Almighty Timing

Teaching religion to teenagers can be quite challenging, let alone on Saturday mornings. Throughout the years, I have had students who excel at making my task of getting through to them nearly impossible. But I remember what a friend said to me, “As long as we reach at least one.” And this year is no different.

We’ll call him Joe for the sake of anonymity, and he was surely put in my life this year to test my catechetical dedication and patience. Even though I had a one-on-one talk with him a couple of weeks ago, and although he seems to be coming around a bit, most of the time I could just kick him out of class, because it would just be so much easier, you know? This past Saturday was one of those days…we were barely into our class and I was already this close to giving up on him and telling him not to let the door hit him on his way out.

Then, I had an unexpected visit from an ex-student from five years ago. We’ll call her Christie. Back then Christie was sorta like Joe…she was quite a challenge…a test to the limit. Right after her Confirmation, Christie came back to CCD to help out.An unlikely candidate, I thought at the time.And she ended up staying and teaching until this August when she left to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida. One of those surprise students. I’ve had a number of those throughout the years. Anyway, like I said, she came up to my class to visit me and told me how well she is doing up at UF, how happy she is there, and that she started going to mass at St. Augustine, the church across from campus that I myself used to attend when I was up at UF. That was wonderful, I thought, and I felt so proud of her. But it didn’t stop there. She also told me that once she got settled in, she looked into it, and is now teaching CCD up there. As she shared these things with me, amidst her many warm hugs, she thanked me for everything she says I had done for her, adding that she has not forgotten my class or the things I spoke about.

After a few minutes, Christie said goodbye and my attention returned to my class. As I faced my students once again, now with a grin on my face, not only from satisfaction, but mostly from realizing how God had just winked at me and how His timing never fails, I continued the challenging task of teaching that Saturday’s class, Joe included, with a surge of patience and a renewed and illuminating sense of purpose. Right, my friend, God’s funny in that way…the way He winks at us…with almighty timing…again and again.

I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.– Albert Einstein

 

 

What is the mountain in your life? Are you wandering like a lost sheep?

        
        What a time we are living in.  All the suffering we are witnessing.  Not to mention those adversities we experience up close and personal.   Bringing Why and Doubt knocking at our doors.  We become discouraged, disappointed, we falter, we stop praying.  Does nothing for our faith, does it?  It’s a vicious circle.  Causing even those rich in it to struggle to hang on to it, and those shaky in it, to loose it.    How do we strengthen it, how do we regain it?  There’s plenty of scriptures from which to interpret which touch the subject of why suffering is allowed and how to regain, hold on to, and grow in our faith.  We can read them, try to apply them through our own hardships and, if we’re lucky, be filled with a sense of satisfaction.  Easier said than done for most of us.  Why is that?  Because we live in the “fast food” era for one.   We want everything “yesterday.”  When faced with our own adversities we want swift resolutions; when faced with loss of faith, we want it back in a flash.  And on top of that, we want this without having to put much effort into it.  Think again.

        I can tell you I’m no stranger to adversity, from losing loved ones to being told of the chance of our son not walking out of his surgery.  Being visited plenty by Why and Doubt, and feeling like the “lost sheep” on many occasions, wandering in my lack of faith like a lost soul.  And folks, this while already having the faith seed planted in me.  That seed is priceless and powerful, but it doesn’t grow on its own.  Turns out we must cultivate and water it so that it can grow into a plant to such a great extent that even a mountain of earth cannot stop it from pushing upward.  How do we cultivate our faith?  How can we make it so strong that it can move that mountain?  With prayer.  It works.  I know first hand how faith can be regained, maintained.  This may take a while, however, because this doesn’t fall in the fast food category.  Patience plays a big role.  So does willingness and effort.  Case in point:

There was a very religious man named Jim, who lived near a river. One day, the river rose over the banks and flooded the town, and Jim was forced to climb onto his porch roof. While sitting there, a man in a boat came along and told Jim to get in the boat with him.   Jim said, “No, that’s okay. God will take care of me.”   So, the man in the boat drove off.

