Thursday, December 29, 2011

Preacher's Daughter Caught Fighting in School

God has a sense of humor.

I created an event on my FaceBook page. I do it every year.

Please join me in praying for Christian Unity during the Week of Christian Unity, which begins January 18, 2012.

I clicked on most of my FaceBook friends and sent out the invitations.

The "Accepts Invitations" started rolling in.

I just checked how many have agreed to pray. I had a personalized note from Penny. She said that she would pray throughout the week, even though she has to work.

Penny made me smile.

A few decades ago, Penny and I were in 8th grade together in a little middle school in Riceville, Iowa. I remember the day we were in art class. She was standing with her friends and I was sitting with my friends. Our friends were not the same. She was from McIntire, and I was from rural Riceville. She was a bit  rowdy. I was a goody two shoes.

For some reason, she thought I was talking about her that day. I wasn't. But she thought I was, and that created a chemical reaction. When we lined up to leave art class that day, she accused me of talking about her to my friends. I told her I hadn't been talking about her at all.

She didn't believe me.

Really, I wasn't.

Yes, you were. (shove)

Without thinking, I shoved back, and wham. Preacher's daughter and McIntire girl fight in the doorway of the art room.

The two of us keep swinging until the short, overweight English teacher came out of her room and yelled, "That's enough!"

We stop fighting immediately. I burst into tears. Penny runs out of the school and holes up at her grandmother's house a block away. I don't remember very much after that.

Fastforward through a few decades, and there I am, sitting at my computer, smiling.

Penny has agreed to pray that the Christian world will be one. At peace. In accord. Strife ended. All on the same page. No misunderstandings.

Let the past be the past.

This is the kind of irony I love.

God, you have such a great sense of humor.

Penny, God bless you for praying - and for inviting me to be your Facebook friend. Blessed are the peacemakers. That's you, Penny!

And that's every one of us that says count me in. I'll pray. "Father, make us one. As you and the Son are one... so that the world will know that You have sent the Son of God to a crazy, mixed-up world."

But a world that is certainly worth redeeming. Now, go and invite everyone to join us in prayer, even the kid you fought with in 8th grade!

Amen, and amen!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Journal Your Way to God in 2012

In 2003, I had a prayer journal. I started it about six months before I began my daily journal. The difference between a prayer journal and a daily journal is this: a writer captures his thoughts and fears and joys and experiences and dreams and disappointments in a daily journal while a believer documents his prayers and petitions in a prayer journal. Both are excellent ways to document spiritual growth, and I highly recommend starting some kind of faith-based journal in 2012.

I found my prayer journal from 2003 awhile back. I was surprised to discover that every request had been answered, but one.*

I had asked God for a very special thing - that He would restore my father's health. My father passed away on December 28, 2003. Not only had Our Lord not restored my father's health, He had called him into eternity.

That one unanswered prayer was not God's will. While there are probably many reasons why it was not God's will, one reason was that his death was the catalyst for my eventual conversion and journey to the Catholic Church.

Quite simply, if Dad hadn't died, I wouldn't have become a seeker. And Jeremiah is right when he speaks for the Lord, saying: Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart.

Before that moment, I didn't truly seek God. Why? Because I thought I already had it all put together. Strange how the death of a loved one changes all that.

Prayer has been a part of my life for many years. I know that God answers prayer. I know that He does not answer prayers in the way we hope He would answer them - sometimes anyway. When that happens, it is because God has something far greater for us than our limited minds can conceive.

Like conversion.

Like eternity.

This blog is a reflection of my journey, a window into that precious daily journal that holds the full story of how I became Catholic by grace.

It has also become something of a prayer journal because prayer is essential in this faith journey. I read recently that St. Teresa of Avila said, "I am certain of it that Our Lord will eventually bring to the harbor of salvation, the one who gives himself to prayer."

There are many reasons why we should pray. This may be the most important one of all.

May you discover the joy of sacred writing in 2012.


*We ought to be persuaded that what God refuses to our prayer, He grants to our salvation.– St. Augustine

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012 Goodbye Laziness; Hello God's Plan

We just checked in at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. It feels great.
It was a long road to this vacation - metaphorically and literally. I just finished a semester teaching ten different classes every day to four different levels of students. On the side, I tutored a fourth grader in Spanish. Oh, and I write for diocesan newspapers.

And I am a penpal via email to a number of potential converts.

And I am a mother and grandmother.

But I will let you in on a secret. I used to be very lazy.

I watched soap operas almost daily. Yes, it's true. (I gave this up about three years ago.)

I considered my day a busy one if I had one event on the calendar. Grocery shopping was an event - in my old life.

