Squinting my eyes for His camera

Copy of Blog.jpgOne year ago, I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon and smiled so hard my eyes squinted for the camera. There, I gaped at the magnificent sight before me and marveled at the endless layers of stone, sand, and minerals that formed the endless range of mountains inside the earth’s crust.

I was not alone. Thousands of people joined me along the edge of the canyon that day. Some had cameras in hand, but most simply stood and gazed over the canyon, as if paralyzed by wonder. (It became clear to me then why Americans chose the Grand Canyon as the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, according to a USA Today’s November 2006 study.)

Geology was one of my greatest hobbies as a child and teenager, next to reading. My “rock collection” was embarrassingly extensive. And although I didn’t become the Geologist or Archaeologist as planned in grade school, I still have a habit of bending over to study rocks in along the road or pouring over the latest new story of an archaeological dig.

You see, I’m a big picture person who likes to dive into the details to discover how pieces work together to make a whole. I believe this explains my love of pilgrimage (the thousands of steps that make up one destination), my job in communications (studying the ways in which others perceive truth or an idea) and it even explains my love of ensemble music (two, three, four, and even 8 voice parts coming together to form the sound of the angels).

This way of thinking took on a whole new perspective at the Grand Canyon.

There, I stood at what might as well be the greatest geological treasure of the world and could neither dig into the details or grasp the big picture. It was all I could do to pick my jaw up off the ground.

I found it paralyzing in the best kind of way.

How many little details must come together to make this place so spectacular?  And how much bigger is the big picture than what my poor little eye can see?

The Grand Canyon challenged my vision and how I looked at the world right in front of me. There was no possible way I could take it all in with my human eye. The beauty extended beyond what I could fathom – the details, the “big picture.”  Even my peripheral vision was limited.  And although I could not see or understand the size of it all with my own two eyes, I simply trusted it was there – before me and below me.

Yes! Those massive mountain-like formations might be over a mile high and yet, unlike any other mountain range that invites us to look upwards, these “mountains” invite us to look beneath the surface. 

That is where my eyes began to connect with my heart.

My vision at the Grand Canyon was challenged because it wasn’t about seeing the details or the bigger picture; it was about taking delight in a sight beyond my understanding. It was about seeing the story from a new perspective.

I beheld greatness and was satisfied with the unknown.

jad-limcaco-JEq_2UJoTtg-unsplash.jpgThat statement is not something I can say for my life, and yet I think that’s the beauty the Grand Canyon continues to unfold for me to this day. My life is made up of hours, days, weeks, and years – layer upon layer of simple moments. It is tested by the fire of adversity, forged by the working of grace, and holds oh so many caverns of love to create a masterpiece that I cannot begin to see or understand. But God does. Because He is the Master behind those details. And He tries to show me the masterpiece of my life every day with a new, glorious view.

What if I could, right here and right now, behold the intricate layers of my own story and be satisfied with a lack of understanding? 

What if I could trust that the unknown canyons and crevices before me will, one day, be filled with light? 

What if I could take a moment and smile so hard my eyes squint for His camera?! 

Simply put – what if I could believe that God loves me more than what my poor little human eye can perceive?

Dear friend, a whole year has passed since I stood in this place. And I am only now beginning to unpack what could be perhaps the most important question of all. I invite you into this quest with me. Let’s pray to know not the intricacies of how God loves us, but the simplicity of how MUCH God loves.

Because it’s so much grander than we can imagine.

Yours, Mary

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Dear Sister Struggling With Infertility: Jesus pursues you.

To my sister suffering beneath the weight of infertility,

to the one whose heart is crushed month after month, left in an endless cycle of waiting-

to the one whose whole strength goes into holding it together in the face of another pregnancy announcement-

to the one whose bitterness feels unbearable, whose joy has been stolen and faith crippled by this cross-

I think there is a sweet hope and precious promise meant just for you- and it is found in perhaps an unlikely place, in the story of St. Thomas’ doubt which we hear accounted for in the Gospels.

Poor St. Thomas- still remembered two thousand years later for the doubt he displayed in the face of the Resurrection. I used to look at his story from a place of pride and wonder how He could ever doubt the God-man He walked alongside through so much. But then I was given a diagnosis: secondary infertility; and my scorn turned to understanding. It suddenly made painfully clear sense- how a disciple so close to the heart of Christ could struggle with such profound doubt.

In my 25 years of life, I had seen suffering and known hurt. I had grieved the loss of loved ones, mourned the disintegration of friendships, felt the stab of heartbreak and walked through the uncertainty of lost opportunities and closed doors. In all of this, nothing has had the power of shaking my faith and distancing me from my Jesus the way infertility did.

It was never that I questioned God’s sovereignty- I prayed every day for the miracle I knew without a doubt He was powerful enough to give. It was His character that I began to doubt; it was my conviction that He loved me and was working all things for good which wavered beneath the weight of my aching heart. And in the midst of that raw pain- the Enemy of goodness began sowing his lies.

