All posts by Larabeth Miller

Larabeth Miller resides in North Carolina while supporting her husband through medical school and has one little boy. She loves to deepen her faith through meaningful thought and discussion, as well as spending time with the Eucharist. In her spare time, she reads, paints, and blogs at A Place in His Garden.

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

Recognizing Our Lord In Our Heaviest Pains

One of my earliest memories is lying in my crib next to my sister. I think I had woken up because I was cold. It was quiet and I remember looking out a window and seeing bare, black branches against a red sky. The room was dark, but the door was slightly ajar, letting in a strip of light. I’m not sure if I cried, but I remember feeling incredibly lonely. I remember just wanting someone to come in and see that I was awake. Even now as an adult, I try not to recall the level of desolation that I felt.

This was not the first or last time I would feel alone, as well as scared and lost. Its hard to believe, but I remember many things from my early childhood, some things worse than just waking up with no one there to hold me. There were many faces and many homes that passed in and out of my life before I found my way into my true family.

My time of suffering was short and certainly not as severe as others have endured. But it all happened in the first few years of my life, it certainly has left its mark. When I was younger, I avoided thinking about the past and any conversations that came up about it made me uncomfortable. I did pray for certain people, but I never really faced my memories in prayer with God. I did have faith though, that God would ask me to deal with my past wounds, but at the right time.

Now, as I have become a parent, that time has grown closer. Having a child who cries for me from his crib urges me to run faster to let him know I’m there. At the same time, I worry I will fall short as a mother, due to my lack of opportunities to bond with anyone early on. I am not fully ready to confront these things fully, but one question has been posed to me by those that guide me.

Where was Jesus in these sufferings?

I had never considered this before being asked, but it has now brought back all those memories, but in a bittersweet way. I was confused as to why God would just stand by me while I, a small child, went through these things. I searched for Him and could not find Him in any tangible manner. By faith, I had to know that He was there, but I couldn’t say why. Then I looked at the way Jesus suffered.

He hung there on the cross, totally undeserving of what had been done to Him. He is the Son of God! His Father had every opportunity to deliver Him from such hideous inhumanity. But instead, Christ hung there for three hours. But something Sonja Corbitt says in her podcast, The Bible Evangelista, made me ponder my experiences in a new light. God was present in His mother. He was present in His most beloved apostle. He was present in a woman touched by sin. And they stood there gazing at Jesus. They did not yell or fight or try to stop the nails from going in. But in the face of such cruel suffering, they stood by His side so He would not be alone. And His Heavenly Father was with Him, as Christ secured salvation for all humanity.

This is how God chooses to be present in the sufferings and crosses we all bear. These pains are the effects of our early separation from God, but He has made sure that none of our lamentings will be in vain. The Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ is the ultimate promise that God will not only be at our side but that our sufferings will be the perfect guiding force towards a complete union with Him. Our Heavenly Father only asks that we try to recognize His presence at our darkest points.

I realize that this is easier said than done. I have started to recognize God in the difficult points in my life, but I admit that there times when He seems to be nowhere in sight. There are also times when I know He is listening, but I cannot express my aches and pains. It is then that I take comfort in knowing that I can simply surrender my burdens to His Mercy and remember the ageless promise He made to His people:

 

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience. And you shall call upon me, and you shall go: and you shall pray to me, and I will hear you. You shall seek me, and shall find me: when you shall seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Understanding Our Dustiness

You are dust and to dust, you shall return.

Each time I hear this phrase at Ash Wednesday, I think of a little prayer that was given to me by a sister a while ago. It was created by St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, as a member of the Third Order of the Admirable Mother.

My Lord Jesus Christ
I am nothing,
I can do nothing.
I have nothing but sin.
I am a useless servant, by my nature a child of wrath.
The last of all creatures and the first of sinners.
To me therefore shame and confusion
and to You alone honor and glory forever and ever.
Amen.

Without some reflection, Lent can start out by me feeling pretty worthless. While it is important that we are reminded of our lowliness from time to time, sometimes I dwell too much on my dustiness. As Lent progresses and I start to fail at my resolutions, it seems that I just live up to the words spoken at the beginning of the season. What are we supposed to do with the reminder that we are undeserving and contemptible? How do we make the correlation between the nothingness of ourselves and Christ, on the cross? We must own our dustiness and discover how we are precious at the same time.

Our Creator is wise because in many cases where construction or growth is involved, the dirt is a good place to start. Though we are simple, our gift of free will allows us to sin. Our bodies age and decay, merely going back into the ground. As is the trend with God, the lowest material was chosen. He then allowed us to retain His image. The result was a body and a soul that held so much potential but in so much need of guidance and aid.

