I’m Triaging My Life for Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

I volunteered to host my book club at my house tonight.

Then, life piled on and I made a decision to move the book club meeting to a local restaurant. My fellow book-clubbers were not only gracious about it, they seemed delighted with the prospect of dining while we talk.

I could, if I had been stupid, have soldiered through, putting together snacks and polishing my house so I could play hostess. But that would have been, as I said, stupid.

I had plans to write a blog post today about a topical issue, taking my own slant on the subject. I’d done some research, filed the links in Omnifocus and had it ready to put together. That was going to be today’s big post.

Then, Mama’s hallucinations came back and I need to spend the day going from doc to doc. I could, if I had been stupid, have skipped my early-morning aerobics class and put that post together. But that would been, as I said, stupid.

Both these things would have violated the triage I’ve set up for my life. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to establish iron-clad priorities and stick with them, even when it stings. That’s the life of every successful elected official. I would never have been elected without the ability to do this, and I could never have passed all the legislation and taken care of my district and still had a happy home life without it, either.

I thought I was past that kind of self-discipline when I walked out of the House. I ping-ponged around for months, while the exigencies of Mama’s dementia made hash of my life, my health and my state of mind. I wasn’t managing these things; they were managing me.

It all came to a resounding crash a couple of months ago. Mama’s dementia tripped over into active 24/7 hallucinations of the ugly kind, and then, right on schedule, I got sick and couldn’t get well. Suddenly, I was out so deep in the deep that I couldn’t touch bottom, and I was so tired, that, try as I might, I was swallowing water and dipping under.

Enter depression, a big shot of despair and anger. It was miserable.

I prayed and prayed and I didn’t think I was getting answers. But God was answering me, He just wasn’t telling me about it. Help came in the form of new medications and healing in my own body. Help came in that small still voice that told me that I wasn’t going to be able to do this perfectly, but doing it in a messy way with lots of mistakes was alright. It was ok to just muddle through.

God gave me something I didn’t pray for but which has helped me more than I can say. He gave me peace with my own weaknesses and faults, acceptance of my failures and stumbles. He gave me His love and His acceptance and His assurance that imperfect was good enough.

I didn’t hear voices, and I didn’t get specific direction. What I got was a gentle attagirl and a loving Peace, Be Still.

The rest came from me. God gave me courage and peace. He freed my mind from the depression and anguish and that let me find my own way out of the woods.

Robert Frost said that the way out is through. In this case, he was absolutely right. The way out is through. I’m not the perfect daughter doing the perfect job of caregiving. I am just me, seeing my Mama home the best way that I can.

The first rule of going through is to make sure that you get through. What that means in direct terms is don’t get sick. In the new triage of my life, I have a husband, a mother, and my own self to tend to. My precious children are adults who can and do take care of themselves. Not only that, but they’ve come on board big time in terms of Mama, or as they call her, Amah care.

My first priority isn’t taking care of Mama or even being a wife to my husband. My first priority is taking care of me. By that I mean two simple things: Don’t get sick spiritually and don’t get sick physically.

A couple of the Catholic Patheosi are pretty much saints. I won’t embarrass them by detailing their life of prayer and worship. It’s enough for the purposes of this post to say that I ain’t them. For me, not getting sick spiritually depends an awful lot on God’s mercy. I pray, and I pray often. But many of my prayers are said while I’m driving my car or loading the dishwasher or giving Mama her bath or throwing out her dirty diapers.

One constant prayer is simply that God will save me from my inner jerk.

I go to mass, but only once a week. There was a time when I went every day, but not now. I probably should start going more often, simply because every time I take the Eucharist, it heals me, and I do need healing. But it’s tough to start something new right now.

My first area of triage is simply this: Get 8 hours sleep (I’m not doing so good at this one), go to aerobics class and ride my recumbent bike on the off days, stop eating junk. This is number one. If I crater physically, I can’t do anything else.

Right next to this is pay the bills, keep the car and house maintained. This isn’t time consuming, but it must be done.

Still in the first area of triage is say a prayer, read the Bible and play some music on the piano every day. The piano soothes and heals me almost as much as sleep and exercise. Ditto for prayer and Scripture.

Then, my next first area of triage is take care of Mama. This is huge. It’s hours and hours. It’s unpredictable and crazy making. It’s why I have to stay prayed up and exercise, sleep, eat right. I can not take care of Mama unless I do those things.

The other thing in my first area of triage is my husband. He’s my other half, my life’s partner, my lover and my love. It’s a joy to spend time with him. I can’t let him and our relationship be shoved out of my life by other things.

Spiritual and physical health, Mama, hubby: These are first priorities.

Second priorities are the book and the blog. The blog comes after the book in priorities.

Third is everything else. That includes keeping the house clean, doing laundry, etc.

So, the reason I haven’t been blogging as much is simple. The blog got bumped to second place of second place. I blog after I take care of me, Mama, hubby, pay the bills, change the oil in my car, get the air conditioner serviced and write my book. The blog still comes in ahead of running the vacuum and doing the laundry. Fortunately, those things fit easily in odd moments.

When I need to stand up and take a break, I vacuum the living room or empty the dishwasher.

What I don’t do is skip aerobics to blog or short-change my husband to work on the book.

That, my friends, is the new triage of my life. It seems to be working, but as I said, Mama’s hallucinations are back. That may well force a whole new paradigm on me. I’m doing doctor duty today. And that’s why this is the only post you’ll see from me until tomorrow.

Prayers and blessings to each of you.

I Left the Legislature a Year Ago and Nothing Has Gone as Planned.

A year ago tomorrow, I cast my last vote …

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

… and walked out of the Oklahoma legislature forever.

