Everyday Spirituality

Posts tagged ‘joy’

Near Occasions of Joy

During this past week I think God has been trying to get my attention. As I have often experienced in my relationship with God, he is ever so subtle when he is trying to teach me something.

He has sent me little messages through a penny on the ground at my car door. He has sent me a very personal message through a painting on our Paschal candle.
These last few days I seem to be getting these little unexpected occasions of joy. Little bursts of joy that appear ever so briefly, yet undoubtedly fill the bill.


The other day my husband and I were just opening the door to leave our room. At that very moment two tiny frolicking puppies almost ran into our room. They were happily bounding down the long hallway ahead of their owner. They were so playful and energetic that it really made us stop and smile. These two little dogs were eager to go outside and play ball. They had been cooped up in the room all day long and it was time to run.


Once again yesterday these two happy puppies greeted us as we left the building. They make us smile every time we see them. They are a reminder that God wants us to be joyful.

These little dogs would much rather be running around outside with the wind blowing in their ears, but instead they only get to be outside a few minutes each day.

These cute little dogs want to chase the ball thrown by their owner, but he is working all day. They are eager to catch the ball and return it to their master just so he can throw it out once again.

I ask myself.  What are you doing to fill your day with joy?

Is it fixing breakfast for my husband?

Is it chopping carrot sticks for his lunch?

Is it making the bed?

I think these little dogs are God’s way of showing me there can be much joy in life’s simple pleasures. You don’t have to be having a special celebration to experience joy. You do not have to be in some exotic destination to experience joy. You don’t even have to be with your best friend to experience joy.

Life is filled with near occasions of joy that may go unnoticed if we do not look. We could not ignore these two happy dogs. We nearly tripped right over their little bodies.

They are living proof that even if you are cooped up inside a single room all day there is joy worth waiting for.

In the end you do get to run with the wind in your hair.

In the end you do get to catch the ball.

In the end you do get to return to your master.

The Caterpillar Ultimately Flies Away

If we truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus then we must also believe that our loved ones and we too will be resurrected….some day. This Easter weekend, beginning with Holy Thursday, is everything we believe as Christians.

During these last few days we entered into what it means to be a living breathing human being joined with our one redeeming grace…Jesus. He alone enters and relinquishes all doubt.

He alone gives meaning to suffering and joy.

Sharing a meal with friends…being betrayed by loved ones…being loved by relatives…suffering without guilt…loneliness in a crowd…false accusations…humiliation…comfort from by standers…assistance from a stranger…forgiveness of offenders…absorbed in prayer…acting according to the will of the Father

If Easter stirs nothing else within our souls it should be that God the Father keeps his promises. Death is but a passage into something far greater and more beautiful than life itself.

Easter is about dying to those things in my life that are not important.

Easter is about realizing that all things pass on into something more; and sometimes we are blessed to catch a glimpse…the Resurrection.

Just when we foolishly or mistakenly think that the tomb is empty it is actually filled with the life of the spirit. Our human eyes have only limited vision. Even in the Gospels those who saw the resurrected Jesus often did not recognize him or mistook him for someone else. Perhaps seeing the resurrected Jesus was much like seeing in a dream…where things can be confusing.

Easter teaches us that when we surrender and let go God does carry us the rest of the way. Easter shows us that what we see with our eyes is not the complete picture.

Easter is like the hidden egg in the yard; in plain sight except to the hunter. In spite of the contrast (in color) the egg is often still missed; missed because we become frantic in our search and intent with filling our basket. We rush around ‘helter skelter’ overlooking so much.

Jesus did live his life doing amazing things. But he also lived his life doing ordinary things just as we and our loved ones have done. It is through living our ordinary life that we are given the promise of an extraordinary eternity.

Easter gives me hope that someday when we are reunited with our loved ones. We will see with new eyes and the brilliance will be more than we could have imagined.

You cannot experience great joy without first experiencing great suffering.


Death must always come before the glory of the Resurrection!

The Caterpillar Ultimately Flies Away!



New Life is Possible

Out of the rubble of death and devastation new things erupt.

