St. Patricks Day: why we should celebrate it everyday


by Amber O’Brien


Top o’ the morin’ to ya!

Long ago this was a common greeting in Ireland meaning “the best part of the morning to you” and you my friend would say back to me, “And the rest of the day to you”.

I am an O’Brien, which on the Emerald Isle means “House or descendant of Brian”. (Brian Boru was the High King of Ireland until 1014) Since I now hold the Irish married last name of O’Brien, I am often asked how our family celebrates St. Patty’s day. While most people drink green beer and focus on the modern symbols of leprechauns, four leaf clovers and wearing a green piece of clothing so they won’t be pinched ; my thoughts have gone deeper to an awe-filled pondering, the more I learn about the amazing real -life hero of St. Patrick.

How did he do it? I wonder.

How did St. Patrick forgive the Irish pirates that enslaved him? At age 16 he was kidnapped from Britain and taken away far from his homeland and family to a wet and chilly island called Ireland and for six years was mistreated as a slave.

But this is the part that really blows my weak and unforgiving heart and mind……..after arriving home he studies to become a priest and then travels back to share the good news to the very place where he was enslaved.

Whoa Nelly…..hold back that unicorn jumping over a 7 colored rainbow and slowly and carefully Ponder with me what appears to be humanly impossible.

So St. Patrick not only forgives the people who enslaved him, he spends 20 years traveling the island of Ireland to share the truth of how Jesus came to set them free. For the Irish people of the 5th century this included being free from druidism and all kinds of paganistic practices. He was beaten during this time and robbed and put in prison and enslaved again for 60 days yet he keep helping those that continued to try to hurt him.

How do you think he was able to forgive and then spend his life shepherding these lost people who worshiped false gods and people?

“After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the Love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so in one day I would pray up to one hundred times and at night perhaps the same.” St. Patrick’s Confessio

He states that before he was captured, “He knew not the true God” and I believe that those years of prayer including much confessions and sweet forgiveness. In fact, he begins his autobiography as, “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner.”

After six years of working as an enslaved shepherd and most of all six years of prayerfully waiting: God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country. Then a later voice in a dream said, “Look—your ship is ready.”

He escaped and walked 200 miles to the Irish coast, boarded a ship and eventually home to his family.

God rescued him and brought him home! One would think that would be the end of the story. But God. But God and His love for the Irish people who were involved with all types of paganism and perversions.

Patrick knew the Joy and the gift of being spiritually and physically set free and he quotes this verse that so speaks to his experience in his autobiography.

“Call on me in the day of your distress, and I will set you free and you will glorify me.” Psalm 50:15

St. Patrick knew deep in his soul that he had been forgiven much and so he wanted to extend that love, as a shepherd seeks to protect and care for his sheep.

After Patrick’s escape from slavery and reunion with his loved ones; He decides to become a priest. This took 15 long years of study and preparation. It was not until Patrick was 40 years old that he traveled back to Ireland because of another dream.

He dreamed that he was given a letter from the Irish people and he heard their voices saying, ” We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us”.

Guess who is believed to be the first Irishman that St.Patrick successfully shared about the One True God to?

Milchu, a high priest of druidism, who was Patrick’s former master. (Druids believed that there were many gods and worshiped nature. Ritual Sites were built all over Ireland as they literally worshiped the sun)

Imagine Milchu’s surprise to have a former slave of his come back and not only forgive him of his own personal sins, but share how All his sins could be forgiven. Patrick came back to share the truth that there is only One True God who has three names: the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

( Did he use a three leaf clover to teach the trinity? or is this just tradition? either way He told them about the trinity and Patrick loved his former master and the Irish people so much that he came back and walked among them)

Patrick explains:

“His (God’s) gift was that I would spend my life, if I were worthy of it, to serving them in truth and with humility to the end.”

The ripple effect of Patrick’s forgiveness and mission is astonishing. What a beautiful ripple of Love: Patrick asks God for forgiveness and is set free of sin and forms a personal relationship with the good shepherd as he himself is shepherding. Then he forgives the people who kidnapped and enslaved him, and comes to tell them how to be set free of their own sins and come to know the One True God. Then Monks who came to know the one true God through the ministry of St. Patrick, lovingly write out the Bible by hand and preserve the precious Word of God. (Book of Kells) Then these monks left the Emerald Isle to share with other European countries about how to be set free. The ripple effect of love and forgiveness continues.

