Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

" And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; who fosters people's growth from their mother's womb, and fashions them according to His will! May He grant you joy of heart and May peace abide among you. May His goodness endure to deliver us in our days." [ Sirach 50: 22-24].

The grace of God and the bounty of His blessings to all of you and your families!

Never forget to thank God for ALL that you have. His bounty is never-ending.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ The King

" The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ' He saved others, let him save Himself if He is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.' Even the soldiers jeered at Him. As they approached, they called out, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.'  Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, ' Are You  not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.'  The other, however, rebuking Him, said in reply, ' Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly . . . but this man has done nothing criminal.' Then he said, ' Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' He replied to him, ' Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' ".     [ Luke 23: 35-43].

My Wise Advisor has told me, you die in the way that you have lived. 

Therefore, if you lived angry, you will die angry. If you lived bitter, you will die bitter.

But, if you lived in peace, you will die in peace. If you lived in gratitude, you will die in gratitude.

In this Gospel, Jesus died the way He had lived. He died with all humility. He was confronted with rulers and soldiers demanding, "Are You not the Christ?"  Notice that Jesus did not shoot back, "Do you realize who I AM ?!"

Above all, Jesus died in Love. His last act was not to save Himself.  It was to love and to save others, who believed in Him.

I have all this in mind as I love and remember a friend of the family who died several years ago.

I first met this lovely Irish lady, Muriel, before I was even married. It was the first Thanksgiving after I had met the man I ended up  marrying. My family did not allow me to share Thanksgiving with his family, because we were not even engaged yet. But I was able to join them or dessert.

Dessert that year was at Muriel's house. I walked into her home, nervous and shy. But she sat me down, gave me a cup of tea and a piece of pie. I felt instantly welcome.

Many, many years later, her beloved husband died.  Then years after that, she was diagnosed with cancer.

I had married my husband, and we had moved away from the town where he grew up and where Muriel lived.

One day, I received a call from one of my husband's siblings: Muriel was traveling up to a hospital near us, for treatment.

Towards the end of her long battle, Muriel was admitted to a convalescent home IN the town where we lived. There was only one conclusion -- God had sent Muriel back to me, and I was meant to share her company and her stories.

Muriel had married late in life and never had children. I had a mother who was cruel and unforgiving.
For about 4-6 weeks, she treated me like the daughter she had never had. And I gained the kind of loving mother I had only dreamed of.

 Muriel was tall and slim and always, always impeccably dressed. Her wool tweed skirts, flat pumps
and cardigan sweaters, her pearls and her perfectly wavy hair, all marked her as a proper Irish lady.

And yet, she had a keen sense of humor. She was smart and almost sassy. Best of all, she called me "dear" and "honey", like a mother would. And if the weather was bad, she would call me, just as I was anxiously looking out the window, and she would tell me not to come, it was too dangerous. I knew she needed my visits, but always, she put others before herself.

Muriel refused to get "down in the dumps", as she called it.

I would urge her to reminisce, to tell me her stories. I would tell her, "Tell me again, Muriel, about the day that a horse showed up in your yard!"

She told me that story again several times, about how her husband was at work and one morning, she looked out the window and found herself looking straight into the eyes of a horse. This was not so remarkable, except that she lived in the suburbs of a large city. What on earth was a horse doing in her yard?!

We laughed until tears came down our cheeks, a good, belly deep laugh that we both needed. She told me how she called the police and they told her, "Right, lady." Then, she called her husband and he had to run home at lunchtime, to see it for himself.

One day, my husband's sister came in from out of town to see Muriel. We all knew that Muriel was near the end. That ebbing away was the "unspoken thing" in the room.

At the end of the visit, Muriel did not want to say goodbye, but she had to let us go. My husband's sister gave her a tight hug. But, I could not bring myself to hug Muriel. I could not believe she was so near to the end.

I was convinced that I would see Muriel again at the usual time the next week. So instead of hugging her, I gently massaged her feet and said, " See you next week."  Muriel smiled at me weakly.

The very next day, my sister-in-law called to say that Muriel had passed away.

For the longest time, I felt horribly guilty about how I had not hugged Muriel. About a year later, the call came upon me to convert. At Holy Thursday, I told my pastor that I could not imagine Jesus washing my feet! The pastor said, 'Actually, it is the most humbling thing that you could imagine.'