I can honestly say that I have not missed getting up and going out there to do the people’s business in the year since. Not once. I have no nostalgia about the place, zero desire to go back out there and make those decisions, sit through those meetings, debates, wranglings and negotiations.

I can also honestly say that, while I’m loving my new life, I’m still working to get a handle on it. I didn’t stop being a Rep until the first of December. That’s when my true life of freedom began.

During that time, my mother’s dementia went from difficult to impossible to a living nightmare. Now, thanks to powerful meds, it’s moved back to a barely livable point somewhere between difficult and impossible. Taking care of her is just possible … just. If one brick falls out of the carefully-balanced wall between getting by and utter chaos, we go back in the impossible soup again.

Taking care of her has taught me something I didn’t know about before: The physical limits of me. I have found the break point in my own physical stamina, and I hate the thing. It’s not just the work of caring for her, though that is a mountain. It’s the stress and worry, the grief and guilt. Of all these, I would say that the grief is the worst. I miss my Mama, miss her with an ache that’s like a broken tooth in my soul.

In the meanwhile of my time, I’ve been trying to put together a writing life. If caring for Mama is the meat and potatoes of my life, writing is the gravy.

I don’t mean “gravy” in the slang use of the word to mean money. I mean gravy as in the fat, the seasoning, the oh-so-good part of the tough-to-chew-and-swallow that’s underneath.

There are days when I’m too tired to write. My brain is too mushy, my anxiety and worry readings too far off the chart, for me to make my brain work. Those are days when the physical/emotional limits I was talking about earlier have kicked in.

But most of the time, writing is a gift. I feel that God has gifted me with this work at this time. I thought at one point — as my ego-saturated little brain usually does — that I was the gift, that my experiences and insider’s knowledge gave me a message worth sharing. Now I realize that the gift was given to me, not the other way around.

Productive work that God has put in your hands for His purposes is always challenging and difficult. Or, at least it has always been such for me. It is also always a blessing.

The most important and most challenging work He ever gave me was raising my children. That truly is eternity work. It is also the hardest and scariest work I’ve ever done.

Now, I have the twin blessings of writing and seeing Mama home. He has taken me to a place where my ability to trust Him is challenged in ways I never encountered before. I had to re-learn about letting Him handle things with Mama, about trusting Him even when the road is going down, down, down.

My not-so-saintly self always wants to take charge and do everything. I want to be in control. I want to figure a way out of every corner, plan a path and set out on it. I am not a follower. Followership runs against my rebellious nature.

And yet my life is built around followership. I follow Jesus Christ, and often as not, I have to follow Him like a blind woman, hanging onto a rope. He teaches me this lesson. He taught it to me when I was a legislator. He taught it to me when I was raising my kids. Now He has to teach it to me all over again.

Writer’s block, which I’ve had a bit, is nothing more than an internal editor trying to run the show out of pace with the work. Putting the work in His hands does away with that.

The anxieties I’ve felt over Mama are just another dish of the same stuff.

It’s a trick, using all my existing skills and minting new ones to help her, and at the same time, leaving everything in Jesus’ hands. It’s even more of of a trick, minting entirely new skills to live a writer’s life and giving that work, like all the others, to Him entire.

On the surface, it sounds a bit like running a race while sitting in place; an unsolvable conundrum. But it’s not. Here’s what I learned as a legislator, a work that is nothing but unsolvable conundrums heaped on one another.

Get yourself prayed up, then go out there and fight with all you’ve got. Trust that He will be there and He will take care of you. It’s a matter of stepping out on the ice, ever single day.

It also works. If you pray and you trust and you just do your best In Him, the ice holds. You never fall through. And He will guard you in your ways.

Now, I re-learning that same way of living, only in a different manner. I’m not the saint who just does these things. I have to re-learn in every new situation how to work and trust, how to be the child of God that I am.

The key to all this is prayer, and the mass and Scripture. My way of getting through the legislature was simple. I prayed the Rosary every day. Read through the Bible every 15 months or so, and went to mass as often as I could. This held me together when I was a legislator and it is where I go now that I’m a caregiver/writer. Different problems: Same God.

Writing is the same as every gift that God gives. It is a gift, wrapped in a challenge, and it makes me a gift to others.

I think that is the meaning of vocation. Vocation is God, making us a gift to others.

God has gifted me with changing vocations as my life’s seasons change. He has given me every gift imaginable; life, love, health, family, home and work. But the greatest gift of all is that He has given me Himself. He gave me the great gift of His presence, His love, His Spirit, walking through life with me.

Every time God gives me a new task, which I think of as my vocation for my present season, it is a challenge. It is a gift with thorns, a velvet cross wrapped in eternal love.

I have not missed the legislature for one moment. The reason is probably because my life has been so full, the work in front of me so immediate, that my cup runneth over with wine that is both bitter and sweet.

I am seeing Mama home, seeing my young adult children into their lives (a parent’s work is never done) loving my wonderful husband and writing, writing, writing.

Eternity work. It’s all eternity work.

I had envisioned a much more leisurely time of it. I was going to write, travel, drink pina coladas and take up new hobbies. I planned on losing weight, getting in shape, joining the local camera club, taking up golf, maybe buying a horse, going on great trips and living the good ‘ole life.

Instead, I’m changing Mama’s diapers. I’m taking care of her because she’s my new baby. I’m also involved in my kid’s lives (their choice) in fruitful, loving and anxiety-making ways that I never anticipated.

It turns out that my grown kids want me around. They want to be with me, talk to me, share their joys and pains with me on a daily basis.

It’s all a gift, and a challenge. God has gifted me with so much that I’m worn out from it.

