Wednesday, April 27, 2016
" Jesus said, ' Now is the Son of Man glorified . . . My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how we will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." --[John 13: 31-33A, 34-35].
[April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.]
Each year in April, I write a piece on child abuse.
I would call child abuse a "hidden suffering." Families with abuse live in a "closed system." -- No outsider gains intimate access to the home or family. And, no one from inside the family discloses the truth of what is going on, to people outside.
My mother used to say, "What happens in these four walls, stays in these four walls." And, we kept the windows and doors closed and locked at all times, even on a very hot day, the windows shrouded in three layers of blinds, curtain and drapes.
The effects of child abuse are shattering:
More than 90% of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence, a situation much more likely to arise if the woman was abused as a child.
About 80% of mental illness is attributed to a past history of child abuse. The effects include anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and even multiple personality disorder and bipolar disorder.
Simply being bullied as a child changes the brain, and new studies show that these changes have permanent effects.
Child abuse survivors are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. A man who scored above 6 on the ACES Test ( Adverse Childhood Experiences Study), has a 4600 percent greater chance of abusing drugs.
Child abuse survivors are much more likely to harm themselves through cutting or suicide attempts.
Child abuse survivors are more likely to abuse their own children, or be involved in an abusive relationship.
Child abuse survivors are more likely to suffer chronic physical conditions such as respiratory, cardiac, gastroenterological; or to suffer from obesity.
Child abuse survivors can suffer from wounded spirituality, perhaps from a belief that God could have or should have rescued them, but somehow, He abandoned them.
Female child abuse survivors are less likely to be able to enjoy healthy relationships and to marry.
Many of the homeless in America experienced childhood trauma. Robin Karr-Morse, co-author of "Scared Sick", writes "The homeless and mentally ill are the castoff remnants of emotional trauma."
In my childhood, I experienced emotional abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and on and on. I faced death at least 6-8 times, yet I survived!
I SHOULD be: dead; in prison; alone; homeless; addicted; suicidal; in a mental institution; an abusive mother; obese; in and out of hospitals; angry at the world; isolated; rejecting God.
I am not in jail.
I am not harming myself.
I am married.
I am a loving mother.
I am not an alcohol or drug abuser.
I embrace each day for what it brings.
I have many friends.
I have a beautiful home and neighborhood.
I go out each day to see who I can help or uplift.
I LOVE my God!
I am someone who has BEATEN the statistics. I am a MIRACLE! And, as a Miracle, I am living proof of God's Love. I am living proof of God Himself.
Make no mistake, I struggle every day. I have a chronic lung disease. I struggle with anxiety, with my emotions, with chronic depression; and with crushing guilt for no reason at all.
The single most important thing that has saved me, though-- is LOVE.
And, that LOVE comes from God. For God IS LOVE.
No, it was not God who abandoned me. It was God who SAVED me.
God was -- and IS -- my Father and my Mother.
People who know me say that I am transformed now. They see a glow about me, which they call, "The Joy of the Lord."
For, I see "a new Heaven and a new earth. The former Heaven and the former earth have passed away. A loud voice from the throne (is) saying, 'Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.' " -[Revelation 21: 1-5A]
My God walks with me in Love each and every day. My family, my friends, my neighbors, my fellow parishioners at my church, my "prayer buddies" and all of YOU-- walk with me in Love.
Abuse kills and destroys, like the thief who comes only to "kill and steal and destroy. BUT, Jesus has come that I may have life and have it to the fullest." - [John 10:10]."
Love creates Life. Love sustains Life. Love heals the broken and wounded. Love never ends.
[Related Postings: "The Legacy of Abuse", April 24, 2014; "Warning Signs of Abuse", May 10, 2013; "Rescuing the Invisible Child", April 18, 2012; "STOP Abuse", April 14, 2011.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016 All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
"It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area, walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Israelites gathered around Him, saying, 'How long will you keep us in suspense?' If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.'
Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. . . You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.' ".-- [John 10: 25-30].
In my house growing up, my family was told about Jesus, when we went to church for all those years, before my grandparents died. But my family did not believe. That became very apparent, after my last grandparent passed on, and we quit going to church.
Then, my family's anti- Christian rhetoric came out-- how Christians are the greatest sinners, the weak and the foolish. "Like sheep", my parents said. That is, followers, and NOT leaders and doers.
I look back at my parents' life; and I wonder WHY the clear message of God's Grace and of the loving protection of Jesus, fell on deaf ears?