The water rose higher, so Jim climbed onto his roof. At that time, another boat came along, and the person in that one told Jim to get in.   Jim replied, “No, that’s okay. God will take care of me.”   The person in the boat then left.

The water rose even more, and Jim climbed onto his chimney. A helicopter came along and lowered a ladder for him. The woman in the helicopter told Jim to climb up the ladder and get in.  Jim said, “That’s okay.”   The woman said, “Are you sure?”   Jim replied, “Yeah, I’m sure God will take care of me.”

Finally, the water rose too high and Jim drowned. Jim got to heaven and was face-to-face with God.  Jim said to God, “You told me that you would take care of me! What happened?”

God replied, “Well, I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What else did you want?”

        God helps those who help themselves. And the mere fact that we are conscious of that empty and lost feeling inside of us when we lack faith is a great sign and what pushes us to strive to regain that flame in our hearts.  God’s plan and purpose, beyond our control.  Our faith, totally within our control.  It’s ours for the taking.  Be sure that, like the lost sheep, He will carry you back to Him.  All you need is desire.  Just grow in your faith and watch God set about the removal of your mountain.  Be patient yes, but get on it.

-by Connie Perez

            
                                             [“The readiness is all.” – Shakespeare].

           P  Please consider the environment before printing this article.

Rhyme and Reason: We Are Connected

In this great circle of life, rest assured — we are all connected. There is a specific plan and purpose set out for each of us, and many times, these plans intertwine, taking us in and out of each other’s lives, at precise moments. It is a set up — the place, the time, the people.

“We Are All Connected”

We are connected, you and I..
Like Wind and Rain and Earth and Sky..
We are joined by Heart and Soul
Created from God’s Earthen mold;

We daily grow through Thought and Deed
God’s Holy Love is our Seed..
Nurtured by our Faith and Love
Blessed by Guidance from above;

We are Light and Laughter, Joy..
We are Man, Woman, Girl and Boy
And we each Sing and Mourn and Weep
And what we sow we also Reap;

Connected by our Sacred Breath
We all share Life and suffer Death..
So we must Nurture one another
For we all are Sister, Brother;

Not Country, Religion, even Race
Should cause us Hate nor bring Disgrace
One blood are we, one Heart to beat
All gathered ’round Lord Jesus feet;

We are connected, you and I
Kin to those who run, who fly
To all God’s Creatures on this Sod
We are all Children of God….

-Linda Steffey

———————————————-

“We Will Meet Again”

We will meet again my friend,
A hundred years from today
Far away from where we lived
And where we used to play.

We will know each others’ eyes
And wonder where we met
Your laugh will sound familiar
Your heart, I won’t forget.

We will meet, I’m sure of this,
But let’s not wait till then…
Let’s take a walk beneath the stars
And share this world again.

-Ron Atchison

———————————————–

I sought my soul,
But my soul I could not see.
I sought my God,
But my God eluded me.
I sought my sisters and my brothers,
And here I found all three.

Author Unknown

————————————————

He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win!
We drew a circle that took him in.

-Edwin Markham

———————————————————

Your love, Jesus, is an ocean
with no shore to bound it.
And if I plunge into it, I carry
with me all the possessions
I have. You know, Lord,
what these possessions are

the souls you have seen
fit to link with mine.

-St. Therese of Lisieux

——————————————————–

“The Arrow and the Song”

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, who has sight so keen and strong
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long after, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroken;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

———————————————————————–

“The Special List”

I have a list of folks I know
all written in a book,
And every now and then
I go and take a look.

That is when I realize
these names they are a part,
not of the book they’re written in,
but taken from the heart.

For each Name stands for someone
who has crossed my path sometime,
and in that meeting they have become
the reason and the rhyme.

Although it sounds fantastic
for me to make this claim,
I really am composed
of each remembered name.

Although you’re not aware
of any special link,
just knowing you, has shaped my life
more than you could think.

So please don’t think my greeting
as just a mere routine,
your name was not
forgotten in between.

For when I send a greeting
that is addressed to you,
it is because you’re on the list
of folks I’m indebted to.

So whether I have known you.
for many days or few,
in some ways you have a part
in shaping things I do.

