lessons from a difficult sister

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
for myself, I have chosen your altars,
my King and my God.

Psalm 84:3


(Léonie Martin, known as Sister Françoise-Thérèse)

Since I was adopted as a baby I’ve never known whether I had a sister or not.
I did not have a sister in my adoptive family.
However, I do know what it means to have been a bit of a difficult child.

I was rather headstrong growing up.

I wouldn’t say I was difficult, but that label might need to be addressed by my mom and dad,
and since neither of them is here to add to or refute such a claim, we’ll just keep it as headstrong.

I was often willful, somewhat defiant and had a mind of my own.

I knew what I liked and what I wanted despite those wants and ideas not always being the
wisest of thoughts.

After reading the following story about a rather obscure woman and nun,
I found that I could actually relate to her story.

She is what I call a shadow dweller—a person who lives in the shadows of a more prominent sibling.
A girl who wrestled with her own standing in life and what hand she had been dealt.

That’s the thing…isn’t life just merely a matter of what we make of it…
or on the other hand, it’s what Life makes of us?

Either of which makes us, in turn, who we will become

Will we choose to rise above or will we simply succumb?

Will we allow all of the negative to swallow us whole or will we learn to stand up and out
of the negative, rising up to our true potential?

We can either give in and up or we can purposely and willfully fight our demons in order
to be who we are truly called to be.

And who we are called to be might just be a person who is content living in the shadow
of a more famous sibling…

“Léonie Martin is arguably the least known and admired member of her entire family,
but I doubt she minds.
She’s used to being in that position.”

I’ve written often about one of her sisters.
A now well know sister, who despite having lived a very short life, dying from TB at the age of 24,
made a tremendous impact on the world.

Her parents were just recently recognized by the Pope as exceptional.

All of her sisters sought the vocation of serving Christ.

One sister, however, had a more difficult path to walk than that of her siblings.

And the thing is that once she found her way…Grace prevailed over a lifetime of trial,
willfulness, and difficulty.

Here is the link to Léonie Martin’s story…the sister of The Little Flower.

What We Can Learn From the Forgotten Sister of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

one woman, legislation, obedience…life and love

“to dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to
sweetness and consolations;
it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter,
because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love,
the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering”

St. Thérèse de Lisieux,

“God never inspires a wish that cannot be fulfilled”
St. John of the Cross

We can say,
‘It is what it is—now Lord, show me how to deal with it.’
St. Therese said she had no peace in her soul until she started her day with that orientation.
Then, trusting God to walk beside her,
she finished her journey as the woman four popes called the greatest saint of modern times.

Doug Lorig

In 1937, a pamphleteering psychiatrist claimed that the “Glorious Hurricane” (Pius XI)
unleashed by Thérèse was an infallible sign that the Catholic Church was in its death throes.
The universal exaltation of an insignificant “neurotic” was proof that a masochistic religion
was on the way out at last.
Fifty years on, today’s psychologists and religious writers know a great deal more about
Thérèse Martin and her world, and are quick to acknowledge the wonders wrought by grace
in the mind and heart of a child stricken by the loss of her mother when she herself was
only four and a half years old. Indeed, Thérèse’s path to sainthood is a source of
comfort and inspiration to countless victims of emotional or other crises today.
Sainthood is not reserved for “normal” people.

The “Little Way” is not some sleight of hand for getting to heaven on the cheap.
It is the modern realization of the Gospel injunction,
“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into
the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18, 3).

On June 2, 1980, Pope John Paul II, the first Pope to make the pilgrimage
to Lisieux, put it strongly: “The `Little Way’ is the way of `Holy Childhood’.
It is a way which both confirms and renews the most fundamental and universal truth.
After all, which of the Gospel’s truths is more fundamental and more universal than this,
God is our Father and we are His children?”.
thelittleflower.org

“Sainthood is not reserved for ‘normal’ people.”
No, I would suspect it is not.

Nor is it for the faint of heart.
But for a young frail Thérèse, to serve, while in turn drawing as one with God,
was her sole goal…sainthood would merely become a by-product.

I’ve written about Thérèse before.
She is a bit of an anomaly really.

Nothing about this young girl should be the hallmarks of becoming not only a saint
but that of a Doctor of the Chruch.

Giants among theological and spiritual giants.

And yet here is a young girl.

Words that described her in life…

Obscure.
Sickly.
Frail.
Unassuming.
Quiet.
Young.
Almost shy and even quite childlike.

Childlike not in a sense of her maturity but rather in her approach to God.

