Achievement unlocked: Forty laps around the sun

Today I complete my 40th lap around the sun and turn 40 years old.

Ten years ago I realized that I’d thought I’d never live to see 30, but then I did, and it was the beginning of the most incredible decade. I’m very excited about turning 40 today, and I can’t wait to see what this decade has in store for me.

I’m missing Mom a lot right now, but by chance I have a recording of her wishing me a happy birthday from 2012, only a month and a half before she died. My home phone then (and now) was an internet phone, and voice mails are saved as .wav files. When I married Eugene and cleared out my maiden name email address before moving over to my married name email address, I came across a handful of messages that I hadn’t deleted. One of them happened to be a birthday greeting. I’m grateful that worked out the way it did.

It’s only a few seconds long, but I put it up on YouTube so that I could link to it here.

Thanks, Mom. I miss you and love you.

The Communion of Saints

Pope Francis on the communion of saints, October 30, 2013:

“It is a spiritual union that comes from baptism, and is not broken by death, but, thanks to the risen Christ, is destined to find its fulfillment in eternal life. There is a profound and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world — including us — and those who have crossed the threshold of death into eternity. All the baptized here on earth, the souls in purgatory, and all the saints who are already in heaven form one big family. This communion between earth and heaven is realized especially in the prayer of intercession.”

Eugene’s close friend Theresa Peters died on May 19, 2013, at the age of 36. I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t yet met her.

From the day of her funeral, I have associated Theresa with St. Thérèse of Lisieux and with yellow flowers. The prayer cards at her funeral Mass referenced St. Thérèse, affectionately known as The Little Flower. St. Thérèse said that she would spend her Heaven doing good on Earth and showering us with roses.

Theresa’s obituary noted her request for flowers:

In lieu of donations, Theresa requests flowers. Being a Cystic Fibrosis and transplant patient, Theresa was never allowed to have flowers, so she would want them in her celebration of life.

As Eugene blogged, she got a lot of them. It was beautiful. Her family had no way of taking home so many dozens and dozens of flower arrangements, so they asked us all to take one home with us. The one we had sent was already claimed, so Eugene chose another one to come home with us. It had yellow roses in it. From that point on for me, yellow flowers became synonymous to me not with Saint Thérèse the Little Flower, but with Theresa, the Littler Flower.

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Eugene wasn’t brought up with a belief in God or with prayer as part of his life, but he attends Mass with me, and we make a point to go to early morning Mass on Theresa’s death anniversary before he goes to work. I’ve taught him about intercessory prayer, that we can pray and offer our sufferings and sacrifices here on earth for souls in purgatory. I’ve explained that we light candles as a way to symbolize that, like the smoke from the candle, our prayers are continually being offered to God. Eugene lit a candle for Theresa in 2014 and 2015 on the anniversary of her death.

This past May, the anniversary of her death was a Tuesday, which for me is my regular day to spend an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel. I had been planning to offer all my prayers that day for Theresa anyway, but when I got to the chapel, I noticed that that week’s flowers were yellow roses. Are you here? I asked her.

As I prayed, I believe God allowed her to speak to me, and she told me that she was okay; she was in Heaven now.

Me: How do I know this is from you and from God and not just something I want to hear?

Theresa: You’re going to meet the pope.

The message was clear as day. “You’re going to meet the pope,” where “you” was referring to me and Eugene. Now we already had booked a trip to Rome in November-December 2015, but meeting the pope isn’t exactly something easy to do. Again I asked how I could know that this is from God and not just something my brain is concocting.

She answered me again with a very specific prediction, but I immediately (but temporarily) forgot that one. I spent my hour in the chapel in a dumbfounded stupor, trying not to shake and to cry, and trying in vain to make sense of the messages Theresa and God were giving me.

I left the chapel and made a quick stop at the grocery store before heading home. The whole time I was driving I was speaking (out loud now) to God and Theresa, trying to understand. I believe at one point I may have said that they’re going to have to give me more of a sign, because I fear that I’m just wishing this to happen and not really hearing it from Heaven.

In the parking lot of the grocery store, I stopped to let a woman cross in front of my car. In her shopping cart was a large bouquet of yellow flowers. I started to cry. As I turned the corner to park the car, I saw another bouquet of yellow flowers on a car. Okay, I got it. It’s from you. You’re telling me that you’re in Heaven, and you’re giving me these as signs that the message is real and that it’s from you. So, we’re going to meet the pope? Hmmmm.

I told Eugene about all of this when he got home from work. Eugene might write about his reaction, but my impression of it was that with his secular cynicism he figured my brain was just coming up with nice thoughts that we wanted to be true. The next day when he got home from work and brought the mail in, there was a letter from the tribunal stating that his declaration of nullity had been granted and it was final. It was only then that I remembered what Theresa had told me the day before which I had immediately forgotten: You’re going to get good news from the tribunal. I can’t blame Eugene for being skeptical about that one since I didn’t mention it until it already happened. I think my reaction was something to the effect of, “Oh, yeah, Theresa said we were going to get that.” But really, she had told me.