It was then that I knew that I had NOT done the wrong thing in rubbing Muriel's feet, instead of hugging her. No, I had been called to love and to serve Muriel. I had bent down to essentially anoint her feet.

But it was Muriel who had served me and loved me best. For she had served as a mother, with love and good humor, when I needed it most. She had given me more than I ever gave her.

I ask you:  How do you live? How do you love?

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recipe For A Saint

" They will seize you and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have led you before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance will you secure your lives". [Luke 21: 12-19].

This passage is truly chilling, is it not? It makes one absolutely fear the call to become a Christian.

I remember "hearing" the call to convert a few years ago. I was filled with doubt. I wanted God, at the time, to just leave me alone and go away. I could not fathom the timing of the call.

After all, for fifteen years after I married my Catholic husband, my faith-less, God sneering parents were living far away from me. Why couldn't God have called me then? Wouldn't it have been so much more convenient to convert, on the sly, when my family was miles away, and blissfully ignorant?

But no, the call came after my father had died suddenly, and after my mother had moved near to me. Each day, she sat in my kitchen while I took care of her and fixed meals for her; and she would malign Catholics, saying, " The Immaculate Conception? You expect me to believe THAT!?" Or, she would announce to me that Catholics are gullible and ignorant. "Like sheep", she said.

I really did want to convert. But converting, right under my mother's nose, meant that I had to confront my Faith head-on. I had, since childhood, buried my faith deep down, because those feelings of Faith were scary and unsafe, in a house so dogmatically anti- religion and anti- Christ.

But that deep longing to know God was not going away. And so, I ran to my pastor in a panic.  But he offered no comfort. In fact, he said, "You can run, but you cannot hide."  Ouch!

I wish I had known about this Scripture that says, "But not a hair on your head will be destroyed."

At the time of my conversion, I was not sure what scared me more-- the persecution I was running FROM, or the infinitely powerful, all-knowing God, whom I was running TO.  Maybe a bit of both.

When I talked to my pastor about how huge and omniscient and even spooky God is, my pastor chuckled and told me, "Oh. You'll get used to it."

It was at the time of my conversion that I began to see that persecution is not always something you can run from. And, it is REAL. Religious persecution is not some archaic, Biblical event that never occurs in modern times.

I had felt the sting of it when my parents refused to stand in line at my wedding, at the time when I married my Catholic husband. I feared their wrath at holidays, and so I took to tucking my golden cross necklace under my shirt. Or, sometimes, my husband and I were disinvited to holidays, or pointedly not invited on vacations with extended family.

There were times when my father thrust his index finger in my face, even before my conversion, and lectured me about the Pope. He would say, "A politician who refuses to oppose abortion can be excommunicated?! Give me a break!" Or, " The Pope can tell a Catholic who to vote for, over the issue of abortion? Are you kidding me?! No one tells ME who to vote for!! "

After I converted, I lost not only family, but friends.

It is a special kind of lonely feeling when you are being persecuted. You feel as if you are the only one in the world going through this.

I think it takes reading and studying pieces of Christian history, to understand that we are not alone in being persecuted.

My favorite Saint is St. Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11: 23-28, Paul elaborates on some of what he suffered for converting to Christianity: " Are [others] servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this). I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger  from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and gone without food; I have been cold and naked. In Damascus. the governor had the city guarded, in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands."

Saint Paul was one of the worst persecutors of Christians, before his conversion. After his conversion, he became one of our greatest saints. (And yet, St. Paul declared that " I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. o, I worked harderr than all of them."-- 1Corinthians 15: 9].

After reading these passages about St.Paul, I feel so much less alone in my difficult walk in Faith.

I am certainly not nominating myself for sainthood, but I can learn so much from the Saints about how to walk this path of Faith:

First, St. Paul said it himself, he worked hard. The road of Faith is not a lazy road.

Second, St. Paul persevered. This is exactly what Jesus means when He says in today's Reading:
"By your perseverance, you will secure your lives." Perseverance means, literally, you fall down, but you get up and keep going, anyway.