I am but a total
of many folks I’ve met,
you are a friend I would prefer
never to forget.

————————————————————————-

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

        
        I was walking with my hubby on our way back from lunch the other day, as we came across a pair of pants and a shirt just lying on the pavement, and I said jokingly, “Oh look at that, someone was vaporized…beam me up Scotty.”  It was pretty funny at the time and we had a good laugh.  Later on, in one of my delayed reactions, as is usually the case with me, I dissected the incident.   I couldn’t help but tying that sight to that of a soul exiting the body.  You know, the type of thing we’ve all seen played out in movies, like Ghost.  Soon one thought led to another and I found myself once again contemplating the mystery that life after death is and the ways in which this mystery manifests itself in our lives.

        Take dreams for example.  They say they are by far the most common connection.  At the risk of sounding a bit uncanny, I’ll share one I had recently about my sister wherein I’m washing the dishes and I hear a “psssst…” coming from the living room, I anxiously peek out of my kitchen door and see her standing by the front door looking at a framed scripture I have by it that reads “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  It seemed so real, so clear, I began to hyperventilate both out of fear and elation and tried speaking, but the words were barely coming out:  “Do you love me?  Do you love me?”  She walks closer to me mouthing the words I love you, and I walk over to her with open arms and as I try to embrace her she disappears.  I awoke suddenly hyperventilating just as in my dream.  Now, that’s not the first time I have dreams of the sort involving loved ones I’ve lost, I’ve had many.  I suppose it has a lot to do with how close I was to these individuals and how much they remain in my thoughts.  Sometimes I feel aware of a loved one’s presence through an occurrence which may seem ordinary, like certain signs.  These manifestations, while seldom “water cooler” conversation, are nevertheless experienced by many.  I know, however, there are quite a number of skeptics out there about this sort of thing, but surely it can be argued that what is coincidence to one person is another’s message from beyond, wouldn’t you agree?  I’m sure some of you have had similar incidents involving dreams and signs.

        The whole process concerning the loss of a loved one, whether to death or to life (the latter a topic for another time), is certainly not a walk in the park, and one for which we are never the same again.  It is said that time heals all wounds.  I would say some wounds yes, I don’t know about “all.”  I think what time does do is that it affords us a period, a phase, within which to fully accept the will of the Lord and be at peace with it, that’s time’s healing power and we welcome it no doubt.  As for the missing part…I for one miss those I’ve lost more and more as time goes by.  Just recently while on this subject, a friend said to me “I will never be the same again,” I agreed with her and added that for me, those pieces of my heart missing after each loss…well, you gotta go through it to understand.  Sure, our faith, our blessings and the support from family and friends help us get through a loss, so yes, our lives fall back into place, eventually, our surroundings, our work, our friends, our activities, but not us, we, in part, are never the same again.  Luckily, however, those of us rich in faith and abundant in memories are capable of experiencing these wonderful dreams, of seeing these wonderful signs.  Compelling means of keeping our loved ones close to our hearts, vivid in our minds.


        In this ever-changing world of ours there is one thing we can count on and that is God to be changeless and dependable.  We can always rely on Jesus Christ, whose love and grace is eternal, to get us through our most trying times.  In His infinite grace and wisdom He made sure to give us faith.  This gift from Him has been my constant.  How magnificent that our faith in God allows us to remain hopeful.  Hopeful that all that we once shared with those we’ve lost is not gone but instead carries on to be transcended in the life to come.  It is like that for me.  I hope for those of you who share in my faith, it is as well.  For after all, it is this faith, this hope that helps us prepare for that difficult day when our significant others, when we ourselves, are beamed up like Scotty.

        May the light of your faith so shine that it will illuminate the heart of another.


                                “…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
                                       And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

This and That For the Soul…To What End?

        
        So much material written now a days about what’s good for the soul.  Some of it good advice no doubt.  Advice some of us try to apply to our daily lives, but which to few of us really commit, sort of like the diets we go on.  I’ve done my share of reading about what’s good for the soul and even given a shot at applying some of these suggestions.  And somewhere along the road I ask myself, to what end is what I’m doing good for my soul?  I’ve found that when it comes right down to it, only one thing I do is good in every aspect for my soul – – prayer.  I often tell my students that prayer is to the soul as water is to the body.  I believe there are times when no matter what we do, all the discussion, all the thought, all the logic, do nothing to help us get into that right inner place.  Only prayer can help us get there and keep us there.  How, when, and where we do it it’s all up to each individual, but how often we do it is the essential thing.  