So, how did I go from being lazy to being crazy-busy and happy with that?

I have never felt more certain that I am in the center of God's plan than I do right now. And there's more than enough energy to go around when one can say that. I love what I do because I have the sense that this is what God has called me to do.

Miraculously, there is enough energy for all of it

Here's what I did (in case you are lazy and you want to lose that vice during the new year):

1. Be converted. Completely. Totally. Radically. (Try daily Mass attendance and reading the Liturgy of the Hours).
2. Pray.
3. Pray.
4. Pray some more.
5. Wait on the Lord. (What are you waiting for? Peace. Our Mother's gentle nudge. Our Lord's voice.)
6. Be ready to say yes.
7. And pray some more.

Then, the doors will open. You will feel the nudge. You will say yes to the invitations. And you will find that there is more energy. His grace is really, truly, actually, incredibly, mysteriously, miraculously sufficient for every good work.

Go ahead. Say the words. Goodbye Laziness. Hello Divine Plan. You have my full and complete yes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Once upon a time, when I didn't believe in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe...

Over 20 years ago, I began my first teaching position at Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa. In spite of the fact that Spanish was my minor and I wasn’t a Catholic convert at the time, I found myself the only foreign language teacher in a small Catholic high school, teaching all levels of Spanish to about 160 students. I remember having little confidence as a teacher and even less in the subject matter.

I pulled activities and assignments from every possible place. Somehow, I came across a little story written in simple Spanish which I thought my upper level students would be able to translate. I considered the story nothing more than an interesting Catholic legend.

Thankfully, I did not propagate my misunderstanding, but rather simply assigned the story to my students and left religion instruction to the religion department.

In January of 2005, while nearing the end of my conversion to the Catholic faith, I received one of many “care packages” from Randy and Mary Hill, a married couple in the Archdiocese of St. Louis that had taken me under their wings when they discovered that I was converting. The box they sent to me contained a book on Marian apparitions entitled A Woman Clothed with the Sun by John J. Delaney. While reading a chapter on Our Lady of Guadalupe, I came across something that would take that little story out of the realm of legend and into the realm of absolute reality for me.

In 1990, while completing a college-level course on Latin America, I learned a couple of Nahuatl words (Aztec language), one of which was “cuatl” (pronounced kwah-tell, emphasis on first syllable). Translated, it means snake or serpent. The Aztec people even had a god named Quetzalcuatl, which literally translates to plumed serpent.

The book I was reading explained that the Aztec pronunciation of the word “Guadalupe” would have been something like kwah-tell lah-shoop-ay. So, when the Lady said her name to Juan Diego’s uncle, he would have interpreted the first part as snake because cuatl and guadal are both pronounced kwah-tell. What I didn’t know—which the book explained for me—is that the Aztec translation of the second half of that phrase literally means to trod on something. When I put it all together, I was stunned. In Nahuatl, the name Guadalupe means One who trods on snake! So when the Lady repeated her name for a poor, uneducated Aztec man, saying call me Santa Maria de Guadalupe, she was actually saying, call me Holy Mary of One who has trod on the snake. In Genesis 3:15, this is the name God reserves for Mary, the second Eve; so when the woman says her name, she gives the name the Lord planned for her from the beginning of time.

I have no idea how I overlooked the miracles behind the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe all those years ago. I’m sure it’s because I didn’t put together that cuatl and guadal have virtually identical pronunciations in Nahuatl, and I had never learned the translation for the rest of the compound epithet. Still, it amazes me that I could teach Spanish in a Catholic high school, assign the reading to upper level classes, and not know the whole story. It cuts me to the heart when I realize that I taught my students about the conquistadors, but not the miracle of eight million baptisms that occurred in the seven years following the vision. Some sources estimate that the actual number of conversions might have been closer to nine million (with the total Aztec population only ten million at that time).

I’ve promised myself that one day I will visit Mexico and see the five-hundred-year-old tilma that bears the image of Our Lady. I just wish I could gather all my former students together in one place and have another chance to teach them the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. With uncensored delight, I would ask them if they have heard the story—the true story—of the Woman who converted a nation with the help of a few Spanish roses, a cloak called a tilma, and one very humble Aztec man named Juan Diego.

I urge you to read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, and let the story speak for itself.

Santa Maria, mi Madre Nueva, gracias—por todos los milagros y las lecciones del corazon. Holy Mary, my new Mother, thank you – for all the miracles and lessons of the heart.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Immaculate Conception? From total disbelief to utter amazement!

