Monday, July 13, 2015

Oh these Brits!!

Yes it's true, I traded Villas for Castles, brown desert sand for lots of green grass and camels for sheep!  While I can honestly say I am LOVING it, some things are a little harder.

I can't seem to trade my coffee for tea.  It's just not the same!  It has to be in a proper tea cup; it has to be served with sugar cubes and don't even think about bringing out powdered creamer!!! And did you know you need "tea" spoons??  Real tea spoons; not the kind we have in the US.  These are tiny little tea spoons that obviously work best with a proper, small tea cup.  

Driving on the wrong (left side) of the road has me screaming everytime I see a driver that looks like he's 8 years old,  only to find he's the "passenger" who is sitting on the wrong side of the car!

The roads here have made it perfectly clear that I am definitely a "city" girl!!!  Driving here is like riding a roller coaster; narrow hills and dips and turns that never end!  Not to mention that street signs are non-existent on country back roads and if there are, they can't be seen by all the overgrown bushes.  Even the locals use their GPS - almost always!!

Oh, and the speed limit on these tiny little roads is 60 mph!!!  That's right - 60 mph!!!  Often, the road is so narrow one car usually has to stop and pull over to the side while the oncoming car passes.  Courtesy is a MUST and that they are! You even have to stop for sheep or cattle crossing the road; that's right - they have the right away and no one honks or minds; you simply wait until they all cross safely.

As with all languauges, you have your "proper" english they sometimes call the Queen's english.  Although I laughed when her husband was caught on video dropping the F bomb!  Not so proper!  LOL  And then there's the slang.  A "quid" is a pound (dollar).  If you steal or take something, you "nicked" it.

A cookie is a biscuit.  A pitcher is a jug.  A napkin is a serviette. a truck is a lorry and a restroom is a toilet!  You can also call it the Loo, which I prefer because toilet just sounds so crude! Eggplant is aubergine and zuchinni is courgette.  A highway is a motorway or dual-carriage road and stop signs are rarely seen.  It's all about the roundabouts here!

They like to shorten things here so for instance, the town Knaresbrough is pronounced "Nasbrow".
When you walk into a store or meet someone on the street, they will say, "Are you alright?"  The first time that happened, I thought, "Yes, Why???  Do I not look alright?"Or they will say, "Now then...." and I'm like, "Now then what????"  It actually just means, "Hello, how are you?"

A thrift shop is a Charity Shop and the Stray is not an animal; it's a beautiful piece of land (a park) that cannot be developed and usually runs in the center of town.  It's is beautifully manicured and it's for everyone to enjoy!

A pub is a bar with food and dogs are almost always welcome!!!  Every small neighborhood or village has one and it's basically a bar like "Cheers" where everyone knows your name!

And speaking of Cheers, they say "Cheers" instead "Good bye!" or "See you later"!  This I like! I'ts like - Cheers to you!  Cheers to our time together!  Cheers to a happy day!!!

I have to admit that I love, love hearing them talk; I don't always understand them, but I like hearing them.  I then come home and practice when I'm by myself because one day I will get the Yorkshire accent down!  I have come to find that I have not always been a "proper" lady so I love learning about the "proper" way to do things.  But the best thing about the Brits is their humor!  They are quick  and witty and they can laugh at themselves; even when others laugh at them.  I have a lot to learn from them and I'm enjoying every minute!

Blessings and Cheers to all!!

I'm really here!: Cheers from the UK!

I'm really here!: Cheers from the UK!: Cheers from the UK! It's been way too long since I last blogged.  I hate to admit that even though many urged me to get back to blogg...

Cheers from the UK!

Cheers from the UK!

It's been way too long since I last blogged.  I hate to admit that even though many urged me to get back to blogging, I think I allowed the enemy to get the best of me.  So many times God speaks clearly to my heart and I feel the urge to share it, and then, he talks me out of it.  "Who really cares?"  he whispers....."who do you think you are or why do you think you have a right to say anything to others?..."  I guess in the end he wins because I let it go and soon it's forgotten.  But in the last few days I've come to see clearly how often I am letting God down because if I really want to be truthful, "who do I think I am to suppress giving Him honor and glory by sharing the loving, sweet consolations He gives me?"  We are called to be salt of the earth; to share our lives in a way that gives flavor.  When we stop contributing salt, or flavor to the world, we are useless.  I don't want to be useless to God. So while this may or may not inspire you, I hope you know that I only share with you that which I feel God wants me to share with you; I little thought or funny here and there that might bring a smile to your face or warmth to your heart.  It is not meant to preach or boast, "for I pray that I may boast only in the Lord".

So, as most of you know, I am now living in Harrogate, England.  I won't bore you with the details of the past two years of my life, only say that my dream vacation in the Middle East came to an end and it was a good end.  It was time....I clearly felt the Lord taking our hand gently (He never forces us....we were tempted to pull back and stay and He would have allowed it, but thankfully, we listened to His promptings) and guiding us on to our next adventure.  And God never disappoints!!!  Oh how Great our God is!!!

Upon arriving, we found out that the base Chapel would soon be closed so after only two months of going to Mass there, we were forced to go out into the community and find another Church to attend.  We chose the one closest to us; St. Robert's and while it's bigger than the two base Chapels we had attending the past 3 years, it certainly is not bigger than Queen of Peace, our church home in El Paso.  It has been a transition; the British are...the British.  No holding hands at the Our Father; no contemporary worship music, Amen is AWWmen ;) but RICH in history and tradition, which to some might seem stodgy but to me is quite beautiful!  Nonetheless, it's different and we knew feeling at home would be a process. So we have made a commitment to St. Robert's and I'm trying to discern how/when to get involved in ministry.  I've also started to work my way back to daily Mass; especially to my First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart.

