God’s surprise gift of love

My latest column in the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.

Last year my dear friend lost her dog and her cat after many years together. When I first met Jackie in 2010 she was able to go out with friends and do her food shopping although it took great effort. Diagnosed with Ménière’s, a disease of the inner ear that causes severe vertigo resulting in nausea and dizziness, it has been difficult for Jackie to walk and to tolerate riding in the car. Now eight years older, she is totally homebound. Losing her two animal friends was a blow.

Coping with decline

Jackie is a woman of great faith whose life is an inspiration to me. There is no one who has understood me better than she. We have shared our deepest, most precious thoughts and feeling with each other. Each week when we visit and I bring her Communion, I take note of how she copes with her slow decline. It is hard watching my best friend suffer.

A surprise

Yet, at the same time, I see the move of God in her life. There is no chance of physical healing, although she prayed for that (along with her family and friends). She has resigned herself to God’s will. But it has not made her bitter nor has it chipped away at her faith. Just last week we spoke of how God has a way of surprising us with His love when we least expect it. Just the night before the Lord provided for Jackie with the gift of a new dog. Although it was not in her plan, it was in His.

Love at first sight

Patches, a mixed-breed terrier, is nine years old. She came from a good family but her owners, an elderly husband and wife, had to enter a nursing home and thus she was given up. Jackie’s daughter found out about the dog online and was intrigued by the description of Patches as loving, craving affection, and enjoying being in the laps of her owners. She sounded like the perfect dog. Patches arrived just after Jackie’s 83rd birthday and proved to be everything she was described to be and more. One look into her eyes and we all fell hopelessly in love. Her friendliness, sweet disposition, and her way of cocking her head and dancing when she got excited captured our hearts in an instant. It was love at first sight, for Jackie, and for Patches.

Reminder of God’s love

Looking at the pleasure Patches has brought to Jackie, I feel wave after wave of happiness and gratitude. When she least expected it, God granted her one of her dearest wishes despite the fact that she thought she’d never own another dog. She did not want to burden her daughter and son-in-law with the care and feeding of a dog but they had other ideas. They too love Patches not only for herself, but for the joy she brings to Jackie.

And this is what led us last week to contemplate God’s surprising love for us. Meditating on a Scripture passage before receiving Communion, I read John 10 aloud. Verse 28 was the standout:  “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

Meditating on that verse, we both spoke of the many ways God shows that love. He knew of Jackie’s inability to leave her home. He felt her loneliness since losing her dog and cat, and her resignation at the prospect of never again enjoying the company of a pet. He understood her many challenges and sent a concrete expression of His sweet, fragrant love to ease her suffering.  It came in the form of Patches.

Always beside us

I reflect often on the image of this little dog cuddling close to Jackie. I think of her daughter and son-in-law’s thoughtfulness in providing this new friend. It all makes me smile. Patches is a reminder to Jackie and all those who love her that God hears the deepest longings of our hearts, and provides. Even as we must carry our crosses we are given refreshment along the way to remind us He walking beside us. In the long and difficult journey home, God never leaves our side.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Speaking to confirmation students as they make final preparations

I was very pleased to speak to our confirmation candidates on April 8 about practical ways to deepen their faith. Each year I help out with the confirmation retreats — the team gives two each year, scheduled during the Christmas rush. Although it can be difficult to take time away during December, the confirmation retreat is a wonderful reminder of why we love and serve the Lord. I am always so grateful for the time I get to spend with these wonderful kids.

Debbie Ziegler, who promotes our parish activities via social media and email, was kind enough to share with me the article she wrote about the talk. I understand from her that a good discussion ensued with her students after the talk. Thanks Debbie!

photo by Debbie Ziegler for St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Westborough, MA

At their final class before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, Sue Bailey; musician, author, member of the Confirmation retreat team and St. Luke’s music ministry; addresses the students, sharing wisdom and experiences with stories, analogies and music. Sue provided excellent and useful advice and resources to help youth on their continuing path of discovery and faith in the Catholic church.

Sue answers the question, “Where Do I Go From Here?” by showing how she was able to recognize, then trust, the call of God; and that in doing so she was led to some unexpected and wonderful new places.