My mother's grandmother sat in her easy chair and read her Bible daily. When she had made it all the way from Genesis to Revelation, she turned the pages back to the very beginning, and began reading all over again. When my mother came home from school to talk about her day, her grandmother encouraged her with, "Have faith."
My father's mother was Irish Catholic. She brought food to the folks who were starving during the Great Depression. She donated a Christmas gift to each child at the orphanage, every year. She would never miss an opportunity to press a few dollars into the hand of a person who was struggling.
So, how could my parents have turned away from God?
Jesus answers this Himself: "I did tell you, but you do not believe."
Sometimes, the seeds fall upon rocky ground, or amongst thorns, and they bear no fruit. -[Mark 4: 1-9].
I think that today, in our modern times, we believe in Science and technology, more than we believe in God. So many of us have lost what it means to hear His voice. We read this Scripture in John as no more than metaphor, or even superstition.
HOW CAN we hear Jesus' voice?
When I was growing up, there was no Faith in my family, there was no God -- and therefore, there was no Love. As young as age five, I had to put myself down for naps, and find food. A sibling would hit me; and call me ugly every day. When I asked my family, "Don't you love me?" -- they would mock me for even asking.
As a young girl-- as girls often do-- I dreamed of whom I would marry. By the time I was a teen, I had it all figured out. He would have sandy hair, and wear tortoise rim glasses. His voice would be kind. He would be big-hearted and laugh easily. I imagined him wearing a Harris tweed jacket. I even had this "premonition" that his name would be Paul.
About a month before I met my future husband, I told my mother that I was not going to marry just anyone. We would have to be soul mates. My mother wept. She told me, "You are waiting for the impossible."
A month later, I met my future husband. He had sandy hair. His voice was kind. He laughed at my silly jokes. He was the most generous guy I had ever met. I said to him, "I thought you would be wearing tortoise rim glasses." He said, "I was thinking of getting them, the next time I order new glasses." I said, "I thought you would be wearing a Harris tweed jacket." He said, "I have one hanging in my closet, I didn't wear it today."
THEN I said, "I thought your name would be Paul." He looked at me strangely, then said, "Paul is my Saint's name." We were speechless.
As we talked further, I had this odd feeling that I had known this man all my life -- and yet, we had just met!
I felt confused. I had shut down as a child in my family home. I had trained myself to show no emotion, I had largely stopped eating, I stayed awake for hours at night until I was sure everyone was asleep, I had taken a vow of silence. When I was 18, I was leaving an escape kit at a girlfriend's house, in case I had to leave home suddenly. I truly WAS lost. A baby lamb without a friend in the world.
I had no idea at the time that God sends people into our lives to model and embody His Love. What was this feeling that I had around this kind, gentle, good man, who was my future husband?--- Except Love. . .
God was calling me to a safer, much more loving and loved place. THIS was God's voice. He was showing me : THIS is Love. THAT is not. God was calling me into His realm of Love and Compassion. I was lost, and God was bringing me to Him, through Love.
Years later, I spoke to my church pastor. He explained to me that God DOES rescue his lost lambs. Often, God does this by sending another human being to love, as He does.
Maybe we don't pray often enough. Or spend time in Christian community. I wonder how often we receive God's insistent voice, but we don't hear Him? How often do we discount what we hear as coincidence? Or, futile longings for something Mighty and Eternal, that we fear does not even exist?
To hear the voice of the Good Shepherd -- of Jesus AND the Father, (since Jesus and the Father are One) -- seek the Love.
IF God calls you closer to Him, it is never for evil, always for the good. He wants us to pray, to talk to Him, to ask for guidance. IF He calls you, answer Him and draw nearer. The more we talk to Him, the more readily He answers.
IF God sends someone who gives unconditional Love-- patience, good humor, affection, hope, generosity, gentleness, peace, and zeal for all that is good-- this is God's Love, calling to you, through the medium of a fellow human being. Love that person back.
God is Love. Love is God. Love heals. God heals.
[Related Postings: "The Lost Shepherd", April 25, 2015; "The Good Pastor", July 14, 2012; "Where is My Flock?", April 29, 2012; "His Flock", May 16, 2011.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, April 11, 2016
" Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons and two other of His disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.' They said to him, 'We also will come with you.' So they went and got into the boat, but that night, they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, 'Children, have you caught anything to eat?'
They answered Him, 'No.'
So He said to them, 'Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.'
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.'
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, 'Bring some fish you just caught.'
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Do you love me more than these?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
He then said to Simon Peter a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Tend my sheep.'
