Joyful Words Blog
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.
– Psalm 119:105
– Psalm 119:105
…take up your cross and follow me. Luke 9:23
At about 3 o’clock each afternoon everyone at St. Mary’s school will hear the voice of Melanie or Sue, the “angels in the office” say over the intercom, “Would the following students please report to the office.” That means there is a message for them; usually a change in after school routine or a note that needs to be delivered to a parent. A hush falls over the building as the names are read and the young ones listen with great anticipation. Earlier this week one of my students was nearly in tears as she proclaimed her great sadness about not yet being chosen as a FOLLOWING student. She announced that she had no idea who she’d follow but she was quite sure she could follow carefully. I giggled and then remembered a student a few years ago who was so excited to be a “following student” he wandered out into the hall and just started following a random group of boys walking down the hall. As I peeked out into the hallway, I noticed that he had wound up outside the 6th grade classroom so I asked him what he was doing and he just shrugged his shoulders and said “I’m just following I guess.” It made me realize how easy it is to wander off and just follow without a clear sense of direction!
I suppose every now and then it’s a good practice to stop and take a long hard look at who we’re following and just where they’re leading us. As we inch our way closer to the November elections, there certainly is no shortage of people inviting us to follow them! It’s easy to lose our way if our compass isn’t pointing straight up! Following the right path isn’t always the smooth and easy path for sure but the blessing at the end of the right path is a dandy one indeed!
The words from Luke’s Gospel remind us that Jesus didn’t just say follow me; He said pick up your cross and follow me. There is a duty assigned, not just some random wandering along behind. Sometimes that cross we need to drag along as we follow Him is one we’d just rather drop alongside the path and go on without! That’s not how it works is it!
In the last week, my husband Dave and I have gone to three wakes and visited with families as they mourned and celebrated the life of a loved one. As we listened to the stories of their lives; the struggles and ultimately their triumphs, I was very aware of the crosses they carried and the Lord they followed. One of the lives we celebrated this week was an absolutely lovely woman who was the mother of 15 children. She was a lady who knew who she needed to follow. One of her sons is a Catholic Priest. Another son is a Catholic Brother who serves as a missionary in Jamaica. Also among the 15 is a son who was born with Down’s Syndrome and is loved throughout the community and is hailed as our local high school’s biggest sports fan. The others are hard-working, cheerful, faithful, friendly loving men and women. I would imagine she bore her share of crosses through the years and her faithful following is evident in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.Her family all shared that she was so ready to“go be with Jesus.” That kind of peace and blessed assurance doesn’t come unless you’ve been following the right leader!
I’d love to be called to God’s office and recognized as a “following student” one of these days! When it all boils down to the bottom of the pot, I suppose what really matters is making sure those you follow are going to lead you closer to heaven. If their words and actions show you otherwise, they just might lead you somewhere you aren’t interested in going. It’s a choice, and yes, actually choosing who you’ll follow might be a cross to bear all in itself because we live in a society that seems to lead us in a direction contrary to the one Jesus pointed out. The last time I checked, popular opinion and majority rule didn’t dictate eternal life, picking up a cross and following Jesus did!
A seed to plant: Give some serious thought to who you’re following. Are there things in your life that might influence your ability to follow Jesus? Go ahead...pick up your cross and be one of Jesus' following students this week…I’ll bet He’s got a special place to lead you!
Blessings on your day!
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. Psalm 18:3
The first few weeks of a new school year are always an adjustment for everyone! Sometimes I feel a little sorry for the first graders because they have so much to get used to and remember those first days. The first all school mass is always memorable. The second grade teacher whose class sits behind mine at mass always has his eyes open ready to catch a stunt or two that makes him giggle. I’ve had dancers, acrobats and sleepers over the years, but nothing tops the boys with the flyin’ elbows!
When I assign the kids to their church seating order, I always remind them to "leave room between ya for Jesus. That is of course code for…if you’re not right beside each other, it’s harder to chat and touch! On one particular Friday, Jesus had obviously achieved enormous success on Weight Watchers because the two boys in the front pew had to leave practically NO room for Him at all! As they sat there quite close, one “accidentally” had his elbow land in the other little boy’s rib cage. So, the favor was promptly returned playfully…a few elbows later, they burst into an uncontrollable case of the giggles. I slipped out of my seat and made my way toward the ruckus. As the little boy on the right heard my footsteps approaching; he slid into his proper spot and sat silently with his arms tightly crossed in an attempt to control his elbow. I took a seat between these two handsome giggling boys and it soon became very clear to me that the little boy on my left had NO idea I had taken the spot beside him. My suspicion was confirmed when he threw the next elbow and it landed in MY rib cage…his loud gasp indicated that he indeed realized his elbow had landed in squishy new territory. It took ALL I had not to burst into giggles myself! I’m sure this little guy felt like his elbow had landed smack dab into a wall (a padded wall perhaps)! The shock of it was obvious in his gasp, his posture and his tightly closed eyes and bowed head.
