Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Voice Shall Sound

Each morning I start my day with three things: a shower, St. Patrick's Lorica prayer, and reading the day's Mass readings and a meditation on them. I don't function well without the shower first. When I skip the prayer and Scriptures, the morning might go alright but the rest of the day seems to fall apart. Starting my day with God and His Word, that's the anchor of my day. On the days when I set it aside and go about my business without paying heed to the Lord, in the back of my mind I know I've done myself a disservice. Pride can rationalize so many things, including excusing myself from prayer, but it can't truly silence the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.

Yesterday morning the meditation was on the first reading, from Isaiah, and it closed with a little prayer. The words of the prayer were simple enough yet they stopped me in my tracks. "Increase my perception of your power, of your plan..." That phrase has been sounding in my ears since I read it. "Increase my perception..." Not speak louder, Lord, or move in bigger ways, or give me more knowledge of your plans, or be clearer in your guidance. Increase my perception; I feel like someone has physically turned me to look upon the same horizon from a new direction.

For one, this perspective on the "I need to know You're near and You're active in my life" prayer has me breathing a long sigh of relief. Like standing in a cool, steady shower after weeks of heat, I am fortified. The question of whether He's near, whether He's moving and acting and working and blessing - that question isn't even necessary. It's a matter of perceiving God - standing in the stronghold of confidence in Him, awakening my senses to Him.

For another, it casts a light on something I must face. To perceive another's nearness or handiwork, without them announcing it, requires a great deal of familiarity. I can't recognize one of Bach's "Unacccompanied Cello Suites" used in a television commercial if I haven't listened carefully to those compositions again and again. I can't see a small painting and know it's a detail of a Monet if I haven't already looked upon the larger work of art. I can't hear the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas in my friend's discussions if I haven't had at least a bit of experience with his work myself. The correlation between perception of the Lord and familiarity with Him is indisputable. And my familiarity with the Lord - not so much knowledge of Him or a personal history of experiences but 'in the present' intimacy - is not what it once was. As I consider my perception of His presence and movements, I know this is true. Faced with this admission, I found myself at the Eucharistic chapel at 10 o'clock last night. I just needed to be near Him. As I sat before my Savior, I thought about how amazingly easy it used to be to perceive His closeness, notice His movements, hear His voice, detect His guiding hand, rest in His protection... I could blame plenty of things in the last several years for robbing me of that intimacy, and while they all might rightfully carry a share of that blame I know that ultimately I didn't fight for it.

I feel like I'm fighting now. My senses are heightened. The prayer, "Lord, increase my perception of You," is repeated. This morning I found myself praying differently than I have for months, maybe even years. Lord, grant me the grace I need for today; the grace for the spiritual battle of today; the protection I need today; the mercy I require today; the clarity I need today; the wisdom for living today; the faith, hope and love in order to believe, trust and serve the way You call me to today. Lord, increase my perception of You today. Not Your plan for my future, not the blessings I'm looking for 'someday' but only what You are doing, how you are guiding, what you are asking of me here and now.

"For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies... The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it,' when you would turn to the right or to the left."
(Isaiah 30:15, 20-21)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Put On a Happy Face

Things I think of when putting on a smile requires a little extra help:

I'm spending the weekend with these two.
10 days until Opening Day!
Completely to my surprise and against my normal tastes, I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

Though the temperature dropped today, it really isn't that long until I can revisit trails like this one.

And my friend has decided we should travel a bit of Europe next year. It's all hypothetical for now but the daydreams of destinations I've long waited to see hold thrilling anticipation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In a Fortnight

I was about to type "In Two Weeks" as the post title but then realized this was a prime opportunity to use the sorely neglected term, "fortnight." Anyway... What's happening in a fortnight, you ask? Well, my sister and one of our best friends are flying to Beijing, China. I haven't quite wrapped my head around this yet. Jessica (that's my sister) has gone on some extensive, out of the country journeys but never one that will quite literally land her a day apart from her life here. (The whole 13 hour time difference truly baffles me. I mean, I get it but I don't really get it.)

Jessica and Amy are traveling to China to serve for two weeks at China Little Flower, a facility that cares for orphans in need of specialized care, abandoned infants, and even babies expected to die but who deserve to be loved and provided for until that happens. The pictures alone for this organization's website are enough to melt the heart. They are doing amazing, thankless, God-honoring work. It is the sort of work that grabs hold of my sister's merciful heart.