A simple childlike faith.

One that consisted of love and love alone.

She was only 24 when she died a painful death from the ravages of tuberculosis.
And yet 4 separate popes have stated that she is the greatest saint of modern times.

High praise for a young girl who lived a simple life of a cloistered nun

“Conscious of her own weakness, but willingly trusting in God’s merciful love,
which finds its way even to the humble, she came to love her poverty.
Her offering of herself to merciful love begins with these words;
“God is asking me to do something, I cannot do it on my own, so He will do it for me”
(June 9, 1895). From this moment on Thérèse lived the daring surrender of herself.
A totally dependent child has no choice but to surrender itself completely
to its father’s merciful love.”

Again, Thérèse discovered the truth of Jesus’ words,
“If you do not become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:3).
The way of “spiritual infancy” is Jesus’ own way as a son, the supreme son,
living only for his Father. Who is more fully an adult but Jesus or more fully a child?
From this point on Thérèse lost her fear of sin, of falling asleep during prayer
or any other imperfection; love had burned everything away.

Pope John Paul II reminds us when speaking of St Thérèse of Lisieux
That “God is our Father and we are His Children.”

The notion of God as father and we as children is not new.
It is something Jesus often reminded those who listened to him speak…
the importance of being like little children.

And it is the way in which Thérèse lived…

To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become like little children.

So the importance of children is not lost on me when I read about
House Bill 481, the Heartbeat bill.

Nor is it lost on those who hunker down quietly yet steadfastly to hear God’s word.

This is a controversial bill which actually passed the Georgia Senate this past week.
It will now travel to the House for a yay or nay…. and if the yays have it,
it’s off to the Governor’s desk for final approval and signature.

This is a state bill that if passed, will limit when an abortion can be performed in
the state of Georgia.
The bill reads that six weeks is the “magic” number and time when a doctor can hear a heartbeat…
the telltale sign of an entity living separately from the mother…
meaning that there are two hearts now beating in a woman’s body.
Her heart and that of the child she carries in her womb.

I see this bill as a victory for those who have no voice of their own.
A victory for unborn children.

Others see it very differently.

Many protestors outside of the State Capital this past week have dressed up as characters from
the Hulu show and popular book The Handmaid’s Tale.

These women march in an odd macabre mass of unity protesting a baby’s right to live
while somehow viewing the notion of life rather than murder as abhorrent.
The Salem Witch trials seem to come to mind when I see their images.

Various female members of Georgia’s House Democrats have been very vocal in their dismay
of the passing of this bill.
They argue that this bill is a setback for women at the hands of male legislators.

While on the other hand, many female Republican legislators are ardent supporters of the bill.

Kind of like me…a woman, who just so happens to be in favor of this bill.

Allysa Milano, a very outspoken hashtag sort of Hollywood actress, in light of this bill,
is now calling for filmmakers to boycott Georgia.
She just so happens to be shooting a film here in Georgia.
Lucky us.

The movie industry has become big business for Georgia.

This is not the first time a controversial piece of legislature has brought out those who
attempt to tighten the screws on Georgia’s economy…that is if Georgia opts to go in an opposite
direction from that of what Hollywood or other giant business marketers think…
if the state steps out of line with a progressive liberal culture’s mindset,
then it’s lookout Georgia.

There is the “religious liberty” bill that was recently re-introduced…having been
previously introduced and reading much like a similar national bill that happened
to have been signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

This more recent bill is a rift on a 2016 bill that was nixed by then Gov. Nathan Deal
when the LGBTQ communities sounded a very loud and very vocal alarm that they sensed some sort
of potential discrimination—never mind that such a national bill passed in 1993.

Yet even the owner of the Atlanta’s Falcons and Atlanta’s Soccer United teams, Arthur Blank
chimed in—he told a reporter that he disagreed with the Governor and thought
that such a bill would be bad for Georgia—as he saw the potential for dollar bills to
quickly disappear from state coffers if advertisers and others pulled out over such a bill.
He didn’t word his disapproval as such, but that was his bottom line unspoken reasoning.

The NFL, NBA, etc had already threatened to exclude Georgia from consideration as a
potential host city should such a bill come into effect.

Advertisers and the entertainment industry were also making their loud grumbles

How ever would dear Coca-Cola, aka Coke, make it if her home state
took a step backward, or so thought all of these big shakers and shifters?

And so now with The Heartbeat bill set to become a possible law, the same loud and
money ladened voices are beginning to sound.