I know that feeling! I’ve never gotten it from banging into a teachers rib cage, but I have had the feeling.
How about you? Have you ever been crusin’ through life, thinking everything is goin’ fine and then THUD…right into a wall or a dead end? I HATE it when that happens! If you’re anything like me, it usually happens just about the time I think I have everything all figured out and I try to do some of God’s work for Him. That wall is usually a signal that I’ve strayed which is because I haven’t prayed with a sincere, still heart! Being the strong, independent CHRISTIAN WOMAN I am…I usually charge right at that wall again…same result…and usually accompanied by a LARGE dent in my humility, several scratches to my pride and of course a bruised spirit!
Why would I charge into walls when I have been reminded a dozen times a week that my ONLY strength comes from God? The sin of pride I guess…but this simple verse from Psalm 18 holds such an important truth…God is my fortress…God is my deliverer…God is my rock! I don’t have to whack into walls and try to plow through situations that are not mine to experience.
When I came upon this verse, my mind pictured God as a mighty warrior with armor and a shield as bright as the blazing sun and He was poised to crash through a mighty wall just for me. I was in the image too…I was about as big as a mouse standing behind Him no taller than the heel of His boot. He was willing to take down that wall for me no matter how meek and tiny I was… just because He could! How many times do we get a quiet invitation from God to do something but we don’t answer the call because we think the task is too big? Not for God! He is after all a fortress…He can help us plow through anything if He’s invited us to! The challenge I guess is for us to keep our elbows to ourselves and listen for God to tell us which walls He’ll be crashing through with us today!
A seed to plant: Jot down something you’ve been trying again and again to accomplish without success. Fold up that piece of paper and lay it aside. This week the “wall” on that piece of paper is what you should pray constantly for, asking God to show you how to maneuver that wall!
Blessings on your day!
Joy is the net of love by which you can catch souls.
- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
What’s a three letter word that has the capacity to change the ENTIRE world….no it’s not PIE! My Dad might disagree with me though! In the 27 years he was married to my mom, he had fresh homemade pie in his lunch box nearly every day. That’s how much she loved him so pie can be powerful but that’s not the word I’m thinking of. The all-powerful three letter word I’m talking about is JOY!
Joy and happiness are different. Joy is bigger, deeper and much more contagious! Joy is something you choose. Joy doesn’t depend on things goin’ your way; it depends on your faithfulness and your trust in the Father. Joy is being content that things are going HIS way whether it’s easy or not.
The Father’s will is perfectly orchestrated to provide each and every experience we need to build us up for a life in heaven. I think most of us would agree that the world needs more people who are willing to live a strong Christian life. We are all called to “go forth and preach the Gospel” but how? We are called to evangelize but how? The answer boils down to that three letter word…JOY! If it is our mission to bring people to Christ, we have to make sure we are the kind of people others want to follow. There is no better “advertisement” for God than to be so in love with Him that His joy just leaks out all over.
Recently the famous Fr. Joe Krupp spoke to our school staff and encouraged each of us to wake up every day and ACT like we WISHED we FELT! Great advice! Each time we interact with another person, we have an opportunity to lift up or tear down. We have an opportunity to brighten their day and offer peace and support or to complain and be negative. If our goal is to get to heaven and bring a few others along with us if we can, how we act towards others can make a huge difference. The people around me don’t care how tired I am or how busy I am or how important I think I might be…they want to be lifted up by a smile or an encouraging word…they want a little “shot of joy” in their day. My friends…I’ve saved the best part for last…JOY is for all of us to have and share! We need to wake up each morning and invite God to be in charge of our day and lead us through it by the hand. Joy will be the feeling we get when we put Him in charge and all we have to do is hold His hand and follow along. It’s kind of like riding in
a fancy convertible in the Homecoming parade…all we have to do is ride along and smile and wave to everyone we pass by. Have you ever watched the faces of people at a Homecoming parade as the kids in the convertable or on the float smile and wave…they can’t help but smile back even bigger…that’s how joy works! Joy is like a magnet…spread some around and see what you attract!
A seed to plant: Post a sign in a spot where you will see it every day…on it write the words “I’m gonna ACT like I WISHED I FELT today!
