St. Therese - a Saint for Writers - Happy Feast Day

Today - October 1st is the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux - or St. Therese of the Little Flower.  She died at age 24 after being a Carmelite nun for a few short years.  She wasn't a martyr.  She didn't heal or cure people.  She didn't even do public ministry.  She was impetuous, sometimes childish, and served in a convent where her four adoring sisters doted on her. She probably didn't meet more than one hundred people in her short lifetime.  So why is she a saint?  How did she become one of the most beloved intercessors of time?

She wrote a memoir.

And she resisted writing it until her sister (who was also the Prioress at the time) ordered her to write it. When she first she asked Therese to write about her life and faith, Therese procrastinated and avoided the task, and protested that she hated writing. But her sister believed that Therese's pure faith and simple approach to living would benefit other women in religious orders. So she ordered Therese to write the story.  Therese, bound by obedience to the Prioress wrote the story in a series of three journals. Then she died. Her sister, Pauline edited and packaged the journal, which Therese entitled The Story of a Soul.  Pauline sent the book out to religious houses in the region. The book became a spiritual classic that has encouraged millions of readers around the world to reach out to this author / saint and pray for miracles.

St. Therese of Lisieux along with St. Anthony of Padua have been both been dubbed the "saint of miracles" because of all the miracles attributed to their intercession.

Therese Martin was born in France in 1873 as the ninth child of very devout parents. Only five of the nine children survived into adulthood - all girls, and every one of them entered the convent.  Therese's mother died when she was four and her father died when she was in her teens.  Her father protested Therese's joining the convent at such a young age, but she begged and pleaded and eventually her father gave in. Shortly after she joined three of her sisters as a cloistered nun in a convent near their home, her father died and the fifth sister, Celine joined the other four Martin sisters in the cloister. 

The sisters were close and and they would talk in the evenings about their faith, their parents, growing up in a little French village, and how they felt about prayer.  As the baby of the family who was doted on by her sisters and father, St. Therese had a child-like faith and simple approach to spiritual life.

Therese died of tuberculosis on September 30th 1897 at the young age of 24. One year to the day after that - September 30th 1898, Pauline sent The Story of a Soul out to convents for other young women in religious orders to read.  What no one expected was that the book would get into public hands and be devoured by a the spiritually hungry European middle class of the late nineteenth century. The book was reprinted and reprinted throughout Europe, then spread to the American market. It has sold millions of copies and has been printed in fifty-five languages.

According to her sisters who were all by her side when she passed away, St. Therese's last words were "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth."

St. Therese, Pick for me a Rose

Many have heard the story about praying to St. Therese and getting a rose as a sign that she heard your prayer.  That story originated with a Jesuit priest named Fr. Putigan who in 1925 said a novena (nine consecutive days of prayer) to St. Therese and asked her to send him a rose as a sign that she'd heard his prayer.

On the fourth day of the novena a nun presented him with a white rose. She said that she was walking in the church, a rose tumbled right in front of her and landed at her feet. It had fallen from an altar bouquet. The nun picked up the rose and was about to place it back in the bouquet when a thought came to her that she should give the rose to Fr. Putigan.  Above the altar was a picture of St. Therese.

Fr. Putigan got his rose and his intention that he presented in prayer to St. Therese was granted. In gratitude, he started the Rose novena to St. Therese and it has spread throughout Catholic communities the world over. People have been receiving roses from St. Therese and miracles through her intercession for nearly 100 years.

My Novena Rose Prayer
by Fr. Putigan

O Little Therese of the Child Jesus,
please pick for me a rose from the heavenly gardens
and send it to me as a message of love.

O Little Flower of Jesus,
ask God to grant the favors I now place
with confidence in your hands . .

(Mention specific requests)

St. Therese, help me to always believe
as you did in God's great love for me,
so that I might imitate your "Little Way" each day.


My Roses from St. Therese

 Rose #1

When I was 25, I was single parent barely scraping by with three kids under five that I supported by selling Tupperware. We lived in a one bedroom, roach-infested apartment. When I considered my circumstances logically, they were pretty hopeless.  I had no education and few skills. What I did have was debt and responsibility. But outside of my logical mind I secretly prayed for the impossible.