Jesus said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?'
and he said to Him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.' " --[John 21:1-19.
My great grandfather was the captain of a fishing vessel, in the coldest waters of North America. He navigated the sailing schooner by sight of the constellations, setting forth as soon as the ice melted in the spring. He and his crew did not return until mid-December when the ice was forming on the windows of his family's home.
He and his men ate fish on board, and hard biscuits called "tack'. He paid his men in fish. He paid his bills in fish. Fish were their livelihood. Fish WERE life.
He and his fishermen faced many days of rough weather, sometimes catching no fish at all. Sometimes, they came back to port with few fish. Sometimes, they came back to port, missing a few men.
The fishermen developed many superstitions to "keep them safe" -- never sailing on a Friday, and certainly not a Friday the 13th, since that is the day Jesus was crucified. Never even saying the numeral 13, but saying "12+1". Naming their vessel after a woman, said to be good luck. Never christening the vessel with a name of thirteen letters.
Because of my family history, I can feel in my heart the danger and the risk that these men were feeling as sailors and fishermen.
Strikingly, in this Scripture, though, the fishermen/disciples come to rely, not on superstitions, nor on only themselves, but on Jesus. Not only is there fish waiting for them already cooked on shore, but Jesus has ensured that their net is filled to overflowing.
In so many parables in the Bible, Jesus feeds His beloved people: I think of the multiplication of loaves to feed five thousand; the water turned into wine at Cana; the parable of the great dinner for the poor and for those enslaved and crippled, all gathered in to the feast.
This scene of Jesus cooking His disciples the fish and bread reminds me of the Greatest Meal of All, the Last Supper, and our Eucharist even today.
This feeding of US is not a "one-way street", however. Jesus says, "If you love me, feed my lambs."
You know that I came from a household that was rich in provisions, but poor in spirit. I was sometimes not fed and had to go out finding food for myself. No one ever hugged me or said, "I love you" -- and no one showed it either. I received black eyes, I was told, "Stop crying, you are not hurt."
But, even so-- or maybe because of this-- I remember every kindness shown to me:
The frail and poor widow in my neighborhood who would give me bread and butter, and a glass of milk for a snack. She never hesitated to give me another slice of bread from her own pantry, if she noticed me ravenously eating the first one.
The little girl's mom who let me swim in their home pool, then gave me hot chicken soup to warm up.
The neighbor who gave me a ride from school, when I was walking home alone in the pouring rain.
The Jewish teacher who made a special request that I help her decorate the classroom Christmas tree after school. Then, she let me pick a glittering trinket out of her prize box. I felt so special to be chosen that day!
The entire classroom of students who clapped for me, after I read a poem -- when at that time, I had largely stopped speaking.
The librarian who told me that I had a beautiful smile-- when I was called ugly every day.
Jesus feeds us in SO many ways-- answering our prayers for health; drawing near to us for spiritual comfort; feeding our spirit in the Eucharist so that we may enjoy another week of His Peace in our hearts.
I decided not to go "back to Galilee"-- in other words, I decided not to regress and wallow in the fruitless harvest of my own family.
If Jesus feeds us in so many miraculous ways, the very LEAST we can do is to feed others. . .
I do not just mean literally donating to the local food pantry or sharing our bounty of food with the lonely widow.
I also mean feeding others' souls with kindness, joy and love.
Sometimes, I think that we are such fierce individualists, that we forget what it is to be connected in a personal way. We forget that we need each other AND we need Jesus. Jesus reminds us in this Scripture that we belong to Him AND to each other.
We say, "How are you?" -- but we don't necessarily want to hear the answer. We no longer place such vital importance on sharing a meal or breaking bread together. We become estranged from family--- sometimes, we even forget why? We call someone "friend", but we have not been in the same room for over thirty years.
Today, I "feed" everyone: hugging members of my church; dropping off flowers or produce at a neighbor's house, just because; giving a wonderful friend the gift that I had at first bought for myself; not just sharing a recipe with a neighbor, but buying her the ingredients; picking one friend out of my contacts list each day and sending her a note of encouragement; making my husband his favorite meal, or fixing his coffee just right; thanking the cook behind the counter who prepared my meal.
When we DO lovingly feed each other, we honor Jesus. We love each other, as He loved us. We love our neighbors, as ourselves. We understand that Love is the greatest command of all.
When we nurture others, we recognize the Christ in everyone. "Feed my lambs".