Have you ever watched a television program that changed your life? Well, that’s what happened to me – but it took more than five months for the full impact to hit me. It began on July 16, 2004. I caught the tail-end of a Journey Home program (EWTN), and I was immediately drawn to that night’s guest. On a whim, I wrote Mary Beth Kremski and attempted to explain something that I didn’t completely understand myself – my growing desire to enter the Catholic Church.

I had been fascinated by Mrs. Kremski because she was a Third Order Carmelite – or at least that’s what the tag line at the bottom of the television screen said. I didn’t know what Third Order meant, but I knew that the authors of the books I had recently read were Carmelites. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila – only they lived in the 1500s. I had no idea that there were Carmelites living and breathing today! What luck! I had to write her. I had so many questions.

We exchanged just one set of letters in August, and then the communication ended. I turned my attention to the local Catholic Church and decided to try RCIA class and see what would happen from there.

In December of 2004, the RCIA leader at my parish introduced the class to the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception. I’ve come to the conclusion that our Blessed Mother was gently guiding me through this part of my journey, but at that moment in time, she seemed to be nothing more than one major stumbling block for me.

I announced to the entire class that I couldn’t accept that Mary was conceived without sin. I was willing to admit that Protestants had let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction, relegating Mary to a minor role in the Christmas story, but I felt that was in response to excessive Catholic Mariology. I explained that, while I believed the Lord could do that for Mary, I was convinced it was highly unlikely that he did do it. At that moment, I didn’t even have enough faith to say, I believe, Lord help my unbelief.

The terrible thought hit me then. Where does one go when she believes in Apostolic Succession, the Papacy, Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and all Catholic Teaching, except the Immaculate Conception? What was the name of that denomination? I felt like Peter when he said, where else can we go? This is a difficult teaching, Lord, but I’ve nowhere else to turn.

After many attempts to help me understand, my RCIA instructor mentioned that I had the option of placing a petition before the Blessed Mother. If I had sincerely given myself to the task of understanding and I still couldn’t embrace this teaching, he told me that I could always ask Mary to show me the Truth.

As an Evangelical, I had placed many petitions before the Lord. That was not a new concept. And I didn’t have a problem with asking Mary to answer my petition. I just didn’t think she would do it.

I knew a lot was riding on this petition. The Immaculate Conception was the one obstacle that stood between my father (a Presbyterian minister) and the Catholic Church. In fact, if he could have resolved this issue, I’m convinced he would have converted to the Catholic Church thirty years ago. Before I made my petition to Mary, I prayed, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you lead, even if it is down a road my father could not take. I just want to get this right. And so, I beg You NOT to answer the petition I place before Your Mother if this teaching shouldn’t be embraced.” Then I turned my heart to Mary and laid it on the line:


If you are as the Catholic Church says and if you love me, please answer this petition. I want someone to communicate with me by your inspiration. I need the communication to encourage me in the faith, and I don’t want it to be from Catholic friends at the school where I used to teach or my Catholic in-laws. I don’t want it to be from anyone in my parish. All of them—well, I have shared this struggle with some of them, and they may know through earthly tongues that I need to be propped up. Mary, I want the message to come from you to the ears of one who could know no other way. Please choose someone who, for me, would represent the Universal Catholic Church. Then I will know I am right where I am supposed to be and that the Church’s Teachings are ALL correct, terra firma, especially the Teachings about you. Please answer my petition before the end of the year—I know, that’s just two weeks.

This petition is rewritten word-for-word from my journal entry for December 12, 2004, the day I said the prayer. I knew it was unlikely I would receive a response. Almost as unlikely as the Immaculate Conception, I thought.

Our Lady didn’t make me wait very long. In the mailbox the next day was a letter from the woman who had appeared on The Journey Home the previous July. I had not heard from her since August when her one and only letter arrived. BUT, in December of 2004 she decided to write me a second time to encourage me in the Faith and let me know she was praying for me. Her letter was dated December 8, 2004. Above the date, she had hand-written The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. With tears streaming down my face, I read her two-page, single-spaced letter.

I had been ready to abandon the journey. I knew it would drive me crazy to teeter on the fence for very long. That’s why I had put a time restriction on the Blessed Virgin. That letter sealed everything for me. Like Thomas when he touched the wounds of Our Lord, all my doubts were gone instantly.

Mary is my Mother! And like the truest mother, she loves me and knows me better than I know myself. After all, she knew the very thing I would ask of her before I even asked it. Mary Beth Kremski’s letter had been dated four days before I made the petition, arriving less than twenty-four hours after my request for help. Our Lady proved herself to be the Immaculate Conception and a Mother with impeccable timing.