Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me

There is no doubt we are living through difficult and uncertain times. As someone who seeks peace at any cost, I find myself confronted more often than I’d like. Civil discourse and reason have been replaced with hot emotions and shout-downs. I’ve found myself editing my Facebook news feed to filter out all political discussion. Surrounded by those who feel differently from me, I do my best avoid debate because I don’t think well on my feet. I am cordoning off a part of myself as protection. Continue reading “Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me”

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A little grace from a BIG God

old poolRecently I lost something I truly loved.

It was a minuscule loss when compared with the suffering of so many around me and across the world. Embarrassed at how much it upset me, I turned to God in prayer and asked for detachment. The prayer was swiftly answered in a way only God could imagine.

So what did I lose? Continue reading “A little grace from a BIG God”

“Is My Day Your Day”: Meditations on the wounds of Christ

MARCH 31, 2016–Today’s meditation from The Word Among Us (based upon Luke 24:35-48) reflects upon the wounds Christ received at his death–wounds that remained on his glorified body after the resurrection:

“Jesus’ victory looked so different from what the disciples had expected. Instead of arriving with a king’s crown or a huge army, he returned bearing the wounds of a brutal death. Even though he is now risen in glory, his body remains marred. He isn’t just restored to his former state—he is transformed in a way that reflects the price he paid for our salvation. God didn’t just press a reset button. He took Jesus through death into a new and eternal life.

Jesus’ scars are the marks of his love for us—a love unto death. Every day, he invites us to gaze at these wounds and to see in them the proof of his victory. What’s more, he wants to convince us that he can turn our own wounds into marks of triumph. There is no situation too desperate for him to overcome.”

It may seem morbid to focus on such graphic wounds. But then I am reminded of the love behind those wounds, the love that gave Jesus the courage to follow through with his suffering so that we might know hope in this life and paradise beyond this life.

When I put together my sung rosary book (Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary) I included a special meditation on those wounds, based upon a simple practice in Eastern Catholic prayer–that of repeating “Lord, have mercy!”

I invite you try this meditation and see where it leads. It’s led me to some pretty amazing spiritual places.

Meditations on the Wounds of Christ

5th sorrowful betania II full smallA prayer frequently chanted during the Divine Office in the Eastern Catholic Church is “Lord, have mercy.” Often this prayer is chanted 40 times in succession.

I formulated a method with this repetition that turned into a meaningful devotion focusing on the wounds of Christ:

  1. Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting or chanting “Lord, have mercy” 5 times. Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body. For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head.
  2. Repeat this cycle 8 times, thus reciting or chanting the prayer 40 times in total.I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.

These are just some of the places where this devotion can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon His wounds and contemplate His love.

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Thinking of passing judgment? Look in the mirror: Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday we will hear a story that centers on the need to change our own hearts before we demand the conversion of others.

Jesus is confronted by some religious leaders who bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).

They start quizzing Jesus. “What should we do with her?”

Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons
Ted Women caught in adultery, Flickr Creative Commons

But the quiz has a “catch” to it.

They are testing Jesus “so as to bring a charge against him.” They want to be rid of him.

If Jesus answers that the woman ought to be stoned to death, which was the penalty for adultery under Mosaic law, he would be challenging the Roman authorities. The Romans had banned executions without their authority or approval.

If Jesus answers that she not be punished under the penalties imposed by Mosaic law, then Jesus sets himself up in opposition to what Moses prescribed.

So it’s a trap.

But Jesus uses the trap to unmask the hypocrisy of these pious frauds.

These guys are using this woman as a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus.

They don’t care about her, or about justice or the even well-being of whatever marriage has been violated.

The leaders are using the woman as a chess-piece.

If they had even a modicum of interest in justice wouldn’t her male accomplice be under scrutiny too? (It did say, she was caught in the act of adultery, didn’t it? The law required the same penalty be meted out to both. But this guy is nowhere to be found. How convenient!)

