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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Behind the Apples

This week’s blog post is full of celebration and thanksgiving!  I’m celebrating my goddaughter, Sydney, who bravely fought and beat Burkitt’s Lymphoma this year.  Woo-hoo!  And, I’m joining her parents, Jennifer and Mark, in thanking all of you for the steadfast prayer, love, and generosity that each of you extended to them along the way.

October 24, 2015 marked the 1-year-anniversary that Sydney was officially diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma.  Jennifer said, “A biopsy confirmed it.  There wasn’t a moment to spare because the tumors in her body were doubling in size every 24 hours.  Mark and I will never forget how we stood in the waiting room, praying the rosary, and begging God for His mercy…watching as the doctors walked by…looking for any sign that we didn't need to be there…that we were sent to a cancer hospital with our child by mistake.”

Jennifer said, “When we were given the news, I still remember the shock and how I felt the breath knocked out of me.  For someone who has never dealt with cancer firsthand, we felt like it was a death sentence.  Sydney was still asleep from the procedure and we couldn't possibly be crying in the recovery room as she woke up.  We had to dry our tears, hold it together, and put smiles on our faces for her.  The strength we had for that could only have come from prayers.  Looking back, we weren't standing on our own.  Jesus and Mary were holding us up.  Little did we know that we would soon have multiple saints and thousands of prayer warriors to help carry us in the days, weeks, and months to come.”

A few days ago, Jennifer shared a sweet story about apples on Sydney’s prayer support facebook page.  I want to pass that along to you today:

“Erik and Michele (Sydney's Make-A-Wish volunteers) contacted us several months ago.  They came to the hospital to visit Sydney in April, while she was undergoing her 8th round of chemo.  At one point, Sydney really wanted an apple.  Anyone who is familiar with kids undergoing chemo knows that when they have a craving, you have to deliver immediately.  Otherwise, the moment could pass, and the food will no longer be wanted.  With Sydney's poor appetite and low weight, an apple was not going to do much.  However, if that's all she could eat, we would take it!”

“So, while Michele stayed with me and Sydney in the hospital room, Erik decided to go fetch her an apple.  When he came back with an orange in his hand, Sydney frowned.  Erik insisted that it was an apple when he picked it up.  Somehow, it must have turned into an orange before he could get back to her room with it. (The Ronald McDonald Kitchen had no apples and he didn't want to return empty-handed.)  Anyway, while Sydney did not feel good at all, she never forgot how funny Erik was and how much he made her laugh, even when she didn't feel well.  And, we never forgot about how Erik magically turned an apple into an orange that day.”

Jennifer shared that Erik and Michele showed up at their home last week, after traveling 150 miles, in order to deliver nine apples and Sydney’s Make-A-Wish packet.  They all remembered the love and the laughs behind the apples.  

Jennifer posted a beautiful thank you note recently as well.  I know it will touch you as much as it touched me.  Here is some of what she had to say:

“I have wanted to write about this for the longest time, but I just never knew how.  I mean, how do you thank people for dropping everything in their lives to cook us meals, babysit our children, clean our house, do our field work, shop for us (groceries, household products, clothes, etc.), send Sydney (and us) gifts, gift cards, cards, and money, set up a prayer support page, set up a GoFundMe account, donate to the GoFundMe account, give me an iPhone4 so I could text, design and order bracelets, thank you cards, and bumper stickers to help raise funds, set up and design a T-shirt fundraiser, order T-shirts, wear T-shirts, cut her hair, shave her head, put together care packages and Christmas gift packages, purchase and send hats for her cold bald head, plan a ‘Frozen’ party for Sydney and her friends (complete with face painting, cookie decorating, decorations, and party favors), take portraits of Sydney and our entire family, fill up our gas tank, get our oil changed, decorate our home for Christmas (inside and out!), shop for (and wrap!) ALL of the Christmas gifts for our children (and even us...), send Santa to our home, organize groups at schools, churches, and other organizations to send Sydney beautiful faith-inspired cards, gifts, and Christmas ornaments, set up a blood drive, donate blood and/or platelets, hold bake sales, donate money to St. Baldrick's, shave their heads, donate their hair, interview her on the radio, bring her "Debbie" (the pink fire truck), along with a meal for our family, drive Sydney and her sisters through town in the fire truck to go out for ice cream, walk outside in the middle of their ACTS meeting to wave to Sydney in the fire truck, visit Sydney in the hospital, send cards, cards, and more cards, paint paintings for her, make and/or send quilts, blankets, and prayer blankets, sew pillowcases, take time out of their family vacation to buy her souvenirs, ride their bicycle all the way from Houston to New York, travel to the Holy Land and bring back rosaries and scapulars that have been prayed over and blessed, let us borrow their precious relics and family heirlooms, pray over Sydney and us, and spend countless hours on their knees in prayer for Sydney and our family, day and night?!  How do you tell someone ‘Thank You’ for offering to let us use their apartment, or have expressed breast milk for our baby, or banked cord blood for Sydney, should we ever need it?  How?  Where do you find the words?  Where does one find the time to write the words that are so important to say?”