 The students enjoyed her presentation, which concluded with her song, “Will You Teach Me” and contemplation of the lyrics:
Oh, will You teach me to be loved
And will you teach me to receive
The bounty of Your endless grace
You gave me reason to believe
There’s something greater than me

Sue Bailey’s song “Will You Teach Me”:

The power of spiritual music: reflecting on the movie “I Can Only Imagine”

This is my most recent column in the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com.

What happens when you blend an iconic song with a powerful story of grace and forgiveness? You have “I Can Only Imagine,” the new movie directed by the Erwin brothers and starring J. Michael Finley as MercyMe front man and songwriter Bart Millard. The song “I Can Only Imagine” is the most played Christian song of all time; Millard wrote it after experiencing the graces of transformation and reconciliation regarding his abusive father, played by Dennis Quaid.

The gist of this reflection beyond reviewing this fine movie is how much it saddens me to think how many people lock sacred music away in the church building when it is here at our disposal through the wonders of technology. But more than that, it is available in our memories, to sing anytime we wish to our Lord.

Here is the link to the complete article on Catholicmom.

Thank you Lord

Thank you Lord, for all you’ve done for me.

Follow-up to fasting post: what have I learned this Lent?

Note: From now until April 20, Ave Maria is offering my book, River of Grace, for just $2.00!

In this book I tell my story of the creative power of grief and how it transformed my life. Besides a prayerful consideration of loss and grief, I also discuss the creative process and how we are all called to be creative because of the Holy Spirit within us. Several different “Flow Lessons” give you a chance to prayerfully deepen your relationship with God and discover what you are meant to create.

This is the perfect time to give this book a go.What can you lose? Visit https://www.avemariapress.com/product/1-59471-572-6/River-of-Grace/ to place your order.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Holy Week is upon us, drawing Lent to a close. I have found this time to be most fruitful; God answered my prayer to go deeper and not without more than a few tears! Between my struggles with fasting, juggling a busy schedule with extra choir rehearsals and the viewing of “I Can Only Imagine” about the very popular worship song of the same name, I would say that God penetrated my soul in a profound way. God called me both in the small, daily activities and in one big one (which I will reveal later) to be faithful and trusting. He has set me on a new course that I am both excited about, and entering with a little trepedation. If I believe that where God takes me will lead to ultimate good, then that belief will lead me past any fear into a wonderful new journey. And I do believe. I will just have to remember, as the scriptures say, for God to help me with my unbelief.

In the meantime I wish you all a Blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter!

In the meantime, I’d like to share my latest column from the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom. com:

GM Farms peaches, Sauvie Island, Portland, Oregon. Photo by Andrea Johnson Flickr Creative Commons

Last month I used this space to lament my lack of understanding with regards to fasting. I received wonderful feedback from a reader who mirrored my quandary about the use of fasting as a practical tool for self-improvement (such as weight loss) versus an opportunity for greater holiness. In his letter he shared a story he heard from a homily which illustrated a salient point about fasting. Father told the story of a simple exercise practiced by St. Teresa of Avila who kept a peach in front of her all during Lent. One of the nuns asked her why she tortured herself with the peach, which she really liked. Her response was that if she couldn’t resist a small temptation, how could she resist a big temptation — to sin? Continue reading …

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Why is fasting so difficult? Looking for answers.

Note: This is my latest column for the Catholic Free Press. I also invite you to read my feature article in found on the Catholic Free Press website: St. Gabriel Lenten project to spread peace and joy

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Lent is upon us. In our household this means an extended period of fasting. My husband is a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church (Melkite) and thus is required to fast for the entire season. That means that as his wife and support, I must too.

Fasting challenge

Fasting in the Eastern Church is rigorous — no meat, no dairy; fish is limited to shell fish. If we were in our twenties with no health issues this would still be difficult to follow. In our early sixties, we both observe diets that benefit our health. This diet eliminates most starch from our meals (pasta, beans, rice, etc.). Watching our cholesterol precludes eating shell fish regularly. There is not much left to eat, especially if you are not a good cook.

Heather Cheese straws Flickr Creative Commons

Even as I write this it sounds like a pathetic lament. But I confess that I find fasting very difficult. The reason is because after doing this for several years, it is still an empty obligation. I have yet to find the spiritual benefit from the fast.