So Jesus says, “Hey, put down your stones!”  Start scrutinizing your own heart before you throw stones of condemnation at others. This whole situation you’re presenting is corrupt and rotten to the core.

Jesus must have really hit a chord.

John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons
John 9:25 Easier To Codemn Sins Than Mortify Them (Romans 2:1), Fickr Creative Commons

The gospel tells us that the religious leaders went way, beginning with eldest.

(Maybe the older ones realized that with the accumulation of years, they had more “scrutinizing” and soul-searching to do.)

The woman is left alone with Jesus. He tells her to stop sinning. “Don’t do this again.”

Just as importantly he tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.”  In doing so, he saves her life. And, he gives this woman a new lease on life.

Let’s pray that Jesus’ provocative and courageous actions would inspire us:  and accept the simple truth that God, and only God, will be the ultimate judge of every life and of every heart.

In the meantime we can put down the stones of condemnation and redouble our efforts at healing and reconciling whatever is broken in our lives and the lives that cross our path each day.

Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons
Marufish Stone, Flickr Creative Commons

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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The Prodigal Son–the rest of story: reflections by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.

OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons
OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons

The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.

Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”

Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *

  • In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
  • pastorfergus.wordpress.com
    pastorfergus.wordpress.com

    The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)

  • Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
  • Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father.  He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
  • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son
    Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son, Flickr Creative Commons

    The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.

  • Instead of honoring his father by accepting his  brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
  • In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
  • Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.

Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…

So, what would you do?

*Much of the background for the remarks in this reflection was found in The Cultural World of Jesus by John J. Pilch and in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Liturgical notes for Sunday:

This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.

catholichotdish.com
catholichotdish.com

The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.

While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.

Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.

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Can’t go away on retreat? Try this stay-at-home multi-media retreat for Lent, “A Journey Within”

Jesus in the desert

Welcome to this Lenten Mini Retreat of self-examination and discovery:
“The Journey Within: Seeing Ourselves in the Eyes of God by Following the Path of Jesus”

This retreat consists of an hour-long presentation of word and song. It is broken up into sections and features several short videos. You do not need to do the entire retreat in one sitting. In fact, I recommend that you do a portion each day over several days so that the lessons really sink in.

You will need three additional items in order to participate in this retreat:

Following the example of Jesus

I present this retreat to show that by following our Lord’s example we find that the journey of self-discovery is not a self-indulgent act but one of love, towards ourselves and our Creator. It is an act of humility where we come face to face with the ugly truths and weaknesses in our lives and give them over to God. It is a fruitful action, empowering us with the confidence and vision to carry out the wonderful life plan that God has given to us.

This presentation is drawn from chapter 6 my book, River of Grace. You will be led on a rich journey where you begin to see yourself as God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made with a glorious mission to fulfill.

Let’s begin.

  1. Listen to Part One of this retreat–it is the longest segment, lasting approximately 34 minutes:

a. Watch the video:

2. Listen to Part Two (3 minutes, 55 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

3. Listen to Part Three (6 minutes, 35 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing along:

4. Listen to Part Four (1 minute, 50 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

5. Listen to Part Five (1 minute, 41 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing/pray along:

6. Listen to the last portion, Part Six (13 minutes, 1 second):

I hope you have enjoyed this mini retreat–perhaps it will lead to a lifelong habit of self-discovery. Remember always to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow every footstep of his path.

Citations:

  • 00 cover smallThis retreat quotes extensively from Chapter 6 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times
    by Susan Bailey and published by Ave Maria Press. Flow Lesson handouts also come from this book.
    Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey
  • “Lead Me to the Wilderness” copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey
  • “In His Eyes” sung by Mindy Jostyn; written by Mindy Jostyn and Jacob Brackman, available on the album In His Eyes. Song used by permission.

Share with your friends

Going on a retreat with a friend can make it extra special. You can easily share this retreat with your friends
on social media – just click on the links below:

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Share on Facebook

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Share on Twitter

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Share on Google+

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Learning from temptation–Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the tempting (or testing) of Christ in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
We’re told that after his baptism in the Jordan River but before undertaking his public ministry, that Jesus fasted for 40 days.
After his fast, he was tempted.