Third, you rely on God's Grace. In this Reading, Jesus says, " [Your persecution] will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I Myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute."  I love how here, we are made to understand that, through it all, God is there; we have only to listen!

Fourth: You do NOT have to be perfect! St. Paul began his Faith Walk by stoning Christians. Moses, the founding father of the Old Testament, murdered an Egyptian man whom he saw beating a fellow Hebrew!

At the end of his life, Paul said, " I have fought the good fight , I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." [2 Timothy 4: 7.]

You and I, too, by persevering, by working hard, by being open with a genuine heart to God's Grace and Wisdom, can withstand everything that comes at us, just for being Christians!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Lost Boys of Sudan

" For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost." [ Luke 19:1-10].

The history of Christianity is a history of movement. This history extends back in time, to the days of  the Old Testament, when Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.  Moses and the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness and the desert.

We think today that these stories of the Old Testament are "metaphorical" or archaic. We cannot imagine bondage and years of wandering, or persecution and personal struggle-- all in the name of our Faith, and our cultural and religious freedoms.

But this ancient history, of bondage, trauma and exodus, is very much happening today.

I have recently had the unique opportunity to interview two men who grew up in South Sudan, and who came to America as "The Lost Boys of Sudan".

I first met Dut Tong several years ago. He is impossibly tall, but he is graceful. He moves with a slow, fluid gait, despite his height. But what I notice about him most are the intangibles --his brilliant smile, his peaceful spirit, and his utter joy. It is somehow perfect that "Dut" means patient.

Recently, I also met Dut's cousin, Clement Mou. Clement is articulate, pensive, quick to laugh, patient and gentle. Fittingly, "Clement" means merciful.

These men came from South Sudan, a nation in Africa bordered on the North by Egypt, to the East by Eritrea, to the West by Chad and to the South by Uganda. In the late 1800's Britain ruled Sudan as essentially a British colony. This is how Christianity came to Sudan.

Dut and Clement grew up in a small village in South Sudan, with their parents and siblings. A war had begun in 1983, in North Sudan, against the central government of Sudan. Several groups aligned themselves in the Northern capital of Khartoum: The National Islamic Front, the Militia of North Sudan, and three Misseria tribes locally know as the Maram.

There was talk in their little village of this war, far away in the Northern regions of Sudan. This enemy group was methodically moving from town to town, starting in the northern capital of Khartoum. But in 1987, this war came, in the form of a massive attack, to their own village.

Dut is not even sure how old he was at the time. The people in his village cannot read. There is no school. There are no calendars or computers. Dut estimates that he and Clement were about 11 or 12.

When the marauders came in 1987, they roared through the village in tanks, bulldozing houses, destroying crops, stealing the cattle. They forced friends, family member, neighbors, cousins, to kneel before them, then shot them in front of everyone. Clement watched his father, his brother, his friends being killed. Dut's one sister managed to escape.

It was then, Dut told me, that he knew that the war was no longer only in North Sudan,but that, "This war was for everyone." And he knew that this militant group was targeting Christians, and enslaving children.

Given the violence of the massive 1987 attack, Dut and Clement simply fled. There was no time to try to find relatives, grab any material things, or make a rational plan.

The boys became separated. They had no money for transport or food. They had no mode of transportation. I asked them if they had a horse or a donkey to ride. They chuckled at my naivete.

Dut said, "No, we walked."

At first, separated, each went from one nearby village to another, looking for family. Eventually, their travels became more about finding food and small jobs, in order to survive. Dut watched the cattle for the enemy, hoping in exchange for some food. He was working as a slave, for no pay. If he felt in danger, he escaped the enemy, but fell into their hands again some distance away.

Always, they were looking over their shoulders, alert for the enemy who could kill them at any moment. If someone approached them, they could not discern at first, if they were friend or foe.

Meanwhile, Clement had seen the Maram looting cattle, killing young boys and taking girls as slaves. In fleeing, he knew that he was running away from his parents, Dut, and all his relatives. He managed to join in with some other boys from his village or neighboring towns. They exchanged information, and discovered that all their towns had been wrecked. They began to realize that they would have to leave the area.