        What a difference prayer can make in a moment, in 24 hours, in a lifetime.  You’d be surprised at its power.  And to what end?  Well, this life is good, but keep the fork because the best is yet to come.  Yes, as Christians, we should live our lives striving to reach this ultimate goal, eternal life, no?.  Prayer can get us there because through it the soul falls into place, into the right place, and like a domino effect, it affects everything else around us.  As believers, as faithful people, prayer is not an option.  Not if you want the best that’s yet to come.  So let prayer kick off the domino effect in your life.  No, really.


In case you’re not familiar with the expression “Keep the fork, the best is yet to come”:

There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things “in order”, she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.

She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply. “This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you doesn’t it?” the woman asked. “Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say ‘keep your fork’. It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie or something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What’s with the fork?’. Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork….the best is yet to come”.

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She KNEW that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and her favorite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.

        So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you oh so gently, that the best is yet to come…

-by Connie Perez

Travel for the Soul: Exploring the National Parks – Wyoming / South Dakota

Ahhhhh…Wyoming…my favorite state. Here’s the first of the “Exploring the National Parks” entries, although it was not the first national park we visited.  We made this trip back in 1999.  We started planning it with the sole intention of traveling to Wyoming just to visit Yellowstone National Park.  In the process, we learned there were other nearby sites which were too interesting to pass up.  Like Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and Devil’s Tower and Grand Teton National Park, also in Wyoming.  From its broad high plains to its soaring mountains, Wyoming is a state like no other.

Yellowstone National Park:

Old Faithful                               Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Pool                    Bison
     

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, as the first national park in the United States.  It is located mostly in Wyoming, with parts of it extending into Montana and Idaho.  Yellowstone is known for the variety of wildlife living in the park, but mostly for the 300 geysers and 10,000 geothermal features found there.  Like Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world, errupting every and Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the U.S.  There are also many hiking and horseback trails.  This national park is an amazing place!

General Info.:  http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/index.htm
                    http://www.wyomingtourism.org/cms/d/discover_wyoming.php

Accommodations: 
Inside the Park –
Old Faithful Inn
http://www.travelyellowstone.com/old-faithful-inn-96.html
Other:
http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/yellowstone.htm

Grand Teton National Park:

        Teton Range as viewed from Jackson Hole

      

Grand Teton National Park is home to one of the most recognizable mountain landscapes in the world, and it is located only a few miles south of Yellowstone National Park.  It is named after the Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, a fault-block jagged mountain front about 40 miles long.  This mountain range rises from the valley floor of Jackson Hole.  Jackson Hole is one of the biggest skiing destinations in the U.S. and one of the most visited summer playgrounds.  It is the cutest western town you’re ever going to see, complete with board sidewalks and chic stores. 

General Info.: http://www.wyomingtourism.org/
                   http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/index.htm
Jackson Hole – http://www.jacksonhole.com/?issue=iss05&pg=25&seq=k

Accommodations: 
Teton Village – 
Hotel Terra: http://www.hotelterrajacksonhole.com/
Jackson Hole – http://www.jacksonholeaccommodations.net/
Other – http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/grandteton.htm

[This entry is still under construction.  Check back again soon for complete post].

Travel for the Soul: Exploring the National Parks

        There is something to be said about the effects of nature on the soul.  How it fuels the soul by allowing one to tune in to one’s “self” in a stage like no other.  And there is no better stage to experience nature than in a national park.

      To visit and explore a national park is to be in constant awe.  You can’t  help but marvel at these natural wonders.  They provide a playground for hiking, horseback riding, boating, and so many other activities.   The National Park System of the United States now comprises 390 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.  Places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Zion are all popular destinations and must-see parks, but so are some of the lesser known but equally amazing parks such as Black Canyon and Death Valley.