It’s been a year since I cast my last legislative vote. I had all sorts of things planned for my next life. But, as usual God had other plans. Harder plans. More important plans.

A dear friend of mine tells me that if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.

I gave up planning a long time ago, because I learned that it does no good. Life has its own immediacies. Then, when I left the legislature, I forgot that lesson and made a caboodle of sweet and soft plans, marshmallow pillows all of them, for my glorious life of unending vacationing.

Silly me.

 

 

We Need Caregiving for Caregivers of Parents with Dementia

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

A few days ago, I had someone praise me for my “witness.”

This person was referring to the fact that my family and I are taking care of my elderly mother. I wanted to interrupt this person and tell them the truth of it, which is that my “witness” is shot full of holes.

Caregiving for an elderly person with dementia can seem like a piece of cake early on in the process. But as it progresses, and more of their brain switches off, it becomes increasingly fraught.

On top of that, I keep getting sick. Not, terrible sick, but bad enough to suck all the life out of me and make every day feel like a march through knee deep mud. I’ve had two colds in two months. Colds aren’t much of anything, unless you’ve got asthma. But put a cold together with asthma and no sleep and all the rest of my life right now and you’ve got a recipe for lungs that just won’t work.

That’s what happened in March. I somehow did not get pneumonia, which the doc assured me was what happened to most folks. But I did get such a bad case of on-going, never-stop asthma that, as he told me, “Your lungs aren’t moving air.”  Enter the miracle of antibiotics and steroids, and I got all healed up and back in the race again.

Then, along came another cold. It sent Mama to the er last week. Now it’s gone down into my lungs and formed an alliance with the asthma. I’m probably going to have to do the antibiotics/steroids all over again.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to understand that my “witness” is a weak and faulty thing. When I’m lying on the sofa, coughing and hacking, I’m not exactly doing a good job as a caregiver. Mama, who can no longer follow a book or a plot on tv, and so is no longer amused by either books or tv, demands constant amusement.

When I’m sick, I can’t do this. Instead of working with her to keep her wound up and moving, I end up letting her sit on the sofa like a zombie, or I send her to her room where she falls asleep. That’s not good care of someone with dementia. But it’s all I can do when I’m sick.

I’ve never resented the spring storms the way I have this year. They set off my arthritis, and somehow or other the stress with Mama seems to make that worse. Plus, I feel the weight of taking care of her in a storm in a way I never felt the weight of taking care of the kids when they were little.

Compared to her, they were ez pz. When they were very small, I just picked them up and did what needed doing. When they were full-on kids, they did what I told them in difficult situations without argument.

But Mama is a never-comprehending rubics cube. She trusts me and will do what I ask of her. But if I’m not there, she fights whoever is trying to help her. That adds a dash of salsa to the storms that, for some reason, seems too much.

That’s what I’m dealing with right now: Too much. It’s all too much. And I’m not sure why.

I think I’ve solved the doctor thing. I simply went on a doctor hunt, and it turned out that I landed on the right square early on in the search. The doc and the staff at the er last week were kind, and they understood my situation almost without my telling them. That was a blessing.

Everything is do-able. Today.

That’s the only promise a caregiver for someone with dementia has: Today. Or, maybe not even today. It may end up that all you know is that things are going good right now. In an hour, it can change, and you are dealing with a full-on hallucination or making a fast trip to the er.

But for today, for this minute, I have loads of help from my kids, and Adult Day Care, and I have prescriptions that seem to be working with Mama and my only problem is that I Do. Not. Want. to go to the doc myself.

I would rather eat dirt than go spend another $160 at an urgent care place to get a script for antibiotics and steroids. But I know that primary care docs with their $20 copay take about 3 weeks to see you, and this isn’t worthy of an er (which is much more miserable than going to an urgent care facility, anyway) so, I have to do the $160 do to get a couple of scripts that, to be honest, I could write myself.

See how I whine? See how negative I’ve become?

That’s what I’m talking about when I say my “witness” is less than shiny bright and pretty.

In truth, Mama’s dementia is doing at least as bad a job on me as it is on her and I can’t figure out why. I hit some sort of wall when she stopped sleeping at night. I know part of that wall was simple exhaustion.

One of the two hardest nights of her dementia so far was last month, when I was sick and she would not stay in bed. I felt so lousy, and she was up and roaming and had to be managed all night long. Before these new meds, she argued with me and refused to go back to bed and had hallucinations that terrified her and made her unmanageable.

That night was about 30 years long, and the next day, I was so sick I had to get medical help for myself.

Then, when we put her in the in-patient diagnostic and she just slept through the night and didn’t do any of this for them so they could help us with it, I hit some sort of despair point. I cried for days and couldn’t stop crying. We finally managed to get a script that actually does help, that not only lets her sleep at night but clears the hallucinations.

Things should be all better now. In fact, they were looking up, then we got this blamed cold. The high wire act of dementia care is such that something as simple as a cold can cause everyone to fall off and into the net. That’s what’s happened to me.

The thing I hang onto is something a man whose name I never learned told me years ago. I taught a class at Youth With a Mission in Hawaii a few years back. It was a glorious experience, spending an entire week in that beautiful Christian environment. Everyone I talked to was a spirit-filled, all-in Christian who wanted to change the world for Christ.

One evening, I was sitting out, watching the sunset, when a man with a baby joined me. We got to talking and he told me the story of how he came to adopt this baby. Long story short, the baby had no one, and he was reluctant to take on raising a child at his advanced age. But when he and his wife did adopt the baby, the child blessed their lives with love and wonder as only a baby can.

“God only wants to bless you,” he told me.