Those who fled traveled under cover, in jungles.  They encountered antelope that could gore them, and always, they had to stay away from the lions that could eat them. Clement watched a boy being eaten by a lion. They hid at night, in the jungle, when it was much more difficult to see the enemy in utter darkness. There was persistent famine, and boys were dying of hunger. There was pervasive disease, and no medication.

Separated, Dut and Clement traveled different routes, all the while desperately trying to avoid the men who were shooting Christians.

Dut walked north towards the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. I asked him how long did he think he had walked? He hesitated: " Thousands of miles. Maybe three years." He admitted, with a wry sense of humor, that part of that time, he may have been walking circles, looking for food. Finally, a Good Samaritan put him on a train for the last leg to Khartoum.

It was not safe in Khartoum, though. This was the North Sudan city where the Islamic Front had their main base. Dut could not openly worship or celebrate Christmas. He could be put in prison for being Christian. He stayed in Khartoum for 2 years, but he knew he had to flee again. 

He dearly wanted to return to South Sudan to search for his relatives, but he was scared that even if he did make it back there, the enemies from whom he had escaped so many times, would kill him. He decided to head for Egypt, traveling there by boat.

Meanwhile, Clement had joined with the Sudanese Liberation Army, a Sudanese militia group trying to defeat the enemy. As a young boy, Clement was given military training, to be prepared to protect himself against the enemy, and against animals such as antelope and lions. At times, the SLA sent Clement to the front lines of battle.

Clement was still on the move. He walked East to Ethiopia. He estimates that he walked three months to get there. Clement saw disembodied body parts along his travel route. There were aerial bombardments by the enemy trying to kill as many of these boys as possible.

He arrived in Ethiopia, destitute. He found his way to a refugee camp. At first, they slept ouside. Then, they built their own huts. The United Nations came into the refugee camp in Ethiopia, and brought food and medical supplies.

Clement lived there for 3 years. It was there that he was baptized and that he chose the name "Clement", meaning merciful.

In 1990, when the regime of Heile Salassi was overthrown in Ethiopia, the enemy attacked the refugee camp where Clement was living. A massive aerial attack killed most in the camp. Clement fled, along with a few others. As they crossed the Gulla River, most of them drowned. Clement knew how to swim, though, and he made it across.

Clement ended up in Pachala, on the South Sudan/Ethiopia border. The enemy attacked again.The refugees fled to Kapoeta, then moved to Narus, in South Sudan. Always, the enemy followed them and rained down aerial bombardments,trying to kill as many as they could.

In the latter part of 1992, Clement arrived with others in Kenya. He had walked a month and a half to get there. The UN was consistently following the refugees. In 1999- 2000, the United States Congress received information about the continuing plight of the South Sudan refugees. They were dubbed "The Lost Boys of Sudan". A bill was passed, allowing the boys asylum.

Dut, in Egypt, and Clement, in Kenya each applied for asylum. Clement had lived for 9 years in the camp in Kenya. Although they could have ended up in Canada, Australia or the U.S., miraculously, both arrived in the United States! Through inquiries among the community of The Lost Boys, they found each other.

Dut says that he knows that God saved him! He feels safe in America and is very grateful to be here. He is married and has a beautiful family.

Clement was 24 years old when he arrived. But, at the time of his arrival, he did not even know his age. He was married when he came to America, with one child and another on the way.

Clement is living up to his name today. He is a medical nursing assistant, administering mercy and healing to many in his care. He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and he has neared completion of his MBA, with a concentration in Justice Studies.

When Clement is not working, going to school, or involved with his family, he spends all of his accumulated vacation and holiday time, back in his South Sudan village. He recently went back to his village for two months to teach the village children, under the tree that serves as their school. Clement knows that the villagers, who cannot read or write,will have a much better future if they are educated.

I asked Dut and Clement what they wish for? I am humbled by the fact that they ask nothing for themselves, despite all they have endured. All they want is help for their village. They want their villagers to know God, and to be educated enough to protect themselves.

Dut told me that about 2 million Sudanese people have died from violence, famine and disease since 1983. He says that this war is not over; that this was a war over religion, a Christian war; that today, this war is "everybody's problem". He says that the international community must respond, and that people of strong faith must help.

A few years ago, the South Sudan government shut down the well in their little village. The villagers began to drink water from the lake. Children were dying, one after another. Dut's parish in America donated a new well. Today, the village has clean drinking water, and the children can live.