This past Friday, as I walked in to Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was still exposed. How blessed are we that we have the Blessed Sacrament exposed every day!?!  For half an hour before daily Mass, they expose the Blessed Sacrament and it's a blessing to be able to spend some time alone before Mass with Jesus.  It was a rare, warm day in Harrogate so walking in to the cool church felt like a refreshing respite.  I walked and knelt down and prayed and in too short a time, a little bell rang and Monsignor walked in to perform the ritual that would end Adoration.  He sings it!  He sings it and everyone joins in (maybe 30+ people there at noon on a weekday) and it's in Latin and I have no idea what they are singing.  I recognize some words and it's easy to follow along and I make a mental note to look up the words when I get home.  But it doesn't matter that I don't know them; I FEEL them.  And then it's over and he goes back to process in for Mass.  In those few minutes before Mass starts, I sit and I look up at the huge crucifix in front of me and I just smile.  I feel that peace that only He can give; that joy that comes from knowing you are with your beloved.  That anticipation of what's next to come.  And then it begins.  Another little bell and everyone stands and we begin to pray the Angelus.

I had heard about the Angelus; I didn't grow up praying it and we didn't pray it at our Church.  But in Bahrain, it was a very important part of our Cenacle group.  They were mainly devout Filipinos who always prayed it at 6:00 p.m.  If you don't know, the Angelus is supposed to be prayed three times a day; 6:00 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m.  It's an ancient tradition to pray it throughout the day to remind yourself to stop and give thanks to the Lord throughout the day.  It's a short prayer really and I think you can pray it anytime, but as all things that are good for us, there is rhyme and reason to it and I suppose the hours prescribed help us to stay focused on God throughout the day rather than letting the activities of the day dictate our minds and actions.  In Bahrain, I couldn't help make the comparison between the Angelus and the Call to Prayer the Muslims have every day.  They pray 5 times a day and the purpose is the same; to stop and give thanks to God and keep their minds and hearts focused on Him all day.  I think that's why I always loved the Call to Prayer and it never bothered me like it did many.  I loved the idea of stopping for a few minutes throughout the day and praising God.  No harm done there!

I've since memorized most of the Angelus, but it still sounds different in Yorkshire accent. LOL  But I know it and I quickly join in and pray with them - with my new faith family whose names I don't  know but feel deeply connected to in prayer.  The Priest sings the opening prayers and we all respond and when we sit down to hear the Word proclaimed, I feel this complete joy in my heart.  I feel connected; I feel in rhythm with the pulse of Jesus' heart beating in this place.  I'm uniquely aware and pleasantly surprised at how quickly I have fallen into the heartbeat or rhythm of this community and how at "at home" I already feel!

For so many years, I loved walking in to Queen of Peace in El Paso when no one else was there.  Like in the evenings when I would go and set up before choir practice or close up after a late youth group meeting.   I loved the smells, the familiarity of "my home".  I could walk through that church in the dark without fear and I could make my way around without any lights.  It was my second "home" and I knew it was where I belonged!  In Bahrain, the Chapel was also used as a training room so I never really got that "feel" for home, even though I loved our faith community.  But here, I am once again in a Church sanctuary; Jesus is present in the Tabernacle; you can feel His warmth in the flame of every little candle burning, offering up our prayers to God.  I can sense His Grandeur not only by the beauty of the stained glass windows and the ornate decor of the church (because nothing is too good for God!), but more importantly by the reverence in the people there; there is quiet; there is respect; there is comfort in knowing "Daddy's home" and all our needs and worries and anxieties will be taken care of.  There is deep gratitude for the ability to be part of a family who are all there for the same reason; because we love and need our Father and we need to hear His words of advice; of comfort; to be guided, nourished and strengthened.  It's like walking in at Thanksgiving; smelling the delicious smells and feeling the energy and love around you; and being so happy to see everyone again!  It's simply COMING HOME!

I don't know why I'm surprised.  There is a reason God wanted a holy place to dwell within.  Yes, He is everywhere, but He is Holy and He requested that a Holy place be built for His people to come and worship Him in; a place where the banquet is set every day!  And while I know that He is present wherever two or more are gathered in His name, I know that He is physically present in the Tabernacle and that He will physically come to me momentarily in the Eucharist!

I'm across the pond, as they say.  Sooo far from home.  I'm in one of the most un-Christian countries in the world, and yet Jesus is alive and present in His holy Church!!!  I guess I'm not surprised but rather, in AWE at the realization that regardless of where we go in the World, He is present in His Holy Church.  I'm feeling very grateful for the faithfulness of the Apostles, the early Church Fathers and for the Universal Church.  I'm feeling very humbled and blessed that He has put me in a position to experience that which I had always professed.  If I had never left my home, I might not have ever experienced this truth and reality.  And for this, I am blessed! Thanks be to God!  I'm Home and my joy is complete!!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

One year later......

One year ago today I was waking up for the first time in Bahrain; we had arrived at midnight therefore I didn't know what to expect when the sun came up the next day.  I was shocked by the beauty of the ocean right in front of my window!  I couldn't wait to go outside and walk Bella on the beach and I remember thinking, "How on earth did I end up here???"  Today I woke up to a beautiful, cloudy, rainy day and after a whole year of being here, I am still in awe every time I come down the stairs and see the beauty of the water in front of me.  I still love going outside with Bella to feel the morning breeze and I still, honestly and wholeheartedly think, "How is it that we're so blessed to be here???"