I prayed for a house. Even a town house. Some place with a yard and a front door and bedrooms for the kids so that they didn't have to grow up in a rented apartment. One Christmas I was too broke to buy my kids presents and friend brought second-hand toys over to me to wrap up so there would be gifts under the tree. While wrapping and crying I tried to be grateful. I started the rose novena and prayed for a way to get out of that rat-hole. I prayed for a miracle.  A house. And some way that I could pay for it.

On the seventh day of that novena I noticed one red rose on the concrete steps near my apartment door.  No, I wasn't presented with a rose from someone like Fr. Putigan, but a rose in December laying in a stairwell near your front is pretty odd. It was a cut rose from a florist, and was probably dropped by someone carrying a Christmas centerpiece into the apartment. But I was taking it as a gift from my spirit friend Therese. And she's been my friend since that moment.

That summer my business boomed. It was unexpected, but I made more money in that year than I had in the three previous years together. I pulled enough money together to get into a rented townhouse. Yes it had a front door and bedrooms for the kids and a nice little yard.  And we had many happy memories there.  We moved in on October 1st - the feast of St. Therese, just ten months after that novena.

Rose #2

A few years after moving into that townhouse I remarried and moved into a beautiful custom-built home, but sadly lost my husband to death after only five short years of being married. That summer a couple contacted me and asked me to sing at their fall wedding.  We met in September to discuss the music selection. They were to be married on October 1st. I told them how special that day was and shared the story of St. Therese. I even gave them one of the little Pick for Me a Rose novena cards.

I had just listed my house for sale when I met with that couple in September. It had been a year since my husband's death and the memories in that house were killing me. I had an opportunity to get into another house, but I couldn't move until I sold my current house. The real estate market at the time was dead. My realtor told me to expect to wait at least a year before the house sold.

On October 1st - the feast of St. Therese, I headed out to sing at this couple's 5pm wedding.  When I returned home there were one dozen roses on my kitchen counter. The couple, who had taken my St. Therese story to heart had sent them to arrive at my home when I returned from their wedding.  The note read. "Thanks for singing at our wedding. And thanks for introducing us to St. Therese."

That was a powerful moment. And it got even more powerful when I saw the contract offer and note from my realtor just beside the roses. My agent had shown the house to a couple while I was at the wedding and their offer for purchase was on the table. We settled a month later. I woke up in our new home on Thanksgiving day.

Praying to the Saints

People chide me about my devotion to saints - especially my Christian (non-Catholic) friends who consider it a kind of idolatry.   For those who tend to agree, please read .... Why Do We Pray to the Saints?

A saint is a spirit guide - a spiritual being that walks with you, helps you, intercedes for you. A saint is a friend who prays with you, making your prayer stronger. St. Therese has always been my special soul friend in heaven. Her picture sits right beside my computer reminding me that she's always there for me.

And like most every writer, I really hate writing. The process is tedious and grueling.  So what better saint for a writer to have as a friend?  One who wouldn't write until she was forced to and then changed the world with her writing.

A Few More Roses

In 2009 I finished my first real book, Haunted Eastern Shore. It was hell to write, and I kept St. Therese in my thoughts, sharing my insecurities and worries that I wouldn't meet the deadline or that the book would fail. I'll never forget the first time I held that printed book in my hand. It was October 1st. Coincidentally - or not - the book was released on her feast day.  Today - five years later - It's in its sixth printing.

Yesterday, my new book Haunted Ocean City and Berlin arrived by Fed-Ex, not October 1st, but September 30th.

So here's to St. Therese and all writers who resist the call to write, the grind, the repetitive process of revising and editing and revising again... but still write .... and hope that someday, someone might read their writing and be touched or changed or transformed.

Two People - One Life - Happy Anniversary, Dan Burgoyne

On September 18, 1999 I stood in a field lined with large oak trees and pledged to stand by Dan Burgoyne until death parted us.

The Dunloggin Pipe and Drum band opened the ceremony by marching from the parking lot, over a bridge and up the hill to the site of the wedding, then the wedding procession started with each of our six children walking up the aisle with 4-year-old Benjamin (grandson) bearing the rings.  As a brother / sister trio played Loch Lommond Dan and I processed down the aisle and recited our vows.

Just after the final blessing a sun dog (small rainbow) appeared in the sky as if to affirm our union.