And thus it is that I am reminded of a demure St Thérèse of Lisieux—

Despite such giants of opposition…be they physical or institutional,
Thérèse never wavered or backed down from her faith or of her desire to love.

She was simply obedient to God…to His commandments and to His will.

She fixed her eyes on God and God alone…allowing for all things to fall into place.

And so now we the faithful must also be obedient.

We can get behind a bill that protects the lives of unborn children…who indeed
have their own heartbeat by 6 weeks, or we can allow Hollywood, a plethora of
‘communities’, and those who throw their money around as their weight
to determine what is best for Georgia and its unborn children.

Sadly we continue seeing how these things play out.

However, we remain—
Obedient in prayer and to what we know to be God’s will…

Life and Love.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up
with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

wisdom found in the obscure

“My mission, to make God loved—will begin after my death.
I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.
I will let fall a shower of roses.”

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux


(the cover of an 1881 edition of a book by Fr. Charles Arminjon)

I’ve written in recent weeks about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux–known as the Little Flower.
She possessed a great depth of Spiritual knowledge and vision despite dying at the tender
age of 24.

A sickly, quiet, servant of God who, despite her frailty and age, became a giant for
the Christian Faith.
Her devotion to loving and serving Jesus was undeniable.

Yet I am always curious as to the backstory behind such “gentle giants”

Knowing that the work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery beyond our comprehension,
I marvel over the factors that are at work…mysteries which direct an obscure young
French girl to devote her life to God…entering a convent,
living a short life of service yet such a life that it influenced the path of another
tiny giant…Mother Teresa

31 years following the death of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, an equally young Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu
(Agnes), left home in Albania, at the age of 18, taking herself to an Irish convent…
eventually choosing the Little Flower’s name as her own as she professed her vows as a nun…
a nun who also chose service and charity…
eventually becoming known as Mother Teresa…

A domino effect of Spiritual guidance and grace.

So my curiosity was pricked when I read about an obscure book written in 1881 by an
elderly French priest, Father Charles Arminjon…

It was a book which became the impetus for a young Thérèse…
a book prompting her to seek more…

It was a long forgotten book, hiding in obscurity yet was recently sought out,
rediscovered and translated into English.

The following excerpt from the book comes blowing in across the winds of time,
speaking equally as clearly to us today…

“Although Christ chose to leave us ignorant of
the exact time of the end of the world, He deemed
it fitting to give us detailed information on the
matter and circumstances of this great event…”

“…The end of the world, Christ says, will come at
a time when the human race, sunk in the outermost
depths of indifference, will be far from thinking about
punishment and justice. It will be as in the days of Noah,
when men lived without a care, built luxurious houses,
and mocked Noah as he built his ark.
‘Madman!
Dreamer!’
they cried.
Then the flood came and engulfed the whole earth.”

“So,” writes Fr. Arminjon,
“Christ warns us that the final catastrophe will take place when the
world is at its most secure:
civilization will be at its zenith, markets will be overflowing with money,
and government stocks will never have been higher.

“Mankind, wallowing in an unprecedented
material prosperity, will have ceased to hope
for heaven.
Crudely attached to the pleasures
of life, man, like the miser in the gospel, will
say ‘My soul, you possess goods to last for
many years.
Eat, drink and be merry.'”

Fr. Arminjon reminds us that “the present world,
precisely because it was created, necessarily
tends toward its conclusion and end.”

Perhaps we should be as mindful, just as a young Thérèse became mindful
when she first read the words of Fr Arminjon,
that the world will eventually cease and we will either perish
with the world or we will have chosen to be bound up in the Saving Grace of
Jesus Christ.

A timely choice indeed.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

Deuteronomy 30:19

Show me your Glory

“I caught a glimpse of Your splendor
In the corner of my eye
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
And it was like a flash of lightning
Reflected off the sky
And I know I’ll never be the same”

Lyrics by Third Day
Show Me Your Glory

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest “well pleased”.”
― C.S. Lewis

DSC00323
(rain droplets dangle from a blue spruce / Julie Cook / 2015)

Isn’t that what we all want. . .
We want to see and then we want to see more.
We want God to show Himself, to prove Himself, to, in turn, prove ourselves—
our existence. . .
To prove that’s it’s all been worth it—that we were right to believe all along.
We want Him to make things right, stop the badness, set the world right. . .
We want to see.
We want to know.

One day, we catch a glimpse, a momentary shining light.
We feel something.
We hear something.
We actually see something as if a dream had come to life.
A wave washes over us.
We are filled with something we can’t explain.
A peace, such as we’ve never known, engulfs us.
Time stands still.
Certainly, everything, no matter what is within this single moment of time, okay.
Instantly we suddenly know, we are certain, it is all real.
He is real.