        Our national park quest began back in 1997 and, to date, we have visited most of the major national parks in the U.S., and two of Canada’s as well.  Our trips have created memories like no other, and have instilled in our children a love for America’s greatest places.  These have been unforgettable family trips for us.  I realize we have been blessed to have experienced these God-made wonders, and I highly recommend that you venture into at least one national park in your lifetime.  Here’s a link to the National Park Service:  National Parks – Find a Park.  It will provide you with a list of national parks to choose from, and information to plan your visit.  

        In the near future, I will begin posting additional “Exploring the National Parks” entries containing travel information and links on some of the great national parks we have visited.  Look for them soon.


                                           
                 
The National Park Conservation Association plays a crucial role in ensuring that these magnificent lands and landmarks are protected in perpetuity by, among other things, educating us about the importance of preserving the parks, and by helping to convince Congress to uphold the laws that protect the parks. I encourage you to become part of the NPCA to help protect our national parks for this generation and those to come.  Every little bit we do as individuals to help protect and maintain these natural wonders makes a difference, as our government has its hands full as it is with other important programs needing its funding.
     
                
                           To see a world in a grain of sand, 
                             And a heaven in a wild flower,
                         Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
                                  An eternity in an hour.
                                                        – William Blake

Travel for the Soul

              Travel for the Soul is a series of entries dedicated to my travel experiences.  In them I write about and describe a few of the places my family and I have visited, and include photographs and informational links as well.

        Every time we take a trip, one which takes us away from our daily routine, we have the opportunity to heighten our awareness, and thus, grow spiritually.  Every single time.  Whether or not we take advantage of that, is entirely up to each of us.  So I decided to create this series not only to share some of my trips with you, but mostly in the hopes that these entries may be helpful in planning some of your own getaways – hopefully some unforgettable experiences – the kind that will fuel your soul.

                                                                      HAPPY TRAVELS!
                              

  
Travel like Ghandi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.
~Rick Steves

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.
~Lillian Smith

Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes – with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience.  That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.
~Michael Critchton

Spiritual Awakening – Courtesy of a Defining Moment

        
        Some people are born faith-ready.  Mom reciting prayers before bedtime is their first memory of childhood.  Being taught the three Rs in Catholic school; arriving in this country on a Tuesday and having their first outing to Mass on that Sunday; involved in youth groups throughout the teens and young adult years; teaching Sunday school forever; no day can begin or end without a conversation with God.  Some people are born faith-ready.  I am one of those people.  And although my faith has ridden the rollercoaster on many occasions, there has been a constant familiarity with Christ that’s been ever so comforting.  [I owe this to my mother, the true pillar of strength and faith in my family].
  That’s great you may think, to have had that throughout life.  It may even impress you.  I’ll tell you what impresses me.  Those people who go through life for years not being sure where their faith, if any, belongs, and whose behavior denote exactly that.  But who, at a defining moment, courtesy of some other person or some act, see the light, and begin the journey, in the process transforming their life.

        Defining moments, most of us experience them at one point or another.  Could be about a job, a relationship, or could be spiritual.  The latter, the most life changing of all.  This can be eye opening and soul lifting, and most importantly, it can bring eternal life.  We need to understand and not doubt for a moment that we are instruments of God used at times to trigger these defining moments, so it is crucial that we walk the walk, not just talk the talk.  I’ve seen it happen.  Like the guy whose spiritual journey was set in motion because he loved the faith-filled girl he wanted to marry, and then stayed the course because he realized how he needs his God;
and like the friend who embarked on her journey for her children’s benefit, for her own, changing her trajectory and that of her family’s 180 degrees.  We all know people who could use Christ in their lives, praying for them is essential if we want them to recognize Christ and reach their defining moment.  But to lead someone to Christ we must act out our Christian life, and then ultimately trust God for the results.

        At this time when a new year draws near and so many of us look to make a fresh start, whether you were born faith-ready or you’ve been lucky to have already experienced your spiritual defining moment, let’s make our resolution to walk the talk as we never know when God will look to us to come up to the plate and touch someone’s life, setting off that awakening that leads to eternal life.

-by Connie Perez

                                 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13