We are precious because of our capacity to so desperately need God and to reflect His image at the same time. We belong to God in every way, and nothing in this universe harmonizes as much as a soul and its Creator.  He rejoices when we cry, “Lord, I need you so much. I have so little understanding and ability”.  It is an intimate moment when we recognize Christ as our perfect home. We were made to intensely desire Him. Lent is a time to rediscover our worth by forgetting false hopes and embracing our emptiness. If we know we are barren, Christ can enkindle His light and grace in us so that we can reflect Him as our souls were fashioned to.

Christ even became empty in every sense of the word just so we would have a blatant example to follow. What if we did simple things to gradually join Him at His crucifixion? If we echo the cross, will we not echo pricelessness? We will never be alone because He did it first. He waits for us every hour of every day, especially when His sacrifice is magnified each time at Mass.

So for Lent maybe we can simply make a little list of ways to crucify ourselves with Jesus. That imagery may be difficult to picture, but in the true meaning of the phrase, we can drain ourselves of pride, close our eyes to the attention of the world, or understand the pain of others. When we fail, we can be happier still because it will give us another opportunity to tell Christ how much we thirst for Him, as He does for us.

If you need a little help with a crucifixion list, here’s one I put together.

 

The Inescapable Poorness

I remember I was walking down the hall one Sunday afternoon, after a very hectic lunch. On the third floor of the Mullen Home for the Elderly in Denver, Colorado, naptime had commenced for most of the residents. The sisters were most likely at lunch and recreation; a time that was, for them, short and very deserved after a usually busy morning. The nurses were keeping up with their charts at their stations, and the CNAs were making rounds, attending to each resident who had called them.

It was quiet, except for a weak voice calling for help in one of the rooms at the further end of the hall. This didn’t cause for any alarm, however, as the third floor housed those most advanced in age and with mental disabilities. Dementia, paranoia and severe disability present in various residents created a different atmosphere, demanding extra care and virtue from the able-bodied caretakers assigned to the floor.

I sought out the voice and found a lovely little lady (we’ll call her Marisa), whom I had often assisted at mealtimes, in her wheelchair, facing the window overlooking the city. Upon asking how I could help her, she told me her legs hurt due to the muscle spasms she often had. Marisa was also looking for her sister, Katie, who had told her she would stop by after work. Except Katie had been dead for twenty years. Marisa was ninety-four now, with advanced dementia. Due to recurrent confusion and frustration, it was difficult to get along with her unless you could figure out what she needed. Her sons would visit her once or twice a week, but on afternoons like these, she was often left alone.

I made conversation with her for a little while, thinking of excuses for why Katie wasn’t showing up.

“She’s probably running late, Marisa. Why don’t you give her a few hours and see if she’ll call?”

Marisa agreed, commenting on how her sister never knew how to be on time. With her frustration still lingering, I tried to distract her by asking about her day. Then we prayed a rosary together. I held her hand for a little while, gave her a compliment on her freshly painted red nails, and then stood up to leave. I would have stayed for longer, but activity time was about to start. The sisters told me we weren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I wished she could be my grandma.

As I was about to reach the elevator, I heard her calling for help again. It broke my heart because I knew I if I went back in, she would ask again who I was and why Katie wasn’t there. This soul was still in her vicious cycle of loneliness, pain, and confusion. But at least she wasn’t alone for the hour I was with her.

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. In our world of privilege, luxury, opportunity, and comfort, it is easy to forget what it can be like to be in need. But if we think we can escape being poor, our Creator grants us the gift of old age. Each one of us will be robbed of our abilities, independence and in some cases, our mind. Our senses will deteriorate and simple tasks like eating will become a struggle. It is a time that demands patience, humility and a never ending source of love. This applies not only for the elder but also for the caretaker.

One woman knew the extent of this so well. St. Jeanne Jugan of France founded the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1839, after taking in a homeless elderly woman. Today, nearly every country and state in the U.S. has a home specifically for the elderly, especially the poorest of them. A small community of sisters resides in each home, along with the nurses, CNAs, cooks, laundresses, and countless others who come in each day to care for the residents. By the vow of hospitality, the sisters are called to carry on the mission of their foundress to serve the elderly poor in their last years and at their deathbed. As a result, a sense of familial love is created in each home. Within the interactions of everyone in the home, countless virtues reside within each person. The elderly are tended to physically, mentally, and spiritually, because no one should face the end of their life in loneliness, fear, or abandonment.

So I encourage you, if you are seeking to serve, find the elderly poor around you. It could be your family members or neighbor. If you find you have the desire to work at a home of the Little Sisters of the Poor or if you are a young woman discerning a vocation in the religious life, find the nearest home in your state and contact them. There are multiple volunteer and job opportunities that they offer. You can be single, married, consecrated and of any age. No matter who you are, you won’t regret it, because you may be just the one to offer companionship, love, and care to an elder who needs it most.