Patrick’s joy shines through as he writes:

I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace, that through me, many people should be born again to God and brought to full life”.

God Gives His Best to us and so we should want to Give God our best.

Just like the Irish greeting about wishing a friend the best part of the day.

Top O’ the mornin’ to ya!


Day #5 and #6 Life is as test, a trust and temporary The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

So tell me Sweet Sister, what is weighing on your heart today? A messy relationship in your family or at work? An Illness? A struggling or hurting family member?  Rick Warren says that “Life is a Test, Life is a Trust and Life is a temporary assignment” 

I wrote the poem Pieta’s Peace during a time when I grieved the loss of my brother Billy and my daughter struggled as well at college. When we grieve for ourselves or for a loved one who is struggling we have a choice to pass the test of trusting God and surrendering with open arms those people God has put in our lives for a short time.  

I couldn’t stop gazing at her hands. Carved from white marble, her hands did not tightly grip her dead Son, but instead gently cradled his limp body upon her lap. Her left hand lay open with its palm facing upward as her beautiful, serene face admired her lifeless son.

One of the highlights of our trip to Rome consisted of my husband and I touring St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica Catholic Church is one of the largest churches in the world as well as a masterpiece of architecture containing numerous chapels and altars lavishly decorated with renaissance paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. Such a large collection of beautiful art overwhelmed me, as I knew I could never take it all in within a single visit.     

Despite the numerous pieces of religious art on the ceiling, walls, and even the floors in the massive cathedral that holds the tomb of St. Peter, I felt drawn back to those marble hands. The hands were Mary’s in the masterpiece The Pieta by the world-renowned sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer Michelangelo.

The Pieta depicts the moment when Jesus was taken down from the cross and his mother, Mary, was able to hold him one last time. I stared in awe that a sculpture chiseled out of stone could mesmerize a crowd 1500 years later as we stood in silence taking in the heart-wrenching scene. When I had left our home for our trip, my heart felt heavy with concern over one of my children who was going through a rough patch, and this masterpiece seemed to specifically whisper to me through the ages.

After watching her son suffer and be crucified, Mary’s hands still rested open as Jesus lay on her lap. Meanwhile, my heart and hands were gripped tightly with fear and anxiety as I worried about our daughter who just recently started college. She did not seem to be thriving socially and wanted to transfer to a larger school that offered more classes in her major. She was attending the school where her father and I had met. A place filled with great memories, but where I initially struggled, too. During my own freshman year, I endured tough hallmate and professor situations and felt that I benefited from these refining challenges. I later thrived as I found like-minded friends and classes that I enjoyed.

So while I was on this trip, many questions continued to linger in my mind; “Should we make her stick it out and insist that she stay? Would this put her behind if she were to come home and/or transfer? Wouldn’t the best thing long-term be to make her stay and allow her to adapt in due time?

As I looked pensively at The Pieta, I felt as it contained a special message from above, so I decided to read up about Michelangelo and his timeless Pieta. I googled his name and learned that at early age of six, after losing his mother to a long period of illness, Michelangelo was then sent to stay with his uncle who was a stone cutter. After suffering such a tragic loss at a tender age, Michelangelo obviously knew the agony of grief. Perhaps, though, he also learned how God can reconcile loss as he began his career as an artist using the skills he learned at his uncle’s workshop.

The word “pieta” literally means “pity, compassion, and suffering.” Michelangelo wrote later, however, that he did not want his Pieta to represent death, but rather to show “the religious vision of abandonment.”  Abandonment. Yes, that is what those open hands are demonstrating.

I interpreted the scene as Mary trusting in God’s love and goodness and giving back to God the gift that was given to her so many years before. I wondered if the sculpture that took two years to complete was Michelangelo’s gift back to God. Maybe he learned as a young boy the secret of abandonment and found the serenity reflected in Mary’s face. Perhaps he wanted to share with others the peace found when one holds onto people and things loosely.

