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Happy Feast of Saint Valentine

I used to be THAT girl.  You know THAT girl that had unrealistic expectations for Valentine’s Day.  It’s really not my fault though.   The blame actually belongs to my 5th grade boyfriend.  There I was minding my own business during class doing my schoolwork then–to my surprise–I hear a voice behind me saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day”.  He was holding a little pink teddy bear and a heart shaped box of chocolates!   We did not have the same homeroom, so he must have asked the teacher to do this.    He could have waited until recess, but he chose to surprise me.   So, as anyone can plainly see, I was conditioned at a young age to have unrealistic expectations.  And boy did I.  Every year, I secretly hoped I would be surprised with a pile of roses, chocolates and/or pink balloons.  Don’t worry, I am cringing right there with you.

When I was THAT girl, I looked at Valentine’s Day through very different lenses. Today, I have zero hopes, expectations, or daydreams about what February 14th may bring – that’s right — zero, nada, zilch-o.  In fact, I kind of forgot today was Valentine’s Day until a friend sent me a text this morning wishing me a happy one.   And because I was reminded what day it was, I started thinking about Valentine’s Days past.  I also began thinking about what this day is really all about.

Today is the Feast of Saint Valentine    , a clergyman who lived in Rome in the third century.  Not much is known about his life, but what we do know is that he was ultimately martyred for spreading Christianity.  He is the patron saint of engaged couples, love, and happy marriages (and interestingly enough beekeepers and epilepsy).   He performed marriages for young Christian couples in secret and aided Christians when it was illegal to do so.  He paid the ultimate price for sharing Christ’s love and living out his faith.

(I feel like Debbie Downer right now.  Hey boys and girls gather round to hear about Saint Valentine, who was beheaded for loving the Lord.  Wah, wah)

Saint Valentine never denounced his faith even though he must have been under enormous pressure to do so.   Instead he continued to spread the truth of the Gospel.  In one story, while on house arrest and discussing religion with the judge who arrested him, Valentine declared the validity of Jesus and later the judge converted to Christianity.  Wow! Now is that the fruits of the spirit at work or what? Can you imagine having that much love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to convert the one that may be condemning you to death?  (Galatians 5:22-23) 

Learning about the faith of the saints inspires me to grow in my own faith.   In these hostile times, it is becoming more unpopular every day to share or speak the truth.   However, we should praise God that we live in America where we are been able to live our faith.  Even more than that — we should look to the example of Saint Valentine and live our faith unapologetically.

While it may be appropriate to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine with chocolates and roses, today is also a day to do a gut check on our faith.

Wishing you a very happy Feast of Saint Valentine full of chocolate and pink teddy bear surprises!

Finding Purpose

Inspirational photo

Since publishing Silly Sophie’s Summer Sunday Morning, the most frequent question I am asked is what inspired me to write a children’s book.  While it is true that both my growing faith and precious dog, Sophie inspired me to write the book, it all started with a-clear-as-day answer to a desperate prayer.

About ten years ago, I became involved in the pro-life group at my church.  As part of the ministry, we attended the annual Roe Memorial Mass held at the Cathedral Guadalupe in Downtown Dallas.  It is held every year in January on or around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, and it is a deeply moving experience.  For every year since Roe V. Wade, someone – the age of each year passed – brings a red rose to the altar to signify the lives lost due to abortion.  The service is always followed by the March for Life that begins at the Cathedral and ends at the Dallas courthouse where the ruling for Roe v. Wade was decided.  It is a day when people of all faiths and those of none – who believe in the sanctity of life – come together to peacefully pray for an end to the violence of abortion.

The first time I participated in the Mass, my heart was deeply touched.

Scripture tells us that we are ALL created with a Godly purpose:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremaih 29:11

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalms 139: 13-14

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

If God creates all things through Him and for Him, then He created each human being in His image and for His purpose.  I sat there in that Mass with tears in my eyes thinking about those sweet babies — 50 million of our potential brothers, sisters, colleagues, and spouses have never seen the light of day since the decision in 1973 – and I thought about how broken our world is and realized how very broken I was.

I had been experiencing a long season of brokenness, and I was struggling to find my own purpose.  As far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a mom. I desired a family with a houseful of kids more than any career, and since that prayer had not been answered in the way I wanted, I felt lost.

Among my prayers that day was a desperate prayer for God to show me my purpose, and it was in that moment that He answered my prayer.   He spoke to my heart as-clear-as-day and gave me the idea to write a children’s book.  I remember being surprised about the idea because it was the last thing I expected and did not feel qualified at all to do.

I realize now that during that season of my life God was working on my heart in a life changing way.  Scripture tells us that God is Love, and that we are made in His likeness and image.  As much as I desired a family and wanted love, nothing I was doing was really coming from a loving place – at least not really.  It certainly wasn’t coming from hate, but the things that were motivating me were coming from a selfish desire to achieve.  I was striving to earn enough money, for recognition, and for worldly possessions and status which included wanting to be married.  All of these things are not bad in and of themselves.  But they were all for my selfish wants for me, myself, and I.

When I returned home that afternoon, I sat down at my computer and wrote my first draft of Silly Sophie.  This was the first time I really did anything out of love.  My growing faith in the Lord had ignited a spark in my heart and God was fanning the flames.    I began to think about those sweet babies that deserved a chance to find their purpose, and I felt called to write a book for children to hopefully foster a love of family, God, and the sweetest of all creatures – dogs.

Once I decided to follow God’s urging and seek his will and purpose for me things started to fall into place.  I am not saying it was easy and I that I had or have everything figured out, because I absolutely did not and do not.  However, I know if I ask, God is faithful and will always show me the way.  I just need to be open, patient, and listen.

At the end of 2018, I decided to take a hiatus from my career in non-profit work to focus on publishing and promoting my book.  Taking risks is not in my DNA, but I will never regret the first six months of this year or investing in this project with all that I had.  It was the first time money didn’t matter and it was the first time that what other people thought of me didn’t matter.  For the first time, I felt like I was doing something God called me to do not for my own purpose, but for His.

 

P.S.   I feel compelled to share that while writing this post, I started to feel very insecure almost scrapping the whole thing.   But two things happened that confirmed that I needed to see this to completion – imperfect though it may be.

First, last week I attended the Salvation Army luncheon in Houston with keynote, Terry Looper author of Sacred Pace: Four Steps to Hearing God and Aligning Yourself with His Will.  His story is an example of how God works through our struggles and seasons of brokenness to change the course of our lives.  I am already almost done with the book and I highly recommend it if you feel like you are on the hamster wheel of life.

Second, out of nowhere the Bible app on my phone notified me about a new study entitled “Finding God’s Purpose for Your Life.” The devotional differentiated between proximate purpose (right here and now) and remote purpose (ultimate).  I read the devotional and I learned that writing Silly Sophie was my proximate purpose and though I am still working on understanding my ultimate purpose, I will continue to seek God’s will and ask Him to show me the way.

More to Come…

It has almost been three years since I launched my “blog”.  It is amazing how time flies and how preoccupied one can be.  I realize two posts in almost three years does not a blog make, but more posts are coming soon and will most always be about my three loves: Faith, Freedom, and my dog.  If at all interested, stay tuned.

 

My Favorite Love Story

I have always been a sucker for a good love story. In fact, I am obsessed with them.  I root for love all the time.  I constantly ask my other single friends about their love life, hoping they’ll dish all the fun details of first date chivalry and awkward conversation.  Also, nothing has made me happier than seeing my dear friends meet the one God intended for them. I cry at every wedding and enjoy seeing how couples interact and communicate.  Love fascinates me.

This brings me to one of my favorite love stories that I had the wonderful opportunity to witness. A dear college friend of mine has a love story that gives any heart-string-pulling, tear-jerking movie on the Hallmark channel a run for its money.  It’s a story that really will make even the biggest cynic believe in true love.  Jenny – who I met in college – was one of those girls that everyone immediately likes.  She is this petite blonde with blue eyes, an infectious smile, and an adorably high-pitched voice that makes everyone who hears it happy.  What makes her even more fun is that she is a product of Austin – the town we as Texans fondly want to “keep weird.”  It truly is a wonderfully weird town.   Austin is an interesting mix of a college town—where liberal ideologies are cultivated, and a capitol city where elected officials legislate from an interestingly pink granite building. It is a city where cowboys and hippies live side by side in a landscape that is a strange combination that resembles a little bit of West Texas and Beverly Hills at the same time.

Jenny was definitely a product of her city. She was and still is very environmentally conscientious (she recycled before it was cool) but financially and socially conservative. And if anyone who knows me now can believe it – my college liberal ideas found me and Jenny in some heated debates.  Looking back, I honestly do not know how she stayed my friend, but she did.  We lived in the same dorm –just a few doors down from one another.  I couldn’t tell you exactly how we met, but we became friends pretty easily.  She was my lets-go-for-a-walk, eat frozen yogurt, and go see a romantic comedy friend. Those are the best kind of friends by the way.

In the early course of our friendship, I learned about Charles – her junior high and high school sweetheart — and although they were broken up, she still carried a flame for him. Charles was a high school football star, and a cadet at West Point.  The fact that we were at Texas Tech, in Lubbock, Texas – miles from nowhere – I secretly thought that their relationship had a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of surviving. Thank God I never told Jenny that.

Charles and Jenny wrote each other often, and many times while visiting Jenny in her dorm room, the phone would ring and it would be Charles. That was back in the days before data plans — when long distance phone calls were a big deal.  You either had to keep your conversation to less than 10 minutes before racking up an enormous phone bill, or you had to play dumb with your parents.  You know the “I had no idea talking for two hours to someone in New York would be so expensive,” game.  Man, kids these days are lucky.  Anyway, I digress.

 

After several months of long distance phone calls and letter writing, Charles invited Jenny up to his spring formal and, as they say, the rest is history. Their courtship was one for a romance novel – over many miles and many years – and it was precious to watch.  In the spring of our last semester of college, Jenny called to let me know the happy news that she and Charles were engaged and asked me to be a bridesmaid.  Of course I jumped for joy and said, “Yes!” To this day, their wedding has been the wedding I have compared all other weddings to (no offense to other weddings—they truly have all been beautiful).  However, I think I had romanticized their relationship so much in my head that I relished being a small part of their sweet love story.

She was the first of my friends to get married, and her love story still continues. She has three of the most beautiful children and her husband has made a career of being in the military.  He has sacrificially loved both his family and his country while serving several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I consider both Jenny and Charles fearless warriors, and I am beyond blessed to have them as friends.

While Jenny and Charles’s love story is one of my favorites, God has blessed some of my dearest friends with really good guys. Actually, that is an understatement.  They are not just good guys, but good, respectful men.  I love that my friends are in healthy God-filled marriages.  These marriages go beyond red roses and candlelight dinners, but a blessed sacrament where two people wake up every day to choose to love each other by doing what is right for each other and their family.

I hate to boast, but I have a pretty amazing love story too. I really never thought it would or could happen to me, but as the saying goes, it was right in front of my face the whole time.

I spent the better part of my life ignoring Him, but He patiently waited.  He comforted me with life-giving words when I was broken hearted.  He was there for me when friends were long gone.  When I didn’t feel worthy of His love, He told me over and over how deep His love is for me until it finally pierced my heart.

I never thought I could find someone who could love me unconditionally, because honestly I don’t deserve it.  He makes me want to be a better person, and yet is merciful when I mess up.  I respect Him, I cherish Him, and I live on His every word. The One whom my soul loves has loved me with a pure, deep, agape kind of love my entire life.

He cares so deeply for me that He willingly paid the ultimate sacrifice for my soul. He took all of my sin upon His shoulders and died a painful death so that I could live, so that I could know joy, and so that through Him I too would know how to love.  Because without Him — I didn’t have the faintest clue what love was. Oh, and He has the sweetest name – Jesus.

The day that I finally got it – like really, really got it, I finally stopped looking for something or someone else that would satisfy me. He was – no He IS – the only One that can satisfy my soul.  So as much as I still may hope and pray for the man God intends for me to go through life with on earth, He has given me the most amazing love story that I never thought I would have.

So no offense to Jenny and Charles, but this love story is my favorite one of all. Not because it is mine – although that is pretty cool – but it is a love story that anyone can have.  It is for each and every one of us.

The Love of A Dog

Every now and then, I have the urge to make some type of change in my life.  This feeling usually arises after an extensive period of the status quo or an intense period where work and responsibilities have overwhelmed my life.   The desire for variation usually materializes itself in harmless little ways like a new nail polish color, a new outfit, a cool new pair of shoes, or exploring someplace new on vacation.  These little fix-me-ups somehow make me feel more adventurous and make life more exciting.   It’s ok, you can laugh at my sense of adventure.

However, there was a time in the not too distant past when I felt a desperate need for change in my life.  It felt like something was missing, and I had a deep sense of longing that no nail polish color, new pair of shoes, or fabulous vacation could fix.