Blessings on your day!
There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush...Exodus 3:2
Have you ever had that experience where you hear a phrase or an idea and think…hum…that’s cool, I’ll remember that (but you don’t) and then a few days later you hear the same thing again? That’s when I know I should probably pay attention! I can be pretty thick headed so sometimes God has to work a little harder to get my attention than He’d probably like! Our Christian history is full of God’s amazing examples of “attention grabbing”.
Moses got a burning bush, Jonah got a whale belly and I got Lynn and Lisa! He may not have grabbed me with the same drama Moses and Jonah got, but last week He used two Godly women to light a fire every bit as bright as a burning bush and every bit as surprising as the gulp of a whale to grab my heart. Lisa is an author from California and Lynn works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and I’d like to share the story of how these two women “set the bush on fire” for me last week.
The first Godly woman put in my path last week was an inspiring and extremely talented author named Lisa Hendey . On Monday of last week I ordered two of Lisa’s books. One arrived in blazing speed. When it came, I knew I didn’t have time to sit right down and read it so I asked God to point me to a really good page for a little zap of inspiration. It was the perfect page! I prayed quickly, and flipped it open to a page and read about how on a whim she had volunteered to design a webpage for the school her sons attended. She admits she knew nothing about the task but just felt God telling her to volunteer. That “yes” led Lisa to do a multitude of amazing things to spread God’s truth, love and message of hope. Among some of her amazing accomplishments she has written books, and articles and is responsible with the help of the Holy Spirit for the creation of Catholic Mom.com, an amazing website that teaches, encourages and inspires more than half a million readers a year. Those were not ideas that were a part of her life plan, they were a part of God’s plan for her life. She remains faithful and obedient to God’s invitation and her work of leading souls to Christ just keep growing! Think it was an accident I landed on exactly that page? I don’t think so! The bush was on fire and the whale had a rumbly belly!
Trust, give up the planning…just say yes to what I’m asking WHEN I ask…that’s what I heard from Lisa.
On Friday of the same week I attended a professional development day with all the Catholic School teachers in the Lansing Diocese and we were privileged to listen to a presentation by a lovely woman named Lynn Lang from St. Louis. She was sharing her program, Virtues Based Restorative Discipline. The whole model is based on our role as peacemakers, carefully following the example of Jesus Christ and the virtues His life exemplified. She was fabulous and her voice, her presence, her personality; everything about her inspired peace! How blessed the Archdiocese of St. Louis is to have her and how lucky we were to have her share her words and ideas with us in Lansing. Even more inspiring than the program she shared was the example of trust in God that led to the creation of this beautiful program. Lynn was a mom who had left her career to stay home and raise her babies and one day…as clear as a bell, God put an idea on her heart. A few years later, it has developed into a program that is spreading God’s peace and changing children’s lives! God‘s message for her was to listen, trust and let Him lead the way. She was the second strong Godly woman I came in touch with last week whose message jolted me down to my ankles.
Ya see, I have been tangled up a bit lately trying to figure out how to manage all the pieces of my life. The blog, the family, the speaking and teaching, my first graders, the laundry and canning the bumper crop of tomatos exploding in our garden! Right in the middle of trying to figure it all out, God lit the bush and put both Lynn and Lisa in my path. The words from two women, one from Missouri and one from California were God’s messages to me and probably to many others who will read this post as well. The message: trust me…listen to me…let me be in charge and I will lay out a plan that will be far more than you can imagine or accomplish by yourself. Be still, and let me do my job…that’s what I think He’s saying. Sheri…just be my hands and feet…let me be the brains of the operation and the star of the show! Ok…I got it! Thank you Lisa, and Lynn for answering God’s call and allowing God to work through your beautiful hearts and lives and thanks for helping me see the bush that’s burning right before my very eyes!
A seed to plant: What’s on your heart? Take a minute to toss out all your plans and ideas and ask God to make you still so He might do a mighty work in you and through you!
Blessings on your day!
Hear my cry for help, my king, my God! Psalm 5:3
The second Monday evening of the month is a great time slot! That’s a spot in the month when Satan gets really, really ticked off! This past Monday began the third year of the Daughters of God Faith Series in our area and like the previous two years, more than 100 women gathered to learn, pray and grow closer to God. I am humbled and honored to be in the company of so many faith-filled women who carve out that time from their busy lives. I walk in each month with the class carefully prepared and power points created and try to look like I know what I’m doing. I giggle though because the Holy Spirit doesn’t really care what’s on my laptop or in my notebook. I just open my mouth and ask Him to take over; and take over He does! This past Monday night He began our class with something unplanned and amazing.