Later in our trip, I reflected on perseverance and remembered the times in my life when not giving up had actually become a detriment. When my children were younger, I wanted us to be a musical family so badly I insisted that me and all three children take piano lessons. I had visions of us all around the piano playing Christmas carols. Each night, I faithfully spent time playing songs over and over, hoping that I would be able to start a musical tradition for our family.  Playing with two hands did not come easily, yet I faithfully practiced for two years as I encouraged my children to do the same. I remember one day my piano teacher turning to me and asking, “Do you enjoy playing the piano?” I realized then that I no longer enjoyed it, and that I had hit a standstill in my progression. I asked myself what did I enjoy doing? My answer was writing poetry. I loved the satisfaction of creating a poem – spending hours mulling over each syllable and line, and the inevitable joy when my poem finally came together.

Why was I spending my time on what I struggled with instead of spending my time on what I enjoyed  doing? Why wasn’t I sharpening the gifts that God had given me instead of trying to force the gift of music he hadn’t given me? Then I asked myself: “Am I doing the same thing now to my daughter?”  It must not have been easy for her to ask to leave after one semester.  Did she need a fresh start and a new direction?  A redo?

So I took my hands out with palms up and pretended my daughter was in my arms and lifted them up to the hotel ceiling as I kneeled beside the bed. I released her to God and said, “I give her back to you. She is Yours.” I continued to pray this “prayer of abandonment” whenever an anxious thought gripped me. As my husband and I discussed options, I kept releasing my own expectations as we sought God’s will for her. As I handed over my daughter into His loving, strong arms, I felt peace. Peace as beautiful as Mary’s serene Pieta face as she calmly gazed upon her son.

My husband and I decided at the end of our trip to work on helping our daughter to withdraw so she could have a fresh start at a new school. She began anew at a closer, larger school that contained more classes that fit the major that she enjoyed. She now thrives in classes designed specifically for her desired major, as well as socially with the sorority she joined when she transferred. And I am trying to each day to hold my hands with palms open facing up and intentionally release any concerns up to God, trusting that He cares about every little detail.     On the entire six hour plane ride home from Italy I joyfully penned The Pieta’s Peace, my small gift presented back to God with open hands and a grateful heart.  

Birthday Reflections: 5 Ways to Help Ensure That the Best is Yet to Be

Dear Sweet Sister:

Are you looking forward to your next birthday? Do you see aging as positive or negative? As we live in a culture that worships youth, we often tend to view aging as something to be dreaded. Some see a birthday as a reminder of lifetime milestones that have not been realized… marriage, children, or a life dream.  Others grieve the loss of their beauty, health and strength.  Anxiety concerning the future can choke the joy out of the best birthday plans.

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Is this moon waxing or waning? Answer at the end!

Indeed, as my 40th birthday grew closer, the poet in me began to ask the “Almighty poet and creator” some probing questions. On a serene summer evening, I remember looking up at the half-moon hanging in the velvet sky and teasingly asking, “Lord, am I now waxing or waning?” Of course, I knew my physical body was waning.  However, I yearned to hear that my soul would keep waxing (growing).  Somehow, we all need confirmation at times that, like a mature apple tree that bears more fruit than a “sapling,” our lives will continue to be productive and bear more lasting  fruit with each passing year.  

I invited a few sweet sisters to come join me for a beach birthday retreat and this stanza from the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” penned by Robert Browning graced the invitation:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand who Saith
A Whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

Just as Jesus saved the best wine for the “middle to end ” of the Cana Wedding Feast, I believe the Lord desires to give us increasingly new gifts and opportunities to grow and bless those around us. I asked my sisters to bring instead of a store bought gift, a positive verse or quote concerning the topic of aging.  Amazingly, these Five nuggets together form a treasure chest of wisdom on how we all can help ensure God’s promise that our time left on earth can be our very best.