I would like to think that I've always been this gracious in my journey but the truth is that I've had my moments.  As much of a blessing as this life is, it has been clouded only by my own inability to fully accept this gift and because of my own expectations.  I realize now that this is why I've neglected to blog for over six months, even though so many kind friends kept asking me to do so.  If I can be brutally honest, it's because when I left, I left with what felt like great expectations from everyone, including myself!  Because of my many years in ministry and service to God, and because of the blessings I had received through them, I truly felt that God would NOT remove me from that life if He didn't plan on using me for the same here.  In other words, there must be something He needed me to do here!  As I was leaving, I kept hearing, "God is going to use you there; God really must need you to do His work there; maybe you'll start the first CSS class in a Muslim country!"  They were are all very well-intended comments but I remember starting to feel the pressure; pressure because in the back of my mind (and in my heart) I was beginning to think, "But what if God is pulling me out of here and placing me all the way over there because He feels the need to work on ME! What if I'm not being sent to do great things for Him over there?!"    I guess this is where I need to say that I was right; and unfortunately that is why, after countless of times of trying to sit down and write, I couldn't do it, if only because I was afraid to disappoint.  I myself felt disappointed; I felt lost; I was not in my element; I wasn't really doing anything that I considered "great" or of value and I was not used to NOT DOING; I felt like I had nothing "substantial" to say.

Today, I'm not sure it's substantial, but God has revealed so much to me in these last few weeks; I have been gently corrected in my understanding and my hope is that in sharing some of it with you, we can all be reminded to thank God for the "here and now"; to look at the present, not what was or what we hope will be, but simply look at each day as an abundant gift from God and peacefully accept and trust in God's plan for our lives.   *Highlighted because I will come back to this at the end.

So, "what do you do?"  A question you usually ask when you meet someone; a question I have come to hate because I never really know what to say; especially now!  Society places so much importance in what we do instead of who we are, and it always feels like the answer is supposed to impress; as if to say that what I do will define my importance in this world.  That's why I think when I got here, after a few months of loving my solitude; loving my time spent in deep prayer and contemplation, I began to feel that I really needed to go and DO something!  After all, I'm used to doing; I live to serve God and that means I need to be doing something to that end.  I kept looking and looking, but thankfully my heart knew that I needed to wait on the Lord until He revealed it.  Crickets..... other words, nothing was being revealed.  I started to think that it was because I would be going home and traveling for most of the summer so maybe God didn't want me to start something only to interrupt it.  He's so wise like that!!  So He was probably waiting until I got back to put me to work.  And true to form, I came back with the resolve to get to work and I thought that the yearning in my heart for the Word of God and Scripture was His prompting me to go back to what I know and love; what I know how to DO - and that was to lead a bible study!!  Yes!  I could finally report back that I had indeed started the first CSS bible study in Bahrain!  Oh, how easily we can talk ourselves into believing that our desires are His desires for us.

All I will say is that instead of bringing me the joy I anticipated, I was met with indifference and apathy.  At first I was sad; then frustrated and even a little angry.  Why didn't these people want this great gift I wanted to share with them???  The class that we were able to start was a very small group and the dynamics would not lend themselves to the style or method of teaching I had used before; the one I felt I was "good" at.  This was a whole new different ball game and I quickly began to think that perhaps I had made a mistake.  I could see that maybe my need to DO something had led me back to what was safe; in the absence of hearing clear direction from God, I just went back to what I knew how to do.  But I also know that when we're not in God's will, even when we're doing something "good", the joy and the peace we long for will elude us and I started to feel in my heart that this was the problem.  How could I have been so wrong??

I finally concluded that what I believed in my heart from the beginning was truly God's voice speaking to me. I was not necessarily brought here to DO, but to BE.  To be still in the presence of God.  I know that I am not beyond needing work; I, like everyone else, am a work in progress and God is not ever finished with us until the day He takes us home and can then call us "Saints".  I was reminded of Abraham and Moses and so many of the prophets who had been pulled away from their homes; their families, their comfort zones, into the desert for many, many years while God worked in them, strengthened them, taught them, in order to prepare them for the next phase of their lives.  I have been incredibly blessed and privileged to serve God in so many ways and for so many years, but I truly feel that at this point in my life, God is longing to have me all to Himself to continue a good work in me.  And how blessed am I that He would want to spend quality, intimate time with me??  How blessed are WE to know that He desires the same from each and every one of us??  

God is so loving that many times He lets us have what we think we have to have - what we think we need, and when it doesn't turn out quite right, He can still work with our mistakes for His good; I believe that is what He is doing with me and the bible study class.  It is small and it's different, but I see now that this allows for some very intimate, personal discussions and growing in faith.  It allows for a more personal encounter with these people who truly have a desire to grow closer to God.  I am re-energized simply by being in the Word again and by being able to share what  God has revealed to me about Himself; and still learning; learning to rely completely on His power to teach and engage in a whole new way.  Last night, I came home feeling so blessed because I could clearly see the love and grace that is being poured out on our little class.