When I told a good friend about all of this a few days later, she asked me if we were going to try to meet the pope or if we were just going to let it happen. I told her the chances that Pope Francis would seek me out were pretty slim, so we were going to try to make it happen. The best way I could think of was to have our civil marriage convalidated a little sooner than I thought would be possible and time it such that we’re considered newlyweds on our trip to Rome so that we could sit in the newlywed section of the general audience.

A lot of things had to happen for the timing to work out right, but thanks to my parish priest and the priest who traveled from out of town to witness our marriage, we married each other in the Roman Catholic Church five months to the day after that day in the chapel.

photo courtesy of Gian Paolo Porcu

Our convalidation, photo courtesy of Gian Paolo Porcu

This put our church wedding date within the required eight weeks of the Wednesday general audience with Pope Francis that we were hoping to attend on December 2 in Rome. I sent off the ticket request to the Prefecture of the Papal Household, complete with a copy of our wedding certificate showing the date, and then we waited.

We never heard back.

Undeterred, we packed my wedding dress, Eugene’s suit, and Theresa’s rosary which we had gotten from her parents, and we flew to Rome. We managed to get general admission tickets to the audience a few days after we arrived, so at least we had a backup plan even if the newlywed section didn’t work out.

We went to the pope’s tailor and bought a zucchetto for him.

un zucchetto per il papa

un zucchetto per il papa

Then the day before the audience, we went with our wedding certificate to see if we could still get a ticket to the newlywed section. The Swiss Guard (who had an excellent grasp of the English language) explained that for “freshly married” all we had to do was arrive in our wedding attire and show the wedding date on the certificate to the guard that morning, and we’d be allowed in.

It worked exactly as he said it would.

(I want to note that just in case you want to try this, do try to go through channels and get tickets ahead of time. There was practically nobody at the audience that week because of the cold weather and the very recent terror attacks in Paris. I think at other times of the year it wouldn’t have been this simple, and I don’t want anybody to be disappointed if it doesn’t work as easily for them.)

Because we had seats in a section so far in the front, we weren’t able to see any of the popemobiling before the audience began. We did have a good view directly to Pope Francis during the audience, though the angle of the sun made it difficult to see anything at times.

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At the end of the audience, Pope Francis gives his apostolic blessing to all of us there, and he extends that blessing to our friends and family back home. He also blesses any religious articles we have brought for that purpose. We had with us quite a few rosaries that friends had given us to have blessed, plus I’d bought a several dozen medals and prayer cards to have blessed.

Once the audience has concluded, the newlyweds line up and are escorted to the center section, directly behind where Pope Francis had been sitting. In the past, I’ve seen pictures of how each newlywed couple is allowed to approach the pope and have a few seconds with him before moving on so that the next couple may approach. It was different this day, perhaps because of the concerns of terrorism. We were behind the rail like the other sections of pilgrims were, but Pope Francis made a point of connecting with each of us before moving on.

We had left our backpack full of religious articles behind, and we had brought with us only the zucchetto and two items to be personally blessed. In my left hand I held my necklace with two medals (St. Monica, who is my reminder to be a good example, and Eugene’s St. Thérèse medal) and Theresa’s rosary in its case which had an image of St. Peter’s on it.

When Pope Francis got to the place we were, we were behind two other couples, so none of the official Vatican photos captured both of our faces in the same photo, but it doesn’t matter. Pope Francis — the Vicar of Christ on Earth — reached out his right hand to touch me. He put his hand on my hand which was holding the items I hoped he would bless for me. He made the sign of the cross over them. And then he put his hand back on mine, as if to make a point of touching each of the medals, the rosary, and its case, so there would be no doubt that he had touched them. He squeezed my hand. Pope Francis, the successor of Peter, held my hand.

I had practiced my Italian before the trip, and I had a prayer request to ask him, but I completely forgot it. I didn’t forget how to say it in Italian. I just forgot that I wanted to speak to him. He looked me in the eyes, truly locked eyes with me, and all I could think in that moment was that Theresa was in heaven.

Eugene spoke up — in Italian! — and offered the box with the zucchetto to Pope Francis. Un zucchetto! Pope Francis, much to the delight of us and everybody around us, took off his zucchetto with his left hand, took ours from Eugene with his right hand, put it on his head, and then removed it and returned it to the box as he put his own zucchetto back on his head. It’s a tradition that when you offer the pope a zucchetto, you receive back a zucchetto worn by him. So now that’s exactly what we have: a zucchetto worn by Pope Francis.

At that point I did manage to find my voice, and I spoke to him in Italian: Grazie mille, Papa Francesco. (Thank you very much, Pope Francis.)

Pope Francis reaches for my hand

Pope Francis reaches for my hand

 

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross over Theresa's rosary and our two medals

Pope Francis makes the sign of the cross over Theresa’s rosary and our two medals

 

Pope Francis reaches for the zucchetto Eugene is offering him

Pope Francis reaches for the zucchetto Eugene is offering him

 

Pope Francis removes his zucchetto to put ours on his head

Pope Francis removes his zucchetto to put ours on his head

 

Pope Francis briefly wears the zucchetto we bought him before returning it to us

Pope Francis briefly wears the zucchetto we bought him before returning it to us

 

Do you believe that God allowed Theresa to speak to my heart, to tell me that she is in Heaven, to tell me things that would happen as a way of proving the messages were from God?