I guess this blog post is just to state how crazy proud I am of my sister. If I could learn to love as she loves... She has no idea how beautiful she is.

And as long as I'm here and you're here, it wouldn't hurt to ask something of you, right? Prayers. Please pray for their safety in traveling, for their jet lag to be as tolerable as possible so they can serve as they desire to serve, and for the children they will encounter during their time at China Little Flower.
If you'd like to learn a little more about this organization, here's the website link.
And if you'd care to support the rather pricey service trip that Jessica and Amy are taking, please email me at csebsch@hotmail.com with "China Little Flower" in the subject line and I'll provide Jessica's mailing address. They're doing this entirely on their own, not through an organization or sponsorship, and have worked terribly hard to save money and raise money in small ways. They don't know I'm putting this request on this blog and I didn't plan on including it when I started this post, but there it is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leaving It There

To give you an idea of the expansiveness of my family: Yesterday, my oldest nephew turned 25. Today, a nephew somewhere in the middle turned 9. On Sunday, my youngest nephew will be 3 weeks old. There are 4 more nephews and 4 nieces filling the spaces in between those boys. I've been an aunt since I was 3 1/2 years old.

I am not the same aunt now as I was then. That's the thought that came to me as I was writing out yet another birthday card and signed it, "Love, Auntie Carrie." The manner of my love, the things I'd like to teach them, the ways I hope to be an example, and the wishes and worries I have for them... oh, how that all has changed. This train of thought curved around to other realms of my life - being a sister to my 6 older siblings, a daughter to my parents, a friend to my friends. I considered how much growth is required in order for those relationships to not just endure but to bear fruit. With growth and change and maturity, relationships are richer. Without... it strikes me as unnatural to fight against change and growth for the sake of "keeping things the same." It's a losing battle. It doesn't mean I don't fall into that well-intentioned mistake at times, but if I take a step back and look at things with some clarity I have to conclude that nothing stays the same and nothing should. There are realities that are constant and lasting but such characteristics do not imply sameness.

The place where I find a paradox is faith. In Scripture we are instructed on the importance of leaving behind the ways of a child in order to mature as adults in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 13) but also the necessity of having faith like a child (see Matthew 18 and Mark 10). I've always struggled with that concept of having childlike faith. I'm one for going deeper, for learning and understanding more, for having tangible evidence that I've matured in faith. Seeing childishness as a vice in most areas of life, it's tough to view it as a blessing when it comes to faith. I can explain the concept of childlike faith with my mind but have difficulty practicing it with my heart.

Occasionally I get a heart-reaching glimpse at the truth though. In RCIA class this week I taught on the topic of prayer. A broad topic that encompassed a lot of things. When I teach, I attempt to read the expressions of the candidates as they listen. Blank stares are tough to work with but anything else can be a real help to know if I should continue explaining a point or if it's time to move on. At this class there was a moment where the need to explain further was blatantly obvious in the face of one candidate. I'd said that there was a significant difference between only bringing our needs to the Lord in prayer versus actually leaving our needs with the Lord in prayer. As I expounded on that statement it dawned on me that here was an instance of having 'faith like a child.'

When a child, full of trust, brings a need to a parent, the child leaves the need there in Dad's or Mom's hands. He has no reason to continue to be bothered by it for he knows that his parent will take care of him. This is easily seen in the child's faith as well. I have heard the prayers of my nieces and nephews, simple and self-assured. They are not weighed down by the things they have just whispered to God. I, on the other hand, bring plenty of needful requests to God. I have the knowledge that He loves me, that He will care for me, that He loves everyone I might be praying for, and yet I usually go out of the room (so to speak) carrying those same petitions in my arms. It is not so much an entrusting of needs to the Lord as an effort to show them to Him, like I'm making sure He's aware of them. Being the capable, mature adult that I am (that's a debate for another time), I go on attempting to answer the petitions myself. I go on striving for resolutions, worrying over dilemmas, dwelling in sorrows. I do not leave them with the Lord! How very, very unchildlike of me.