When I left home, I brought a plaque that was given to me as a gift with one of my favorite scripture verses on it; "Be still and know that I am God".  Favorite because it's the one I've always known I need to remember the most!!  Today I am very happy to tell you that that is exactly what I do here in Bahrain.  I started the New Year with a resolve to truly embrace just being still; I am trying very hard not to feel guilty for spending an entire morning, or even an entire day just reading, praying, thinking, journaling about God and all that He is revealing to me.  And I am grateful and humbled, that He loves me enough to work on the places I need working on; to know that even if I need 40 years to correct and strengthen me, it is worth it because I will be that much better equipped to love and serve Him, which is truly my greatest desire!

God desires intimate time with each one of us - of that I am absolutely sure!  So after spending my morning looking out my window, watching the rain fall softly on the water and feeling the tears of gratitude run down my face, I knew I was finally ready to share with you once again.  As I sat down at my computer, I saw a Facebook post from a very special friend and it said this: Offer a spontaneous prayer for the insight to view the "here and now" as an abundant gift from God and to peacefully accept the path in life that you have created thus far.    We have the free-will to choose the path in life we want to take; my prayer is that we will all choose to walk in His path for our lives and to embrace our "here and now" as our own personal gift from God so that we can enjoy the peace that only He can give.

As always, I send you many blessings from Bahrain!!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Eid Mubarak!

I kept waiting for my six months here to be completed; thinking perhaps I would be in a very different place emotionally since I arrived.  It's funny, but in looking back, I don't feel that much different.  I still feel like I'm on vacation!  A long one of course, but I don't feel "settled".   I don't feel at "home" and perhaps that is a good thing!  It has not become ordinary and I continue to look at each day with excitement and anticipation of a new experience; a new insight, a new revelation at life.

This past month has been especially extraordinary as we experienced Ramadan - the holy month of fasting for Muslims.  I had heard the horror stories; it's awful; you can't eat or drink in public, you have to cover your elbows and your knees, you can't eat out, etc... etc....  I however, was not so concerened with what I couldn't do; I wanted to see what they did!  I kept thinking that it would be like our Lent - 40 days of fasting, praying, and almsgiving and I was right!  Although, I have to admit that they are a little more fervent in their practices.  They fast from sun up to sun down from everything including water and they are supposed to actually attend the Mosque each day for evening prayers (normally you can pray in your own home).  They are also supposed to perform acts of charity and help their less fortunate elders.  All of this is to help them draw closer to God by praying more fervently, by practicing self-control and to be more congnizant of reaching out to the poor.  Those basically are the three pillars of Lent for the Catholic Christain - Fasting; Prayer; Almsgiving. 

The difference?  Well for one, I kept thinking how amazing it would be if our entire COUNTRY was united in our observance of Lent.  Where we took it seriously enough to close down our businesses so as to encourage and allow everyone to commit more time to prayer and to God.  Here, every restaurant was closed until sun down.  No one is allowed to drink or eat in public; not even in your car, so as not to tempt one who is fasting.  To do so is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and the police will stop you and issue you the citation!!  It was a bit daunting to see the streets that are lined with restaurants and usually full of people, completely empty.  Traffic was very light during the day and there are many theories as to why, which I will comment on in a minute, but I have to admit, that part was great!!  And when I did happen to be passing by a Mosque in the evening, I was touched by the number of cars parked outside and how many men were going to attend evening prayers.  It reminded me of how daily Mass attendance usually rises during Lent.

I myself admire their devotion; I cannot see into their hearts and therefore I will not judge their actions.  Unfortunately, that is what I found most disturbing; the cynicism of those who do not understand or subscribe to their religion.  They criticize them for holding a feast each night after breaking their fast.  They usually break their fast at sundown with evening prayers followed by an Iftar.  It consists of feasting on dates and water, followed by a delicious dinner.  I found it touching to learn that people will take dates and water to the Mosques each day and leave them there for those who are coming straight from work.   They also donate food which are then put into baskets for the needy to take.  Most restaurants have great Iftar Buffets and everyone benefits from the low prices meant to bring in business that may have been lost during the day.  We attended one and it was delicious!!  But for the most part, they cook delicious meals at home for the Iftar and invite family and friends.  After the Iftar, the continue with another buffet of food and music and fellowship that can last way into the early morning of the following day.  Again, many restaurants hold "all you can eat" buffets that run past midnight in beautiful outdoor tents.  Because of this celebration that can continue so late, many will say that that is why traffic is light; that they will then sleep all day and accomodate their work schedules  so as not to have to endure being awake during the fast of the day.  So where is the "sacrifice" in that??? 

I would say that that kind of practice is only possible for certain people; the wealthy, the self-employed, and not the common person.  A friend told me that she didn't look forward to Ramadan because her Muslim co-workers came in to work without brushing their teeth since they couldn't drink water, were grumpy from not eating, and then would drive like maniacs once they were off in order to go and get something to eat!  That doesn't sound like someone who is up partying all night and sleeping through the day.  And besides; even for those that might accomodate their schedules; we don't know what other changes or small sacrifices it might take; or whether despite their ability to do that, are not spending devout time in prayer or donating money or food to help those less fortunate.  Those sacrifices that are done in the private of their hearts and out of the public eye are the ones that mean the most to God!  So again, I don't attempt to judge; but I love meaning and the intent of what this time is meant to be about and I respect their efforts, for God knows my intent is not always carried out during Lent; my sacrifices are not always what they should be, but I do believe that God honors our efforts.