Body as well as spirit

I am well aware of the arguments. Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox faith has written a helpful pamphlet, “When You Fast” which I have read many times and annotated. He says never to treat fasting in a legalistic way, as an end in itself. At the same time, fasting reminds us that man is both body and spirit; St. Paul states that, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19) urging us to glorify God with our bodies. Bishop Kallistos writes of our willingness to fast in order to lose weight; “cannot we as Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom?” That pricked at my conscience as one who fasts year round to keep my weight in check. I admit that it’s easier to do that because I get the instant gratification of stepping on the scale and seeing that I am successful. Lenten fasting lacks such earthly reward.

Getting beneath the surface

I know that the purpose of fasting is not for payback. But I long for it to be something more than counting down the days until it is finished. It is painful to admit that the sameness of the meals and the added complications when it comes to shopping bother me a great deal. How I wish I had some inner understanding of why all of this is good and necessary for me to draw closer to God.

The arguments for fasting

Intellectually I am aware of the arguments for fasting. Bishop Kallistos writes that, “The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” Our discomfort (hunger pangs, tiredness) reminds us of our “inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us … to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)”

Leading to prayer

Fasting is supposed to lead to prayer but for me it is still an empty exercise. How can I make my knowledge of fasting penetrate my stone cold heart?

Oméga * Femme priant – Woman praying Flickr Creative Commons

In one sense it is leading me to a simple prayer: “Lord, please show me how to fast such that it makes me more aware of You.” Remembering from St. Paul that we are to pray always, this will be my consistent daily prayer.

What is your experience?

I’d now like to ask: What does fasting mean to you? How do you make it work? What spiritual lessons have you learned from your fasting? Please share your experience in a comment. Perhaps through our community I and others like me can figure out the mystery of fasting through our mutual sharing.

In the meantime let us keep each other in prayer that we may fast in a more worthy manner.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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January promises of silence and stillness

My January 2018 column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.

The month of January promises many things:

  • The emotional letdown after Christmas.
  • The return to work after a long vacation.
  • The loneliness of an empty house after the children have gone to theirs.
  • Hunkering down with the cold and snow.
  • New beginnings with the new year.
  • Silence, and emptiness.
By Denis Collette (2011) via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

All during the busyness and noise of the holidays I longed for what January would bring. While I’m no fan of winter weather I appreciate the permission it grants to curl up in front of the fire with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee and a purring cat.

The silence is a welcomed guest whom I wish would stay with me always; it is elusive, fleeing at the slightest distraction. Emptiness signals a time to be filled.

What will I fill it with?

My emptiness is not just because of children I miss. It is certainly not due to lack of activity (for this I accept with gladness). It’s not because it is cold and gray outside rather than warm and green.

There is something else I miss far more.

It manifests itself in a gnawing feeling, a sense of arms reaching out for something, for someone. It’s that longing described in the scriptures as the deer panting for water.

By Jun Aoyama (2005) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

An empty spirit that is sorry for prayers not said, for people neglected, for preferring worldly idols, for being consumed with self rather than with others. Longing for my Beloved who seems so far away and yet is so close to me that I cannot perceive Him.

January is a month of silence.

The birds not only do not sing but don’t even come to the feeder. The cold keeps people inside of their houses. Nighttime activities abate. It’s a time of promise, a gift, an invitation to draw near to my Beloved. Silence issues an invitation to hear His whisper in my heart. The quiet permits me to see those small signs that will lead me home.

By Luigi Alesi (2008) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

What will those signs be?

What will He whisper to me? How long must I wait in silence?

Drawing upon past experience I know that the quiet will yield its reward no matter how long I have to wait. God works best in silence and often He will remain the background, revealing Himself in His time, at the best possible moment.

So I will wait, confident of His presence even if I may not feel it just yet. I will return to being faithful to my prayers, read his Word and ask for the grace to turn from myself to others. In the proper time, when my heart is truly silent, my Beloved will make Himself known.

January will fulfill her promise.

 

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE

Note: this is my Catholic Free Press column for December; it is also running on Catholicmom.com.

Here’s an except:

Pressure!

By Eric Mueller (2003) via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a lot of pressure applied to people during the holiday season to conform to some artificial standard. Society tells us to behave in one way while the opposite is preached by our Church. Newlyweds are expected to be present at all the family gatherings despite the impossible logistics. The financially strapped are supposed to spend, spend, spend. The domestically challenged must entertain and cook up a storm. Those still licking wounds from Christmases past are supposed to act like they were never wounded. The lonely should not be lonely and the grieving should stop mourning and put it behind them.