I am not promoting a lack of growth in the Christian soul. My faith should not look the same as it did when I was seven or seventeen or even twenty-seven, though that be merely a year ago. My prayer life should not look the same. The shape of the light that Christ radiates through my life should not be the same.

Again, it is not sameness that is to be attempted. This time it is retention.

Retention of the trust I had as a child, of the confidence in the Lord's love which used to not just sustain me but overflow into rich joy in my soul.

Retention of the willingness to surrender - a willingness that allows me to tumble into the Lord's warm, capable hands and, when He helps me stand back up, to not pick up the needs and sorrows that fell into His hands along with me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On St. Joseph

This week especially I am feeling entirely too wrapped up in myself. If there is any group of people capable of unwrapping a person from himself, so to speak, it is the saints. The saints - the men and women who are heroes of the faith, the holy ones of God. They are those who have reached the destination and reward we hope to reach. This is why they are worth studying, emulating and entreating for their intercession.

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. This man holds a special place in my heart as the patron of my university household (sort of a faith-based sorority). I overlooked him until those years at Franciscan. This isn't surprising as St. Joseph is a man easily overlooked. He speaks no words recorded in the Gospels. He appears only in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke and never thereafter. We do not have record of his death. Yet he is the standard for men, for husbands and fathers, indeed for all the lay faithful.

In a world where we are constantly speaking, texting, messaging, etc., silence is not only difficult to achieve but sorely undervalued. We equate silence with stillness. While that can be the case (perhaps needs to be the case more often), stillness is not the only circumstance for silence. For as much as St. Joseph can be called a man of silence, he is equally a man of action. A decision based on righteousness (Matthew 1:19); a change based on a message from God (Matthew 1:24); a journey based on another message from God (Matthew 2:13-14); the actions of Joseph are recorded with great simplicity because his following of God's will was simple. Discern His will and do it. No arguments, no complaining, no doubting.

His place in the Holy Family as foster-father of Jesus, husband of Mary, protector and provider of the family raises him to be the example for all husbands and fathers. He lays out a gold standard for women waiting for their husbands and women actively serving and loving their husbands. His obedience to the commands of God, humble endurance of hardship, total dedication to Christ, and tender honor of Mary render him a model for every member of the Christian laity.

Joseph, to me, is a man of courageous faith, boldness of spirit, and steadiness of character. He does not do these things loudly or in a manner that garners attention to himself. Joseph is the living, breathing fulfillment of the pledge, ad majorem Dei gloriam - to the greater glory of God.

Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Father. Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you, and Jesus assleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

(a 16th century (or older) prayer for St. Joseph's assistance)

Thursday, March 18, 2010


"Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Oh what would I do without friends? Shoulders to hug, shoulders to lean on, shoulders to laugh on, shoulders to cry on. I am feeling utterly grateful for them today. There is an aspect of loneliness to the situation I'm dealing with right now that could overwhelm me if I allow it. It could obscure the reality that I am not alone, that I am well loved.

Friends are God's greeting cards; His notes of well-wishes and encouragement, intended to give you a smile, a sigh of relief and a bit of confidence that all will come right.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


A situation has arisen that has me questioning nearly everything. My motives and intentions, my ability to love as I ought to love, my friendships, my work; I feel like I'm being subjected to a scrutinizing exam to which I have none of the answers. That all sounds a bit dramatic which is something I don't like to hear in my own words. I tend to get that way when I am feeling this low. Let's put it this way: it's tough to be hated. How am I to react to that? Apology, guilt, shock, sadness, anger, defensiveness - each of them have marched into my heart and are taking turns at the top of the stack.

Of course the words of Christ keep flashing into my brain, "turn the other cheek"... and the work of mercy to bear wrongs patiently. This isn't to say I have no responsibility in this situation or that I am wholly without guilt. Yet I have never felt more keenly what Christ was talking about, that there would be circumstances that call for meekness instead of anger, patience instead of rash reactions, sacrifice for reparation instead of defense of pride. Only He knows what I'll need in order to actually do those things; they certainly aren't going to come out of my own strength or goodness.

For now I'd settle for some confidence in the "this too shall pass" mantra.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One Good Thing About This World

The rain is landing percussively on the office building's roof and dancing on the adjacent blacktop. It is a rhythmic sound of spring and it is making me smile as I putter through the usual Thursday tasks on my desk. It is spring! For it does not rain in winter, not where I live. The trees have that stripped naked look which only spring can cause. I am daydreaming of tennis matches at the park and bike rides on the county trail. Those activities are still a ways off but I find it easy to believe they will be here in a blink of an eye while I listen to this snowbank melting rain.