I keep thinking of that comment when things are difficult with Mama. “God only wants to bless you.”

I believe that, and I know it’s true of me and my situation right now. Mama has been a blessing to me all my life. Seeing her home is not a punishment. It’s a gift. A blessing.

That thought is what dries my tears and pulls me back out of despair. I write these blog posts as unsparingly as I can because I think that as a society we need to face up to the fact that we not only abandon our elderly, we abandon their care givers.

Care for people who have dementia is a act of life and love. It is pro life for real. Euthanasia, which is being pushed as an “answer” to dementia and a “relief’ for caregivers, is satanic. It is from the blackest pit of hell.

What we need to do as a society is take off our blinders and help people who are caring for their family members with dementia. We need something like the Rain Teams that Christians once formed to help people with AIDs, only for families who are caring for loved ones with dementia.

Care of the care-giver is a forgotten piece of the equation of caring for our elderly. I can tell you that as the dementia gets worse the caregiver begins to need love and support every bit as much as the person they are caring for.

My “witness,” such as it is, is a call for us to do better. It is not a “witness” of my heroism and perfection. It is, rather, a witness of my weakness and failures. I am not a cheerfully self-sacrificing saint. I am everyman and everywoman, just muddling through and hanging on and falling flat and getting back up.

I do not fall into raptures of grace when I am dog tired and at my wit’s end. I sit down and cry. I am not always reasonable. I do not always do the right thing.

I am you. And me. And every one of us.

That, and not some idea of perfection, is my witness. It is why I can say without equivocation that caregivers of elderly parents with dementia need help. They need love. They need comforting and support.

The Lord only wants to bless us. And the first blessing comes from His command that we “Love one another.”

All His blessings are blessings of love and life. Seeing Mama home is a blessing of love and life. If we rise to this challenge that I am making and will continue to make, and help caregivers of people with dementia, we will be blessing ourselves and one another with love and life.

I write about Mama with as much honesty and raw reality as I can. The reason is that I am issuing a call. I am calling Christians to formulate means to help caregivers of people with dementia in the simple, human ways that they need help. Put life and love back in their days of chaos. God wants to use them to bless you.

All God ever wants to do is bless each and every one of us. And the first and only true blessing is love.

Nigerians Pray for Missing Girls

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tim Green https://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tim Green https://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/

Boko Haram kidnapped 200 Nigerian school girls a year ago.

They’ve also kidnapped 100s of other Nigerians in the year since.

Kidnapping, slavery, murder and theft seem to be the hallmarks of both Hoko Haram and ISIS.

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Divine Mercy Novena: Praying for Those Who are Neither Hot nor Cold

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Mark Cristino https://www.flickr.com/photos/streetunka/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Mark Cristino https://www.flickr.com/photos/streetunka/

You say you are rich and need nothing. You don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. You are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Jesus Christ

I doubt if there are any lukewarm Christians in Iraq. Ditto for Iran, Yemen, Saudia Arabia, North Korea, China and much of India.

Lukewarmness is the luxury of the privileged. In fact, it seems that the more privileged the person, the more tepid their faith. For instance, high school students staging walkouts and throwing tantrums at Catholic schools always seem to be among the over-privileged, too-entitled class. I doubt very much that we would see this kind of behavior if these schools were populated by students from the other side of those proverbial tracks.

When Christianity becomes the faith of the powerful, it becomes a powerless faith. Christianity thrives when it speaks with the radical and radicalizing voice of Jesus Christ. It grows when pastors preach Christ. It overcomes all before it when we follow Christ and Him crucified, Him resurrected.

We are the Easter people. But we are also the people of the cross.

There is no place in true followership of Christ for me-first lukewarmness. Following Jesus means doing what Jesus taught us to do, even when it hurts, even when people make fun of us, shun us and attack us for doing it.

Lukewarmness is another word for nothing much. Lukewarm Christians are nothing much. They can’t save anyone. They can’t transform the world. They aren’t the Light that shines in the darkness. They are, for all their money and glitzy worldliness, nothing much.

They use the privileges and the many gifts of their lives for self-pleasuring and self-deifying. They do not follow Christ, except when sorta following Christ feels good and fits in with the comfortable mud bath of warm worldliness where they dwell. They don’t bring people to Christ. In the overall, their lukewarmness leaves people indifferent and turns them from Him.

Today, Jesus asks us to bring to Him the Souls who have become Lukewarm … these souls wound me most painfully … My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls.

Loathing. Consider that, for a moment. Lukewarm souls caused loathing in the heart of Christ when He considered them at Gethsemane.

I would think that anyone with any intelligence at all would do most anything to avoid Jesus Christ looking at them with loathing. I can think of nothing more heartbreaking for these people.

Pray and pray again for those who are lukewarm. They have the faith and they reject it. They see the Way and they won’t walk it. They are perhaps the most lost of all.

Ninth Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who have become Lukewarm,

and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.” 

Most compassionate Jesus, You are Compassion Itself. I bring lukewarm souls into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart. In this fire of Your pure love, let these tepid souls who, like corpses, filled You with such deep loathing, be once again set aflame. O Most Compassionate Jesus, exercise the omnipotence of Your mercy and draw them into the very ardor of Your love, and bestow upon them the gift of holy love, for nothing is beyond Your power.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon lukewarm souls who are nonetheless enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Father of Mercy, I beg You by the bitter Passion of Your Son and by His three-hour agony on the Cross: Let them, too, glorify the abyss of Your mercy. Amen.

 

Divine Mercy Novena, Praying for Those in Purgatory, Where We are Made Fit for a King

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Keoni Cabral https://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Keoni Cabral https://www.flickr.com/photos/keoni101/

I pray a Rosary every Sunday for people in Purgatory. It takes quite a while, since I name every single person I know who has died, and I mean died, ever. I include great-great-grandparents I never met and friends of friends.

