Is the Spirit Working through You?

Writing the last few pages of a novel is one of the hardest parts for authors I think (second only to going back and re-writing/editing!) You want so badly to be finished and yet, you don’t want to cheat your readers or put forth a halfhearted effort just to get done. I feel like I have to reach down and summon my final energy, and even then I struggle. Time to call in the special forces…recognize I need help…and call on the Holy Spirit. As in most things in life, I can’t do my best work writing without God’s help. And I’m reminded especially in this Easter season that Jesus, after He died and was resurrected, sent the Holy Spirit to remain with His apostles, who were also struggling, assuring them “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything…” (John 14:26) They  were feeling alone, holed up in the upper room, knowing they had work to do to spread the Good News, but not wanting to venture forth, afraid of what they might find out there, afraid of the challenges that lay ahead. “Jesus said to them ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.’ When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…'” (John 20:21-22)

And I believe Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to remain with us and guide and help us today, no matter what we may be facing.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s Will.” (Rom. 8:26-27)  Are you facing a difficult problem or challenge, or just feel frustrated, unsure, down, alone?  Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s Monday morning and you have the blues? This morning I hope you pray with me then: Holy Spirit, please work through me to know and do Your Will, to love and serve others to the best of my abilities, Amen.

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My Lord and My God…

I admit I never set out to write Modern Day Bible Stories…it was not my idea that got me where I am today. I hadn’t even read the Bible all the way  through and when God hit me with the thought, “you should write a modern day novel based on the Book of Job” (which later became my first published book, The Faithful One) I thought in reply, “What?!” At times along my journey I have felt totally unqualified, even fraudulent. I have asked myself and God, “Who am I to re-imagine Bible stories into contemporary novels?” But since He has kept nudging me, I finally surrendered to His will. And three books later (I’m writing my fourth), I have come to believe that this is truly God’s plan for me, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I have come to love this calling of mine.

Still, I am a “doubting Michele” at times when things aren’t happening fast enough and to my liking with my author career.  Have I been obedient or faithful through the journey over the past several years? Hardly. In fact, although I research each book on which I’m writing, I am finally just now finishing reading the Bible cover to cover (I got stuck a few times on books like Numbers and Leviticus). But, like Thomas in yesterday’s Gospel reading, I have made some progress in my faith. So I will choose to focus not only on Thomas’ belief following his doubt, but on the Gospel writer’s call to all of us to continue to believe even when we doubt too: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:26-29)

A friend of mine was recently quoting the Bible and I must admit, although I do know several Bible passages and where to find them, I am still not a Bible whiz. But Thomas’ response has replayed itself inside my head over time, especially recently…for example, when I’m taking Holy Communion, when kneeling in awe before the cross like on Holy Friday, and right now, in meditating about my recent doubts and realizing, God is still here…and has been there all along…supporting me in this calling, in this author journey. And so I hope you pray with me, with hope, faith and love, “My Lord and My God!

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The Battle for Joy

The picture says it all…I was happy in the moment with my granddaughter celebrating her three-year-old birthday sitting beside me and my new one-week-old baby grand-niece in my arm on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful day filled with joy at our house, celebrating with my sister’s family, my son’s family and some of our own family having fun with the traditional ham dinner, Easter egg hunts, dying eggs, the “picking eggs” game and more. I was a little anxious at first but ultimately happy to host Easter at our house for the first time. Yes, we missed those who couldn’t make it, and yes it was a lot of work (my husband was a huge help), but I was overjoyed at how the day turned out. And now the morning after I feel like a balloon punctured, back to work, thinking about things that could have gone a little better…and although I know those thoughts don’t lead anywhere good, sometimes I get mired in them. And then, poof, there goes my joy! Out the window.  So how do I fight to get my joy back, or more importantly, how do I fight to keep it? How do I resist this emotional “hangover?” I think the answer lies in fighting back, or resisting the bad habits and thoughts that creep in…wanting to crawl back in bed (which would make me ultimately feel guilty I wasted time getting nothing accomplished)…wanting to have more fun instead of go back to work (which pays the bills so we can have more fun and not feel guilty about it)…wishing for things to come or worse, wishing things had been a little different (instead of being grateful for all of the good).

If any of you were fortunate to view the “Best Lent Ever” program with Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic, you would know that we actually have to “slay” resistance every day, sometimes multiple times a day, in order to have true happiness and be open to moments of joy. But first we have to know what makes us happy. Of course being with family, especially my granddaughter, makes me happy…but I can’t have that every day, it can’t be Easter Sunday every day. Today is Monday and it’s cloudy and rainy and back to reality. So how do we sustain happiness? Like Matthew Kelly, I usually can have a reasonably happy day if I spend a little time with God, (praying, reading something inspirational/spiritual, etc.), exercising, getting some writing or work done, and if the opportunity presents itself, being of service to others. Just writing these words lifts me out of that “day after” blues because I know I have been through this battle before, and I can win it if I take one step at a time and stay in the present…and focus on the good and let the rest go.