Luke describes three temptations:

  • To give into thinking that the needs of the body are all that matter;
  • To worship something or someone other than God (idolatry);
  • To try to manipulate or to control God.
http://www.bibleimages.ca

Bodily needs

The three temptations can be stated in another way: We can be tempted into believing that our bodily or physical needs are all always the most important, or the only ones. (And yet, we know that the world is full of well-fed, full-bellied, in-shape people who experience life as meaningless and without purpose. The soul matters.).

Forms of idolatry

We can be tempted into making our work, our popularity, or money, our possessions, or a whole host of other things, the center and goal of our lives. (But this is simply a form of idolatry. God calls us to a more abundant path of love. But God sets the priorities along the path. We neither invent nor determine them.).

Trying to control God

Finally, we can be tempted into trying to manipulate God into serving our purposes. (“I’m a good person, I go to church, I give to the poor. But I smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure God will take care of my health and protect me from any illnesses. “I know my son drinks excessively and drives. But I put a Miraculous medal on the dashboard. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Oh really?)

In the wilderness, (and at other times in his ministry) Jesus was tempted in ways similar to these.

All are tested

What we can forget is that this story is the story of every Christian. In the wilderness of the world, each of us has and will be tested. Sometimes we resist, sometimes we fail.

treat-depression.com

And, what’s more: In every age, the Church has been tempted in these ways. And in every generation, the Church resists and the Church succumbs to the temptations. That’s because the Church is made up of imperfect, sometimes weak people, like us.

Temptations are part of our journey through life. The Gospel on Sunday tells us that there would be more ahead for Jesus. (That’s the last line of the Gospel!) Doing what is right is sometimes a struggle; even like an inner battle of sorts. Temptations can teach us a lot about ourselves too.

But God’s Spirit leads us, as it did Jesus.

Pray to resist evil

We pray that this same Spirit would impart the grace to resist what is evil. When we fail, may the Spirit lift us and give us what we need to mend what we have broken or injured.

Above all else, may that Spirit give us vision to see beyond the wilderness of this imperfect, broken world.

Eyes to see that eternal, undying Easter, where God’s love has triumphed over our every test.

Amen.

Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
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Keep up with news regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

 

Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear? This week’s gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

 

 

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus began to speak publicly in the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30).

At first, the people seem to like what he has to say. “And all were spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then, things suddenly change.

Jesus makes a reference to Old Testament story about how God worked great deeds through some non-Jewish folks in the past.

He infers that God’s grace is being extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles.

Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons
Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons

That’s not what the congregation wants to hear.

And that’s when things start going downhill…literally.

When the people hear this, they drive him out of his own town. They are furious.

They even try to throw him down a hill.

But Jesus escapes and moves on to the next town.

The story raises some good questions about the gospel we hear on Sundays.

The message of Jesus wasn’t meant to please audiences the way political candidates sometimes craft their messages to please their audiences and to get applause.

Jesus was popular as long people liked what he had to say. When they didn’t, popularity wasn’t one of Jesus’ assets.

www.slideshare.net
www.slideshare.net

Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear?
To reinforce what we already think?

The gospel is always “good news” but it isn’t always comfortable because it stretches us beyond our comfort zones.

And, over the course of time we’re bound to hear something at Mass that unsettles our ideas about right and wrong:

  • about justice, mercy and forgiveness;
  • about our responsibility in the face of human misery;
  • about death and our ultimate accountability and judgment;
  • and about the dignity of every human life.

There’s an old saying that the gospel (and the sermon) is meant to “trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”

When we feel challenged or unsettled by the Gospel, what will our response be? Amazement or fury?

Will we “expel” the message and the messenger as did the inhabitants of that unreceptive village?