I began to believe them….the things I heard whispered in the back of my heart…’that if I were a better mother to the son I have, that if I were a more faithful disciple…then maybe I could earn God’s favor…that this was just “my cross” and God’s expectation was that I grin and bear it as He needn’t busy Himself with what I was feeling and experiencing.’

My subconscious acceptance of these falsehoods slowly turned to bitterness as I began to compare my life to those around me. All across my social media feeds, pregnancy announcements emerged, within my job I was met with the reality of women seeking abortion when all I wanted was to be able to conceive and I felt deep in my bones the shock of knowing that the family I had pictured and planned may never come to pass.

I felt so hurt.

And it was within this hurt and healing from it that I read the gospel account of doubting Thomas with new eyes.

Thomas must have felt so hurt, too.

He had walked alongside Jesus, too, after all. He had been counted among His dearest friends. He had been there, huddled alongside his faith community after living through the total devastation of the crucifixion and the uncertainty and fear which marked the days following.

But He wasn’t there when Jesus came…when Jesus chose to come. He wasn’t counted among those the Resurrected Lord appeared to- He wasn’t bid peace by the voice of the risen Savior. Others were given that gift…but not Him. He was left out.

I imagine that the Enemy sought Thomas in His vulnerable longing to experience the Lord in the same way those around Him had, and began whispering… “you’re not enough Thomas…maybe Jesus just didn’t want to appear to you...”

And maybe Thomas mulled over the lies until they were all he heard…until he was angry.

Until he saw the gift of the Resurrection, of New Life, as something meant for others and not for Him.

Maybe his heart ached and his faith reeled…not because He didn’t believe in Jesus’ sovereignty, but because he was no longer sure how to believe in His goodness- when it seemed to be something he had been excluded from.

Maybe that’s what fueled the seemingly bitter assertion given to his fellow apostles- “I won’t believe unless…”

Perhaps the words came from the loneliness and isolation he felt as a wearied soul surrounded by vibrant belief- his mourning set against the background of rejoicing. It’s a lonely place to be.

That was where I found myself 13 months into trying without success to conceive. I fell on my knees before Jesus in adoration, my tears hitting the carpet beneath me. As He gazed upon my pain, He whispered to the depths of my heart “I am goodness.”

I didn’t understand, right in that moment, why it mattered so much that I believe Jesus’ words…or even why these were the words He bade me amidst so painful a cross.

The deep healing came in the following weeks, when I jet set the across the country to a Blessed is She retreat , where I encountered the risen Lord in all of His goodness and glory in a way that I never had before.

I cannot completely explain the healing that took place (and words would never do it justice), I can only say that the veil of doubt was torn from my eyes in Love’s reckless pursuit of my heart. The lies I had begun to believe about who I am and who God is were put to their shame. I came to see that my hurt could not supersede God’s goodness. I experienced firsthand the truth- that He can fulfill and satisfy beyond our longings and make the desert a place of abundance.

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This is the hope for us then, sisters.

Jesus pursues.

Just as He did through the locked doors of that upper room, through the closed walls of Thomas’ heart. Jesus enters. He gives Thomas what His heart so desires- an encounter of His goodness- and more. He places Thomas’ shaking hands to his wounds and in doing so, assures Thomas of His faithfulness. Not just that He has truly appeared, but that He has truly conquered death…not just that He has returned, but that He never left in the first place.

And then Jesus tells Him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe.”

I used to think this was an admonishment of Thomas’ doubt. But now, through the eyes of one who has been healed, I see it as a promise.

Even in your hurt, know that I am trustworthy. I am good. I am willing good for you. Even in your doubt, I am pursuing you to the ends of the earth. Even in the stillness and loneliness of an unfulfilled request, I am blessing you. I can heal you- if you let me.

Look up to Jesus, sister. Let your pain and your anger and your doubt spill out before Him. Don’t flinch when He reaches for your hand and places it in His side. Don’t hesitate when He scoops your woundedness into the folds of His own. Fall into Him.

I can’t promise you in what way Jesus will transform your story or what goodness He will draw from your deepest place of suffering- only that He will.

He can’t help it. It’s who He is.

And even though it may feel like you’ve fallen through the cracks- you must know- He wants you to know– that you are far too precious in His sight to fall to a place where He doesn’t see every part of you and love you all the more.

So, to my sister suffering beneath the weight of infertility, know that He has come to give you life, and give it to you in abundance.

Let Him crush the cold voice that whispers to your heart the falsehood that this promise isn’t meant for you. The Holy Spirit, the advocate who cries out on your behalf, assures you that this promise is uniquely yours- that Jesus never left you, and that He never will. In your darkest heartache, His love is YOURS, to cover you, to shelter you, to fight for you, to HEAL you.

Radio Show: The Pearl of Great Price

Copy of Blog.jpgI remember vividly the day I sat with my sister in our bedroom and mulled over our plans for the future. We talked about our options and the possibilities of someday getting married and raising families. I was preparing to graduate high school and it seemed as though what my heart desired was certainly in my more immediate future.