At the end of Ramadan, everyone is giddy with excitement; the stores are filled with beautiful fruit and candy baskets for gifts; and people are out shopping for new clothes to wear on the day after Ramadan is over - Eid.  As the sun goes down and the moon is spotted, the cannons go off and there is great celebration!  The next day is what I compare to our Easter Sunday - they all dress up and go to the Mosque for prayer; they cook big meals and families all gather and exchange gifts.  They give gifts to their neighbors - I received fresh dates from my friend, who had received them as a gift from her Muslim neighbors, and all the locals gets 5-12 days off to go and vacation and celebrate!  I can only imagine they feel the same type of joy we feel when we awake on Easter Sunday and can enjoy and celebrate with the deeper love for Christ we have hopefully cultivated during our 40 days of Lent.

Yes, maybe for some it's just a religious or cultural obligation; and yes, some will find ways around the sacrificial aspects prescribed.  For some, it is just a time for parties and a reason to buy a new outfit.  Am I talking about Ramadan or am I talking about Easter???  Funny isn't it, that I could be talking about either one. 

The fact is that our devotion to God is personal.  There are ways that are prescribed; traditions, obligations, suggestions at how we can enter more fully into God's presence so as to receive spiritual nourishment and strengthening for the journey, but it still all depends on us.  On the interior of our hearts; the place that only God can truly see. 

What a blessing for me to get to experience it first hand.  I am hoping that by next year I will have made some Muslim friends that would allow me to experience it a little more personally with them; but for now, I can honestly say that I not only survived my first Ramadan...I truly enjoyed it!

P.S. The Grand Mosque hosts an Open House a few times a year where visitors can tour the Mosque and visit different stations that explain different aspects of the Muslim faith.  They have food for you to sample; they have someone chanting parts of the daily prayer, the explain their cleansing rituals, etc...  It was very enlightening and I've posted pictures in my Facebook Album under this link:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sharing God's love in Czech Republic!

Ahoi!!!  Translation - Hello in Czech, but as I write this, I am back in Bahrain trying to close my eyes and picture all the GREEN I got to see in Ostrava.  Yes, another journey God has blessed me with and just what my soul needed!  Once again, He has proven to me that His ways are beyond my understanding, but always for my good.  He sent me to the Czech Republic to help on a Service Project/Mission Trip for Military Kids; at least, that's what I thought I was doing - going to help.  It wasn't until I got home that I realized that in the end, God was giving me the help I needed.

I promised that I would wait on the Lord and allow HIM to fill my days and time here in Bahrian according to His will.  That meant not rushing in to volunteer for all the things I like to do or what I thought I should be doing; I would not make a move unless He first moved me.  Which is why when they announced at the Chapel that a new Youth Group would be formed on base and that they needed volunteers, it was all I could do but smile and think, "God, is this a test??"  Dave squeezed my hand but I just smiled and oddly enough, I didn't feel that twinge in my heart; that longing for Youth Ministry that I had after I left it for good seven or eight years ago.  Back then, my heart still agonized over my decision to leave Lifeteen for CSS, but I knew it was God's plan and eventually, my heart accepted it and obviously, healed.  So no, I would not volunteer to help start up this Youth Group; there are lots of parents with teens who would be more than perfect for that job.  My job would be to sit and watch and wait to see what God had in store for me.  And then the little box on Facebook flashes telling me I have a message! 

"Marie, this is Gabe.  I just landed in Bahrain and I've been told you are here.  Can we get together soon?"  I've known Gabe - or should I say, I've known about Gabriel Rivera for many years.  It was through Lifeteen that I first heard about him.  He was a musician at St. Matthews who led the Lifeteen Choir and led Praise and Worship at several retreats and events.  Although I had referred my friend Nydia to him when she was working on a Children's Mass for St. Joseph and they ended up working together, we had never actually met or had a conversation.  So imagine my surprise to get a FB message from him telling me that he was in Bahrain!!!   It turns out that the organization in charge of the Youth Group they were starting had sent him to Bahrain to kick off Club Beyond and promote their annual Service Project in the Czech Republic.  Gabe had been touring Europe with MCYM (Military Community Youth Ministries) doing Praise and Worship at different camps and before he could head back home to the States, they asked if he wouldn't mind one last stop in the Middle East.  Who wouldn't jump at that chance??? ;)

So in walks Gabe and we connect as if we've known each other for years.  He actually stayed with Dave and I for several days while he was transitioning into a new apartment and he just felt like family from the start!  We invited him to the Cenacle and they all embraced him and we saw him at mass every week.  We both kept saying how amazing it was that God would put us here in Bahrain at the exact same time!  I remembered the saying, "For such a time as this..." and I would be reminded of it again after we returned from our trip.  You see, Gabe was sent with a very important but difficult mission.  He had to come in and convince people he didn't know to send their teens to the Czech Republic with him for a week!  And as if that wasn't hard enough, he also had to recruit a woman to go with him as an Adult Leader to chaperon any girls that might sign up.  Being that he needed a volunteer right away, he asked me if I would be willing to go.  I had told God that I would not necessarily volunteer for anything unless they "needed" me - that is very different from me wanting to help.   I want to help all the time, but people don't always need my help so that was the deal.  "Let them ASK me Lord; I will wait for them to ask..." and here was Gabe, asking for my help.  I knew right away that the answer would be "Yes".  And then my initial thoughts were, "What did I get myself in to?" 

