Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Tradition

Women of Faith:
Merry Christmas!

As we prepare today for another family gathering I was thinking about the traditions, past and present, that we will have celebrated or been reminded of this Christmas season:

The imaginative decorating by children (young and old) of Christmas cookies, making and eating bean soup and oyster stew, placing Baby Jesus in the manager, eating an apple from Grandma and Grandpa Svoboda, driving to see Christmas lights, searching the bottom of the stocking, attending Christmas mass together, driving home thru a winter wonderland of snow (which we missed this year, and then praised that we missed), attending loud family gatherings and singing (in prayer-Silent Night; with joyfulness-the twelve days of Christmas; and nostalgically-Czech carols), and taking a family picture.

These traditions were started 2011 years ago at the birth of Our Lord in Bethlehem: a family who said yes to God and then protected their spouse and child at a great sacrifice; who had a simple home with simple food and simple belongings; who received gifts brought by earthly kings; who’s good news was spread with great joy by the angels; and who by the light of a star (the Spirit) guides us and gave us the mass—as in Christ.mass.
And then I wondered how well I was doing at keeping the true focus of the traditions of Christmas?

Do my traditions reflect Mary unselfishly saying “yes” to God—even though it could have cost her life(the penalty for adultery was to be stoned to death); Joseph, who protected his wife, Mary, by trusting her—even though it cost him his own prideful reputation; or the innkeepers with “no room” keeping my belongings for my own needs)? Am I happy with the simplicity of swaddling clothes and a manager for a bed? Do I spread the good news like the angels with rejoicing and gladness? Do I follow the three kings’ example by giving everything and protecting the life of every child, as they did Jesus from Herod?

And am I like today’s feast day saint, St. Stephen, the first martyr, who when he was laughed at for speaking of Jesus, and who kept his focus turned upwards: “But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts 6: 8-10

Dear God: Thank you for giving us Jesus, Your son, our Savior and Redeemer, to light the way, to guide us and to open the heavens for us. May we each be more like Mary, unselfish; more like Joseph, protective of life; more like the angels, spreading the good news; and more like the kings, giving up our possessions to those in need. Thank you for the traditions inspired by the Nativity scene. Amen.

May your family’s traditions of Christmas give you peace and joy, and fill your hearts and homes with the love of Christ,


Monday, December 19, 2011

Make God Real

Women of Faith:

Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

But is God/Jesus REAL to me?

Am I seeing His signs, listening and answering God’s call in my life like Mary (and Joseph) who believed in God’s message and said yes to His call? “Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…. Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Luke 1: 26-38

Or am I like Solomon who ignored God’s signs, turned to the devil’s temptations, and created a fa├žade which would be torn down—because it was a building of man (a temple) rather than a building of God (His people)?

When I started to write this reflection this morning I realized that it was no longer just a handful of signs that God has given to Stan & I—but rather that the signs that we are blessed with are more and more frequent—not earth shattering or lightening striking signs—although we’ve had a few of those, but rather “just” everyday prayers being answered.

And I don’t think it is because God is giving the world/us more signs and miracles that we are being blessed by them. Rather I think it is because we are praying for miracles, praying for signs, praying that God would be REAL to us.

I have had numerous people write to say that this writing was just what they needed to hear today—yet I can’t possibly know what all of you are thinking, praying for or needing to hear. I only put on paper what has meaning for me and what God puts in my heart to share.

But just as this particular reflection may touch you, so have we had our own prayers answered within minutes of asking God—“what do we/I do next?”--a song or show on EWTN or Christian radio, a message in this week’s sermon or today’s scripture, a single bible verse heard on KLYF 101.9, or a text message from a friend.

I have had nights with meeting conflicts where one event got cancelled or another rescheduled so that I could do everything I felt called too do.

Stan & I have met someone on the street, in the grocery store, or at a ball game just when I, or they, or we, needed to talk about or support one another in prayer.

We have had couples that have come into our lives thru an EWTN TV show “Marriage Works in Christ” –and an answered call to join . This ministry has enriched our lives as much as it enriches the marriages that we have been blessed to share their date night and coaching programs with.

And of course there are those “chance” happenings: a near miss auto accident, a conversation with a stranger, or an unexpected phone call. And we have learned not to force meetings or words with those we know—waiting instead for God to give us the chance meeting and the right words. (And sometimes our patience isn’t the best )!

Oh and yes, I have had BIG prayers answered, miracle worthy answers to a prayerful plea and I believe I have quite literally seen at least one angel
(in the form of a police officer, no less).