And just as suddenly, with the mere blink of the eye, the moment passes.
We desperately try to conjure back the moment, holding on to the rapidly fading wonderment.
However our senses are back.
Sound has returned.
The noises are blaring.
The lighting is now back to normal.
Movement, all around us, is passing rapidly by.
There are people.
There is pain.
We feel reality again.

And then we wonder.
Was it really real?
Did what just happen really happen?
We doubt ourselves.
We doubt Him.
We want it back.
We long to have the moment back.

And just like that, it is gone.
We are left wondering what to do.

Mother Teresa had such a moment.
It was the time she experienced what she later referred to as the “call within a call” experience.
It was when she was still a young nun and teacher, it was 1946. . .

In 1928, 18 year old Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu had left her native Albania for Ireland, to join the order of the Sisters of Loreto.
It was there that she would eventually make her solemn vows, taking the name of Teresa after the gentle saint known as the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux.
Eventually her journey would take her to India, where she worked as a teacher and later principal at the order’s Calcutta run school for the local children.

One bright morning, 20 years into her life in India, while sitting on a train as she was embarking on a brief annual retreat, she had a profound encounter with Jesus. Time stood still and she was aware of only one being, that of Jesus himself.
He called out to her to help feed His poor. He revealed the pain of His heart over those who were hungry and dying. “Feed my lambs” He implored —yet He also implored the little nun to satiate His thirst. His thirst for the world filled with the hungry and hurting souls so in need of the literal and spiritual feeding of which He yearned for her to take upon herself.

It wasn’t until several years following her death, that through her letters and conversations with her confessor, when the world actually learned of this tiny obedient nun having never experienced that vision and feeling of nearness again. Despite her longing to hear and to see Jesus again, she was filled with only silence and emptiness.
There was nothing.
The only thing that remained was the daily task, each and every day, of doing what she was told to do that fateful day in 1946. . . “Satiate my thirst”. . .
Alone within herself, Mother Teresa felt empty, frustrated, and sad.
Yet no one was the wiser. No one knew of her pain, her emptiness, her “dark night”. . .she spent the next 51 years doing as He had instructed—working to satiate His thirst and to feed and care for “His lambs.”

Some may say that it must be a sadistic God who would play hide and seek, as it were, with someone as good and as holy as a Mother Teresa. Yet we must understand that it goes well beyond such simplistic observations. To us God may seem vexing and fickled, yet that is the human mind attempting to explain the behavior of the Divine and the Omnipotent—it simply cannot be done.

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently reminds us, “God does not exist for man’s sake.” Nor do we exist for our own sake.
God does not “need” us– it is us who needs God.
The crux of the matter is simply that God wants us.
Made, created, out of Love.

The difference between our need and His want.

Oh I suppose there are those who proudly exclaim that they do not need some invisible God, some deity to serve and to worship.
Self puffs up as we become our own deity—full of failures, let downs, pride, selfishness, vain glory. . .One would think time would be our teacher, yet we continue ignoring the past as we march forward, waving our own flag and thumping our own puffed up chest. . .

It is to these few and far between glimpses, of those miraculous moments, the overwhelming senses, and unexplained experiences, time and time again, that push us forward. . .still looking, wondering, hoping. . .forward to an encounter with the Divine—yet we simply cannot “will” it to happen. It is for God, and for God alone, to reveal Himself in such intimate ways—we cannot force His hand. We cannot trick Him or persuade Him. He is the Creator and we are but the created.
Yet we were created in and for Love. . .

We know that from such moments and chance experiences that we are forever changed and forever different, no matter if we never experience such a moment ever again in our lifetime. . .just knowing it happened, we know it can happen again and we know we won’t rest until we see Him again. . .

“When I climb down the mountain
And get back to my life
I won’t settle for ordinary things
I’m gonna follow You forever
And for all of my days
I won’t rest ’til I see You again
Show me Your glory
Show me Your glory
I can’t live without You”

lyrics by Third Day

The Little Flower

“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals,or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”
― St. Thérèse de Lisieux

DSCN2711

The flower in the photograph above is a white amaryllis. Each year at Christmas, the stores are full of vases and pots containing various color shades of amaryllis as they are easy to care for, quick bloomers and rather showy as far as flowering is concerned. Did you know that a well cared for bulb can actually bloom for 75 year or better?! In Greek, amaryllis means “to sparkle” and I imagine that is in part due to the star like quality of the flower. Quite the show stopper.