There were times when I wondered if I was really needed - Gabe found some great adult volunteers for Club Beyond shortly thereafter.  I began to wonder if I really wanted to go back to work with teens; am I too old for that now?  Maybe I wouldn't be able to relate.  And then there was the physical work involved; it would mean little sleep, hard work and lots of teenagers!!!  I started asking God to please correct my mistake if I had indeed made one; please let Gabe tell me that he doesn't need me. 
I still don't know if Gabe really needed me at all; but what I do know is that I needed this for me
Arriving in Prague

The work was not that physical; we had great accommodations; I got plenty of sleep, ate well, and I met great people.  We were there to serve the Roma people; the Roma community.  They are often referred to as "gypsies" and suffer much discrimination throughout most of Europe.  In Czech, 82% of Czechs refuse to acknowledge any form of "special care of Roma rights."  83% of Czechs consider them asocial - or not suitable for society; not able to conform to social norms and 45% of Czechs would like to expel them completely out of the Czech Republic. The Roma people suffered much during WWII at the hands of Nazi German mobile killing units and in camps such as the ones at Lety and Auschwitz.  90% of native Roma died and the Roma there now are mostly post-war immigrants from Slovakia or Hungary, or the descendants thereof.  They are segregated and live in very modest neighborhoods.  It made me think of places in the US where you have the blacks on one side of the track and whites on the other.  While I'm sure this was present in my own lifetime, I can honestly say I have never experienced this type of discrimination myself and it breaks my heart to know that it is still very real and present today.  I feel blessed that MCYM chose to share God's love with them through our service; my prayer is that our presence was just a slight glimpse of the love God has for ALL of His children and how He wants them to know He is with them always, sending His love to them through the love of others; even if it seems it is just a few. 

The other sobering fact I learned is that only 2% of the Czech Republic is Christian!  Communism wiped out religion and those who were believers had to suppress their faith.  Consequently, they did not bring up their children in the faith and while there are multitudes of old religious statutes and icons of Christianity, more specifically, Catholicism, many know nothing about their past.  The amazing thing is that young people are heeding the call of Christ!  Some of the Czechs shared with us that their parents are not believers.  One of them shared with me that she only revealed that she was a believer to them and her friends a few years ago and many do not understand.  Thankfully, they have organizations like Young Life and Lifeteen making a presence and impact on them.  They are the ones who hosted these service projects in conjunction with MCYM and will continue to hold camps for Czech teens throughout the summer.  And you can see that they have a true heart for Christ; they are searching, trying to live their faith the best they can and somehow I believe that their parents will come to know Christ through them one day.

The language barrier was really evident; I kept slipping into Spanish when they couldn't understand me in English, as if somehow they would understand that?  It was funny.  The Czech language is hard and it really made me sad when I tried to ask some of the Roma kids about the rosaries and crucifixes some of them were wearing around their necks, but they just didn't seem to understand.  I had my crucifix on and pointed it out to them but they just smiled and I really didn't get a response, so how much they know about Catholicism I'm not sure.   Fortunately, warmth and smiles and hugs and laughs are universal; they need no translation and there was an abundance of that for sure!!  The teens were so good about playing with them and interacting with them; we also worked hard at painting and sprucing up the two community centers set up for them by a wonderful organization in Ostrava who makes it a priority to provide classes and social activities for the Roma children and their families.  We did our best to plant the seed of God's love through VBS lessons each day and while we are not sure how much they actually knew what we were talking about, they understood enough to know that our love for" someone" named Jesus is what brought us there to them.  The main project was setting up a playground in their community and the joy on their faces when it was completed was priceless!!  Now they will have a place where they can just be children; play together and be carefree.  My prayer is that it will instill in them a sense of being loved.  That others loved them enough to want to share something good with them because they are precious and loved and worthy of good and nice things; worthy of love and respect and the dignity that God desires for each and every one of us.

That was our mission for the week and we completed it.  I will never tire of saying that it is the greatest privilege to be allowed the honor of serving God and to be His hands and feet here on earth!  No greater privilege!  And the rewards are indescribable!  One would think that just that knowledge would be enough, but God doesn't stop there!  He is the most loving God who wants to shower us with even more blessings, and shower me He did!  You see, I went to give His love to others and in the process God gave Himself to me.  Once again, He knows my heart and every need and He blessed me by allowing me to receive Him in the ways that are most meaningful to me; in the ways that He knows I respond more completely to and that is by being in the company of faithful believers who love Him as much as I do and by being able to participate in Praise and Worship through song, which we were blessed to do every night at the end of our day.   Yes, I have a beautiful faith community in Bahrain which I am eternally grateful for but I needed that special connection I get from P&W.  We all receive the Holy Spirit in different ways and for me, there is something about music that fills me with a presence of God that makes my heart want to explode!!!  I don't know how else to describe it but that's how I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit most powerfully.  And God gave Gabe this incredible gift of drawing us closer to Him in prayer through song and it was powerful!   We also had small group discussions re: our faith and how to live it and it took me back to my Lifeteen days when we would go to the Steubenville Conferences in the summer and I would be refreshed and renewed and strengthened for the rest of the year!  I had not had that in a long time and God knew I needed it!
 Gabe leading us in Praise and Worship

The Holy Spirit was in the house!

I feel refreshed; renewed!  I feel blessed, peaceful, grateful, amazed and more than anything humbled.  Humbled at the fact that God knows us so well; He knows the deepest most intimate parts of our hearts and He always provides what we need.  The only thing we need to do is be open to the opportunities He gives us and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to say "Yes" to this trip.  Grateful that God put someone I knew here in Bahrain to accomplish this trip; Gabe!  And that God put it in Gabe's heart to ask ME to go along.  If it had been someone other than Gabe, I would not have been asked; and even though it was Gabe, he could have asked anyone else.  As a result, I have made a lifelong friend in Gabe and I have been fed, nourished and once again renewed in faith!  My heart is full; my cup overflows! 