So I’ll end with this Bible quote from today’s Mass reading: “But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. For David says of him: ‘I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope…You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence’…God raised this Jesus…(and) He poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:14 22-33) Don’t worry, be happy, He has risen!

And if you missed it, here’s the whole Dynamic Catholic “Best Lent Ever” series:   http://dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/category/lent-reflections-2017/

 

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If Peter Could Do It…

“Peter built the church on the rock of our faith, his banner over me is love.” I remember the line to this favorite children’s song I learned in Bible school growing up as I sat down to write my weekly Monday morning blog.  I have always thought Peter was a really cool figure in the Gospels. I guess because I could really relate to him. He was so passionate, and yet so flawed…so enthusiastic, but then sometimes too impulsive. He walked on water, and then fell into the water and nearly drowned when his faith wavered. He told Jesus that He couldn’t die as planned because it just didn’t make sense to him, but he couldn’t see God’s plan. He told Jesus he would never deny Him, and then when he was afraid, he denied Him three times. And yet, Jesus picked him, Peter, to build the church. Even though Peter had all of those failures and flaws, Jesus never wavered in His faith in him or love for him. Which should be very comforting to the rest of us. We can make mistakes and we will still be forgiven “seventy times seven” times. (and since seven is a number that represents infinity in ancient Jewish times, this means a lot!)

But I think even more importantly, Peter’s story shows us that we can all achieve greatness despite our failures and flaws, if we have unwavering love and faith in Jesus in the long run. We can all start anew like Peter, put aside the guilt and shame of our mistakes and start over, walking the path and purpose God lays for each of us. For some of us, we will be called to do great things like Peter. Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) and “…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) If I stop to reflect on these statements by Jesus, I realize they sound a little scary. I have been given much…and of course I am here on earth to do God’s work while Jesus is still with the Father in heaven. So what great works am I doing, and what will I be asked to do in the future? If Jesus asked me to walk on water to get to Him, I know I would get out of the boat like Peter and try. But do I have enough faith not to turn back when the storms come and the tide gets rough? I guess only time…and my faith despite my failures…will tell.

This week is the Passion week of our Lord. I pray we have the passion of Peter, despite our faults and failures, to keep building the church and following Christ. If Peter could do it…well, so can we!

 

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What’s It Gonna Take?

It seems like God has been trying to get our attention forever…from the Old Testament days of Genesis  when He saved Noah and his family on the ark and sent a rainbow and of Exodus when He parted the Red Sea and sent manna raining down from heaven, to His works through Jesus in the Gospels – sending His Son to be born of a virgin, turning water into wine, healing the blind man, the lepers, and so many, many more, converting tax collectors and murderers into disciples and saints,  and even raising Lazarus from the dead! And yet, despite so many miracles recorded in the Bible, there are so many stories of people who actually witnessed these miracles and still did not believe. So what about us today, two thousand and seventeen years later? What signs from God are we getting and perhaps ignoring? What do we have to go on to keep believing?

At first, when I asked myself this, I felt a bit uneasy. I actually found myself wondering why God is taking so long to come back to us, for Jesus to appear and do some more “magic” acts, healing acts, miracles. Of course, as soon as that thought crept in I felt guilty. How dare I question God’s ways? And where is my faith? And more importantly, do I forget so quickly what it says in the Bible…that not only is He coming again physically: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (a promise at the very end of the Bible in Revelation, 22:20-21) but He is present among us – within us – right here right now spiritually, and that we are and need to be God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for each other here on earth – that WE are and need to do and be the miracles for each other. (“And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” Eph. 4:11-13)

If I stop long enough to reflect on all of this, I realize I have seen many miracles in my life…the birth and growth of my own children,  the continued sobriety and spiritual awakening in the rooms of recovery both of my own self and of others, finding true love with someone who helps me to be a better person, the start of healing in my father who has cancer, the changes in others’ lives I’ve made through my Bible-based novels (the idea to write them was a God-given miracle in the first place), and so much more.

Lord, let me not grow weary in my faithfulness, and remember that if and when I doubt, I can turn to Your Word for the proof I seek.