Jennifer also said, “Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a ‘thank-you-note-person.’  I have always written thank you notes for as long as I can remember.  However, when we were thrown into this whirlwind a year ago, and everyone's kindness and generosity poured forth, I just couldn't keep up.  It was overwhelming!  I decided at the very beginning to just let it go and allow people to give to Sydney without keeping a record.  That lasted about a day.  It just didn't feel right.  So, I did something that many of you might be surprised to know.  I kept a running spreadsheet of each and every card, gift, money donation, and act of kindness that came pouring in.  I may not have been able to write the note, but I did keep track of it all.  I am not sure how I managed to do it, but I’m so glad I did."  

"Something happens when you write it down…you remember peoples' names.  You look at a blanket or a pillowcase or a music box or a rosary and you remember that person…a person you may never have even met, but you know they took time out of their crazy busy life to help bring you strength when you were weak.  I remember the names of people on Sydney’s prayer support page that "liked" posts or commented on them.  I remember the people who prayed unceasingly.  I remember the ones who signed up for Night Owl prayer support…something I will never forget.”

Jennifer said that through all of this she has learned how generous people are…with their time, talents, money, and gifts.  She remembers how everything, big or small, helped so much.  She also wanted to let you know that they received your gifts, your cards, and the money you tucked inside of them.  They remember what you did and they THANK YOU from the bottom of their hearts.  They remember you in their prayers.  They pray that they can bless someone else by doing what they learned from each one of you.  You, your gift, and your prayers were and will forever be appreciated.

Sydney’s mom also shared, “October 24th officially marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives…the start of a journey…one that all of you became a part of.  Thank you for being a part of our journey and a part of our lives.  We will forever remember and be grateful.  May God bless each of you abundantly for the many ways you shared His love!"

I am beyond ecstatic to share that Sydney is in remission.  Our precious Sydney is cancer-free!  Praise God!  Praise God!

So, what’s behind the apples, you ask?  In addition to the brave and beautiful girl physically behind the apples in the photo above, it’s obvious to me that there are countless other gifts behind the apples. 

The gifts of love and laughter came alongside Erik’s apples, for instance.  And, in reflecting over this last year, I recall how each of you gave so deeply in your own special, personal, and unique way.  You may not have given apples, but your gift was a part of you and is now a part of them.  It’s what’s behind the gift…

I want to flip the thank you back around and send one to Jennifer, Mark, and Sydney…thank YOU for letting us in.  Thank YOU for letting us witness faith, hope, trust, and love in its purest and rawest form.  Thank YOU for letting us walk this journey with you, complete with hills and valleys, joys and tears.  Thank YOU for allowing us a glimpse of letting go and letting God.  Thank YOU for letting us be a part of a miracle.

We can’t thank YOU enough!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Away with the Armor!

Photo Credit:  GaborfromHungary from
Growing up, I vaguely recall that my brother and I would make little bets here and there.  Whoever would lose the bet would have to be the other one’s “servant” for awhile.  It meant that one of us would have to do the chores of the other one or get a drink for them or give them candy or whatever else along those lines.  I remember that it was tons of fun having the servant, but not being the servant.

My thoughts on this have changed over the years.  To me, serving others feels good.  Serving others is satisfying.  Serving with a joyful heart makes it even more rewarding.  It’s certainly not as enjoyable when one is forced to serve and it isn’t fulfilling when the serving isn’t done with love.  Also, much of the joy is taken away if one serves, expecting something in return.

