Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April 19, 1995: why we must never forget




When I first arrived at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, to report on the Oklahoma City bombing for Catholic News Service, police lines and makeshift shelters had already been drawn.
Budding spring gardens had instantly succumbed to military tents, hastily erected to serve as temporary morgue, as ATF/FBI evidence gathering sites, and as a canteen for rescue workers. Law enforcement and fully armed military personnel lined the streets. Breathing masks, bloodied bandages, and much broken glass testified to the human carnage that had taken place there hours before. Thick grey dust covered everything.
Northwest of the building, a block-long square area had instantaneously become an international media center, camera crews mixing with fallen debris, van food vendors, and cars demolished by the blast. Overhead, helicopters circled the downtown radius accusingly pointing flood lights at the empty streets. The sounds of sirens, voices, and motors blended effectively with the humming of drilling equipment at the site, where workers used lighted cranes to continue rescue operations around the clock.
On that fateful spring morning, 168 people died (171 counting theunborn) and hundreds of survivors were maimed and injured, forever scarred. The hundreds of rescuers from all over the world that came those first few weeks will be eternally haunted by what they saw at the site: debris, twisted metal, and shards of broken glass mingled with the smell of death and reminders of those who worked there-purses, pieces of clothing, toys, shoes, and grisly body parts.
"It's worse than the most horrible Friday the 13th movie you can imagine-you can't walk out of this theatre," told me 25-year-old Steve Mavros from the Oklahoma Canine Search and Rescue out of Tulsa. Mavros and his specially trained dog, Bucephalos, were one of the first deployed to the site to identify the location of humans and human remains. "We would have a hit-a human find-but only find a piece of a body."

I have no doubt in my heart that in those moments of such massive death and suffering, the veil between heaven and earth becomes so thin that we can, literally, recognize God’s Presence in our midst.

So it is important that we remember... that we never forget days like April 19, 1995.


Remember the lives of those who died, not only where they died. Remember the victims' families. Remember those who survived and are still struggling to heal. Remember the stories of tireless rescue workers (many who traveled here from states all over the country!) who risked their lives in the still-trembling building to find survivors, and eventually, to bring the dead home.
Remember how there was no looting in that wrecked downtown, and how crime was virtually non-existent for several days in this city of half a million people. Remember the thousands of devoted community volunteers. Remember how the money turned in after the blast from the Federal Employees Credit Union vault housed in the Murrah building exceeded the money originally held in that vault.
We will always remember that the stories of human goodness, generosity, and compassion overwhelmed and conquered one despicable act of evil.  


Note: I have written before about April 19, 1995. The above is an edited version of various posts, in this blog and others.  And the photos here are mine, © María Ruiz Scaperlanda. 

For more stories of hope, check out my first book, "Their Faith Has Touched Us: The Legacies of Three Young Oklahoma City Bombing Victims." 




Monday, April 18, 2016

THE WALLS ARE TALKING: blog tour



As I began to read Abby Johnson’s new book, “The Walls are Talking,” I couldn’t help but recall the words and the urgency I have heard in the voice of Ugandan Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe:

“I urge you to not sugarcoat evil.”

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a school for victims of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, has seen with her own eyes the devastating consequences of violence, and she knows first-hand how important it is to face up to evil—to name it.

In a very real way, Abby Johnson’s new book is doing exactly that—courageously naming the tragic truth about the evil of abortion. And she does it by gathering a powerful collection of true stories from the lives of former abortion clinic workers.

“Those of us that have worked in the abortion industry all live with a constant burden. We can’t let our burden slide off of our shoulders; it is what keeps us on fire. It reminds us of why we fight so hard. We have seen death and evil in a way that most haven’t—and we participated. But we are forgiven. He who has been forgiven much, loves much. And we love a lot…

When I was confirmed as a Catholic, I chose Mary Magdalene as my confirmation saint. I felt an immediate connection to her. She had sinned so much—and was forgiven in even greater amounts. She knew she didn’t deserve forgiveness—but she received it anyway. And because of this, she clung to Christ. She knew she was nothing without him.

Because they are personal accounts, the stories of “The Walls Are Talking” are, in a sense, a simple read. But they are not an easy read.

These stories will make you uncomfortable. And they should, because they don’t sugarcoat evil.

Ultimately, however, this collection of personal experiences is a proclamation of mercy. They are stories of hope -- because the truth is also that none of us deserve to be loved by God as fully and completely as we are. And all of us yearn for His forgiveness and Love.

One of the last things that Sister Rosemary pointed out in her keynote address at the Catholic Media Conference in Buffalo is that, “Africa is being saved by African women” – women who were taken against their will as young girls and forced to commit atrocities against one another. And yet also women who know first hand that life can be changed, dignity can be restored, and forgiveness will always follow mercy.

I admire and pray for Abby Johnson and her ministry as she, too, hopes for the day when – paraphrasing Sister Rosemary’s words – the abortion industry will be saved by former “and repentant abortion providers.”

“Pray for those who have contributed to this book. Pray for their continued healing. And most of all, pray for those who have not converted yet. We are waiting for them with our warms wide open.”
~Abby Johnson



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

God is calling: love and laugh






Today, a personal message for you, just you… from the One who loves you most, the One who never ceases to call you by name… the God who has known you since before you were born.