We discussed the “who” the “what” the “where” and then… the when.

My outlook on life did not have a fairytale approach, though when I look back now, I see that a good dose of reality was yet to come. In an effort to balance the dream-come-true with reality, I remember coming up with three “worst case scenarios” for my future. One of them, which I refer to in the below mentioned radio interview, was this:

“In the WORST case scenario, I end up single at 30 years.” I remember informing my sister and following it up with, “But I don’t think that can happen. I won’t LET that happen.”

Oh, Mary, Mary. You had so much to learn.

That worst case scenario actually became my reality. And do you know what? That reality has been a blessing to me in many ways, in spite of the heartache to accompany it.

The radio show in which I tell this story and others published yesterday on my 33rd birthday. A coincidence? Perhaps. But my heart tells me not. Instead, I believe it was a clear message to me and every young man and woman living the single vocation with an ache for marriage to know that while our plan seems like the best plan, it’s really just “okay” and pales in comparison to the great worth of the wait. 

If you care to hear more about this perspective, come join me and listen to last month’s episode of The Pearl of Great Price in which I talk about discernment on all kinds of levels and how love works crazy things in our waiting. If not anything else, I hope this reaffirms your faith God can transform even our worst plans into His best plans.

Love, Mary

“With love, I not only do I go forward, I fly!” – St. Therese of Lisieux

Saved By a Children’s Song

WowHappeningNowAt one point in time, the fear of losing touch with all things “kid” seemed like a legitimate concern. My siblings were growing up and my own family still a dream and prayer. But thankfully, there is no shortage of children in my life with many of my friends and siblings now deeply involved in heaven’s great mission of raising families.

On winter days, I relive the adventure of building blanket forts and taking breaks to drink dangerous amounts of hot cocoa (containing more marshmallows than cocoa, of course). On summer days, I learn everything there is to know about sharks and giant squid, how to ride scooters, and all about the proper care of a centipede. And on any given day, I might be so lucky as to catch a baby smile in exchange for a performance of The Cuppycake Song. (Is that not the sweetest thing you have ever heard?)

This is not the song that inspired the title of this post. But it was one such link to childhood that recently drew me into a new and powerful view of own my life; something I am still learning how to see and appreciate in every single day.  It all started as Faith and I began a three-day road-trip pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

*If you follow us on Facebook, you know a little more about the behind-the-scenes to this adventure – as well as the why, how, and when. You can also watch our videos on YouTube to dive into the heart of our journey!*

Within minutes of commencing our road-trip north, Faith and I managed to find pizza, a smoothie, and deep conversation. Was that a surprise? Hardly! In no time, we were on our way to Wisconsin, digging deep into the movements of our lives, families, and even the hopes and plans for our trip. (All while definitely not starving.)

“Can you believe we are doing this?” I asked. We had been talking about this trip for months, making AirBnb reservations, researching ice cream shops in the area, and putting new breaks on my car (in no particular order of priority).

The joy of cruising along the highway was so much more than the trip itself for me at that moment: it was the action of doing it. So much of my life is spent thinking about tomorrow, practically planning out a course for my life in big and small ways. In the case of this pilgrimage, I found myself grateful and proud of Faith and me for not just talking about going to this holy place together, but seizing the opportunity to go.

Faith agreed with me as I tried to explain all of this to her while she navigated the GPS. But instead of simply agreeing and moving on, she then called me on to something higher in a way I did not see coming.

“It’s just like Daniel Tiger…” she began. “You know Daniel Tiger, right?” I wracked my brain for the memory of a tiger and how it could connect to my reflection. As Faith began to describe the latest children’s show, it all suddenly came back to me: Mr. Rodgers, King Friday, Gina and the calm and wise world in which Daniel Tiger and I were both raised.  “Oh, THAT Daniel Tiger…” I mused.

I expected Faith to dive into a story about the character of Daniel Tiger. To my surprise, she began to sing a song from the storyline itself:

“Enjoy the wow that’s happening now…”

I was stunned. Gone was the satisfaction of looking back at the planning and preparing it took to make this trip happen. Gone was the plan and purpose we had given to the journey ahead of us. This simple little ditty hit me like the proverbial two-by-four. The happiness I felt in that moment had little to do with everything behind and before me and had everything to do with what was right in front of me – the present moment.

Just like that (and because this tune was incredibly difficult to shake!) the lyrics to a children’s song defined every movement and theme of our three day road-trip pilgrimage together.

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Instead of rushing to our AirBnB that night, we took the time to veer off the main road and watch the sunset over the Mississippi River. We attended a later Mass than originally planned the next day so we could be rested and refreshed, unknowingly providing ourselves extra time to explore the Shrine’s grottos on the path to the chapel. A bag of lettuce and a frozen pizza became our dinner of choice one night in place of a nice restaurant, affording us a chance to curl up on the couch to listen to our favorite podcasts and the sound of rain on the roof.