Our quote this morning, by St Thérèse de Lisieux, is a lovely reminder to us concerning the multitude of blessings God graces upon our lives daily–many of which we either take of granted or acknowledge rather awkwardly. St Thérèse de Lisieux,the tiny Carmelite nun, who died at the young age of 24, is known to us today as “the little flower”. Thérèse would certainly not be of the showy amaryllis blooming flower variety as she was a small quiet novice who lived in a tiny cloistered community in France. It was always her wish, however, to live and to die doing something big for God. She wanted to be a martyr, or wanted to go on far flung missions, just something important in order to accomplish much for the God of her heart. Given her circumstance, however, of living a sheltered life in a tiny cloistered community, such big dreams seemed quite impossible.

Her popularity grew tremendously following her death. One of her sisters, also a nun, had taken Thérèse’s journal postings, copied them and distributed 2000 copies–sending them to other cloisters and convents. Soon people were reading and discovering that this small tiny novice had the heart and determination of a giant (she was never allowed to make her profession as a true nun due to her sister’s insistence—her sister was prioress and thought it would be in poor form if all 4 sisters were nuns at the same Abby–therefore she asked Thérèse to step aside, as it were, remaining always but a mere novice–of which Thérèse agreed)

Thérèse had fretted over how she, in her most small and insignificant life could ever do anything great for God. This troubled her heart tremendously. She prayed constantly yearning for God to tell her how she could best serve Him. One day, the epiphany came. Thérèse is quoted as saying– “I am but a small and insignificant individual how ever could someone of such little importance ever do anything great? Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love. I understood that Love comprised all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places…in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it. . . My vocation is Love!”

St_Therese_of_Lisieux-248x300

Thérèse made the conscious decision to do everything out of and for Love, to greet everyone out of Love, to meet every challenge out of Love, to meet every insult and injustice out of Love. It was a conscious decision and a determination of great doing–which in turn required great inner strength.

Not long ago I found a small frail little book that had been my mothers. I was a bit perplexed when I found the book as it was a tiny read cloth bound book whose cover was hanging tougher literally by threads. The copyright is listed as 1925. A cost of 10 cents is penciled inside the front cover. The title of the book is An Hour With The Little Flower

The book was with some other things that had belonged to my mom. We were not Catholic. My mother had been tossed around a bit, as far as denominations were concerned, when she was growing up. Once she married, she and my oh so Baptist dad settled on the Episcopal Church as the best church of choice. Their reasoning was not so virtuous as the Episcopal church was liberal enough allowing them to drink and smoke—-Just great— what every kid wants to hear as to how one’s parents decided on what church to attend and where to raise their family—that should have been a clue to me early on about the Episcopal church, but I’m digressing as usual.

If you’ve ever read any of my posts regarding my growing up and family you know that ours was certainly a convoluted mess. Sometimes I often wonder how I ever got to this point in my life, but I am most thankful that I am here–now much the older, the wiser, and I perhaps admit, the better for it all–but then I know it is truly by Grace and by Grace alone.

But mother and this tiny book—now that’s the mystery.

To read Thérèse’s story, it is not the type of story or life that you would imagine could or would catapult one to sainthood, fame or significant importance. . . and yet, ironically . . . it did. In twenty five short years following her death, Thérèse was declared a saint. Her simplicity and huge determination to do great things through a very quiet small life, as well as through very small acts, had mass appeal to ordinary people. I think we all have dreams in our heart of doing something for the betterment of mankind and / or for God on some sort of grand scale—yet how many of us ever rise to such a status?

I think on so many levels my mom could identify with Thérèse and of her smallness and seemingly insignificance. My mom was very quiet and shy. I think she, like many women who did not work outside of the home, dreamed of one day going and doing something grand. She struggled to raise a child, my brother, who suffered from mental illness in a time when such was taboo to admit or even talk about as very little help was available. It is no wonder that St.Thérèse, the little flower, would appeal to someone who felt as if she too was “little”.

So I will leave you today with the words and wisdom of a young woman who dreamt of doing great things. Who chose to do so in small, steady and seemingly insignificant ways. Who rose from that of a spoiled young girl, to a quiet and demure novice, to a great saint—who became the living embodiment and example of someone who chose the course of Love over glamour and glory, quiet and steady over boisterous and hurried, kind and courteous over self-centered and rude. . .

“To dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender
ourselves to suffering”
― St. Thérèse de Lisieux