May it lift you up and fill you with confident joy on this Thursday morning!


Love and laugh. Make your world the happier for your being in it. Love and rejoice on the grey days.

There are wilderness days for My Disciples as well as Mountains of Transfiguration, but on both it is duty, persistently, faithfully done, that tells.

Be gentle with all. Try to see the heart I see, to know the pain and difficulty of the other life, that I know. Try, before you interview anyone, or speak to anyone, to ask Me to act as interpreter between you two.

Just live in the spirit of prayer. In speaking to Me, you find soul-rest. Simple tasks, faithfully done and persisted in, bring their own reward, and are mosaics being laid the pavement of success.

Welcome all who come here. I love you.

~ God Calling, edited by A. J. Russell


For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mothers womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”~Psalm 139:13-14





Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I can learn to act thankful






“The answer lies in understanding that it is these things - and these things alone, here and now, at this moment – that truly constitute the will of God. The challenge lies in learning to accept this truth and act upon it, every moment of every day. The trouble is that like all great truths it seems too simple. It is there before our noses all the time, while we look elsewhere for subtle answers. It bears the hallmark of all divine truths, simplicity, and yet it is precisely because it seems so simple that we are prone to overlook it or ignore it in our daily lives.”

~Walter

 J. Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me 
+   +   +

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

~ Margery WilliamsThe Velveteen Rabbit

+   +   +

Pondering and writing about gratefulness is not a new topic for me.

In fact, I’ve written a number of posts on various aspects of it—including a discussion on the Spanish and English variations of the word, and the meaning in each language.  Also see two more, here and here.

I’ve already also mentioned how deeply moved I was by Father Richard Vera’s reflection and prayer published in Magnificat for Holy Thursday:
“Let us face the reality of our lives with the certainty that all reality and all of our lives belong to you. Let the Real Presence of the Eucharist be the beginning of our welcoming your real presence in all of reality.” 
And I know, at least at one level, that in order to welcome the Father’s presence—and to notice it—in the reality of my life I must be and live gratefulness. It is all intrinsically connected to my being thank-FULL for the goodness and the blessings already in my life, as it is.

What I am struck by today is the reality that living this gratefulness is as much a decision as choosing to love. 

Let me back up.

In the midst of all the goodness and blessings in my life, I am often blown away by the dissatisfaction that I feel. If I am at least somewhat honest with myself, I notice an emotion deep inside me that can only be described as discontentment. 

This, by the way, is immediately and always followed by self-condemnation

How can I possibly NOT feel absolute goodness and joy when I am, for example,  surrounded by my beautiful, loving, growing family?

What kind of believer am I if I don’t wake up every morning proclaiming a song of joy for the beauty and goodness that surrounds me?

What is, exactly, the secret to living a more joyful, fulfilling life? What can I do to allow myself genuinely en-JOY the reality that is my life?

Two things occur to me today.

Life is messy. And chaotic. And heartbreaking, and often lonely. These, too, are part of being real and welcoming God’s real presence in my life. So I have to begin by honestly bringing all of me to the foot of the cross, not only, but especially, those parts of me that are empty, sad, unlikeable, and downright ugly.

Secondly, with the help and love of God, I can learn to act thankful, which will lead me to truly being thank-FULL. And somewhere in there is the road to living with JOY.

I know, I know. It sounds so simple.

This is the simple beginning. More later.




Monday, April 4, 2016

on my nightstand



“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, 
leading out into the expanding universe.”
~Madeleine L’Engle

"Beware of the person of one book."
~Thomas Aquinas


My talented daughter Anamaría recently wrote a blog post titled “On My Nightstand.   Here’s a link to her blog, Accidental Discoveries.

I liked the idea so much that I’m copying her!

As you can see in the above picture, the short stack of titles on my nightstand right now includes:
The Essence of Prayer” by Ruth Burrows  
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp  
Dappled Things Journal, a gift from Anamaría and her husband Travis!  
And “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr 
But I have to confess that I’m one of those people who like to "read" several books at once. I say "read" because I jump from one to the other until I'm ready to move on! I also enjoy magazines from the back cover forward, but that’s a different story.

That means that at any given time, the short stack closest to my bed can have three, four, five or more books—and often a journal.

My prayer table is a different story. In addition to a candle, crucifix, a small image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a prayer bowl where I write prayer intentions, my prayer table will always include my Bible, sometimes a journal, and at times my Magnificat or other book of reflections.

It still sounds like a lot of things, but compared to my nightstand, my prayer table is downright orderly!

While to the untrained eye my nightstand may look like a disaster, to me, it’s a distinct, personal space where I keep the books that I want closest to me right now.

Don’t get scared, but here’s what that looks like:




The funny thing is that when my Grands come over, I don’t have to explain to them that my nightstand is a special place to me.  With a reverence similar to the one they have as they approach my prayer table, he or she will stand and look at my bedside treasures —always asking for permission to touch, hold, or see what they instinctively know is special to me.

What about you... what's on your nightstand?