In the midst of these and so many other unexpected joys, one of us would inevitably start to sing, “Enjoy the wow that’s happening now…” My happiness was no longer in the satisfaction of achieving the moment, it was in embracing the moment – the “wow” happening now. 

It called me out of the lies looking back at my life – mistakes, wounds, regrets. It freed me from the weariness of planning out how life “should” go. It pulled me back from becoming worried or discouraged at my future. It satisfied everything I needed right when I needed it. God truly is in the present moment and only asks me to embrace it as a gift sent by Him – simply to make me happy.

Yes.

Our good Lord wants to make you and me happy, and He demonstrates this to us countless times in the minute of every day. I don’t know about you, but I am often too busy looking backward or forward to notice the happiness “here.”

St. Gianna Beretta Molla – the saint at the heart of our adventure – knew this all too well. As Faith and I began packing up for our journey home, I came across a quote I had written down just a few weeks before. I smiled when read it again and aloud,

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“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.”

Perhaps this was the whole point of our entire trip – to find the secret of happiness by living and loving every moment well.

The trip itself is long over, but the wisdom of the journey remains. Now, when I find myself all-too-often worrying about the future or going back over the past, I try to draw my heart toward the present moment. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

My “wow” is happening now.

Lingering a little longer at the empty tomb

D4FB2DAA-2980-4184-B8F0-2498191483F8.pngDo you ever intentionally revisit a happy place, like an old friend? The place your husband proposed, the house you grew up in, or the street on which you mastered the art of riding a two-wheel bike? If not in person, perhaps you, like me, revisit old places in your memory and there, meet familiar faces and moments when you see your story being written ever-so-intentionally, with love.

A few years ago, I made a visit to the church where I became a Catholic – the church where I was baptized and received my First Communion over twenty years ago. There, I looked back into my story and marveled at the transformation that occurred within those sacred walls. It’s one that had to be written ever-so-intentionally, with love. Because I started with nothing. I was the young girl who, in that very church, pointed to the crucifix, and asked her dad, “What is that?” I was the girl who stood on her toes in order to reach the baptismal font. The 10-year-old girl who learned for the first time that she was actually made in the image and likeness of God and was created simply to know, love, and serve Him. Being in that place brought me back to a place of transformation in the very core of my soul. It was humbling and rewarding, to say the least.

These past few weeks brought us “back” to the story of our redemption too, much like the story of my conversion. We made our annual walk through Holy Week and journeyed from the cross to the crown. Easter came with all it’s glory! And the story continues.

Of all the places the story of our redemption has taken me these past few days, oddly enough, I find myself lingering longer at the empty tomb. I know I should be rushing around Jerusalem at this point with the apostles and disciples, exclaiming “Alleluia” in a flurry of excitement, disbelief, and holy fear. I should be seeing Him with the holy women, walking with Him on the road to Emmaus, and thrusting my hand into His open side.

Instead, I return to the tomb. I find this quiet, empty place to be one full of promise and peace. 

I imagine myself not alone in the desire to go back. In fact, I KNOW I’m not alone. Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb a second time in search of the missing Savior. The angel’s words were not enough. She boldly asked where He was taken and received the gift of recognition in return. “Mary” Jesus called her by name. And she believed. (JN 20:15-16)

I imagine Mary Magdalene returning to that place, over and over again, as if to relive that moment of recognition. Wouldn’t you? Even in her eagerness to share this news with the apostles, I see her turn back on the road to Jerusalem as if to take another look at the place of transformation – even for just an instant. Unlike one woman’s audacious “looking back” that turned to salted stone, this look turns back a much different stone again in our memory. 

As I stand there in silence, I see so much more than the empty space before me. I see a story, written ever-so-intentionally, with love.

I see once impossible places in my own heart – dark, cold, and broken places. Memories of my “worst case scenarios” becoming realities in the form of wounds, loss, trauma, and hurt. I hear echos of myself once saying, “I will never be able to recover,” and “This can never be made right again.”

And then – There is light. The once impossibly dark spaces are now filled with light by the Greatest Gift of Selfless Love. 

And oh, what an enormous amount of light fills in that tomb – no crack, crevice, or hole is left unchanged by His presence! The hard memories of the past become realities of healing and hope like I never thought possible. In the tomb, I see those “worst case scenarios” become the catalyst for my life’s greatest redemptions. 

They come in all shapes and sizes – forgiveness, strength, experiences, loved ones and friends, and most of all – a healing, growing, thriving heart.

And I know He’s writing a similar story, ever-so-intentionally (with love!) for you, too.

He calls you back to life. He forgives your greatest offenses. He heals your deepest wounds. His mercy pours forth from the empty tomb and brings light into your darkest places.

What do you see when you look at the tomb, my friend? 

Is it dark with loss of grace from sin? Filled with pain, regret, or addiction? Maybe your tomb is one of grief and loss, empty with longing for another. Is it loneliness you bear?

Or perhaps your tomb as a broken heart! I heart feels like it is beyond repair. A heart that is called improved and torn to pieces. A heart that feels unable to be mended.