Each month there is a basket in the front of the room on the prayer table. In front of the basket there are white slips of paper and red slips of paper. The white slips are for prayer intentions and requests. The red ones are put in the basket if a prayer or petition has been granted or blessed. The red slips give a great visual for the work God is doing in the lives of his praying faithful. We pray together over those intentions in the basket during our opening and closing prayer time and women in the audience are asked to remember those intentions throughout the month during their private prayer time.
Monday night before class, one of the ladies told me a special guest would be joining the class that night. After the opening prayer, I introduced a beautiful woman who made her way to the front of the class and tenderly placed a red slip in the prayer basket then took the microphone and explained that she had been a white slip in our prayer basket and she wanted to change the slip to red herself. Turns out, we had been praying for this lovely lady for months as she battled breast cancer. She had been given a clean bill of health and she wanted to briefly share her story. She assured us that it was the power of prayer from many people that led to her healing and she wanted to personally thank the women there for their prayerful support. Amid the tears and cheers we were all touched by the power of the moment. I remember crawling in bed Monday night thinking…wow...thank you Holy Spirit for her brave and touching words…it was a powerful beginning to kick off the new series! I love it when we allow God to be in charge of something and He shows off in an amazing way just because He can!
I have no doubt that God has big plans ahead for this beautiful woman of faith and courage. I was inspired and motivated by her and I was touched by the power and extreme love of our Father in heaven. Her strength came from the prayers of others, many she had never met. It wasn’t hard for us to do, it didn’t take a degree or certification and it certainly didn’t take much time, but the result was monumental! How much time do we spend praying for others by name? It’s an important way to spend some minutes every day. If you don’t do it…start. If you already do it…do more! Cry out the names of those who need God’s blessing.
A seed to plant: Get a little notebook and make a list of all the people you know of who need prayer. Carry the book with you and when someone asks you for prayer, jot down their name. Read through your list and ask God to bless those folks each day. Take note of any of those who have received an answer or a blessing and watch the magnificent ways God is showing Himself in answer to our prayers.
Blessings on your day!
Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges...James 2:4
I wonder what I would read if someone were able to compile a list of the “top ten most confessed sins”. I wonder how my personal sinfulness would “measure up” against the list…would mine be bigger, smaller, spicier or dull in comparison. The truth is, sin is sin and because of Adam and Eve, we are all born to sin, classifying and comparing it doesn’t do us any good. I’m sure God isn’t going to cross check my sins against the top ten list and give me extra credit for committing only the most commonly recognized sins.
In the second chapter of the book of James, he writes about what I would imagine just might be on that top ten sin list; Judgmental Thinking! As a society, I think we tend to put things into categories and create levels and comparisons. That’s fine if you’re sorting nuts and bolts, organizing your kitchen pantry or sorting your sock drawer but when we start letting that comparison thinking bleed into our interactions with people, then we need to give these words from St. James a careful read. When we begin to “size each other up” based on appearance, possessions or position and align ourselves with those who seem “desirable” according to societies standards, we will always come up short! Unless we look through God’s eyes we’ll miss the parts that really matter.
My Grandma told me once that when you choose a husband; make sure you pick a man that will help you get to heaven. (I followed her advice to a T and just so happen to be married to one of the two greatest men on earth ...my Dad being the other!) That’s sound advice in any relationship. Just because we might judge someone to be wealthy, successful or powerful doesn’t mean they are faithful or Godly. If our goal during our time on earth is to get to heaven, someone’s fancy shoes, flashy car or impressive resume isn’t an accurate indicator of their ability to help guide us to our ultimate destination.
As humans our vision is narrow. St. James cautioned against judgment and condemnation because only God can see us as a whole. Judging others using society’s standards and human eyes is about as useful as picking out a new car by looking only at the door handles! On Friday, Catholics will celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross and the Gospel reading that day will remind us that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. John 3:17. If the ruler of the universe doesn’t condemn even the most sinful of us, that’s a pretty solid indication that it’s not a task that should occupy a spot on our to-do list.
As we let the words from St. James sink into our souls and re-shape our thinking, let’s remember to look at others through God’s eyes and each time we see a cross, recognize it as a symbol of our need to love and not judge or condemn. Maybe if we let the vision of the cross change our judgmental thinking that top ten sin list might drop to nine!
A seed to plant: Purposely put yourself in the company of someone this week you would not be in the habit of spending time with and share a kind and friendly conversation. It could be as brief as someone in the line at the grocery store of as significant as a trip to the soup kitchen...take down the walls of judgment and social classification and reach out! I'm willing to bet the blessing will be big!