Now, their wish is for a simple brick building that can serve as a school. They also wish for books and school supplies. In the rainy season, the children cannot be educated under the tree, that has served as their school for so long. Dut says that the men in his village will make the bricks for the building. They would be able to use the building on Sundays as a chapel.

Not long after I contacted Dut, he said, "We are ready to tell our stories to the world."  How powerful it is that, although once "lost", Dut and Clement have been given a voice to tell their stories. I emphasized to them what an honor it is, that they have shared their stories with me.

In this space, I give voice to those who are voiceless. Dut has thanked me for providing faith to the hopeless. He has told me, " I believe that your strong faith has brought us to YOU!"

I call Dut "brother"now, and he calls me "sister". This is absolutely the true meaning of "brothers and sisters in Christ". It is fully what Christ intended, when He said to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The world has become a very small place, dear friends. We are all in this together and if we do not help each other, then we only hurt one another. . . . .

May God bless Dut Tong, Clement Mou, their village of Akochatong, and The Lost Boys of Sudan!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 11, 2013

God of the Living

" Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked Him a question,
' Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise the children for his brother. Now, there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally, the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the  woman be? For the seven had married her. '  Jesus said to them, ' The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die; for they are like angels; and they are the children of God, because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise, even Moses made known in the passage about the [burning] bush, and He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.' "  [ Luke 20: 27-38].

When I first read this Scripture, I was very confused. I was not sure how to take this reading, either in an historical sense, or in a contemporary sense.

What I have found out, first, is that this event occurred when Jesus was going from place to place, teaching about God, His Father, and about how to live.

At that time, there was no Christian church, and no Bible, per se. There was the Torah, the Jewish holy Book, comprised of the first five books of the Bible, from what we now call the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The Sadducees were an aristocratic ruling class, and among the priestly class. They claimed direct lineage from King Solomon. They believed in the Torah only. Therefore, they preached the law.

And --they did not believe in the resurrection.

Then Jesus came, preaching that one can only know the Father through Him; and we find Him talking about one day going back to His Father, who resides in Heaven.

And so, now from this perspective, I can see how the Sadducees would have thought Jesus was radical. Or crazy. Or blasephemous. Or even a criminal, to even attempt to overturn the rational order of the time.

This was a time in Christian history, the time Before Christ, when there were great controversies about who was a "real prophet" and who had the straight lineage to God.

As for my own life, I meditate upon the concept of resurrection. I try to imagine a life where there IS no resurrection: no, not just my own resurrection, but Jesus' before me.

In the month of November, which begins with All Souls Day, we reflect upon the loved ones in our lives who have died. We are grieving their loss. But we also are greatly heartened that they live on!

This is what Jesus is saying when he replies, " [The children of God] can no longer die, for they are like angels;and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. . . . for to Him all are alive."

Many, many years ago, when my mother-in-law died, I was overwhelmed, distraught and even depressed. I knew all about the concept of resurrection. I KNEW that this truly good and loving woman had gone on to Heaven. But to me, I was still stuck in that secular sense that she was lost, gone, dead.

On her deathbed, my mother-in-law whispered to me her prediction that I would someday convert to Catholicism. What she said to me about that seemed so ludicrous at the time, I wondered if she was telling the truth. I concluded that she must be wrong!

It was not until I converted many years later, that I looked up to Heaven and smiled a huge grin up at my mother-in-law.  Finally, I was understanding that this life, and the next, are not just about the Rules of religion, as in the Torah.

No, this life is a continuum of the next life, in the sense that we are all children of God.  And therefore, it makes no sense to debate about rules of marriage in Heaven. In this life, and especially in the next life, we belong, not to any human being,but to God.

Recently, a friend's mother-in-law died. Once again, I felt a profound sense of loss and grief. But my friend corrected me gently, saying, 'No. She is in a much better place. She is no longer in pain. All of her wounds are made perfect now. Actually, I am very happy for her, because of where she is now.'

I see now why my own mother-in-law encouraged me to convert. She was essentially inviting me to the table of the Lord-- in this life, at the Eucharist, yes; and to an even greater table, in the future promise of the resurrection. She knew that if I made my Christian vows and lived lovingly I, too, could rise to Heaven, and we would see each other again.