Recently as I entered into our newly enlarged and renovated worship space I could not help but think about what is now new in my own life.

The death of my friend certainly left devastation within my heart,

but new life is breaking through.

As I sat in our new church I found myself reflecting on the timing; so fitting. I can enter into this space with a new sight, new light, and freshness of spirit. The months of the dark journey of her illness seem to be lighter in this new space. I can carry her in with joy in my heart…Joy and the peace in knowing that she is now also new in the Lord. She is clothed in his brilliant love.

 This new space is bright, clean, simple, inviting and welcoming to all. She would have felt peace and joy here too. When you lose a loved one it is good to create new memories…not to replace the old memories, but to keep your heart and soul in a state of growth. I read somewhere that one cannot remain stagnant; we are either moving forward or moving backward.

There were many days during her illness that I knew without a doubt, I was moving backward. I think grief has a way of making you feel as if you are literally falling backwards. As you are falling backwards time seems to move in slow motion or even at times remain as a ‘freeze frame’. It is not good to stay in this state for long.

Shortly after a forest fire there can be seen tiny sprouts of green popping up amid the charred parched land. Amazing! These new seedlings now have less competition for sunlight and rain water which enable them to mature faster.

Tiny little signs of hope;

all is not lost.

Tiny little signs that even here

new life is possible.

Tiny little signs of a powerful

unseen force.

Signs that remind us that we

are loved by a life-giving God.

Signs that we live in an environment

 filled with our Creator’s energy.

Today, as I write, marks the end of this Liturgical year. It is the end of the previous Mass translation we have used for many years. We are also on the threshold of Advent…a time of new beginnings.

We are a people called to choose life…for living consistently embraces the new.

So while I will miss some of the familiar prayers of the Mass. I am committed to moving forward integrating the new into all that has made me the person I am today.

Integrating the loss of my dear friend into the person God wants me to become; is still a difficult work in progress, but it must continue. “…you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God.” (Jonah 2:7)

There is no going backwards or standing still.

There is only moving forward

however long it may take.

The Gift of the Visitation

Henri Nouwen says, “Icons can become yours…guiding you in all ways at all times. They will begin to speak, he says, of the unique way in which God has chosen to love you.”

From Behold the Beauty of the Lord

This is the icon of the Visitation, when Mary rejoiced with Elizabeth in an embrace. Both women were filled with the expectant joy of pregnancy. They recognized the goodness of the Lord alive within each other.

This icon was one of several gracing the walls of my friend’s home. This one in particular she loved. She had it hanging on the wall directly in front of her. As she lay for hours on the loveseat her gaze fell upon the Visitation icon. While we never spoke at length about this icon I knew how much she loved it. Gradually icons speak silently to your inner self.

One day another friend of ours was helping her with some needle work. She noticed the icon there upon the wall and asked if it was my friend and I. Without a moment’s hesitation she confidently answered, ‘Yes’.

For months I eagerly drove to visit my friend whether at home or in the hospital. When she was in the hospital I wanted to be there for her. I’d like to believe that my being present brought her a certain amount of comfort. There were sometimes when I was compelled to intervene on her behalf to the nursing staff. Some were not able to comprehend that she was very delicate.

I think about how eager Mary was to visit Elizabeth…how their presence to one another brought them both comfort. Mary was just a young unmarried girl carrying a child…not just any child, but the Christ Child. She must have found comfort just being with Elizabeth. Mary and Elizabeth had so much to share just I did with my friend.

Last year we graduated together, along with her spouse, as Spiritual Directors. My mother brought me a most beautiful statue of Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other. Sitting with a directee is a meeting of two people coming together to acknowledge the presence of God in their lives.

This beautiful sculpture depicts Mary and Elizabeth face to face mirroring one another, holding hands. Their foreheads are nearly touching.

I often sat with my friend and all I did at times was hold her hand. When she was hospitalized I would greet her with the sign of the cross on her forehead followed by a gentle kiss.