As for the Roma Community in Ostrava; I have to believe we planted a seed.  I keep reminding myself of Isaiah 55:11  "so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."   Please pray for them and all those who are outcast and treated as anything less than the children of God that they are created to be. 

I am still relishing all the memories of last week, thinking and pondering what it all means.  Today, our Holy Father's tweet just confirmed what my heart has been feeling.  He said, "we pray for a heart that will embrace immigrants.  God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy." 

Blessings from Bahrain!

*If you have a FB page, there is an entire album titled Ostrava Service Project where you can see pics of our entire trip.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where have you been????

Hello friends!!!  Yes, I'm still alive and well on the Island of Bahrain!!! I didn't realize how long it had been since my last blog;  it wasn't  until so many sweet people started asking me if they had missed it.  Thank you all for even caring and reading this; it makes me warm inside to know that we have not been forgotten.  :)

It's been five months almost to the day since we arrived in Bahrain; the place some people call Fantasy Island, tongue in cheek,and I have to admit that I am actually starting to believe it!!!  As I read my last blog, I realized I sounded a little sad and meloncholy; well I'm happy to report that I  have settled in very nicely into this amazing life experience God has deemed to bless Dave and me  with!!!  We continue to be in awe of the magnitude of God's love and goodness towards us and many times we look at each other and say "pinch me!"  Sometimes we even ask "Why us?"  Truly we are not more worthy than anyone else of this amazing life, and yet it is a constant reminder of God's love for each and every one of us.  None of us are truly worthy of all the blessings He gives us each day, and yet it pleases Him to shower us with blessings!  The blessings are different for every one, at different moments in time, but one thing we can be sure of is that He desires our life to be awesome!  I am constantly reminded of Jeremiah 29:11, "for I know the plans I have for you; plans to bless you and prosper you..."  I never doubted that it was God's will to bring us here; I just never knew it was to bless us so abundantly, and I am so glad we submitted to His will for us! 

As you can guess from my lapse in writing, I am finding many more ways to fill my time.  It is very strange to see the sun rise at 4:30 a.m. and it is also very hard to sleep through it!!!  My body automatically wakes up to light so unfortunately, I wake up around 5:00 a.m. every day, regardless of how late I stay up.  But after a few weeks of trying different ways of sleeping in a little longer, I just decided to give in and take advantage of it.  So now, I wake up and I make sure to get the important things out of the way; I have my cup of coffee; read the daily readings, pray/journal, check my email and Skype with my daughters, family and friends, and by the time I'm finished, it's only 7:00 a.m.!!!  Since I got my AFN Box , I've been able to watch American TV; DWTS; The Voice and most recently, the NBA Playoffs.  I can watch them live at 5:00 a.m.!  Awesome!  I've also started swimming in the canal since the mornings seem to be very warm.  We bought a kayak and that is another favorite thing to do.  I kayak around our neighborhood - Floating City.  When all is said and done, it's still only maybe 9:00 a.m.!!!  I'm telling you, I get so much done simply by waking up so early!!! 
Me and Bella in our Kayak

So what do I do with the rest of my day???  Well, to be honest, I love NOT having anything on the agenda.  Most days I go to daily Mass at noon.  Most of the time, Dave will meet me there and then we go and have lunch together afterwards.  Then I'll run errands on base or in the area.  Other days I just enjoy time reading, taking in some sun while listening to my praise and worship music, or I'll go and have lunch with friends.  Dave is usually home early; 3-4 pm on most days and we have dinner, relax playing cards, take Bella for a walk on the beach or kayak together.  The weather has been so nice lately that when Dave works late, we'll order a pizza or grab our dinner and go eat it at the beach while the sun goes down.  Yes, I will stop talking about my life now because I realize it sounds to good to be true - but God is so good and I would not be telling you any of this if not simply to boast in the Lord and His goodness! 

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Dinner on the beach

And as good as this all sounds, I want to share with you a greater gift God has given me; one that I truly believe has made it possible for me to see and embrace this amazing life, because without this gift, I'm afraid that despite everything we've been blessed with, I might have fallen in to despair or would have perhaps embraced a very different way of life.  And what is this gift?  The Cenacle.

The Cenacle (from Latin cenaculum), also known as the "Upper Room", is the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means dinner. In Christian tradition, based on Acts 1:13,[1] the "Upper Room" was not only the site of the Last Supper (i.e. the Cenacle), but the usual place where the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia[2] "the first Christian church".

You may remember that I mentioned in my last blog that a group from our church had come over to bless our house and pray with us - they are The Cenacle! 

When I first arrived and went to confession with Fr. Bob, he told me I HAD to join The Cenacle.  As I continued to tell him about my life in El Paso and what was closest to my heart, he kept saying "Aww man, you need to join The Cenacle!"  Alright, I get that Father, but what is The Cenacle???  And why did I need to join and would they even have me??  Well, as it turns out, I needed to join them more than I realized, reminding me once again that God knows what we need, even before we do! 
Me and Dave with Father Bob

The Cenacle is a group of some of the warmest people I know; they meet every Friday after mass in different people's homes to pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.  Everyone brings a dish and we share a meal.  They are some of the most devout group of people I've met and they are fervent about praying for Priests and Vocations as well.  As a matter of fact, there are two families in the group who have brothers who are Priests.  Along with the Rosary and the Chaplet, I have been learning lots of new prayers that they pray as well.  While it may seem like "alot of Jesus", as Fr. Bob would say, it actually goes by pretty quickly, to my surprise.