I linger at the empty tomb because that is where the transformation occurred. I stand there, like I stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon, marveling at the beauty that can come from layers of dirt and sand. I stand there, as if in disbelief that the place I am looking for or out in front of me is the same place  impossible place I knew once before. 

Come and stand with me dear friend, at the end of your heart come and ask him to cast His light inside! Wait for it – and you will hear him call your name. Then, you will know and believe that he is writing your story ever-so-intentionally, with love.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (REV 21:5)

With Love, Mary

The Invitation of Good Friday

For most of the Good Fridays I can remember, I would sit and look at the cross, focusing on how my sins nailed Jesus there. As a mode of reflective prayer, I would focus on each suffering Jesus endured- the scourging, crowning with thorns, incessant mockery and insult- thinking of the countless ways I have sinned- thinking, a heart heavy with guilt, “I did this to you.”

But this Good Friday, for the first time, I am accepting Jesus’ offer to look away from my own sin and into His loving gaze and to let His words cover my own as He whispers gently- “I did this for you.”

I am stepping from the interior of my own heart and into the interior of His- so that the identity I embrace during this solemn day is not ‘betrayer’ but “beloved”. To realize that the voice of my crucified God-man is not one of accusation, but invitation- that when He looks at me from the cross and says “I did this for you” it’s not in an “I told you so manner”- not “I did this for you because you are unworthy” but “I did this for you to DEEM you worthy.”

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Good Friday- Jesus’s sacrifice, its not (and has never been) about my own inadequacy; it’s always been about our God’s abundance.

Jesus always transforms. He always redeems. There is no sin He cannot cast from our lives, no sorrow in us He cannot overcome with His joy, no darkness He cannot illuminate.

That’s what Good Friday is about, my sisters- even in its very name it shows God’s trans-formative power- that He could take humanity’s worst day ever and deem it “good”.

He does the same for you and I, wherever we’re at, whatever we’re struggling with or suffering through. He deems us good. He deems our suffering restorative as He enters into with us.

He looks to us at every step of His passion, his eyes burning not with betrayal, but with love.

And as we follow Him, let our hearts weep- not from guilt- but from wonder, absolute awe at a love so great, so big, so powerful and perfect that it makes all things new.

Jesus, as you walk this journey with and for us, create in us new hearts- hearts which encounter your Love and by it find themselves transformed. Amen.

Love+Blessings,

Faith

God’s Child-like Love

“Mama sit.”

My two year old, Joseph, looks up from where he is playing with the moon-sand we’ve created using flour and baby oil. He is sitting at his “little table”, in a chair just his size. Across from him, there is an empty chair which I have just vacated in my constant need to remain “busy”. “Mama, please.” He beckons earnestly. I set down the bowl I had just been drying and come kneel next to him, a smile lighting his face as I do so.

“Mama come.”

Joseph calls as he runs down the hallway towards his play room. He is off on his next adventure, and though he doesn’t necessarily need me to play “with” him, he wants me to be there to watch as he stirs his imaginary soup and races his cars along the toy track. If I get up even to go to the bathroom a few feet away, the worried call pierces the air as soon as I’m no longer in eye-sight. “Mama, COME!”

“Mama, show you!”

-are the words which excitedly follow Joseph’s every new discovery, each new mastered skill. It is not so much validation he seeks as it is being seen and known and taken joy in.

Every time I am called for and tugged at and beckoned to look, I am reminded of the most beautiful part of motherhood I’ve experienced thus far- the reality that I am enough; That while I can plan all the activities, make all the snacks and buy all the toys, at the end of the day, it is me that is sought. “What a sweet way to be loved.” I muse one afternoon as I sit watching Joseph play after being called back from the house hold chores I was attempting to get done.

In the interior of my heart, I hear a warm voice whisper, “that’s the way I love you.”

Tears spring to my eyes at the very thought of the God of the universe loving me so simply and purely. Just like my toddler, the Creator of the World wants ME, not the accomplishments I can offer Him. He wants my attention, my gaze. He just wants to be with me, to invite me into His world every chance He gets.

Scripture reminds us that God calls our trust in and love of Him to be child-like, but sometimes we forget that we are never called to do anything He hasn’t first done for us.

Take a moment today, sister, to set down your check lists, and hit the pause button on your thoughts and look to the Lord. Give Him your gaze, give him your moment. Relish in the reality that the God who created galaxies and continents wants YOU, the way that you are in THIS moment. He wants to give you every good thing, and not in the self-seeking or conditional way adults sometimes give, but in the all-encompassing, pure and joy-filled way a toddler would hand you a picture he has painted.

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“The birds are signing Joseph” I say as we throw open a window to the fresh spring air that has greeted us this morning.  “birds are singing for us!” Joseph cries happily.

“Yes, my precious little one, they are.” I smile, as I draw him near.

The birds are singing, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, just for YOU, because God, in his child-like love, has made it so.