These two loving women appear to be bowing toward each other, as if they were mutually honoring the indwelling of the Spirit. Even the designs of their dresses seem to dance with joy at their meeting. These two women reflect the excitement and joy I shared many times with my friend. I am thankful for the times we had together and sad for the future times we will not have together. This sculpture was done by Timothy P. Schmalz who says, ‘I describe my sculptures as being visual prayers’. It is true for me; this statue is a visual prayer.

Everything about the Visitation was excitement and joy. ….visits with my friend were also filled with excitement and joy; until the cloud of death came to hang over us day after day. It was difficult when she did not want to talk about her death. It lurked all around us everywhere we looked, but she did not want to speak of it. I tried to keep my fears and anxiety inside, but I know it was etched on my face.

The best gift you can give someone is the gift of your presence. I can happily say I have no regrets as to how much time I gave to my friend. My dear husband encouraged me to take all the time I needed to be with her. I thank him for allowing me this luxury; it was a blessing I will forever hold dear.

One should give not according to one’s convenience but according to the needs of the receiver. I once read that Mary’s visit was an inspiration to Elizabeth. Visits with my friend were often inspirations to me. When you visit; try to bring some inspiration into the lives of those you love.

God chose to love me through my friend and he chose to love her through me.

He also chose to love us both through the beautiful images of Mary and Elizabeth.

Together we chose to share our love of God. Together we allowed God to love others through us. I will continue to allow God to use me to love and inspire others.

We brought many blessings to each other “…For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

~Swallowed in Quicksand~

When I was in high school you would often see scenes in movies depicting someone being swallowed up by quicksand. It was a frightening thought to be trapped in such a seemingly helpless situation. No one could come near enough to help the person or they too would be drowning in the quicksand.

I was thinking about how grief acts much the same way…swallowing you up into itself. You feel frightened, trapped, and even helpless at times.

 Others may not want to get too close; they too may get swallowed up by this quicksand called grief.

Mostly people do not know what to say, however they mean well.

Quicksand presses in on all sides of your body

making you feel as if you will suffocate.

When you are trapped in quicksand the most important thing on your mind is surviving long enough to work your way back to stable ground. If you struggle you will plunge deeper into the mucky mud. Struggling to distance yourself from grief will only cause it to linger around longer, perhaps for the rest of your life.

Did you know the way to escape quicksand is to wiggle your legs?

The odd thing about quicksand is that it appears to be solid ground.

It looks normal. It is only when you step into it do you realize it will not support your weight.

I do not pretend to understand everything about grief. I remember when I was a still young my grandmother died. I was not ready to lose her; we had so much fun together. I can remember out of the blue after she died being overcome with grief while driving or grocery shopping. The tears would burst forth without warning. They seemed to be an essential part of the healing process.

“The waters swirled about me, threatening my life; the abyss enveloped me.” Jonah 2:6

I surrender to this grief pressing against my whole being. It is futile to resist as it envelopes one’s entire being. I lie motionless waiting to float to the surface. The Lord’s own invisible hand sustains my soul. No one else would dare come that close.

The one thing you should not do if caught in quicksand, is fight with the sand. It will only make it that much more difficult to free yourself.

The human body will actually float in quicksand. You will not drown.

 In the quicksand of grief…

I give myself permission to allow the tears to drench the surface.

Fighting back with anger and denial will not bring peace to my soul; instead it will feed the grief like sour milk.

What do you think about tears? Some people do not like to cry. Some even think crying is a sign of weakness. We hear parents admonishing children ‘don’t be a cry baby’. As a society we have not learned to grieve well. We tend to put on our ‘happy face’ no matter what.

The ability to free yourself completely from quicksand takes a considerable amount of energy. I won’t bore you here with the scientific details, but to remove one foot from quicksand requires the same amount of force as lifting a mid-sized car. Wow!

“The Lord, your God, who is in your midst, is a great and awesome God.” Dt. 7:21

Release from this grief may take years, and maybe that is how it should be. When the emotional state of grief diminishes you will once again breathe in fresh air.

The memories of your loved one live on in you and through you. I am reminded of the final words of each Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass when the priest says, ‘Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…’

Everyone who loved Jesus also experienced the quicksand of grief.

How would they continue without his earthly presence? Who would be there to guide them? To encourage them? To teach them?