It’s the least I can do for them. I only hope that when I die, someone will take the time to pray for me.

I don’t know a great deal about Purgatory. But I do have a few surmises. These surmises are based on an experience of my own. I believe that God gave me part of my Purgatory now, in this life. What I will describe here are the ideas about Purgatory I gained from that experience.

What that means to you, dear reader, is that nothing I am about to write is official Church teaching. It comes from a personal experience and my private interpretation of that experience. If reading it edifies you, good. If it doesn’t, no matter. These are just my thoughts.

 It is a terrible thing to experience the other side of the evil you’ve done to the people around you. I believe that is what happens to us in Purgatory. Everything we do, every small act of kindness, every cutting word, every hurt we’ve inflicted on others, every joy we’ve brought to them, matters.

We are forgiven for our sins, but we aren’t always healed of what committing them has done to us. Heaven wouldn’t be very heavenly if we took our petty malice, gossip and grudge-holding with us when we went there. Even the best of us is unfit for heaven when we die. I believe that Purgatory is the transformation process that fits us for heaven. Part of that cleansing has to be facing up to who we really are.

Purgatory is bearable because it’s temporary and because it heals us ultimately and completely. Our salvation is assured when we turn to Christ for forgiveness. He washes the stain of sin from our souls in that instant. But we are still fallen people, living in a fallen world. Conversion on this side of heaven consists largely of failing down and getting back up again. The outward sign of conversion is a changed life. The interior mark of conversion is not perfection, it is trust.

As St Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and I am confident that He is able to keep that which I have entrusted to Him against that day.”

Purgatory does not limit or grant eternal salvation. We already have eternal salvation when we enter Purgatory. What Purgatory accomplishes is the final clearing away of the detritus of our fallenness. It strips off the old torn and spotted garments of our finite existence and clothes us in our eternal garment. It transforms us into heavenly beings, fit for a King.

There are many theories about Purgatory, all of them far more authoritative than mine. But my belief is that in Purgatory we face what we have done from the viewpoint of those we did it to. If, say, you hit someone, in Purgatory you would experience the blow you gave in this life. If you gossiped about someone, in Purgatory you will feel the humiliation and hurt your words inflicted.

It would be terrible enough to experience this in this life. But in Purgatory, I think our souls will be so tender and so pure that the pain will be even more exquisite.

The souls in Purgatory are not being tortured. They are being educated about their real selves. They are seeing themselves as they are, and this insight hurts. It is the deepest grief imaginable to confront the full reality of your own sins. But from this grief comes conversion of a thorough and unalterable kind.

That is true, even here in this fallen world while we struggle with the many weaknesses of our flesh. In Purgatory, when we are naked spirits, it will be absolute. The best way to describe my understanding of Purgatory is that Purgatory is where our conversion to Christ that we began in this world is completed and made perfect.

Today Jesus tells us to bring to Me the Souls who are in the prison of Purgatory and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy … All these souls are greatly loved by Me … It is in your power to bring them relief.

It is yet another miracle of grace that we can, while we are still here in this Earthly existence, reach across the divide to aid those in Purgatory.

Please pray the Divine Mercy Novena with us today. Bring your loved ones who have died and are now in Purgatory to Jesus and immerse them in His Mercy.

Eighth Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who are in the prison of Purgatory,

and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.”   

Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said that You desire mercy; so I bring into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls in Purgatory, souls who are very dear to You, and yet, who must make retribution to Your justice. May the streams of Blood and Water which gushed forth from Your Heart put out the flames of Purgatory, that there, too, the power of Your mercy may be celebrated.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls suffering in Purgatory, who are enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. I beg You, by the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Your Son, and by all the bitterness with which His most sacred Soul was flooded: Manifest Your mercy to the souls who are under Your just scrutiny. Look upon them in no other way but only through the Wounds of Jesus, Your dearly beloved Son; for we firmly believe that there is no limit to Your goodness and compassion. Amen.

 

Blessed are the Merciful, the Living Images of Jesus’ Compassionate Heart

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by BK https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by BK https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/

Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Jesus Christ.

Instead of giving up chocolate this past Lent, I went on a personal pilgrimage of forgiveness.

I made a list, and I didn’t have to check it twice, of all the people I was holding a grudge against. I was astonished by how long the thing was.

Some of those grudges were decades old. In fact, five of them went back to the beginnings of my adult life. Others were more recent.

It was my own spring housecleaning, and it was hard spiritual labor.

Some of these people were easy to clear off the list. They were the ones where I got crossways with them but they were good people and I’m a good person and we both did things we shouldn’t have done to one another. One in particular is someone I owe more than enough to clear the debt for him, just based on what he did for me before he started doing to me.

But others, especially the ancient ones, went way beyond a grudge, cut deeper than hurt feelings. These hurts that punched through to the marrow of my spirit were not so simple to put down.

That’s because forgiveness is not easy. When it deals with massive wrongs, it feels like a vulnerability, a weakness in the face of that which we must defend against.

During the time (which was most of Lent) that I was sick, I watched a video on Amazon Prime about a woman who had been on the Mengele Twins. She had nearly died from the things Dr Mengele did to her in the concentration camps. Her twin, even though she survived the camps, ultimately died of the injuries inflicted on her.

A few years back, this woman issued a public statement of forgiveness, not only of Dr Mengele, but of all the Nazis who killed Jews. This action alienated many of the other Holocaust survivors from her, including other Mengele Twin survivors.

