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Amanda

It wasn’t November, like it is now, the month for remembering those who have already crossed over the Great Divide.

It was January, and it was cold.

On the day of the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, as a housewife in the DC suburbs, it was important to me that the children and I make an appearance. We would augment the crowd by six, and the children, I knew, would be excited to see the happy hundreds of thousands of people who share our pro-life convictions.

We drove down the gloomy roads, wind buffeting the van while I made a mental inventory of the warm clothes we carried. Hat, gloves, jacket, and snow pants for each child, plus boots with wool socks and a blanket to wrap around the stroller.

I hoped I had everything, and turned down the heat in the car so the children in their layers wouldn’t get too hot. We passed a roadside cross with the name ‘Amanda’ emblazoned on it. Reflexively, everyone but the baby began to recite St. Gertrude’s prayer. The prayer that releases one thousand souls from Purgatory when recited.

Eternal Father, I offer you
The Most Precious Blood
Of your divine son, Jesus,
In union with all the Masses
Said throughout the world today,
For all the holy souls in Purgatory,
For sinners everywhere,
For sinners in the Universal Church,
Those in my own home,
And within my family.
Amen

“Five people praying, that’s five thousand souls, right there,” I calculated aloud.

But it sounded kind of hokey. Like an ancient superstition.

I toyed with the thought, mentally exploring its implications. If the prayer is only a superstition, what about Purgatory? If no Purgatory, what about the Communion of Saints? If yes Purgatory, do those in Purgatory really need our prayers? Can those already in Heaven truly hear our prayers? Can they honestly turn to God, in whose presence they stand, and ask him to help us?

“Amanda,” I prayed, addressing the girl who had died by the side of the road, whose cross inspired our prayer this and every time we passed, “can you really hear? Can you really pray for us? Do our prayers really help the people in Purgatory?”

I thrust the matter from my mind and focused on getting all of us on the Metro and downtown.

A feat which required quite a bit of concentration.

Emerging from the shelter of the underground station, we were immediately blasted by the icy east wind. I took the baby from the stroller and tucked him into a sling which I zipped inside my jacket. The top of the jacket I left open so the baby could get some fresh air in his 98.7 degree cave. He was warm, but I wished I had brought a scarf for my now-exposed neck.

Each child put a hand on the stroller, and we bumped and careened across the lumpy frozen grass of the National Mall on the way to the White House lawn for the opening ceremonies. The wind drove its bitter fingers into every crevice, and I pulled the children close, bending my head against the onslaught.

Which is when I noticed the scarf.

It was bright red, and lay in a frozen, twisted line like a piece of joy abandoned on a dune of depression.

We were some steps beyond it when I contradicted my own thoughts. No. If someone was going to come back to find it, they would have come already, before it froze into the brownish grass. I wheeled the stroller around and tugged the scarf from the frozen ground.

I shook it hard, sending bits of frozen organic material flying.

“Right on!” I thought. “God knew I needed a scarf, and look how he provided!”

I laid the scarf on the seat of the stroller with the blanket and the extra jacket. In case any germs on it still needed to be frozen off.

That’s when I saw the tag.

Machine stitched in brown letters on the scarf’s white tag, were the words, “Amanda Smith.”

In case I ever wondered again.

-*-*-*-*

The number ’42’ on the tag was subsequently written by a one of our children as an identification mark before embarking on an unwelcome journey. The child took the scarf as a reminder of our big brothers and sisters in the faith who watch over us and pray for us.

I love it when God leaves us a tangible reminder!

Vaseline Grace

Vaseline Grace

In the picture in my mind, the vast treasury of God’s grace, favor, and blessing is an endless jar of Vaseline with no lid, turned upside-down in the air above me.

“[Be] generous distributors of God’s manifold grace,” says St.Peter. (I Peter 4:8-11)

And so, in my mind’s eye, I hoist a friend with a cancer diagnosis up into the air and shove her unceremoniously into the Vaseline grace. There, I spin her around like a carnival barker wrapping a paper cone with freshly-spun cotton candy.

When she is well-coated, I put her down, knowing the grace will soak into her life and moisturize her situation with God’s unmerited favor until the dry wind of our arid, sinful climate makes another application necessary.

Fun! An easy way to pray for a person, especially during those times when it feels like the words of a prayer are not enough.

It’s true, God doesn’t need me to recite a prayer or imagine a jar of Vaseline grace to help someone in need. He is powerful enough to fix every problem without my involvement, but you know, he really likes it when we ask. In fact, he waits to act until we ask.

“How badly do you want this?” He asks. “Enough to keep after me until I grant it?”

In the trainer’s office of my high school gym, the physical therapist kept a huge plastic jug of ointment. It was always open, with two or three wide, flat tongue-depressor sticks in it. If you needed ointment, you used the stick to serve big dollop into a paper cup and then spread it on your hurting joints with your fingers.

Sometimes, I reach up with a mental tongue-depressor stick and scoop out a big glompf of grace to smear liberally over the guy in the car next to me at the stoplight. In my mind, I wipe it all over the lady behind the glass at the pharmacy drive-thru, and envelop the entire airplane, climbing steeply, in a mound of protective grace.

God has plenty, and he likes to share. Be a generous distributor!

Vaseline, like Elmer’s Glue in the hands of a first-grader, has one more important characteristic. When you work with it, it goes everywhere.

Especially on you.

Listening Shoes

“God is deeply involved in the affairs of men.”

In case you ever wonder if God is hanging on your every word, listen to what happened this morning.

It’s time for Mass, the kids are getting in the car, and I’m in my closet pulling out my only pair of dress-up shoes – a pair of black patent leather high heels. Too much for Sunday Mass and they don’t match my outfit like brown shoes would.

“Lord, I need a pair of brown shoes,” I mumble, more a statement than a request. Nothing I can do but put on the black ones and get going.

We arrive in the Church parking lot and climb out of the car. Suddenly, friends come zooming by in their truck and pull up along side us as we walk toward the building.

The lady shoves her arms out the window, and in each hand is a pair of shoes.

Brown shoes.

Brown shoes nice enough to wear to Mass, and cute, too!

“Here,” she hollers, “these are big enough for you!”

They fit perfectly.

From our mouths to God’s ear.

He’s listening.

I love you, Lord!!! Thanks for the shoes!

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