We'd only known each other for three months. There were friends and family who thought our decision to marry was hasty and risky.  Though we've gone through more changes than most couples experience when they're married  fifty years, our marriage and committment to each other remains unchanged. It's a bit of a miracle, really.  Our lives are so different than they were on that wedding day. But through all the changes, we've been happy together.

And we both feel very lucky.

Young people look at marriage romantically. They see a future of being in love, doing fun things together, exploring new places, growing into new roles, building a home and family. But what they don't expect is what develops when they are busy building a life.  A little miracle occurs. And they can only see it when they are looking backward. 

It's the love you don't expect.

The kind of love couples have when they start out - when they're both young and virile and have boundless energy - is both exciting and overwhelming.  It's all wrapped up with hopes and dreams and expectation.  But the love that lasts and helps the two grow as one reveals itself during disappointments, setbacks and struggles. You feel it in the early stages when imperfections start to show, when you can say, "Despite those flaws, I love you still." 

It would be easy to love a perfect person. But it would offer no challenge.

To me, the life worth living is the shared life where two people - as mundane as it sounds - choose to walk through life together despite the imperfections in one another because the light they see in that other person shines far brighter than any shortcomings. And that light is something they need.  The light in one feeds the need for light in the other. Over time a soul friendship develops... and that is the great reward.

So here - September 18, 2014 we are older, smarter, richer and much better friends than we were on that day fifteen years ago. But I'm still attracted to that light in you, Dan Burgoyne. I still want to wake up every morning next to you and still want to lay down beside you every night.  There will never be another who can make me laugh like you can, or whose opinion I value more. 

You are the light of my life, darling. My soul friend.
Here's to many more happy anniversaries.

All My Life's a Circle - Happy Birthday, Lara Marie

Lara at her sixth birthday party
Thirty years ago, right about this time (5am) after being awake most of the night, I left my two little boys with a sitter in our one-bedroom, roach-infested apartment in Crofton. Then I drove myself to Prince Georges Hospital for a planned C-section.  I was 24 years old. My life was a mess.

I got married two-months out of high school and had adolescent hopes for a bright future. All I wanted to be was a wife and mother.  I had my first baby at nineteen and my second one at 21. The road got bumpy. The marriage went bad. Our lives fell apart.  My husband left me when my boys were three and four years old.  And though I didn't tell him ... I knew when he left that I was pregnant. 

The night before Lara was born I had all the usual worries. Would the boys be okay with the sitter?  Did I buy enough food? Would Danny cry at night while I was gone? What was plan B if I have complications with the surgery?

Then those logistical worries turned into that awful nighttime visitor...obsession over the pending doom I can't control.  Everything turns to black in the middle of the night - especially our thoughts.  Over and over I turned these worries ...

How could I manage on my own with three kids? I could barely make ends meet with two.  How would I pay a babysitter while I was working?  Who was going to keep an infant? What would I do when the apartment complex found out I had three children when the law requires three bedrooms for three kids? I'd already convinced them to rent me a one-bedroom and den, promising I'd keep my bed in the living room and give the children the bedroom. What if I got evicted? What if I couldn't work?  What if I lost my kids?

My grandmother told me that she said the rosary every night so that she wouldn't worry.  She gave her worries to the Blessed Mother, and saying the rosary took her mind off things. I followed her advice when my obsessive thoughts took over, and I usually fell asleep.  But the night before I left to have my third child was a particularly black night.  My sense of hopelessness was palpable.

But it all washed away at about 11 am that next morning when a nurse handed me the most beautiful little girl I'd ever seen.

Lara was perfect.  While most newborns are trying to get their eyes open and adjust to this cold world, Lara Marie looked right at me with her giant eyes and stared.  As those navy blue eyes held me, I remember wondering how I could be so lucky.  That moment between us a few minutes after she was born was the beginning of a great partnership. It was then that Lara attached herself to me with her mind, body and soul, and we've never let each other go.

When I brought her home to her brothers and laid her in the crib (which was in the living room by my bed) we were a family - the four of us. Lara never cried. The boys loved her, and over the next few grueling years of trial, we held each other up. And I said a lot of rosaries.   