Blessings on your day!
And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:12
There is nothing like a big ‘ole slice of humble pie every now and again to remind us who is really in charge! Tuesday was the start of a new year at St. Mary’s school and like always, the first grade rooms are full of life, energy, laughter and occasionally a big, fresh slice of humble pie for those who think they are the boss!
In our building, we have a great principal! He is a faith-filled, gentle leader who is a joy to be around. He’s a very tall man and his stature can sometimes cause the first graders to look up in awe! He is definitely a person you notice when he walks down the hall. But, even the principal is sometimes served some humble pie. That’s exactly what happened when one of our first grader was asked to take something to the office. He walked through the office door expecting to visit with Melanie or Sue the “Angels of the Office”. Unfortunately they were both on a mission so the principal asked if he could help him. The little guy looked up at the principal shaking his head and said, “No thanks, I need to talk to somebody who works here!” The event gave us all a great laugh but the simplicity of the story has a pretty steep meaning when you give it a bit of thought.
As I was thinking about the story, I began to wonder how many times during a struggle or challenge do we talk the issue over with friends, family or maybe even the poor lady stuck between us and the next cart in the check-out line at the grocery store. How often do we use human logic and reason instead of taking our concern straight to the boss? It’s usually just about the
time I start feeling wise that everything goes hay-wire! I recently offered what I thought was great and wise advice to a teenager. I usually ask a quick blessing on my words from the Holy Spirit before I have this kind of discussion but this particular day I thought, “naww…I got this one”. At the conclusion of my sage counsel, the young lady looked me right in the eyes and said, “Are you serious…there’s no way, that’s ever gonna work!” Ouch!
I then suggested maybe she should pray about it for a bit and see what
happened. A few days later she thanked me…for reminding her that God was the one she should have gone to first instead of me. Humble pie lovingly served! I’ve decided if I don’t “talk to the boss” every time life gets a
wrinkle in it, then I’d better start carrying a BIG fork to eat my humble pie with!
A seed to plant: In order to be sure we don’t exalt ourselves, do some acts of personal humbling. You might start by allowing someone to move ahead of you in line or leave the last cookie on the plate. It’s much easier on the soul to humble ourselves than to have someone else do it for us!
Blessings on your day!
Be doers of the word and not just hearers only, deluding yourselves. James 1:22
Do any of you know a person that is absolutely brutally honest with you? You know, that person who will tell you just like it is and is not one bit afraid to call the kettle black! This type of person has an amazing ability to leave you breathless with one quick sentence. The outcome is often the same…we stop, steam a bit, and then take some time to realize they just spoke a truth. We may not like the sound of it but it turns out very often to be something we needed to hear. I heard a story several years ago about a person just like this.
The story goes like this; a wife told her husband that she wanted to take part in a new Bible study at the church on Tuesday nights. He replied “another one? “ “Yeah”, she snapped, “You got a problem with that Mr. I go bowling and hunting and fishing and never go to church with my wife on Sunday?” The husband smiled and said, “I wouldn’t mind at all if you went to another Bible study but I don’t see any evidence that you’ve used anything you’ve learned at the last 12 Bible studies you’ve already gone to.”Ouch! There was that one honest line that left her breathless! After four days of no talking, no cooking, sleeping on the couch and no communication what-so-ever, she realized he was right! She hadn’t changed one bit despite all the time, energy and resources she’d invested in her former studies. On day 5 she got up the courage to look him in the eyes and tell him he was right! She surprised her husband even further when she told him she wanted to make a deal with him. She said she would be willing to spend her time studying and applying all the materials she already had instead of going to another Bible study if he would agree to start going to church with her if he began to see her put into action what she had learned.
I don’t know how the story ended, but I have a hunch! St. James used some very simple words in this verse, words many of us, just like the lady in the story are challenged by; being doers of the word and not just hearers. I may aspire to be the town’s greatest cook and I may buy cookbook after cookbook and I might discuss cooking and recipes with others but none of that will really make me a great cook! I have to DO it…I have to roll up my sleeves, dig into the words and put them into action! I have to take a risk and be willing to get messy and goof it up a few times before I get it right! God doesn’t want to hear what we know; he wants to SEE what we know.
Easier said than done for sure but now is the time to dig in and be a DOER of the word!
A seed to plant: Read James Chapter 1 and pick two things that hit your heart. Write down how you will “DO” those two things this week!
Blessings no your day!
Sheri's writing can also be found at Faith Catholic Publications and on CatholicMom.com