puzzles and lent them to our kids. It meant so much for my ‘patients’ to have something new to use for a little while and even more to know that their friends were thinking of them while they were sick.

Although we are talking about the sick, sometimes those healthy in body are lonely in spirit and could use some love. Is there an elderly couple in your parish who are always alone, even on holidays? Your children could make them cards or share a favorite drawing with them or write them a poem. If you know them well enough, invite them for an afternoon tea party.

Quick Take Six: Visit the Imprisoned

Seven Ways to Love

Typically when we say imprisoned we are thinking of those who are incarcerated. But there is more than one kind of prison. There are the housebound, the elderly, and those adjusting to catastrophic life changes – such as the loss of one’s sight or becoming paralyzed. Besides sharing our children’s art, what other avenues will help us teach our children to love the imprisoned? Encourage older children to show Christian love by helping  housebound neighbors or acquaintances by running errands for them. We can also encourage our children to visit those living in extended care facilities. Last Christmas my seventeen year old organized a caroling event for a retirement facility completely on her own. What a joy it was for her friends and younger siblings to see the happiness on the faces of those lonely people who are, in a sense, imprisoned.

We can also help those we will never meet by becoming involved in service animal training programs either by raising a puppy ourselves or helping to raise funds for those who can’t afford these very expensive animals. What a gift that would be to help a person imprisoned in their home (with perhaps epilepsy) to receive an animal whose training might allow them the simple freedom of going for a walk alone once again.

Quick Take Seven: Bury the Dead

Well, obviously this is not meant literally, at least not when you don’t know the person. So how can we help our children learn how to show love for the dead in a physical way? While they are very young, one possibility is to help with the cleaning of your church’s cemetery; sometimes your parish will have a committee that needs help raking leaves or planting flowers. When they are older they can help with funeral luncheons or receptions or cleaning up after the luncheon. When my sons were younger they frequently served funeral masses, another much needed way your family can offer physical support for the burying of the dead.

With Lent literally just around the corner, I hope that one or more of these ideas on helping your children love sacrificially will inspire your family to add some sacrificial love to your Lent. 

seven-quick-takes-friday-2

Be sure to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum and see what other folks have shared for today’s Seven Quick Takes.