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#1 Don’t Look Back
My friend Cindy shared a story concerning the importance of not holding on to the past. The character Norma Desmond in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Sunset Boulevard kept longing for her glory days as a film star. As a former silent film star she did not adapt when moving pictures began to include sound and her life ended in tragedy as she clung to her past. This example from a “Daily Bread” devotional reminds us to see our lives like a book, and thus we need to live each chapter at a time.  If we are looking back, we can’t be creating the next chapter of our lives. Yes sweet sister, you and I need to be careful not to let our past heartaches or negative people keep us from living in the next chapter of our lives. Similarly, during the wedding of Cana, confident Mary expected Jesus to perform a miracle and save the reception.  This first miracle would change her family forever as Jesus was thrust out into His public ministry. Mary was ready and willing for a new season in both their lives to begin. Do you look forward to God’s new season in your life with each birthday, confident and excited for His perfect gifts and plans ready to be opened?

  • Action:  Look up Jeremiah 29 :11-14.  Write out verse 12.

 

#2  Family First
A thought provoking quote from Thomas Jefferson was offered by my dear friend Beth.  Jefferson stated, “I find as I grow older that I love those most whom I loved first.” She went on to explain this could mean a better appreciation for all our parents did for us when we were children or an increased love and patience for our own children and loved ones.  Shouldn’t our inner circle of our family receive our best energy?  An apple tree that is strong enough to produce strong healthy limbs and fruit must first have strong roots.  So focus first on your family roots.  Do you, sister, see each passing year as a new opportunity to heal past rifts between family members? Let us ask God to give us mercy and understanding for those who have disappointed us and the grace to reconcile broken relationships. Peace can be the greatest gift you give yourself and your family.

  • Action: Call your parents on your birthday and wish them “Happy anniversary!” Or invite a sibling  or child out to lunch – if you are still alive there is still hope for stronger relationship.

 

#3  Remain in Him
Next, my cousin Laura reminded us that God’s grace is like the rhythmic waves of the ocean. Just as the waves continue to ebb and flow, God’s mercy is new every morning. She  encouraged us to spend time with God each day. Without water the apple tree will wither up and die;  just as we need to stay watered and regularly drink from the Word of God. So, to expand one of my favorite sayings, “The best is yet to be,”  we must add a preface to be accurate: “As you stay close to the Lord, the best is yet to be.” We have the responsibility to continue to make good choices every day. The most important choice is to seek out our creator and have fellowship with Him daily. I often imagine the Lord faithfully waiting to chat with me each morning. If I sleep in or miss our “morning date,” then I try to find a quiet moment later in the day.

  • Action: Find a special spot to place your bible and a journal, and pick a time that you plan to sneak away for time just with Jesus. Don’t stand Him up, He’ll be there waiting.

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#4  Fellowship with God’s Family
My friend Suzie attends daily mass most mornings and shared how beautiful the more mature members are that come to worship each day. Despite their physical ailments (waning), they joyfully come to be with God and with each other. Suzie exclaimed, “A woman in Love is beautiful!” So if we want to be beautiful in the Lord, my sister, we need to fellowship with other believers and receive God’s love and grace. Then, just as the moon reflects the sun’s light, we can in the same way reflect God’s love and beauty to those around us.

  • Action: Have you found a good place of fellowship? A small group bible study? We are to sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). There were times in my life that I had just one prayer partner and we used the phone to chat and pray. If you can’t find a small group of sisters, pray and seek out one sister.

 

#5  Make a List
Lastly, my sister Liese shared a list of gifts the Lord has already blessed me with in my first 40 years of life. Making a gratitude list has been a tool I have used often in my past.  Usually to gain perspective when I felt down, I would list 10 good things about my life in my journal. If a person in my life had angered or disappointed me, I would write down 10 good things about that person. Grateful people are positive people.  So instead of counting the candles, count your blessings my sister. For every year that you have had the privilege of existing on this earth, write down a gift that is in you or your life.  

  • Action: Tape your list to your mirror or steering wheel. Keep reminding yourself of all your many blessings. Tell the ones who made the cut on your list about your list.

Whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70,80, 90 or 100, my sister, the Lord has new plans to unfold and fresh gifts to be opened.

In short, in order for “the best is yet to be,” we need to not look back, but be ready to write a new chapter in the book of our lives. We should spend time and energy on our families, our relationships with God and within our Christian communities. When we physically write down our list of items to be thankful for, we maintain perspective and a joyful attitude.

happybirthdaytoyou

 

Moon answer: If you guessed waxing, you are correct. Hopefully your soul is waxing, too!