Love+Blessings,

Faith

Finding My Best Life in a Desert Jeep

bestlife.pngI met Mike on a trip to the Southwest last summer. He introduced himself to me and my friend from the driver seat of a giant, dust-covered Jeep. We were the only two people signed up for his last tour that day. Instead of taking us on the quickest route, Mike gave us a special tour through the Sedona, Arizona red rock cliffs and mountains, customizing the experience to our physical abilities and interests. Simply put: we went off-roading!

Along with tales of the early settlers, John Wayne’s production studio, and the desert ecosystem, Mike shared with us his love for the red rock country. With 30 years of a busy city lifestyle behind them, Mike and his wife were new to the area, living out their retirement in the middle of the Sedona desert. Together they hike trails on the weekend and watch the stars each night from their back porch. In his spare time, Mike gives Jeep tours so he can share his new-found love with visitors from around the world.

I listened to his story as I looked at the jaw-dropping scenery before me and wondered at the culmination of so much success and joy. Mike and his wife weren’t just living a good life – they were living their best life.

“Wow. These people are truly are living their best life!” I said to myself as I looked out over the red rock valley from the top of a ridge. “I can’t wait to live my best life! What can I do to get there?”

Almost as soon as I asked myself this question, I stopped. The view before me seemed to say my name in a gentle rebuke. 

“Mary! Forget about where you’re going for a minute and live this moment! Your best life isn’t out there, it’s right here.”

The sight before me grounded my heart while my head started wandering. Here I was, standing in the middle of the Sedona desert, learning about the agave plant, javalinas, and prickly pear cactus. Here I was, exploring a new world of red rock a the disposal of a flaming pink jeep with a sunset peeking through the clouds. Here I was, living, breathing, and thriving.

IMG_3251.jpegI was surrounded by the best landscape, accompanied by the best of friends, hiking in the best of health, and launching into some of my life’s best adventures. And instead of sharing in the awe and wonder of this moment, I was wandering off into a jungle of later’s. I was getting too caught up in the future to enjoy the present moment. And do you know what? I do that almost every. single. day. 


The “best life” proposition is one that surrounds me daily in a thousand ways. It is usually associated with a sales pitch of some sort: a billboard for an allergy medication, an ad for a retirement home, or a video on the latest workout routine. Social media feeds are saturated with people serving their best meals, working their best jobs, decorating the best homes, and going to the best schools.

As a marketing professional, I see the false advertising in the “best life,” and I often fall into its trap, considering “this moment” as insufficient. After all – I’m not always standing in front of a red rock masterpiece. Sometimes, I’m standing before efforts wasted, resources untapped, challenges unaccepted – all while eating cereal for dinner. That’s right. Sometimes there’s very little “best life” going on in my world. 

The reality is, that is what my life looks like sometimes. And do you know what? I wouldn’t be here without the less-than-sufficient moments. Even my best failures, best pain, and best disappointments contribute to making me the person I am today – in this moment.  Through the mercy and love of God, they prompt me toward the greatest joys, unexpected achievements, and the holiest of people. 


On our way home from the off-roading adventure that day, Mike stopped the Jeep suddenly and walked over to a prickly pear cactus on the side of the road. He stooped down, picked something up with the edge of his pocket knife and walked to the back of the truck. He looked very excited.

“Hold out your hand,” he said to me with a somewhat reverent tone. I obeyed and found myself holding what seemed to be a small piece of thickly strung spider web. Mike told me to take the palm of my hand with the substance and hit it on my forehead. I hesitated. In fact, I protested (there is a limit to my trust in a stranger). So we compromised and I clapped my hands together, instead.

When I opened my palms, I found a red blood-like substance pooling on my skin. “That,” Mike said with awe, “is one of the most expensive, rarest forms of red dye in the world. That is cochineal.” I picked up a few important details from Mike’s subsequent explanation of the substance. All I heard was: expensive, rare, and made from bugs.

A wave of emotions flooded over me: gratitude that I hadn’t smashed raw bugs on my forehead, awe at the history of this highly sought-after treasure, and disgust at the fact that I had bug juice dripping all over my hands. 

That, my friends, is what living our best lives is all about. Sometimes, it shows itself in wonder and awe, treasure and joy. Other times, it is hidden in the midst of pain, sin, and suffering. But it is there – the cochineal – even in the bug-smashed-in-your-hands kind of messy.

IMG_3169.jpegThe next time you are caught up in the messy, the mundane, or the jungle of “later’s” take a moment to stop and remember the big picture – that red rock desert view. Remember that you are surrounded by a landscape of gifts and goodness and that the deeply rooted desire for God and mission to sanctity is the heart of what makes your life the best.

Don’t be like me and take the risk of missing out on something beautiful because you’re too busy wondering about where you’re going, instead. Take time to thank God for the now and every moment that brought you to it.

And know that all of it – from the dishes you wash to the smile you exchange with another, are a part of what makes you the irreplaceable love in the heart of God. 

It’s all a part of what makes the life you live right now – the best life.