[Related postings: "Fishing Manual", Jan. 24, 2014; "The Kindness of Strangers", July 5, 2013; "Do You Love Me?", April 4, 2013.].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, April 4, 2016
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' --[John 20: 19-31].
FEAR: Feelings of trauma and terror can make us anxious, paralyzed. We can exhibit so much emotion, it can come out as anger. Or, we may simply shut down.
Coming from a highly dysfunctional and even abusive family, I have lived in fear most of my life. To "make the abuse go away" I tried, first, not showing emotion, then not feeling emotion, not coming out of my room, wearing dark colors so I could become less visible, eating less so I did not grow too big, keeping watch at night, and finally, ceasing to speak.
I had built a "wall" around myself, as real to me as the doors of the upstairs room were to the disciples. My mantra became, 'No one touches me. And, I touch no one.'
This Scripture actually comforts me, in a way; because even the disciples-- who had lived with Jesus, who had walked with Him, eaten with Him, prayed with Him, witnessed His triumphant march into Jerusalem and His death on the cross--- reacted in the end with fear. They ultimately locked themselves into a room in the immediate aftermath of the Crucifixion.
How utterly human it is to react in fear. We freeze. We hide. We hope that it all just goes away.
It has been a long walk back for me, into humanity again. Years ago, I started eating more. I mean, how can I stay strong enough to fight my demons, if I am too famished to get through the day?
I had to learn that I no longer have to wait until everyone else in the house is asleep, to feel safe enough to fall asleep myself.
I had to learn to speak again. I had spent my childhood in my room, reading library books, writing poetry, singing along to music. I knew HOW to speak, but I was afraid to . . .
After I finished my education, though, I had to find employment. I could leave my family and strike out on my own. The first few times I had to answer the phone at work, I was terrified. But I made myself do it, and gradually it all became easier.
These were the basic building blocks of life-- eating, sleeping, speaking, working.
Then, I met my husband. Feelings started to come back. It was sort of a roller coaster. At first, I was confused. Then, I rightly recognized it for what it all was -- It was Love! God comes in the form of Love, you know. The rest follows.
But The Wall essentially remained. It did not take much to happen in life, for me to go back in my "cave" again. Years later, I went to my pastor at the time and told him, "I have built a Wall around myself. I want to come out, but I am terrified to tear it down. HOW do I do it?" He asked me, 'Where are you now with this?' I said, 'I am in the cave and the light is shining in from the outside. But, I cannot come out.'
He thought for a moment and said, "You tear it down, the same way you built it. Remove the Wall, one brick and one stone at a time."
This seemed like sound, although metaphorical, advice. The process itself, however, is not as easy as it sounds.
The resounding message that I get from this Scripture is that it does you no good to hide. Jesus knows exactly where you are! And He will come and find you. He will stand in your midst. His urgent call will not cease.
I had spent so many years in the darkness of my cave, looking out at the bright light. I longed to escape my self-imposed prison, but . . . the world outside seemed so loud, so jarring, unsafe, often violent and disturbing. This is how the disciples must have felt! Their fears were not irrational, given the traumatic events that they had just experienced.
What I eventually conclude is that we may feel fear, but in order to become fully human, we must overcome the fear.
Jesus sent the disciples out of that darkened room. He was depending upon them to go about preaching and proclaiming the Good News.
He did not send them out alone, however. They went together. And Jesus was with them, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed the Spirit upon them. He gave them Peace.
The apostles eventually dared to go to places even near Jerusalem, where their fear was greatest, to openly heal great crowds of the sick; even though the authorities had warned them with violence if they persisted. [After Pentecost].
I am not going to say that my Wall is completely down. I still struggle daily with some of the very real defenses that I put up to protect myself. But, I am no longer inside a cave, looking out, fearing to venture forth.
I have had a tremendous number of stones to roll away. It is exhausting, daunting, tough work. Sometimes, I achieve triumphs. Sometimes, I regress, then I surge forward again.
What it comes down to is this -- I believe that we all have some walls, the fears and obstacles that keep us locked away. The question becomes -- How bold can I be for my God? How bold will YOU be for YOUR GOD?
Jesus knows His wounds. He knows YOUR wounds. Despite this, He proclaims, "Peace be with you!" He calls out of exile. Into the Light.
[Related Postings: "Roll Away the Stone, April 17, 2014; "Doubt", May 1, 2011; "The Benefit of Doubt", April 29, 2014; "Peace Be With You", April 19, 2015; "The Truth of His Wounds" April 13, 2012; "Healed By His Wounds", May 15, 2014; "His Divine Mercy", April 7, 2013.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.