Yet not every sign has been what I expected or thought I would be blessed by. But I am learning more and more to TRUST in the signs; to answer the call; to heed his warnings. Sometimes it takes hearing the message 4 or 5 times; missing the answer to a prayer 4 or 5 times; or being patient to receive an answer. But eventually I have realized that it was God talking, God providing a solution, God setting up roadblocks, or clearing the path—I just have to follow His lead.

Heavenly Father, praise be your very REAL presence in our lives. Thank you for the birth of Your son and the giving of His life to save mine. May I continue to be blessed to hear, see and follow Your signs. And may all those who read this message be blessed to see that you are REAL. Amen.

May you be blessed with the REAL Spirit of Christmas,
Merry Christmas from the Upah family,

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Believe

Women of Faith:

“I Believe.”

Usually when we see those words around Christmas they are associated with a belief in Santa Claus.

But, I believe, that those words have a far more reaching intention than my “belief” in Santa Claus or even my belief in the “spirit” of Christmas.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The reading is God’s asking and Mary’s “yes” to becoming the Mother of our Lord—from Luke 1: 39-47--
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

I remember often telling the kids, “If you don’t believe, Santa/Christmas/the gifts won’t come.” Their eyes would shine in their beautiful childlike faith—even to this day—and look at me to say, “I believe.” (They knew anything less meant no Christmas.)

So as yesterday’s reading proclaims: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances.” 1Thess 5: 16-24

Do we truly believe? Will we accept “less” than Christmas, less than the message of Jesus’ coming?

Do we believe?

In a God we cannot see: “By faith …he persevered as if seeing the one who is invisible.” Heb 11:27

In a God that is always for us: “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Rom 8:31

In a God that makes everything possible: “For human beings, this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Mt 19: 26

Do we pray not just when we “need” him because things aren’t going well, but at all times in praise thanksgiving for all that we have?
And do we show our belief in the decisions we make, in the actions we take, and in the words we speak?

Heavenly Father: I believe that with you all things are possible. Thank you for the gifts of a warm home and family and friends to share it with; for food on our table; for health that allows me to enjoy everything around me; and for the gifts and talents that allow me to serve others. Bless each of us with the patience and perseverance, the strength and the courage to believe in you, especially when the darkness of daily problems tries to overshadow Your presence. Help me to show my belief not just by my words, but by my actions each day. Amen.

May you have the patience and courage to live your life in, for, with and by your belief of the greatness of God and the miracle of Christmas!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Do you see what I see?

Women of Faith:
Remember the song: “Do you hear what I hear? Said the night wind to the little lamb. Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb?”

As I get ready for Christmas, what do I see?

Do I see myself setting out boxes of decorations, or recognizing the beauty of a single shining star?

Do I see myself bustling around shopping for the perfect gift, or recognizing the joy in a small child’s delight of a glittery bow?

Do I see myself hurrying to get a list of food prepared, or recognizing the love and blessings of having time to be with my family?

How often do I miss seeing beauty, joy and love because my eyes are focused on the wants, the fulfillment, or the pleasure of what is just an earthly treasure?

In this week’s gospel- Mk 1: 1-8 John the Baptist proclaimed that he was not the Messiah, but only the one sent before him. In next week’s gospel we will hear again that we are not recognizing Jesus: "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." Jn 1: 19-28

Just like the people who flocked to see and be baptized by John the Baptist, but missed Christ, my eyes often fail to recognize the truly important parts of Christmas: a beautifully lit nativity scene, the sparkling eyes of a child reflecting the lights of a Christmas tree, and the sounds of conversation as our family gathers. Beauty, Joy, Love, Hope, and Peace.

Do I recognize and thank God for what he has given me: the wealth of health; the awe and wonder in the miracles of nature; the joys of giving without receiving; and most especially the real meaning of Christmas—his son, Jesus, our savior?

Do I graciously give love and praise with kindness, patience and humility? Or do I expect perfection in others and have a desire to get something in return? Do I recognize my blessings and share my treasures by serving those who don’t, can’t, or won’t give anything back to me?

Heavenly Father: Open my heart and my eyes to see Your goodness and recognize the glory of the gifts given to me by those I meet on this journey. Thank you for the gifts of family and friends who share the joy and peace of Christmas love. May Your Spirit be recognized by those who are lonely or who don’t recognize Your presence in their lives. Amen.

May we see and recognize the true presence of God in our life,