She said something when she was talking about this that helped me a great deal. She said that she realized that she “had the power over these men” to forgive them. Forgiveness was an empowerment to her. Rather than make her vulnerable to her attackers, it was a power she had over them.

She had found a great truth, one that helped me.

Forgiveness and mercy are not weaknesses, even though the world may count them as such. It takes enormous strength to forgive. It requires sacrifice, work and hardship to be merciful. These are not cheap graces. They are hard fought, hard won and deeply healing gifts we give, both to ourselves, as well as those we forgive.

Without forgiveness we become ravening wolves to one another. Without forgiveness, we are all doomed to spend our lives dipping and dodging and hiding behind facades to protect ourselves from one another. Without forgiveness, we will purge one another in a useless attempt to purge ourselves of the demons we hide inside our own souls.

Without forgiveness, there can be no mercy. And without mercy, there can be no life.

I had been praying “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” in every mass, every time I prayed the Rosary. And each time I prayed it, there was a jab of conscience that reminded me I was praying a lie. I had not forgiven, and I did not want to forgive, certain people.

I nursed my hurt in the relatively petty instances of personal fallings out. But I fled in fear of weakness, of disarming myself in the internal struggle with the deeper and more outrageous hurts of the past. I had tried before, in many ways and at many times, to forgive these things, but the anger kept coming back, like a tree I had cut down that sprouted saplings around the stump.

When I began to work on sweeping my house clean, I found without surprise that personal grievances were easy, the deforming hurts, not so much. There are sins against ourselves that run so deep that we can not forgive them of ourselves. Only by the grace of God can we take up this power that we have over them and the harm they have done and wipe it clean with forgiveness.

Mercy, Shakespeare said, is twice blessed. It blesses the person who is given mercy. It also blesses the person who gives mercy.

Jesus asks us to bring Him the souls who especially venerate and glorify My Mercy … They are the living images of My Compassionate Heart. 

In other words, when we show mercy, when we forgive from the heart, when we reach out to those in peril or suffering and lift them up with our loving care, we are being Christ to them.

Please pray the Divine Mercy Novena with us today. Bring before Him in prayer those you know who live lives of giving and forgiving. Hopefully, the day will come when we will all be able to count ourselves among them. 

Seventh Day
Today bring to Me the Souls who especially venerate and glorify My Mercy*,

and immerse them in My mercy. These souls sorrowed most over my Passion and entered most deeply into My spirit. They are living images of My Compassionate Heart. These souls will shine with a special brightness in the next life. Not one of them will go into the fire of hell. I shall particularly defend each one of them at the hour of death.

Most Merciful Jesus, whose Heart is Love Itself, receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who particularly extol and venerate the greatness of Your mercy. These souls are mighty with the very power of God Himself. In the midst of all afflictions and adversities they go forward, confident of Your mercy; and united to You, O Jesus, they carry all mankind on their shoulders. These souls will not be judged severely, but Your mercy will embrace them as they depart from this life.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls who glorify and venerate Your greatest attribute, that of Your fathomless mercy, and who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls are a living Gospel; their hands are full of deeds of mercy, and their hearts, overflowing with joy, sing a canticle of mercy to You, O Most High! I beg You O God:

Show them Your mercy according to the hope and trust they have placed in You. Let there be accomplished in them the promise of Jesus, who said to them that during their life, but especially at the hour of death, the souls who will venerate this fathomless mercy of His, He, Himself, will defend as His glory. Amen.

*The text leads one to conclude that in the first prayer directed to Jesus, Who is the Redeemer, it is “victim” souls and contemplatives that are being prayed for; those persons, that is, that voluntarily offered themselves to God for the salvation of their neighbor (see Col 1:24; 2 Cor 4:12). This explains their close union with the Savior and the extraordinary efficacy that their invisible activity has for others. In the second prayer, directed to the Father from whom comes “every worthwhile gift and every genuine benefit,”we recommend the “active” souls, who promote devotion to The Divine Mercy and exercise with it all the other works that lend themselves to the spiritual and material uplifting of their brethren.

 

Praying the Divine Mercy in an Age of Exploitation and Murder of Innocents

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alyssa L Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alyssa L Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/

If you do not become be converted and become as a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven … And whoever receives a little child in my name receives me. But it would be better for those who harm one of these little ones if a millstone was hung around their neck and they were cast in to the sea. Jesus Christ

Today we pray for the little children and souls of those who are meek and humble. In other words, we pray for the innocents and the good people of this world.

Humbleness of heart is the opposite of narcissism and self-deification. Humble-hearted people do not seek to re-write the teachings of the Gospels to say their sins are not sins; they simply do their best to obey those teachings.

Children trust with a profound trust. They believe and build themselves on that belief.

These things truly do mirror Jesus’ own heart. The human Jesus did not rely on human understanding when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness. Instead, He quoted Scripture in reply to satan’s taunts and relied entirely on God.

He could have walked away at Gethsemane. He didn’t need 2,000 angels to battle for Him. All He had to do was get up and run; leave Jerusalem and take His ministry elsewhere.

But He did the stupid thing and stayed. In obedience.

He was God, and yet He obeyed God. That is the confounding truth of God made human. It is why His sacrifice purchased our redemption. He Who was sinless, paid the price for our sins, and He did it in obedience, the obedience of a humble human soul.

There are those in our society who do not view innocence as a call to offer their protection. They view it as an opportunity. They view the trusting innocence of children as an opportunity to change our culture with pernicious programs in our schools. They see innocent people as rubes to be misinformed by propaganda posing as news, laws written for the powerful that steal from them, and a plethora of other abuses.