Love, Mary

“God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

He is Who He Says He is

When I (Faith, here!) think about the story of how original sin entered the world, I imagine that the original lie came as a whisper; Eve must have felt it like a chill down her spine when the dark voice spoke slowly and suggestively to her heart. “But why? why would God tell you not to eat from this tree. He must be keeping something from you. He must be holding out on you, Eve. Maybe He’s not really who He says He is…maybe you’re not who He says you are.”

Fast forward thousands of years later, and still, humanity is bearing the heavy, painful baggage that comes from believing that original lie. The Enemy of Goodness whispers it to our hearts on a daily basis, particularly, I think, in the midst of our hardships and sufferings. When our relationships crumble, and our loved ones wound us, when we walk through the valley of longing feeling like our prayers have gone long unanswered, when we feel ourselves overwhelmed by the storms raging around us-  Satan slips in that horrid suggestion that our God isn’t really all that good, that He is far from, if not indifferent to, our suffering.

I experienced this in a big way recently. Over a year of struggling with secondary infertility had lead my heart to a dark, deserted place, a space where I found myself entertaining that possibility that perhaps God was holding out on me….and the lies snowballed from there. I was being punished…and forgotten. God was clearly not the loving Father He promised He was (the one He’d always proven to be), but a distant judge. My silent suffering didn’t -couldn’t- matter all that much to Him, in the grand scheme of things.

It was this tower of falsehood which had begun to loom its ugly shadow over my heart and life and relationship with the Lord that finally lead me to a place on my knees in front of Jesus in the blessed Sacrament. I looked up at Him through my tears and whispered brokenly “I’m trying to give this to you, Jesus.”

His response came gently, but clear as day.

“I am goodness.”

I can’t adequately explain what happened in the weeks following that encounter, only to say that Jesus used that small, uncertain invitation into my real, raw pain to rock. my. world. I went on retreat a few weekends later, and Jesus not only spoke the light of truth into my darkness, He overwhelmed the darkness. Restoration. Healing. A newfound, rightly restored relationship with Him shattered all the falsehood I had begun to believe. It uprooted the doubt, and filled me with conviction, a conviction I now can’t help but share- a conviction that has shifted my gaze from the cross to the Resurrection, from my own inadequacy to my Father’s overabundance, from my suffering to His goodness.

Sisters- it’s true! God is who He says He is- and there is a freedom and a healing here that is meant just for YOU!

I know for many of us, this Lenten season is all about how we can grow closer to God. True, we sacrifice things to rid ourselves of bad habits (and form holy ones) and root out sin during this time. But this Lent, I want you to consider the possibility that its not about how you can grow closer to God, but instead how He wants to draw near to you…to consider that this Lent is less about our offerings, and more about the crosses we already carry, the one’s we’ve brought with us into this season. The places of deep hurt, or confusion or longing…the wounds that make it all too easy to believe that original lie. The places Jesus wants to enter into, to be with you in the midst of.

There is one scripture passage in particular (from John Chapter 11) in which we see the way the Divine Father feels about our suffering. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled and he said “where have you laid him?” they said to him, ‘lord come and see’. Jesus wept.

In this moment, even before the trials of the Crucifixion, the Creator of the Universe steeps Himself in our humanity. He enters into our heartache. He is troubled by it. He feels the ache of loss deep in His bones. The hearts and bodies of his friends weep- and He weeps alongside them- His human heart for the loss of His friend and His Divine Heart for the suffering of His beloved.

All throughout scripture and all throughout our lives, God tells us who He is and what He wants to do for us. He sings a narrative of truth, and beauty and goodness over us. He shows us through a perfect track record of fidelity that He will never abandon us.

Hornstail Terrariums (1)

Sisters, His plan for us was never our suffering. And when we (humanity) freely chose the path of suffering, He pursued us down that path with everything He had. Where we chose suffering, He chose redemption. Where we chose separation, He chose to draw near. He became intimate with our hurt and shame preciously to void the lie that those things have the final word in our lives. Your hidden suffering, your “messiness”, the places in your heart where you weep…this is precisely where God wants to meet you and hold you and infuse you with His healing to bring about your restoration. His heart is entirely open to the entirety of yours- sin, suffering, pain and all.

Jesus sees the sacrifices you are making, the chocolate you’re not eating, the extra hours of prayer that you’re putting in, and He is so pleased by your every effort to grow. But He also sees your heartache, your frustration, your anger, your bitterness….and He wants to ENTER into it with you. He wants you to look away from the cross you’re holding and see Him standing next to you, His loving face only inches from yours, His gaze never once leaving your tears as He holds the cross beside you. He wants you to lean into Him, to press your forehead to His so that you hear, clear as day, as He whispers to your heart the truth about who you are: “daughter”.

Daughter.

Not orphaned. Not abandoned. Not unredeemable….but daughter.

Chosen. Beloved. Saved.

Remember as your walking the road to Calvary with Jesus this Lent that He’s not leading you to the cross, but BEYOND it. He’s leading you to where love proves sufficient…where light tears through the darkness and casts it aside.

