Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
It is Friday, TGIF! My first week of classes has just about ended, and I am preparing to take a retreat with campus ministry here at Loyola University. The first few weeks back @ college seminary have been fulfilling in many ways. True, I've had some down moments, thinking back of my wonderful time in Brazil, thinking of friends that will be studying abroad for months and that I won't have an opportunity to see for some time. I may even end up sharing some of my struggles in coming blogs, so as to help me cope with anxiety or stress. At a deeper level, maybe sharing what is bothering me might help me to embrace the joys that I have in the now---the moments that touch our heart when we are simply sitting safely nestled in the arms of the Spirit. I hope that whatever I write can help you find some sort of hope or consolation if you are feeling spiritually dry. If my writing makes you feel spiritually dry, then I thoroughly apologize and invite you to send a truckload of SPAM e-mail my way, telling me to wake up and smell the roses, or something along those lines.
Stay warm Chicago, Milwaukee, and all my other friends in the mid-west!
There is a teenage girl at my home parish in Milwaukee who I have known about from a distance for years. Her name is Amber and one of the first things someone notices when they first see her is that she struggles to walk. She uses two large crutches to try and move her frail legs, and her parents often guide her steps and help her move.
I just learned Amber's name Wednesday. My mom was talking about a breakthrough surgery that she had went through that has the potential to strengthen and extend the bones in her legs, thereby making it easier for Amber to walk. One day, doctors hope she will be able to walk sufficiently on her own.
I remember four or five years ago sitting in church and observing Amber walk up to receive bread at communion. Truth be told, I remember one or two times tears coming to the tip of my eyes. I was embarassed to be on the verge of tears in public, but I couldn't help it. Seeing Amber, seeing her struggle to walk, such a young girl with so much life to live but so much physical ailment---it made me want to cry for her. It made me frustrated for her and her condition. In a way, I felt guilty for taking so many things in my own life for granted. In another sense, I was baffled. Why would a girl so young, so innocent, so glowing, be struck with such a fate? I can't help but bring these concerns to God. But where do I go for hope?
Years later, still only knowing Amber from a distance, I have an answer as to where I can go for hope. I can go to the person with the ailment, Amber herself.
The members of a prayer group at Mary Queen of Heaven, my parish in Milwaukee, decided to give Amber a prayer shawl to help comfort her during her operation. It just so happens that she was able to bring a blanket into the operation room during the time of the procedure. Amber chose to be with the shawl, to be a sign of comfort during the procedure.
The early reports from doctors after the procedure are full of good news from what I hear. Amber came to the church prayer group Wednesday morning to meet with the people who had given her the shawl and who had been guiding prayers for Amber to God. The story that the prayer group was meditating on that day was the story of Jesus healing a paralytic in the gospel of Mark. Jesus heals the paralytic first spiritually, telling him his sins are forgiven. Next, to show that the "Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth," Jesus heals the paralytic of his physical ailments. (Mark, chapter 2, verses 1 - 12).
Ironically, this is the same gospel passage I read this morning. I heard it proclaimed during mass after I had read it. I can't help but reflect on it and somehow link it to Amber's story.
Amber said something to the prayer group that touched the heart of my mom, and, I assume, the hearts of all the other members praying for and with Amber. One of the members of the group asked Amber how it felt to sort of be the person in the gospel story they had just read as a group. He asked her, as all the group was probably wondering, how she was able to get through the surgery. Amber apparently looked at the members of the group and said that she wasn't scared during the operation because she knew that Jesus was with her every step of the way.
Miracles aren't very popular in our society---let's face it. We have to have an explanation for everything. And while it is certainly wonderful to explore the reasons behind things and to explain as much as we can about this world and our lives, there are some things that simply can't be explained. I myself am truthfully a skeptic at times. I like to scoff at the idea that miracles are persistent, that angels are working behind moments in our lives to help us along the way, that people can be held of physical or emotional ailments miraculously, seemingly at the hand of God. But then I hear of people like Amber. True, if she is able to walk it is the result of the developments in modern medicine and science. But that breakthrough came from somewhere, somehow. And Amber's Spirit---her complete conviction that the person of Jesus Christ is mysteriously with her along her hopeful journey of physical healing and recovering---that is a modern miracle in and of itself. Her hope, her unflinching faith is a miracle. Her story and her life is inspiring. I consider knowing her, knowing about her, a gift from God---a gift I am grateful for having been given.
I pray for Amber, that she continues to have the strength and courage and tenacity to walk directly and intimately with God.
To conclude, I want to share a well known poem called "Footprints."
One night a girl had a dream. She dreamed seh was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from her life. For each scene, she noticed two sets of footprints in the sane; one belonged to her, and the other to the Lord.
Years later, when the last scene of her life flashed before her, she looked back at the footprints in the sand. She noticed that many times along the path of her life there was only one set of footprints. She also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in her life.
This bothered her and she questioned the Lord about it. "God, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me."
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
Amber seems to comprehend this poem. She has a faith that can move mountains. I pray that in my own life, I might grow to have a faith that can move more than just the keys on this keyboard. I hope my tears for Amber can transition from tears of sadness of frustration to tears of joy and hope. I pray that Amber's miracle of faith becomes a sign of hope and possibility for all of us.
peace and a joyous weekend to all!
your friend bob : )