Or, will we ask for the Grace, to re-think everything in life and ask the Divine Teacher to lead us where we need to go?

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The Feast of the Epiphany–offering our gifts to the Light of the World

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

For those who wish to deepen their understanding of the significance of this Sunday—The Solemnity of the Epiphany—the following is offered in preparation for Mass this weekend:

1—This weekend’s celebration ranks among the most important celebrations on our Catholic calendar, with only Easter, Christmas Day and Pentecost taking precedence.

2—The word “Epiphany” is a Greek word meaning “revelation” or “manifestation.” The word “epiphany” may be used in non-religious ways. An “epiphany” can refer to a sudden perception or insight about something. For example: “Then, one day, I had an epiphany, “Why not email my friends back home?”

3—On the Solemnity of the Epiphany we celebrate that the child born in the darkness of night in a lowly manger is revealed as the manifestation of God. Christ is revealed in many ways: as Lord, as King, as the one in whom God is present and acts. All of these manifestations (epiphanies) are “lights” that shine on Christ, revealing a deeper understanding of who he is. Notice that all the readings for today reveal, in a way, a different manifestation of who Christ is and what God is doing through him.

Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons
Waiting For The Word Shepherds 10, Flickr Creative Commons

4—The First Reading from Isaiah will speak of a reversal of fortunes for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will no longer be an insignificant city. A light will beckon peoples from many nations.

  • The Second Reading from Saint Paul speaks of Christ as the one who gathers all to share the same promise, the same inheritance, making them members of the same body.
  • The Gospel Reading recounts the wise men following the star and offering their gifts. Of course, the story represents the life of every Christian: we are guided by the light of faith to offer our gifts of service to Christ.
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons
Thomas Hawk The Adoration of the Magi, Flickr Creative Commons

5—Notice that all of the prayers of the day all refer to light as well.

JHG Hendriks Three Kings
JHG Hendriks Three Kings, Flickr Creative Commons

6—Because the liturgy refers to light, splendor, shining and appearance, the Roman Missal directs that the sanctuary should be decorated with more candles than usual. (Reminder: In Catholic worship, an age-old basic principle is that symbols often communicate truths of the faith better than just words.)

7—Epiphany is another moment in the Church’s celebration of the Christmas Season Actually, our celebration of Christmas will continue for another week, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. From a Christian perspective, there are so many angles, so many perspectives, so much to “take in,” that it takes weeks to “digest” the many different meanings to Christ’s birth. The “secular” celebration of Christmas is now over: trees are coming down, decorations are being put away because the ‘holiday parties” are over and the money-making of the gift giving business is ending. Christians, however, are called to be different. We continue to celebrate and reflect on “the light of the world.” For Christians the primary meaning of Christmas is not gift-giving or parties. (Although gift-giving and parties are wonderful things we should all enjoy!) The meaning of Christmas is Christ-the light.  We pray that by our celebrating that our minds and hearts would be transformed by that light. Why? Because there is always darkness to dispel. And that’s what Christ calls us to do.

Happy Epiphany!

Living each moment of 2016–a reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

January is named for the ancient Roman god “Janus,” a two headed deity looking forward and backward.

New Year’s is a moment when people tend to look back over the past year and reflect over the events and people that shaped the last 365 days.

And we look ahead. We predict, plan and make resolutions for the new year before us.

mary and jesus facesOn January 1st the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the gospel states that Mary, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:16-21)

The turning of the calendar year is an opportunity to ask:

  • Where have I come?
  • To where am I going?

But, we can’t really act meaningfully unless we fully live and embrace the present.

BK Pablo, Flickr Creative Commons
BK Pablo, Flickr Creative Commons

There’s an old saying: “Every NOW is a new beginning. Make it count.”

Let’s pray that as we begin to count the days of a new year, that we’d live more fully in the present; focusing more on the here and NOW.

–Mindful that we cannot do a thing to change the past; and the future will never be exactly what we planned.

Therein lies the gift of Christ’s timeless peace…

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