They look on innocence in the womb and deny that what they are seeing is a fellow human being whose life by every understanding of human rights should be protected. They consider the new innocence of our elderly and infirm and see a burden and an expense that could easily be eliminated with euthanasia.

Innocence is not a protection in our society because the wolves are in charge. In this world, innocence is an opportunity to abuse, exploit and kill.

The humble of heart and the innocent thus seem like the world’s victims. And yet, Jesus tells us that if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become converted and be innocent ourselves. If we want to be forgiven, we must bring “a humble and contrite heart” to Him, because Scripture tells us He will never refuse such a heart.

The key to eternity is in the hands of the innocents that we use, abuse and kill; in the hearts of the humble we scorn.

In the world that is coming, these are the ones who will be lifted high. While those of us who prance about and posture in the many conceits of our possessions, power and accomplishments will be blessed by God’s Mercy if we get in at all.

Today Jesus asks us to bring to Me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children … (they) most closely resemble my own heart.

Today, as we pray, we should bring to Him the unborn, the babies, the little children, the elderly wandering in their fog of dementia, the humble woman next door whose horizon is her family for whom she gives her life, the sweet man down the street who goes to work and comes home and is always ready to help you out.

Bring to Him the simple souls, the salt of the earth on which all stability and kindness in human society is built. Bring to Him the good people without whom this world would be a living hell. They, and not the glitzy power brokers and difference makers are what make life livable. They are the only goodness humanity has to offer.

Pray the Divine Mercy Novena today. Bring the good people to Him and immerse them in His mercy. While you’re at it, ask Him to make you more like them yourself.

Sixth Day
Today bring to Me the Meek and Humble Souls and the Souls of  Little Children,

and immerse them in My mercy. These souls most closely resemble My Heart. They strengthened Me during My bitter agony. I saw them as earthly Angels, who will keep vigil at My altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence.    

Most Merciful Jesus, You yourself have said, “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart all meek and humble souls and the souls of little children. These souls send all heaven into ecstasy and they are the heavenly Father’s favorites. They are a sweet-smelling bouquet before the throne of God; God Himself takes delight in their fragrance. These souls have a permanent abode in Your Most Compassionate Heart, O Jesus, and they unceasingly sing out a hymn of love and mercy.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon meek souls, upon humble souls, and upon little children who are enfolded in the abode which is the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. These souls bear the closest resemblance to Your Son. Their fragrance rises from the earth and reaches Your very throne. Father of mercy and of all goodness, I beg You by the love You bear these souls and by the delight You take in them: Bless the whole world, that all souls together may sing out the praises of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.

Divine Mercy Novena: Praying for Unbelievers

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by brett jordan https://www.flickr.com/photos/x1brett/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by brett jordan https://www.flickr.com/photos/x1brett/

Jesus told us that when a lost soul repents, there is abounding joy in heaven.

I experienced this joy when I found Christ. I was driving to Enid Oklahoma to make a speech. I felt — actually felt — an Other. I felt ecstatic love and joy rushing into me. I’ve tried to describe this joy and love, but I can’t do it.  Our language does not have the words.

Human language is inadequate to describe true encounters with God. The reason for this is simple and obvious, and yet we forget what it means.

God is not us. God is the I Am. The standards by which we measure reality do not apply to Him because He made what we call reality. Without Him, there is nothing. Not a vacuum, not non-existence, not oblivion: Without Him, there is nothing.

The concept of nothing in this eternal and absolute sense defies both our understanding and our imaging. We can not describe it any more than we can describe Him.

God is not an idea or an intellectual construct that we can manipulate and bring down to our understanding. God is a Being, a Personality, with a will and emotions of His own.

I did not convert to an idea. I was not embraced by a concept. I met another Being and this Other, even though He is transcendent, reached into my finiteness and loved me from death to life. The Way by which He did this is Jesus Christ.

Unlike those who lived before Christ, we can see the face of God and live. All we have to do is look at Jesus. He, and He alone, is the Way that leads to eternal life.

The idea that all faiths are equal is nonsense. There is only one empty tomb, only one Way out of the abyss of our sins. No one will ever approach the throne of God and live unless he or she is marked by the shed blood of the Lamb of God.

The Church teaches that it is possible for those of other faiths and those who have not heard His name to be welcomed to heaven, but they must come by way of their works and their sinlessness. They have to earn heaven.

Even then, the only entry, the only Way, is through Jesus. His grace and His mercy are the only hope that any one, anywhere, has. Without Him, we are damned, every one of us, by our own sinful and rebellious natures.

Jesus told St Faustina that unbelievers and those who had never heard His name were in His thoughts as He suffered and died two thousand years ago. He didn’t die only for you and me. He died for everyone, everywhere, for all time. He ransomed lost humanity with His blood — all of humanity.

All anyone has to do is choose Him over the world. Just as He did with the Israelites, God places before us Life and Death and lets us choose between them. Eternal hell is not a punishment. It is a choice that we make as free human beings clothed in radical freedom.

We are called to do more than glory in our salvation. We are called to be the Light in a dark world.

God has set us free, and now we must free others. The universal Christian vocation is the conversion of the world. We must offer Him to those who are perishing right in front of us, even if they rebuff us and shriek with the agony of devils touched by grace when we do it.

We Christians of the laity are conduits of the informal graces of life and love to the larger world. Our lives are the testimony and witness to our faith. We are the ones who go out from the churches, who step away from the altar and enter the fray of bashing and bloodletting that is modern society.

We go into the hospitals, schools, legislative chambers, court houses, construction sites, grocery stores, gyms and on-line com boxes. We go into all the places where ordinary life is lived and we enter them without the confining otherness of the collar. We are part of this larger world and we move inside it with the intimacy of fellow travelers.