I have to say that our first experience with this was at our house blessing.  They were so excited to come and bless our home - there were about 30 people here that day and Dave and I had no idea what to expect or what exactly they would do.  When they pulled out folders for everyone to recite prayers and read from, I got a little worried.  Mainly for Dave - he's not one for long prayers and these booklets had like 40 pages of prayers!!!  And for myself too because although it may surprise you, I'm not too keen on organized prayer groups like this.  I get easily bored and I've struggled with communal prayers like this; I just feel more attracted to spontaneous, personal prayers.  But we were so happy to have them there and so touched by their warmth that we truly enjoyed it.  But every week???  What did we get ourselves in to??  We went the following week, more out of gratitude for the beautiful turnout at our house, but after that, I wasn't sure if we would stick with it every week. I mean, was it necessary??  Does God ever make mistakes??

The Cenacle at our House Blessing

The next week I had some serious moments of crisis.  First, Dave began to have problems with his eyesight and he confided in me that he thought his retina was detaching in his right eye.  His left had detached 5 yrs. ago in his left eye and thankfully, he was aware of the symDptoms and scheduled an appointment the next day.  Sure enough, he was right and that led to an entire day of referrals from one Dr. to the next.  I was tempted to call our Dr. in the States since I knew how delicate and important the right care was but there was no time.  This kind of problem does not wait and after having seen my neighbor in El Paso lose his eyesight because he waited too long, I just had to put all my faith in God; trusting that He would provide the best medical care for Dave.  They scheduled surgery for Saturday afternoon.  In the midst of all of this, I found out that one of my dearest friends had been diagnosed with cancer.  We had been waiting for results and when I got the call saying, "It's not what we wanted to hear", I broke down in tears.  For only the second time since I've been here did I break down sobbing; heartbroken, and left wondering WHY God would not allow me to be at home to help my dear friend through this battle she would have to face???  This all happened on a Thursday and by Friday, I was emotionally drained and that's when it hit me - The Cenacle!!!   They would be meeting that day and boy did I NEED to be in prayer that day!!!  I went alone while Dave was trying to get his work and other things in order before his surgery.  Of course, they all asked for Dave.  When I told them about his ordeal, they all began to offer help.  When I told them he would be at home with his head hanging down for 7-10 days, they immediately offered a massage table where he could lay with his face down.  Within minutes, they had gone and brought the table and loaded it in my car and sent me home with tons of food for Dave.  I offered up my Rosary and Chaplet for Dave and Elsa and I left there feeling 100 times better!!!  As the weeks followed, I couldn't wait to go to The Cenacle; it is where not only I found comfort in the routine prayers but where I felt embraced by the love of God in all those people there.  Truly, God's wisdom is infinitely above my own because He designed that we be ONE in His Church.  The Body of Christ in the Church is made up of all the individuals in it - we were created to work together to manifest His love to others through the Church and there is no better way to do that than to come together as a community and share His love for one another!  WOW!  How well God knows my heart; my weaknesses and my desires!!!   Desires because as I've said before, one of the hardest things to leave behind was my community of faith; my church family; the body of Christ that had nurtured me and loved me in Christ for so many years!  And how many times have we not heard that the Church is universal; that God is present in His Church throughout the world - even in a Muslim country!  Christ is definitely present in His Church here in Bahrain;  in The Cenacle, where He led me because He knew how much I longed for a faith community; for that Christian fellowship I thought I had left behind.  And He knew that I would need them to hold and comfort me in my time of despair; to strengthen me and to remind me that GOD always provides every little thing that we need - even when we don't know we need it.

These people are my friends; I see them weekly but also at daily mass; they have embraced us and made us part of their families; there is always a birthday party; a going away party; an anniversary to celebrate.  But mainly, I just enjoy gathering with them on Fridays and praying with them.  If there are a few days where I  neglect my daily time with the Lord or feel that I've neglected my prayer life, I find it comforting to know that come Friday afternoon, I will get the chance to make it up and be refreshed and renewed.   Oh....and did I mention the great food????  I guess it wouldn't be a Cenacle without delicous food, now would it????  I would be remiss and ungrateful if I didn't say how much I've enjoyed tasting the delicious meals from the Phillipines, India, and France and I'm picking up some great recipes too! 

There are times when I feel as if I should be doing something more - finding a way to serve Him; to share Him with others around me, but somehow, the timing does not seem to be right.  I will be going to the US in a few short months - TWO to be exact!  It doesn't seem right to start something now that I would have to drop for the five weeks I will be gone.  YES, five whole weeks in the US with my daughters, my family and friends, and my new GRANDAUGHTER - Anabella Marie!!!  OMG- my heart wants to explode as I write that!  But don't be fooled; God finds ways to keep me busy in His service; I continue to Lector every week at Mass and isn't it funny that somehow, He has found a way to put me back in Youth Ministry for a limited time.  Yes, that's a great subject for my next blog....let me just say that next week I will be going to the Czech Republic to chaperone a Mission Trip.  The Czech Republic - is that crazy or what???  And how did this come about???  How did GOD come up with the idea of putting another El Pasoan here in Bahrain and bringing us together in service to Him???
Do you know who this is?

 Stay tuned for my next the meantime, know you are loved and be blessed!!!