Lara on her first birthday

Lara could sing before she could talk. She had this amazing ability to mimic words from songs. I carried Lara with me on Tupperware deliveries, and she'd sit in her car seat and sing along with the cassette tapes that I played in the car.  She could sing the entire chorus of "All My Life's a Circle" by the Limeliters when she was two.... on pitch!

All my life's a circle
Sunrise and sundown
The moon rolls through the nighttime
As the daybreak comes around
All my life's a circle
But I can't tell you why
Seasons spinning round again
The years keep rolling by

Lara on her 2nd birthday when I bought her a pony

She never got in trouble at school, rarely misbehaved, and never got spanked.  The biggest discipline problem I had with her was cussing - at THREE YEARS OLD. I did the soap-in-the-mouth thing more than once before she cut that crap out. I wonder where she got her potty mouth? 

What a strange child to have never tested me, never be pulled by her peers to break the rules. I always thought it was because Lara couldn't stand to be separated from me - and that included emotionally.  She couldn't take the tension.

So we were joined at the hip, Lara and me, and she's still on my mind - every day. She was a rare blessing at a time when I had no choice but to believe that things would work out okay even though the odds were against us. When having Lara should have been the last straw that finally broke my back, she became a surprising ray of hope. I couldn't stay discouraged because one smile from her instantly lifted my spirits.

She was my joy.

Lara's 7th birthday

And just as the song lyrics tell us, all my life is a circle.  When I witnessed Lara give birth to her son Tristan, I watched the magic happen. That love at first sight we shared the first time I held her was resurrected. It circled around us.  In an instant she was transformed, and the threads that bound Lara and me on July 25, 1984 reached right out and wove Tristan into that web of a mother's love.

Lara had become what I was. But she was still who she was.  And somehow that made crazy sense.

If I were to cast my life's pain, disappointment and struggles into a bin and pile on top all of my mad worries for today and tomorrow, they would fade into a boring beige background when I held them up to the single blessing that is Lara - or any of my children.  They are the vibrant colors of hope in my life. The moments with them are the stuff we live for.  

Lara with Rosie
My little girl turns thirty today and it's mornings like these that mothers count their memories.

So Lara, today I remember our first meeting when I thought that you were the image of perfection.  I remember you singing in the car and loving jewelry, make up, dresses and tea parties. I remember the first time you noticed the Lupines in our garden, and how you believed me when I said I'd come back as a bluebird after I died.  I remember you crawling into my bed every single night of your life until you were twelve (I'm being generous here), and my asking you what we were going to tell your husband when we had to disclose that you always sleep with your Mama - and you saying, "Hopefully, I'll be over this by the time I get married."

Tea at the Willard Hotel - Washington DC
 I remember you being afraid of the Easter Bunny and loving Santa Claus. And taking you to Tea at the Willard Hotel and the National Gallery of Art where we sat on the bench in front of Renoir's Little Girl with the Watering Can and remarked about how she glowed, and that she was probably some rich guy's kid. I remember you were mesmerized by the Rockettes at the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall, and how we saw Les Miserable on Broadway three times and talked about how I probably should have named you Cozette.

Ninth birthday party - National Gallery of Art
I remember you being afraid of the book Boney Legs and the statue of St. Rose of Lima. And how you cried one day at nursery school and I never made you go back. I remember how you loved every single wrapped gift you ever got and how you finally gave up sucking your fingers when I let the nail technician paint a palm tree on one of them. I remember finding various empty liquor bottles under your bed and you telling me that you were saving them for your friends because you all were going to "make something out of them."

First car - Subaru Impreza

I remember how excited you were when you got your first car and how beautiful you were at on your  wedding day.  And then .... how fun our drive to California was when we camped in the Smokey Mountains, shared beignets at CafĂ© du Monde in New Orleans, walked through the historic homes in Natchez, Mississippi, and counted thousands of blue bonnets on a 700 mile Texas highway.  

I remember how I thought it might kill me to be so overcome with love when they put Tristan in your arms for the first time.

Happy birthday, Lara Marie.  Here's to another 30 years when hopefully we'll all be together - me 85, you 60 and little Rosie will be your age, and maybe she'll have a mother's story to tell by then. We'll mix all of our memories together in a fabulous cocktail of love and drink to life as it continues to circle around us.

You are a gift, my darling. You always have been.  You've become such a beautiful woman inside and out...a good wife, a loving mother and one of my best friends.

I love you so.