Our priesthood is the priesthood of the laity. It is the priesthood that will either convert the world, or leave the world to die in its sins.

We are the People of God. We are the Easter people. We serve a Risen Lord. Our home is in heaven. We are, all of us, wayfaring strangers in this world of woe.

Even though you die, you will live. Jesus told us. Where I go, you will follow, he said.

We are going to die. I don’t write that to upset you, but to free you and comfort you. I want you to understand that there is nothing in this world for a follower of Christ to fear. You and I are just passing through this life. We are going to die. But when we die, we will live. Because of His Mercy.

So what should we do about those unbelievers who attack Christians? What should we do for those who have never heard His name?

Jesus says bring to Me those who do not believe in God and those who do not know Me.

He tells us that He was thinking about them when He suffered and died. His love for them is the unfathomable longing of God Who is love.

I don’t know which ones they are, but I believe that future evangelists for Christ are hiding among today’s Christian-bashing unbelievers. One day, they will say “yes” to Him, and He will fill them with the same love and joy that He poured into my soul and into yours. He will lift them up to testify to Him with all the fervor of someone who understands what it means to be rescued from eternal death.

I also know that among those who have not been told about Him there are people who will one day carry the news of His love to others who have not heard of him. Jesus is the Way, and that way is open to everyone.

But on this Easter Monday, they are still lost. They wander in the acrid bitterness of their unbelief, the noisy silence of their lack of knowledge. They are lost.

Christ’s mercy is the living water that enlivens our souls. Christ’s mercy is beyond our understanding, greater than our ability to reckon. It, like Him, is infinite. His mercy transcends time and place. It is available to everyone.

Please pray the Divine Mercy Novena today. Bring the lost souls of the world to Him and His mercy. He can change hearts that you and I think are beyond reaching.

I know.

I was once such a person myself.

Fourth Day

Today bring to Me those who do not believe in God and those who do not know Me, 

I was thinking also of them during My bitter Passion, and their future zeal comforted My Heart. Immerse them in the ocean of My mercy.”  

Most compassionate Jesus, You are the Light of the whole world. Receive into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls of those who do not believe in God and of those who as yet do not know You. Let the rays of Your grace enlighten them that they, too, together with us, may extol Your wonderful mercy; and do not let them escape from the abode which is Your Most Compassionate Heart.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls of those who do not believe in You, and of those who as yet do not know You, but who are enclosed in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. Draw them to the light of the Gospel. These souls do not know what great happiness it is to love You. Grant that they, too, may extol the generosity of Your mercy for endless ages. Amen.

*Our Lord’s original words here were “the pagans.” Since the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, the Church has seen fit to replace this term with clearer and more appropriate terminology.

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Praying the Divine Mercy Novena in a Time of Christian Persecution

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

I am not going to write about this week’s events until after Easter. But I do want to make one small point.

The nasty reaction to an Indiana law that would provide religious freedom underscores that we live in a post Christian America. That fact should not frighten us. It is an opportunity for us to serve the Lord in meaningful ways. We can stand for Jesus in these times and actually suffer for having done it. That is not a curse. It is a gift.

This situation fits the meaning and the purpose of the Divine Mercy Novena extremely well. Jesus gave the Divine Mercy Novena to Saint Faustina in the years before World War II. St Faustina was an unknown Polish nun.

The point of the Divine Mercy is that Jesus’ mercy towards us knows no bounds. It is Him, reaching out to us through this humble nun to try to tell us that He is always ready to forgive us, that His mercy is available to anyone who will accept it.

The Divine Mercy chaplet, Divine Mercy novena and Divine Mercy Sunday are all manifestations of that plea from our blessed Lord to accept His mercy before it is too late. Biblical prophecies are coming true at fast clip these days, beginning with the founding of the State of Israel. I am not equipped to comment on end times prophecies. In truth, I don’t think it matters. We are each of us hurtling toward our own end of days every moment we live.

Christ Jesus offers us mercy in the face of our depravations. That is the meaning of Holy Week. Christ’s Passion, his death on the cross, which we remember today, are an expression of the depth of His love for us, and His mercy towards us.

As we ponder the horrible events on Calvary, we must always remember that this is the price God paid for our salvation. This is how much He loves us.

The Divine Mercy is another gift of love to us. It is a way of underscoring once again that we, like the thief of the cross, can find salvation and eternal life at any time, in any extremity, no matter what we have done. The eleventh hour and 59 minutes is not too late to accept Christ’s mercy. The last moments of life are not too late.

But what a waste of good living and happiness — not to mention the danger of not doing it, ever — it would be to play brinksmanship with our eternal lives. My pastor said in a homily that when we die, someone will say to us: You belong to me. We get to chose who that will be. When you die, will you meet Jesus and have Him say, “You belong to me?” Or, will it be satan? The choice is yours, and you make it now, in this life.

The Divine Mercy novena is a series of prayers in which we take those who need His mercy before the throne of God in prayer.

Today is the first day of the Novena. We pray on this day for all of suffering humankind. The world is dying for lack of Christ. The satan in people’s hearts manifests itself in attacking Christians the world over. We are no longer safe from discrimination and even violent persecution for our faith here in America.

Our world bleeds on this Good Friday. It is dripping away its life blood from a thousand self-inflicted cuts. There is one answer for this, one Way out of the abyss of hatred and violence. It is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of the Lamb of God, guarding our hearts against that day when we will stand on the threshold of eternity and someone says to us “You belong to me.”

Please pray the Divine Mercy Novena today. Pray for the whole human race, which is dying for lack of His love.

First Day
Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners,

and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me.”

Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 


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