I believe.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, 

the communion of Saints, 

the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

Furniture Donations

Several years ago when I was moving back to Florida, Mom drove up north in her minivan to help me pack and move. I brought with me only what would fit in my car (and it was packed FULL), and what we could fit in Mom’s van went with her only as far as their place in Tennessee so that I could pick those things up later.

When I got to Florida, I got a room at the Motel 6 for a few days because they allow pets and they’re dirt cheap. I found an apartment available at the same apartment complex I’d lived at before, and I was able to move in just a few days later. I had almost nothing, but it didn’t matter, because I was on my own, I had a great job lined up, and I was back in the South. Life was good.

The first morning I woke up in my new apartment, I went to morning Mass at Prince of Peace. Fr. Larkin was still there, and after Mass I waited in line to speak to him. I had planned on re-introducing myself to him and telling him my situation, saying, “Hi, Father, I’m Connie, and I was in your parish four years ago and on the stewardship committee.” I got as far as, “Hi…” before he said, “Connie!” and gave me a great big hug. That wonderful man has an equally wonderful memory.

I told him I was back in town, that I had an apartment down the road, and that I was starting my new job on Monday of the next week. It was probably a Thursday when we were having this conversation. I told him I needed furniture. He told me to leave my contact information with the parish office, and he’d see what he could do.

A few days later I got a call from him. A family in the parish was moving, and they weren’t able to take their furniture with them. He’d arranged for another parishioner with a truck and trailer to bring everything to me. When they arrived a few days later, they gave me a couch that seemed practically brand new, a coffee table, a recliner, a nightstand, and a dining room table with chairs.

I bought a mattress on Craigslist for $40 including delivery. I found box springs free on Craigslist if I could pick them up, and a local friend with a truck did that for me. That friend’s grandmother had recently died, and the family generously gave me her bed frame and some of her pots and pans. Another lady from church gave me more kitchen items. I bought a cheap set of dishes, and I found a tv stand that was still usable but a little scuffed up on the side of the road. I had given my tv to my brother years before, but he no longer needed it, so I picked that up the next time I went to my parents’. After a couple paychecks came in, I splurged and spent $40 on two end tables. And that was it. For $100 and with the generosity of a lot of people, I had a furnished apartment.

I’d already started my job when the church people brought the furniture to me. I went to Prince of Peace for a few weeks while I had a Monday to Friday schedule during training, but after that, I ended up having to switch to a different parish. I worked too late on Saturday and too early on Sunday to get to Prince of Peace, but I could make it to Assumption. Several months later, due to a schedule change or a holiday or something different in my schedule about which I can’t remember the details now, I was able to go to Mass at Prince of Peace. During that Mass I realized something that I hadn’t realized before: the fabric that was on my couch was the exact same fabric that was on the pews. I was dumbfounded.

I didn’t talk to Fr. Larkin about it. He’d told me the furniture was from a family in the parish, so I didn’t question him. I think what happened, though, is maybe all of that furniture except the couch was from a family, but the couch was something he gave me from the church’s bride’s room. It seems like something he would do: give something of the church’s to a parishioner who doesn’t have something.

This past March, I was back in Jacksonville for the Diocese of St. Augustine’s Eucharistic Congress. [Side note: that was incredible, and you should definitely go if you have the chance.] On Sunday morning before driving home to Charleston, I went to Mass at Prince of Peace. Fr. Larkin had been the pastor there for something like 30 years, but he’s retired now. Before Mass, I asked Eugene, who was at home back in South Carolina, to take a picture of our couch and send it to me. After Mass I was able to compare that to the pews, the priest’s chair, and even the prie-dieux.

Here’s our couch:

the couch

And here are some pictures from Prince of Peace in March 2015:

Larkin Lane

Larkin Lane

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The furniture that’s in the bride’s room now:

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And some bonus pictures of what I call Superman Jesus. This used to be the baptismal font, but apparently now it is not. I never quite understood the angle of the Jesus statue which is suspended from the ceiling.

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When I moved south from Jacksonville, I donated the dining table and chairs, because they weren’t going to fit in the new apartment I got. When I left there in 2012, I donated a lot more. Friends told me to sell the furniture, because a lot of it was in great condition and could’ve brought in some money, but I couldn’t do it. I was given so much when I was in need, and I hoped I could bless somebody else in that same way.

As of this morning, the only furniture I still had that was from that time in Jacksonville was the couch, the coffee table, and the nightstand. Today, Eugene and I donated the couch to our local parish so they could use it in their new Family Life Center. Generous people from the parish who own a truck came over and helped us move that piece and several more pieces of furniture.

We’ll get some used-but-new-to-us furniture over the next few months. We’re planning to move temporarily into an apartment in December and stay there until the house we’re having built is ready some time next year. Oh, did I not blog about the fact that we’re moving? :-) Well, there’s the announcement then. We’re moving. Maybe I’ll write more about that later. For now, I wanted to take the opportunity to tell a story of people’s generosity toward me and say a public thank you to everybody who helped me along the way.

Thank you.