There is a song that we sometimes sing in church that is appropriately called, The Servant Song by Richard Gillard.  A few of the verses really speak to me: “Will you let me be your servant?  Let me be as Christ to you.  Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.  We are pilgrims on a journey.  We are travelers on the road.  We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.  I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear.  I will hold my hand out to you; speak the peace you long to hear.”

As a child, I used to think that being the servant was the raw end of the deal.  As I reflect on the words of this song as well as a story that Father Bentil shared at Mass this weekend, I realize that being the servant is actually the better end of the deal. 

Here’s the story he shared:

A long time ago, there was a man who wanted to achieve greatness.  The man thought that he could work toward his goal of greatness by standing guard at the door of the king’s palace in full armor, with a sword.

Day after day, month after month, and year after year, the man stood guard at the palace entrance, proudly standing there, longing for greatness.  One day, a blind woman passed by the palace as she was taking her apples to the market in a wooden wheelbarrow.  She didn’t see the large crack in the street, so as she rolled over it, her wheelbarrow turned over and all of her precious apples spilled out.  As she attempted to gather her apples, the man just stood there in his armor and didn’t offer to help her.

Years went by and a crippled old man with a walking stick passed by the man guarding the king’s palace.  As the old man passed by, his walking stick broke and he fell in front of the palace.  The guard just stood there, not offering a hand to the old man.

Several more years went by and the man’s own granddaughter ran up to him asking him to lift her onto his shoulders to watch a parade.  It was so crowded that the young girl couldn’t see with all the people around.  The man just stood there in his armor and told her…his own sweet granddaughter…that he could not help her with her request.

Then, one day, the king came out of the palace to thank the man for his commitment to guarding the palace all these years.  The king asked the man to come into his palace for the very first time.

The man was elated!  He couldn’t believe that after all these years, he had achieved his idea of greatness…an invitation into the king’s palace.  However, even though the man was ecstatic, he couldn’t move.  After years and years of standing still in his armor, it had become so stiff and rusty that he was unable to move even an inch.  He never made it inside the palace doors that day. 

If only the man would have served others along the way.  If only the man would have bent down to pick up the blind woman’s apples…if only the man would have given his hand to the crippled old man who fell…if only the man would have put his granddaughter up on his shoulders.  If only…he would have moved.  If only…he would have truly served.  If only…

Furthermore (just because that word sounds super fancy), we realize from this story that the man could have achieved his idea of greatness if he would have served.  We can’t stand still and achieve greatness.  We need to move.  Serving requires action.  Serving provides “grease to our elbows” or “grease to our joints” in the case of the man’s stiffened armor.  The story could have ended differently if the man would have chosen to serve.

Are we willing to say, “Away with the armor!” and serve?  I’ve written about a servant’s heart before, but I just adore Roy Lessin’s writing and wanted to share it again:

In the Kingdom of God, we find the highest place is found as we take the lowly place.  Strength is found as we discover our weakness.  Fullness comes as we empty ourselves.  Life is gained as we lay it down for love’s sake.  Riches are gained as we give them away.  Greatness comes as we carry a towel and washbasin into every circumstance and relationship in life.

In Matthew 23:11, it says that to be the greatest, we need to be the servant.  The word, servant, typically has a negative connotation, doesn’t it?  Sometimes, it evokes feelings of being lowly.  But, in Mark 9:35, Jesus said that anyone wanting to be the greatest must be the least.  Whoever wants to be first must be last. 

We’ve heard it many times in the Gospel readings, but it’s just so hard to do!  By nature, we don’t want to be last or least or by all means…a servant.  However, let’s challenge ourselves this week to take off our armor, piece by piece, and serve.  Each one of us has a unique suit of armor that sometimes prevents us from serving. 

What is our armor?  What’s holding us back?  Do we think we’re too busy?  Are we afraid to fail?  Are we too proud?  Maybe we don’t think we can make a difference?  Are we waiting for the perfect time?  I think we’ll find that we will be able to move much easier without our armor...whatever our armor happens to be.  Surely, we will find greatness as we bend our knees and reach out our hands to serve with love.

Away with the armor!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Love You Too Much

Photo Credit:  mensatic from
“I love you too much to let you act that way.”  This is something that I’ve been telling my children recently.  Like most siblings, they fight.  They pick on each other incessantly.  They aggravate.  They take each other’s things.  They find that certain “button” on their brother or sister and they keep pushing it over and over.  They get in each other’s personal space.  They say negative things to each other.  Does any of this sound remotely familiar?

On Sunday, we sat down at the table to enjoy lunch together at home as a family.  Before I even sat down to join them, the cut-downs were already flying across the table.  This time, my husband and I did something different.  Instead of saying, “Don’t do this…don’t do that…stop saying that…apologize to your sister/brother,” we decided it was time to start a compliment circle.

What’s a compliment circle?  Well, we went around the table right that second and each of us had to share a compliment with every single person.  It had to be genuine, sincere, and meaningful.

At first, there were lots of giggles and long pauses.  Then, when they realized we were serious and that none of us would be leaving the table without participating; the wheels starting turning in their heads.

An element of shyness crept into the dining room that afternoon.  They found that it was much easier to dish out the nasty stuff than the nice stuff.  They became humble and a bit bashful.  Like my sister-in-law shared with me, “Every now and then, people need a slice of humble pie.” (Love it, Steph!)

Anyway, we went round and round the table several times.  Honestly, it became quite fun.  We were all anxious to listen closely for what would be said next.  It felt so good to hear the compliments and kind words.  The kids were smiling and “thank you” was certainly the phrase of the day.  We finished that meal on a much more joyful note than when we’d started it.  Why?  Because of the beautiful gift of words.  I know my children love each other dearly, but sometimes they have a funny way of showing it. 

Oftentimes, I feel that God looks at us and shakes His head as He says, “I love you too much to let you act that way.”  It’s so easy to lose sight of all the positive in our lives and focus on the negative.  We much more readily dish out the nasty instead of the nice.  We aggravate each other (many times, on purpose).  We push each other’s buttons.  We fight.  We cut each other down.

As a child, I remember having a small statue of a little troll that had his arms stretched out as wide as they would go.  On the statue were the words, “I love you THIS much!”  I remember looking at that statue and thinking that that was how much my parents loved me and how much God loved me.  I treasured that feeling.

In reflecting on God’s great love, I ran across a sweet story from Mikey and wanted to share it with you, too:

What is the deal with lightning bugs?  I mean, here is this rather ordinary looking flying insect, but wait ... it has a glow-in-the-dark rear end!  What was God thinking?

I'm sure science has all kinds of explanations about how this fluorescent fanny is useful for mating and other stuff, but why did God choose to make the lightning bug glow?  I wonder if, when God was creating all the animals and everything around us, He came up with the idea of the lightning bug and said, "The kids are gonna love this!"

We know that God loves us enough to create all the things we need to survive, but does God love us so much that He created some things just to make us smile?

Just seeing lightning bugs takes me back to those warm summer nights of my youth.  I'd be running around the back yard with my empty Mason jar, racing toward the flashing lights all around me.  I can still feel the joy and hear the laughter echoing through my memories.
Lightning bugs were as much a part of summer as fireworks, fresh tomatoes, and big ice-cold slabs of juicy watermelon.

God created so much diversity in this world, much more than is needed for mere survival. He made all of this for us, and He wants us to enjoy it.  We can get so busy surrounding ourselves with man-made goods that we don't notice the living tapestry God has laid out all around us.

I guess lightning bugs do have a purpose after all.  They are a reminder of a creative God who loves us so much that He'd even paint the rear end of a bug ... just to see us smile!

I grew up chasing lightning bugs, so this story really resonated with me!  Such fun memories.

Some say that too much of anything can be bad.  Too much exercise.  Too much food.  Too much relaxing.  Too much money.  Too right.  Too wrong.  Too agreeable.  Too assertive.  Too happy.  Too sad.  Surely, each of us has an opinion on this…”too much” of an opinion, quite possibly – ha!

However, I do feel that there just might be something that can never be too much and that is God’s love for us.  I love that He loves us…too much.  Don’t you?

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In a Hummingbird Hurry

Photo Credit: AcrylicArtist from
Over the weekend, a hummingbird made her way into our garage.  Poor thing was so frantic to get out, but kept feverishly hovering around the ceiling…bumping into it over and over again.  She fanatically flew forward, backward, and sideways.  My son attempted to gently guide the anxious bird out with a broom…to no avail. 