What an irresistible invitation! My  mother-in-law was not going to die, she was simply going home to her God.  And she is waiting there for me!

And now, my earthly grief can soften, and give way to sacred Joy, because God is not God of the dead, but God of the living.  For, to Him all are alive!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lover of Souls

" Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a . . . . drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. For, You love all things that are, and loathe nothing which You have made; for what You hated, You would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You? But You spare all things because they are Yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for Your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore, You rebuke all things little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in You, O Lord!   [ Wisdom 11: 22 - 12: 2].

[Note: for those reading a Protestant Bible, the Book of Wisdom is considered non-canonical or apochryphal by those denominations. Therefore, the Book of Wisdom does not appear in that Bible].

I grew up in a harsh family, who judged everyone and everything. You would have thought that, as the only daughter and the baby in the family, I would have been cherished; or even immune from derision. But I was not spared their cruelty.

I lived in what was, in essence, a Cold War.  I was the battleground between my parents, who seemed to take their anger at each other out on me.

I was not like anyone else in that family. I was exquisitely sensitive, creative, emotional, spiritual. And my parents were always carping, ungenerous, even abusive.

I gradually internalized that anger and Hate. I was not even aware of it until years later, but I had slowly started to believe that I did not belong in that family. Then, I began to believe that somehow I was simply an awful cosmic mistake. Before long, I began to hate myself.

This dysmorphic view of self can spin out of control. Childhood abuse survivors fight daily cycles of self-loathing. One day, I may experience uncontrollable feelings of "Ugly" burbling up, like so much muddy detritus from a hideous past. The next day, " Worthless" may be the theme. The following day, "Guilty" may stream through my waking consciousness, as if I am still sentenced to bear the Guilt of all the things that I did not do, for the sake of my parents' sad marriage.

By the time I grew up and met my husband, I used to tell him that I felt as inconsequential as a dust mote. Most days, I felt as worthy as a crushed bug.

Sadly, this is all too common for children who endure traumatic childhoods. Elizabeth Smart, kidnapping survivor who now speaks out for other survivors, has said, " I'll never forget how I felt, lying there on the ground. I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn't even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it."

It was a few years ago that a dear friend gave me my first Bible. I found myself paging through the Gospel of Matthew. It was the "self-help" book that I realized I had been longing for. This was reliable advice because it came from God.

I found Matthew 10: 28- 31: " Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . So don't be afraid; you are worth far more than many sparrows."  I suddenly realized that no matter what anyone could do to me, especially physically, no one could kill my soul. I realized that, even if I saw myself as smaller than a sparrow, God loved even the sparrows and He cared for every one of them.

That God could care so much about a tiny sparrow, I found a bit hard to believe at first. But from there, I was able to recognize the cycle of "Ugly", "Worthless", "Guilty" for what it was-- it was the abuse talking! The self-loathing was not "Me". I began to talk to myself and to tell myself that the "Ugly/Worthless/Guilty" rhetoric was a Lie. All were lies.

Recently, I found this Scripture from Wisdom. And tears came to my eyes. Finally I see the Truth about myself. "Lord, You loathe nothing which You have made; for what You hated, you would not have fashioned."

In my life, I have endured much trauma, including facing death many times. And yet I have been saved, I have lived!  I have told myself after each such trauma, "I guess that God has a reason to keep me here." I see now the Truth of Wisdom11-12: "How could a thing remain unless You willed it?"

I am still afraid of harsh judgment. I crave Love and Mercy from others. I am not perfect, but I need a gentle hand of correction. I want to be good, but I fear condemnation. How beautiful it is that Wisdom says: " You rebuke all things little by little, warn them and remind them, . . . . so that they abandon their wickedness."

And in the end, it is so very healing to enter into a loving relationship with God, who encourages us and corrects us like a gentle Father. For He regards each one of us as so very precious. He truly is a lover of souls and His imperishable spirit is in all of us.

It is by this process, little by little, that I believe in You, O Lord! And, from an outpouring of Your Love, I now believe more in myself.

[Related Posting, " My Precious Life", October 2, 2013; " Hating This Life", March 25, 2012.]

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