For more information, you can visit http://littlesistersofthepoor.org

Finding Femininity at Its Finest

We are in a spiritual battle right now. Society is challenging women, and the men that support them, to rethink femininity and what it means to be a feminist. It is a conflict that demands increasing courage to face.

We shouldn’t have any consternation though; women are the daughters of the greatest human warrior we will ever know: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She made a promise to St. Dominic saying, “One day, through the rosary and the scapular, I will save the world”. What a threat to Satan! God has promised she would crush him since the beginning of human existence. She is our commander-in-chief and provider of weapons. The rosary is basically our AK-47! 

So let’s remove ourselves from the confusion and get back to the basics with the one who is blessed among women, Our Mother. By her example, what is a true woman and what does she stand for?

She is an observer of the world

We are unique from men in the way we perceive the world. According to researcher Israel Abramov, of the City University of New York, we distinguish colors, sounds, and smells better than men. We also have a tendency to focus on people’s faces and bodies. Mary is the best observer of us all. She didn’t speak about things but rather pondered on them in her heart.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be — Luke 1:29.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart — Luke 2:19.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart — Luke 2:51.

By taking Mary’s example, we are better able to process what goes on around us. By reflecting on events, we can gain greater understanding, as well as charity towards all people involved. That way, whenever we do speak, our words carry meaning and truth. And like St. Augustine said,”The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.” 

She brings forth life and preserves it.

We as women are granted the greatest gift on earth: to take part in producing life and preserving it. Our bodies are designed as temples to offer protection, nourishment, and growth for our children. Many of us are also teachers; we have the ability to enrich the mind and the soul. All of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual talents give humans the ability to thrive. God called Mary to give each of her gifts so that the Son of God would be able to carry out His Father’s will. She said yes.

How do we say yes, too? We can be open to life, without the input of foreign substances to “control” our bodies. We can care for our children and fulfill the responsibility of guarding their precious souls. Like Mary, we can care for our relatives, especially the elderly and our family. Luckily for us, God equipped us with motherly instincts and graces to help us along! These blessings create beauty and life in us whether we are single, married with or without children, or in the religious life. We are called to care for the children of God, so that means everyone!

She brings about dignity. 

If we’re being honest, men have a tendency to be a little more beastly. This is not a bad thing: men are often ordered towards hunting, fighting, conquering, and building… all necessary things for this world! Women are more often gifted with beauty, gracefulness, gentleness, and a quiet fierceness that captivates. We can rule with the expression in our eyes, face, and body. Anyone can observe “the look” a mother gives her child who may be misbehaving or the way a crowd turns to consider a woman who holds her head high. Women also more often have the ability to bring out the good in others and convince them to reach the best version of themselves.

Even the Blessed Virgin had to tell Jesus when it was His time to perform His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Jesus was divine, but it was His mother who prompted Him to start a long process of bestowing graces of God’s people. She also cherished the dignity of the most desolate when she chose to appear to the three shepherd children at Fatima and a poor young woman named Bernadette of Lourdes, France. We can mirror her by keeping our appearance modest and presenting ourselves in decency. We can also be mindful of the fact that we are daughters of God and our souls mean so much to Him. More importantly, we can extend this to others and help them be aware of the pricelessness of their souls.

 

She works behind the scenes. 

Our Lady speaks a total of four times in the Bible. She followed Jesus wherever He went, caring for Him and the apostles. Even on the way to Calvary, while her Son was being mocked and mutilated, she silently followed close behind. At the foot of the cross, she watched Him die without uttering a word. Her eyes stayed on His face, even as He was taken down and placed in the tomb. She didn’t oppose what God had planned, or complain about her suffering. Some of her most important work was behind the scenes.

God often calls us to do the same, and this behind-the-scenes work is most easily seen as a wife, mother, or religious sister. In today’s world, these callings are seen as the least glamorous and are often not openly encouraged for young women. But in reality, where would the world be without mothers and wives? Leaders would not be raised with the ideals they use to guide others. Workmen would break down more easily under the weight of their work without the support of their family. Society would not know the safety of the home. Moreover, the forces of evil would have a much greater advantage without the stronghold of the family to break through. Even the absence of consecrated women would result in the lack of spiritual support and education. So instead, we should cherish the opportunity to create, build, and support our families and communities. We can always be faithful to our marriages, even in the face of the worst circumstances. The world may not recognize or celebrate us often, but those closest to us will adore us for the work we do. God will also see every sacrifice we make and give us the graces to carry out His will. 

God gave us Our Lady as our constant help and example. We need her more than ever, as the most precious ideals that make up a woman are being attacked and modified in our society. Let us unite in prayer and ask Our Blessed Mother to help us become the women God destined us to be.