So how can we be of help? And what if we fit one of these categories — can we be kind to ourselves?

Read on …

Continue reading “A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE”

Book Review: My Brother’s Keeper A Novel about the Family of Jesus by Bill Kassel

I am pleased to present this review of a wonderful and epic novel by Bill Kassel called My Brother’s Keeper A Novel about the Family of Jesus. A work of speculative fiction, Kassel imagines the life of Christ through family members, supported by exhaustive research. This book would make  wonderful Christmas gift!

Here is my review, published on Catholicmom.com:
http://catholicmom.com/2017/11/28/book-review-brothers-keeper-novel-family-jesus-bill-kassel/

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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November remembrances: Guided from darkness to light by those who have gone before us

My November column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom:

With November comes the descent into the cold and darkness of the forthcoming winter. After an extended period of warmth and sunshine it is difficult to see the barren trees and lifeless gardens. Birds are flying south and chipmunks are scurrying about, gathering nuts for the winter before setting into hibernation. Nighttime exceeds the daylight hours; many of us will only see the morning sun as we head into work only to be greeted by darkness when we go home. The world around us is preparing for winter sleep. November feels like death.

Artur Rydzewski, “Cranes migration,” Flickr Creative Commons

Darkness into light

Yet, come December 21, the trend changes. After the shortest day of the year, daylight begins to increase. Ice, snow and cold engulf us and yet, each day is a little longer. The silence of January is replaced by birdsong in February. By March 21, we are celebrating the coming of spring.

Nature is a sign of God’s promise to those who believe in Him. Each year the seasonal cycle reminds us that even as we descend into darkness, we emerge again into the light.

Du Ende, “Dusk,” Flickr Creative Commons

Pondering heaven

The Church has designated this month of November as a time to pray for our beloved dead. It can be a difficult and somber time as we are reminded of our grief. Yet at the same time, it is a time of hope, the recent Feast of All Saints being the perfect example. We celebrate those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and who intercede for us. The readings from the day’s liturgy help us to focus on the glory that awaits us if we continue to persevere. Although no living person has seen heaven, still, it is enjoyable to ponder on the mystery even as a clear picture eludes us. Our hope is based upon the promise that we will rise, as did Christ, in a glorified body, freed forever from suffering and sorrow. Sainthood is the eventual end, and beginning, for all believers.

Moving through our season of darkness

November reminds us that all must pass through the winter of suffering and death first, along with the purification of Purgatory. There is no way to avoid these winters even if we are fortunate enough to die in our sleep. We are aware of the aging of our bodies with all its aches and pains. The mind becomes dulled and emotions are magnified. Disease exacts great suffering. We lose family and friends to death and feel increasingly isolated as our world becomes smaller. Those who care for aging loved ones suffer as well, often feeling powerless in the relentless march towards the inevitable. Clinging to the hope given to us by God becomes the existential challenge. Truly there is martyrdom in aging.

Billie Greenwood,
“In the Winter of My Life, I Bloomed,” Flickr Creative Commons

It is a journey from death to life even as Christ suffered on the cross and died. He endured the agonies of mind, heart and body. He also rose to life again in a glorified body. While many of us will need to go through a period of purification after we die in order to prepare for sainthood, we can find comfort in the fact that many living souls are praying for us and holding us close to their hearts. Springtime will come.

Remembering those who have gone before us

November reminds us of the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. We can actively pray for them and help them through their journey of Purgatory. They can know the comfort of our companionship through their suffering.

Remembering those in our midst

November also reminds us of the need to draw close to our suffering elderly. As difficult as it can be to confront aging and the dying process, there is a profound sacredness in offering our love and care. They are going before us, acting as our guides. Those who cling to the hope of God’s love demonstrate how to let go of life while remaining engaged in it, entering into the unknown of death with courage and grace. No lesson is more important.

November is a month of grey skies and blustery winds. It is also a month to ponder the greatest of all mysteries – life, death, and resurrection. As we pray for those living and those gone on before us, let us embrace these mysteries in all that we do.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; photo by Susan Bailey

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion