60 years of hugs

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2017 is a special year for the Catholic Church. It celebrates oneness of all Christians as Pope Francis joins in the prayer of unity in the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, devoutees honour the Blessed Mother in her 100 years of Fatima apparition and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal proclaims its jubilee at 50 years. In the Philippines, it is a year dedicated to communion of communities as exhorted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

My prayer group at Our Lady Help of Christians, Narre Warren is also gathering for 20 years of prayer, praise, worship and fellowship on 9 September. It is a joyful privilege to see it grow over the years.

In the same month, I celebrate my own milestone – 60 years – not all pleasant and joyful, for there are times of trial, tribulation, and challenges at every growth stage. The happy times made me feel good and accomplished, but the difficult moments brought me closer to God. Although I resisted them when they were happening, they were the most transforming and revealing of God’s mercy and faithfulness.

As I reflect on my milestone, I realise that I have been an organiser, pastoral worker and counsellor for the last 40 years, in the midst of busy family life and work. It is a humbling opportunity to be part of special occasions of family, friends and communities, which include both happy and sad events. My ministry includes assisting in funerals, grief and bereavement. This was God’s way of healing me from my morbid fear of death before I was renewed in 2000. My remembrance list is growing every year – and I need to learn fast that indeed life is short and we are here only as pilgrims.

One of the best gifts the Lord gives me as I move into my senior years is a transformed mind. I no longer need to push myself and others to prove my worth. I used to be envious of others. When I saw a successful singer, an acclaimed pianist, a celebrated speaker, a renowned writer, I wanted to be them! This green-eyed monster also wagged its tail even in trivial pursuits – someone’s clothes, make up or perfume were worth coveting.

Today, I am glad that I can look at myself and appreciate my own worth as a unique child of God, allowing others the time and space to express their own values, opinions and giftedness, respecting them and encouraging them to be the best of who they are, without being defensive or offensive. It is no longer “my way or the highway” kind of attitude.

This is grace received from above – the mellowing and relinquishing of inordinate passions that no longer add significance to my relationship with Jesus. One night I had a dream. The Lord was ordering me to look after 20 companies. I woke up perplexed as there was no way I wanted to go back to the corporate world. As dreams are symbolical, a few months later, the dream became clearer. It seems the Lord wanted me to look after 20 people in need of extra loving care through my gift of time and counsel. These people are those challenged by life’s anguish – isolation, loneliness, addictions, depression, suicidal tendencies, passing through their dark night of the soul, just wanting someone to listen and understand their plight.

As I was writing this article I was seated next to a group of Filipinos on the train. I could hear their conversations revolving around the big house they are building, the massive TV theatre they just bought, the designer clothes they want to buy at David Jones, the newly bought SUV, the expensive gown and tiara they will wear for a forthcoming gala dinner. I was happy for them and blessed their delights but I thanked God that I am somehow past those worldly yearnings.

One night my granddaughter Eva, aged 7, burst into my room crying her heart out, huge tears falling from her sweet, young eyes. She was upset by her mom’s grounding her for her negative behaviour while she was brushing her teeth. I embraced her with all the love I could give, allowing her to express her emotions and explaining gently that we, as children, sometimes disappoint our parents but the love they have for us does not diminish. I counselled her about the value of forgiveness. So we prayed – to be forgiven and to forgive. She slept very well afterwards.

I saw myself in her – in my 60 years of life—I have disappointed God innumerable times by bad behaviours. I am still very much a work in progress. But all the time, God has proven His mercies are new every day. I, too get grounded, needing to pass the unpalatable tests of fortitude, but always His comforting presence assures me He is just a hug away.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
– Ephesians 2:4-5

(For comments or feedback, email evamarie09@bigpond.com)

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