Who would be there to inspire them to be better than they were?

Those who loved Jesus were no different than us. They had all the same emotions, hopes, and fears. The Emmaus journey encapsulates all that it means to be human in a few well written verses.

“I, the Lord, am with you always, until the end of the world.” Mt. 28: 20

Without Grief would we ever be able to recognize much less appreciate Joy?

Soul Stirrings: Joy within Sorrow


Nestled within our penitential season of Lent is the wonderful solemnity of the Annunciation. As I was trying to absorb the depth of Mary’s ‘yes’ I was struck by the church’s timing. Here we are well into Lent, a time of renewal… A time of repentance for our inability to love as we should… A time for true change. And what does the church give us, but the joyful Annunciation. What an example of renewal, love, and change. The Annunciation during lent to me represents joy within trials and sorrow. When the angel revealed to Mary, a young girl, that God had chosen her to be the mother of the messiah, she had to renew her commitment; willing to do the will of God. She was blessed with abundant grace and the capacity to love beyond measure. Little did she know then how much this love she felt in her soul would be pierced with immense sorrow. That blessed day Mary’s life changed forever and her body truly became the temple of the living God, Jesus.

My mind is flooded with images of the Passion. My heart is saddened by Mary’s sorrow as she must stand by and witness unspeakable assaults on her precious son. I see the exquisite image of the Pieta…Mary tenderly holding the lifeless body of her beloved Son. Mary’s joy at the angel’s announcement is somehow entombed within this season of lent. But yet we often hear of the many joys that can be found within pain and sorrow. Some even consider these gifts.

Reflecting on the Annunciation during Lent is a reminder to always be mindful of the joys in our life.

Celebrating the Annunciation during Lent is a reminder that even when we are struggling with life and draped in purple cloth joy can still be found.


Every year during Lent; we have the opportunity to renew our commitment, love more, and change our heart. Mary had one moment in time when she embraced the ultimate commitment to love more and she was forever changed for us.

Where have you missed the joy in your life?

Has sorrow instead overshadowed the joy in your life?


Fresh Squeezed Inspiration: Believe

All the many years that I spent as an educator; every summer I always felt like the empty school building was equivalent to a ghost town. The lights turned down low or even off in most of the building. The only sounds are from the custodial crew; the hum of the vacuum cleaners and music from their radios. The bright colors on the walls and bulletin boards have given way to the drab dull gray. But the most important missing ingredient was the students and the teachers. In other words LIFE was missing from the building. Even during the year if I stayed late to complete grades or lesson plans it never felt like a ghost town only in the summer.

This is the time of year when those summer ‘ghost town’ school buildings return to life. The kids and the teachers once again walk the halls, sit in the chairs, write on the boards, and eat in the cafeteria. All is well…LIFE has returned. The voices of children learning to read, discovering the joy of books, will always warm my heart with fond memories. The voices of children singing, laughing, playing is a reminder to me that we are called to be like little children. Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3

In Mark 10:15, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”  

And again in Luke 18:17 we have almost the exact words cautioning and instructing us to be like a child inorder to enter the kingdom of God.

What exactly are the childlike characteristics Jesus is talking about in these verses?

During my many years of teaching first graders I was blessed to be in the presence of these very characteristics. Children, for the most part, are open, receptive, trustful, and loving. The very ways, I believe, we are called to be inorder to enter the kingdom of God.

I believe that we can all be inspired to a more fulfilling relationship with God if we spend some time with small children. Just observe how they live with joy and abandonment. I believe one challenge we have as adults is to find a way to live in joy.  To remain open, receptive, and trustful of our heavenly father until the day comes when we can enter into the kingdom should be our prayer.

Teachers try the best they can to preserve the child’s love of life…the joy.

I would like to share with you a wonderful and inspiring video about children and their teachers. I hope you will take the time to enjoy it and in the process remember a teacher who nurtured your joy of life. Leave us a message about that special teacher. Here’s to all the teachers!!! Live the Joy!!!


Blessings, Sharon

Make it a Lemonade Day!

Squeeze out every drop of flavor!