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Blind Faith…Lose the “but, what if’s”

Have you ever wished you were blind? Probably not. Sight is such an important sense to most of us. We look forward to seeing our kids and grand-kids grow up, the spring flowers bloom, the sunrise or sunset…but Jesus tells us (in yesterday’s Gospel) that it would be better for some of us if we did not see. In the reading he heals a young man born blind, and yet the Pharisees still deny that He is the Christ. Jesus said, ‘for judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’  (John 9:39-41) I think what Jesus is telling those of us today who can see is to have unconditional faith. You’ve heard of unconditional love…some of us even make an effort to practice it (not perfectly by any means) trying to love even those who hurt us. But unconditional faith…that’s another matter. Sure, we say we believe in a God we cannot see. But do we really believe He will work all things out for our good? Do we really have unwavering faith in His plan for our lives, especially when prayers go unanswered, our dreams aren’t fulfilled, things don’t go according to our plans? That’s the kind of faith we are supposed to have. And yet like the Pharisees or Jews following Moses in the desert, we refuse to believe or we complain and get frustrated.

I was reminded of this late this past Saturday night when my car got a flat tire as I came out from a long day at the Maryland Writers Association Conference in Annapolis. I was blessed to be invited to be a presenter and the day had gone well but had started at 6 am and it was after 7:30 pm and time to drive an hour and a half for home. I came out to find my right front tire completely flat. I was annoyed with my husband  because he hadn’t renewed our Triple A membership yet, and of course he wasn’t there to help me change the tire. (I know, not his fault, I should have renewed myself and should learn how to change a tire!) I ended up driving over a mile, at about 10 mph, to a gas station, other drivers angrily honking their horns at me as I prayed my car would make it without being completely damaged. I started thinking, ‘why God, would you allow my car to break down when I’m so very tired, in a place I’m not familiar with late at night, when I’m broke and don’t have money to shell out to get it fixed?’  I’m thankful I had driven to the conference along my friend, Faith. (ironic, huh?) She stayed with me during the hour-and-a-half it took to finally get a tow truck driver to take off the tire, patch it and put it back on again, and get on the road for home. As we sat on the rear bumper of the car waiting for what seemed to me like an eternity, she reminded me that God was probably just helping us avoid a far greater mishap down the road. That turned my attitude around from frustration to gratitude. And then on the long drive home I complained that my writing career isn’t taking off as fast as I’d like and I’m going broke. She reminded me of God’s timing. And I countered with “but what if it never does take off?” And she reminded me that He would have never put the dream to write Modern Day Bible Stories on my heart if he didn’t want me to be successful at it.

One of the most courageous people of all time is Helen Keller. At 19 months of age an illness rendered her deaf and blind. Helen’s parents hired 20-year-old Anne Sullivan to work with Helen, teaching her words and helping her to “see” and “hear” by spelling words into her hands. Helen in turn became an author and  motivational public speaker helping many, many others who were deaf and blind. I believe God sent Anne to Helen just as he encourages each of us by putting others in our paths to help and guide us, like he put Faith with me Saturday night.  My favorite quote of all time comes from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” When things seem dark and dismal to us, we need to see through Faith’s eyes, Helen’s eyes, the eyes of our own faith.   Lord, help me to have blind faith and to see You and Your wonderful plan for my life by opening the eyes of my heart.

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Fake it ’til you make it!

Just do it! I heard the Nike slogan in my head this morning as I debated (for the umpteenth time on a Monday morning) whether I should get up at 6 a.m., brave the cold and venture to the local gym to work out and swim laps…or sleep a little longer. Luckily, my better self won and now I feel physically and emotionally better as I sit and type this afterward! I think we need to tell ourselves to “just do it” when it comes to spiritual growth as well. We need to schedule or make time for prayer and meditation. Five or ten minutes the first thing every morning spent praying and meditating usually makes for a better day, no matter what happens. Making a gratitude list even when times are rough often can lift us out of a downward spiral of depression and anxiety. And often, just being nice to people – even those who rub us the wrong way – takes daily practice, but makes us feel better about ourselves in the long run. That last one isn’t easy…praying for those who “persecute” us, smiling at the nasty person who cuts us off in line or in traffic, complimenting someone who never ever compliments us in return. But often, if we practice something long enough, it becomes a habit. Those in recovery have heard the saying, “fake it ’til you make it,” meaning just don’t drink one day at a time and eventually you will become not only a sober, but better person.

I’m not suggesting by all of this that you be fake as in phony to other people. But faking good behavior even when we’re not feeling it…thinking of others when we act, instead of acting out of how we think or feel, can be a good habit. It may start off with little things, like smiling and saying hello to a stranger on the street even though you just experienced something that made you sad, hurt or angry. Asking how someone else is doing even though you may not be doing so great. Praying for the happiness of another, even when that same person has caused you unhappiness. We sometimes can’t tell when others are feeling much worse than we can even imagine, and that kind word or gesture we show might just be what it takes to make their day better, and lift us out of our own funk as well.

St. Paul encourages us to do this very thing, and we will be rewarded as well as the one to whom we show mercy, kindness and charity: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (NIV, Phil. 4:8) And of course, Jesus tells us the same: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same…But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! I think I’ll start acting on it today.

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