Both garage doors were wide open.  There was oodles of opportunity and space for her to make a break for it and fly away to what she knew as home.  Nope.  Nervous Nellie kept flapping her wings a bazillion miles a minute, in a hummingbird hurry, but getting nowhere fast.  Little did she know that what she needed was just within arm’s, um, wing’s reach…and she just couldn’t see it.

Isn’t that the case with us?  We run around sometimes, in a hummingbird hurry, getting nowhere fast.  What we need is so close that we could almost taste it, but we just can’t see it in our haste.  We may not have fervently flapping wings, but our body language speaks volumes.  Everyone around us can tell that we’re in a hurry.  Our bodies can feel the stress of rushing too.

Body language and non-verbal communication are fascinating to me.  You’ve heard the joke before – “Why do hummingbirds hum?  Because they don’t know the words.”  Well, it was obvious that that little hummingbird wasn’t saying a word, but her body language…whoa!  It spoke loudly, I tell ya.

There is both negative and positive body language.  Positive non-verbal communication can include a smile, a wink, shaking hands, nodding in agreement, patting someone’s back, hugging, or a wave.  The negative signals of scowling, frowning, yawning, sneering, rolling our eyes, and shaking our head can all be “heard” without emitting a sound.  Amazingly enough, we can communicate quite a bit in a very non-verbal way.

Research shows that even the way we stand and our position in a group of people can communicate so much.  The amount of distance between us and another person can even be interpreted a certain way.  Standing side-by-side can show cooperation, whereas a face-to-face posture may show competition.  Something as simple as our posture communicates as well.  We speak with our actions when we fold our arms, cross our legs, or slouch (did you just sit up straight?  I totally did when I read that word – ha!).

Do you know what we use to speak with in addition to our mouths?  Our eyes.  Our facial expressions are a dead giveaway when we’re speaking.  A person’s emotions can be seen in their eyes.  Oftentimes, our eyes aren’t conveying the same emotion as our words.  “I’m fine” may not mean “I’m fine” at all.  However, if we’re in a hummingbird hurry, will we even catch someone’s non-verbal communication?

Our body language can:  repeat the message our words are saying, contradict what our words are saying, substitute our verbal message, add meaning to our message, or make our message more impacting (pulling our hair out, throwing plates, pounding fists, etc.)

In addition to our eyes being able to “hear” non-verbal communication, did you also know that our ears can “see?”  What?  Let me explain.  Next time you answer the phone (a real call…not a text or e-mail – heh!), listen for a smile.  Yep.  Just by listening to the other person talking, you will probably be able to “see” if the other person is smiling.  I encourage you to try it yourself.  The next time you are chatting on the phone, experiment with smiling.  You will find that your voice is much more joyful when you’re smiling than when you’re not.  Seriously.  Try it.

When we’re in a hummingbird hurry, we don’t listen like we should.  After dinner last night, the kids wanted to do something fun.  They wanted to quickly whisper a short phrase into each other’s ear and then go around the table to see how the last person heard it.  It’s called the Telephone Game.  I’m sure most of you have played it a time or two. 

Anyway, we played several rounds and there were loads of giggles.  I had forgotten how fun that game could be.  The last game started with, “Bert and Ernie get up early.”  By the time person #5 heard it, it became, “Nerdy gets a birdie.”  Not quite what we started with, but I love to hear my children laugh.  However, it did make me ponder about communication, or the lack thereof.

Are we listening to each other?  Are we listening for God?  Are we taking the time or are we always in a hummingbird hurry?

Our tiny bird friend, Nervous Nellie, finally escaped the garage on her own.  Nevertheless, it took most of the day for her to find her way.  Many times, we get stuck as well, frantically pacing forward, backward, and sideways.  If we would only stop flapping our wings for a second and pause to reflect on the next right step.  Do we need someone to listen to us?  Do we need to listen to someone?  Most importantly, do we need to pray?  Do we need to fly to the One who can help us best?

Here is a sweet prayer story that Mikey shared today from one of his readers.  I thought that all of us in a hummingbird hurry might need to read it too:

A grandfather walking past his young granddaughter's room one night saw her kneeling beside her bed, with head bowed and hands folded, repeating the alphabet.

"What are you doing?" he asked her.

She explained, "I'm saying my prayers, but I just couldn't think about what to pray for. So I'm saying all the letters of the alphabet and God can put them together however He thinks best.”

I love it!

Fly to God in prayer (even if you just need to start with the ABCs).  He’ll be waiting there.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!