During the summer of 2009, I was struggling big time.  I couldn’t shake the pain of a past relationship, I felt extremely insecure at work, and good friends seemed few and far between.   Simply stated, I was in a funk.  I was looking for validation in things and people that left me feeling empty, and although I had always considered myself a follower of Christ, looking back, I was pretty far from knowing Him and who I was in Him.

That July, I decided to take a long weekend to visit my sister in Tomball – a little suburb north of Houston.  If you know me, you know the joy my sister and her family bring me.  Erin, my sister, is a nut– like in the best possible way.  She is hilarious, spontaneous, and she uses movie quotes from Top Gun, Sixteen Candles, and Forrest Gump in her everyday lingo. Her house has always been my happy place, and going there has always been like a vacation for me.  She loves to shop, get manicures, and she has a pool.  What else could be better to get me out of my funk?  Plus it is always a pure delight to get to see my niece and nephews.

So, after four hours driving down I45 and arriving at Erin’s, she gave me the run down on what she had planned for the afternoon.  Among a few other things, she mentioned to me that her friend’s parents — who as it turns out breed English springer spaniels — just had a litter of puppies and she thought we should pop by to see them.

I guess at this point I should tell you that I actually had been thinking about getting a dog.  I already had a cat, Lucky—God rest her soul – who was such a sweet cat, the sweetest cat I have ever met.  But she was extremely low key and no offense to cat people, but I’m a dog person.  I love everything about dogs: their breath, wiggly tails, and the way they seem to love you – no questions asked.

However, I hesitated to get a dog because I knew it would require a commitment I wasn’t sure I could make.  Work and volunteer responsibilities kept me pretty busy, and I was unsure how a dog would fit into everything.

So when my sister suggested we go see the litter of puppies, I thought it was a safe, harmless thing to do.  I wasn’t even thinking I would get a puppy that weekend.  It wasn’t even on my mind – at least not at that moment.

We drove over to my sister’s friend’s parents’ house and as we got out of the car and walk towards the backyard, we were greeted by sweet little wiggly bundles of liver brown and white puppies.

I remember thinking they were the cutest puppies I had ever seen, and I remember thinking I was in trouble.   There was no rational thought in my head other than – PUPPIES!  I was surrounded by adorable puppies jumping on me – wanting to be held.  It was pure joy.

In fact, I don’t remember the moment when it went from a “let’s go see the puppies,” outing to a “which puppy do you want to take home,” outing.  At one point I was holding a super calm fat male puppy, but my sister’s friend kept pointing out her favorite female pup.   When I picked her up, she was so relaxed in my arms — which was a good sign— but I could also see she had a personality, and on top of it all she was adorable.  All it took was a few moments and I was hooked.

It was a done deal; I was a new momma of a sweet new baby girl!

On the way back to my sister’s house, we thought about names, and after throwing out several English sounding names, I said, “what about Sophie?” Everyone went, “yea, Sophie!”  It just fit.

I had no plans of getting a dog that July weekend, but looking back, I believe – in fact I know – God’s hand was in it the whole time.  He knew exactly what type of change I needed to lift me up from my funk.

He knew I needed the love of a dog.

Now, I am not saying that every person who is in a funk needs a dog.  Dogs are a serious commitment and they need care and attention that some are not able to give.  And although I may have glossed over it, I had been thinking for some time about getting a dog and what that would mean.  But I take forever to make decisions that require commitment.  Looking back I know it had to be a God thing, because I had absolutely no hand in any of it.  It took all the right conditions: my desperate need for change, the need to get away for the weekend, the fact my sister knew the breeders, and the puppies were ripe for adopting — all things that came together — not under my plan, but under His.

Yes, I believe He cares about us all that much that these seemingly minute coincidences are a part of His wonderful masterpiece.

The summer of 2009 was the beginning of a series of life-altering discoveries for me – the changes I really needed in my life.   I discovered that in many ways, the love of a dog mirrors God’s unconditional love for us.  And as I have thought about it, adopting Sophie started a journey that has led me to a fuller understanding of God’s love for me – for all of humanity really – but He knew I was in a place where I really needed to understand it personally.

Over the last seven and a half years, my silly little Sophie has made me laugh and provided me so much joy and comfort.  And I can’t wait to share all that God has taught me and inspired me to do all because of the love of a dog.