I'm starting over on a few things today. The daily workout routine I committed myself to but let slide during the last several days (with good reason; I had a newborn nephew to visit and hold instead of make time for exercise); the fasting from TV for Lent which I cheated on yesterday because I just could not forgo the season finale of Psych; chapter 13 of The Mercy Hour and the critical plot juncture therein; praying Morning Prayer each day before work (why do I convince myself I'll get through the day okay without starting it in prayer? So lame.); deterimned patience with a few particulars of life that I cannot do much about at present (impatience has been reigning supreme lately)... What would life be without these "starting over" days?

"That is one good thing about this world... there are always sure to be more springs," remarked Anne Shirley and I must agree. We live prodigal lives. Spending thriftlessly our time and energy, indulging in what will not satisfy, and having to return again and again to what will. We must cycle round to spring before we reach the end of five, ten or all of our years and realize we lingered in winter because it was easier to stay there. Newness and freshness can be encircling us and we stay tucked under our coverings of old habits and weaknesses.

The other night I stretched out on my bed for a good think after reading another chapter of one of my favorite books, I Capture the Castle. I thought about the layers of effects that book has had on me. While reading a favorite chapter I'd realized I wasn't quite feeling what I'd felt in the past about the story. Not a lesser reaction or affection, but different. Instantly this realization produced sadness and a wish for all that I'd ever thought and felt about the book to remain the same. It took some effort to accept that this was neither possible nor preferable. For an effect to be efficacious, for a change to make change, there must be a result. There must be new aspects to my thoughts and feelings if, as I claim, this book really did have ramifications on my thoughts and feelings. The book, of course, is only one example. An adventure, a job, a friendship, a prayer, any undertaking... they change us (or should) and yet it is so easy to mourn the "old me" that changed instead of rejoicing in what is made new.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Crown of Sweetness

I listened in on Heaven today. In a little wooden pew in the echoing chapel of the Carmelite monastery in Denmark, WI, I listened. Hidden from view, the nuns sang their prayers to the Lord. They could not see us; we could not see them. They did not sing for us; they were not performing. They prayed with heartfelt sincerity and seraphic voices. Beauty seemed to cascade over the high open spaces of the chapel, lulling me into peace. My mind was raptured by images of the Bridegroom rejoicing over His bride. How the Lord must delight in the devotion of these humble, holy women. They are wholly His. He treasures them, thinks them beautiful, loves them with His tender heart.
"devotion is the crown of sweetness, the queen of virtues, the perfection of charity. If charity is milk, devotion is the cream; if charity is a plant, devotion is the flower; if charity is a precious stone, its brilliance is devotion; if charity is a costly balsam, devotion is its fragrance, an odor of sweetness, which consoles men and makes the Angels to rejoice." St. Francis de Sales

Monday, March 1, 2010


I am soaking in this sudden flood of sunshine like the driest of soils. The five day forecast: mostly sunny, mostly sunny, mostly sunny, mostly sunny, mostly sunny. We may hit 40 degrees in northeastern WI by Friday. March does not always arrive with such a glorious meterological upswing. This March (or its first week at the very least) seems to know better than to behave otherwise.

As any move toward Spring is apt to, this March appears to be busting at the seams with potential. Melting, greening, growing - true to the season, true to the peak of Lent, true to my life at present. Lent is plunging me into the goodness of serving and the necessity of trust. God's graces are bearing new fruit, restoring in me the joy of soul that used to sing of its own accord.

I suppose this mood is nothing unusual. Yellow sunlight pouring through cold window panes has this feverish effect on most people. Yet, I do feel most unusual. No, unusual is not the word. I feel younger than at the start of winter, or even at the start of last fall, summer or spring. I am regressing in the best sort of way, to a better version of myself, a truer rendering. My, this is hard to capture and communicate! I feel... I feel like a walking psalm.

My heart overflows with a goodly theme...
Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore...
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation...
I will awake the dawn!
The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy...
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom...
I hear a voice I had not known: "I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder"...