In the shadow of the cross it can be so difficult to see the light of the One who is waiting for us with open arms to take our burdens upon Himself and transform them from bitter death into the sweetness of new life…but He’s there. And, oh, sisters, how good He is. How good we are, because of what He’s done for us.

His warm voice beckons you “Talitha Koum, arise, little girl, from your bitterness, your woundedness, your hurt, your questioning. Know the truth…and by the truth, be set free.”

The Strength of the “Weaker Sex”

strength.jpg“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians, 12:10

This “holy irony” may not be as shocking as “the poor inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven” or Our Lord’s invitation to share in a cross which He said, “is easy and its burden light.” But the concept of weakness bearing strength is more than a theory or irony and continues to stand the test of time.

Some of the strongest people I know are those who wrap their arms around some of life’s weakest, most vulnerable moments. I’d like to tell you their stories, for they are the stories of ordinary women living out extraordinary strength by the nature of their call.

A woman’s strength looks like my childhood neighbor named Cathy who watched my siblings and me play outside each afternoon from her big kitchen window. To me, Cathy was the “crazy sock lady” who wore a colorful scarf around her bald head. She let us swim in her pool, feed her dogs, and take care of her plants when she went on vacation. Cathy always returned the stray foam arrows that somehow escaped into her yard from my brother’s little bow. She laughed and waved to us as if she had a special place in this world – until one day, she simply left it in a silent, peaceful sleep. Her heart won every day that her body lost to cancer.

A woman’s strength looks like a mother I know, who once lifted the blanket from her newborn daughter’s carseat one last time before handing her over to her adoptive parents. The letter accompanying the baby explained it all – her love, faith, and the importance of the adoptive parents in her newborn life. It would be 31 years until this mother would see her daughter’s beautiful face again in a triumphant reunion.

A woman’s strength looks like a young bride from Indiana I learned about last year who called off her wedding a week before she was supposed to walk down the aisle. In the midst of her loss and pain she had the strength to turn her own marriage feast into a marriage feast for the hungry. This woman invited 150 homeless from the community to her wedding reception – attending the event herself and making sure they were served as her wedding guests.

These women live, without a doubt, unshakable strength, rising above fear, loss, comparison, and grief in challenging times. And they do so silently, unaware that they are exercising their heart and growing it’s capacity to endure. I am convinced that their superhuman strength comes from the weight of their love.

A woman can and should claim for herself the chief place in love.* This means that she governs, rules, and reigns in all things relating to the heart, which is in and of itself the very core of our human existence. A woman’s “weakness” comes from her ability to be to be vulnerable, which sometimes means getting hurt.  And what we see in the examples above are women who, without knowing it, have mastered the art of bearing and healing of wounds. It is because they love that they are wounded. And because they love – that they rise beyond the wound to a summit of strength.

Perhaps, in a work of perfect irony, they capture the essence of what it means to be a woman, who, when she is her weakest, is her strongest!

The women mentioned above are not unique to their sex. Far from it! They follow a long line of feminine force before them – from Esther and Judith to St. Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa. And Mary! It is the Blessed Mother’s supernatural mission that glorifies the strength of the “weaker sex,” standing firm at the side of her Son, at the foot of the cross, and in the glory of the resurrection. It is this figure of womanhood that glorifies weakness, prompting us to see the irony and consider her the “strongest sex.” (When I am weak, I am strong…)

cross.jpgOur culture is in a coma of denial and lies where the dignity of true womanhood is concerned. We’ve been given 50 shades of grey to define a lifeless face of femininity. The woman’s strengths are being redefined as weakness while her weaknesses are being hailed as strengths. We have to dig hard to find that heart, where suffering and love thrive and grow into something mysteriously “more.”

As women, what if we were to dig back into the holy irony of superhuman strength in weakness? What if we resolve to commit our lives to rule radically from the heart? What if we embrace the cross when it comes instead of trying to fix, fashion, or forge a new one? We could, no doubt find an awakening from this coma. We could enjoy new life pumping strength, joy, and resiliency throughout nations. 

You are that woman. You carry a burden that no one else knows to the same extent that you do. The very burden that seems to weigh you down at times is actually your secret strength! In the bearing of the weight, you are exercising the biggest muscles in your heart and capacity to love. In the mystery of your weakness, you are building strength that will minister to you, your family, and your community. Allow yourself the chance to take risk in loving, in good times and in the not-so-good times.

Dear sisters, will you join me in a mission of embracing our “weakness” in order to build strength? To own our unique and beautiful hearts that, no matter what comes, cannot be destroyed.

Let’s be okay with not being okay sometimes – mourn when we are called to mourn – cry when we are called to cry.  Every day, we can practice in the “weight-room” of virtue, building the muscles of generosity, the endurance of chastity, and the glow of perseverance. We can witness a bold surrender to God and trust in His providence, stretching out our whole hearts to the people we love and serve.  In this, we can and will truly reclaim our chief place as love.

Yours, Mary

*Casti Cannubi, Pope Piux XI