Monday, July 25, 2016

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL IN LIBERIA

Where there is life there is hope and where there is hope, there is God. I’ve always believed in that uncompromising truth despite the debilitating darkness that refuses to dissipate during active addiction.

As I watched my oldest son Johnny slipping deep into the abyss I clung to hope, praying through the paralyzing terrain of relapse and recovery, believing with every fiber of my human will in the saving grace of God who is the source and the summit of all hope!

Last December I witnessed the powerful manifestation of hope in action during my 24 day visit to Liberia West Africa where Johnny has now been a missionary for 31 months. I watched with gratitude as he juggled his daily work routine, which is wrapped around prayer, with his responsibilities to the other missionaries and to the orphans, 31 children ages 1 and a half to 17. I marveled at his strength and resiliency amid the long hours, the sweltering heat, and the humble living conditions.

I was deeply touched by his desire to reach out to a badly battered nation reeling from poverty following two civil wars and life threatening diseases like Ebola, Typhoid and Yellow fever, and Malaria which Johnny survived three times.

Seven and a half years sober, Johnny is a man for others and the man I always believed he could become. As we strolled down a winding dirt road in the “bush” where mud houses are nestled in between overgrown shrubs and palm trees he introduced me to his Liberian friends. Laughing and joking with them in “Bassa” the local dialect he has been teaching himself, Johnny proudly announced. “This is my “ma,” she’s come to visit me and Liberia.” The villagers beamed with pride, hugged me tightly and said, “He is a good man. He is also our son!”

During those precious weeks with Johnny I experienced his humility and yes-his humanity, as he talked about the future. “I don’t have to make a lot of money, but I want a career that has meaning,” he shared. “I’d like to get married, but I want a wife who prays.” We can only hope!

Hope is the eternal whisper, the persuasive knowing that prods us to hang on when we are feeling helpless and afraid. Hope pushes us to believe in a solution even though we may be blinded by disbelief. Hope is heaven’s promise to carry us when we think we cannot go one step further. Hope harnesses the power within that propels us forward so we can rise above the darkness until we reach the inevitable light that always comes after the storm.

It takes an act of our human will to reach out to the hand of hope; to believe in a power greater than ourselves; to summon every ounce of strength when we are depleted by one more disappointment. Hang on anyway and remember my son Johnny who is living, breathing proof that Hope springs eternal!

Mary Lou McCall
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Sunday, February 28, 2016

LANDING IN LIBERIA: PROVIDENCE PREVAILS!

“God calls us specifically to love this world, to be carriers of hope and sparks of light and kindness that resurrect humanity.” Mother Elvira

Dec. 3-4, 2015
In the chalice of my being I could not contain my joy! Ripples of laughter flowed across the vast ocean from Brussels to Africa as my new friend and fellow passenger Margiah and I joked about the comedy of errors that brought us to this space. Providence had provided me with a seat on the final flight to Liberia, right next to a wonderfully entertaining Liberian woman!

Margiah wore a festive skirt called a Lapa and a headdress which only accentuated her colorful personality. She told me she lived in Houston but was returning to her homeland for the holidays. Since neither of us could sleep we giggled away the miles like two school girls on Christmas break! I felt warmly connected to her spirit and the peace that flowed heart to heart. In fact, I felt at home among all the passengers the majority of whom were African.

Exhausted, exhilarated, excited-so many emotions welled up inside of me as we approached our final destination and the conclusion of a nearly two day pilgrimage from New Orleans to New Jersey to Brussels to Sierra Leone and finally to Liberia.

As we began our final descent through the pitch black night I noticed through the window tiny flickers of light drawing us to the small airstrip where my son Johnny would be waiting.

What a journey! Logistical issues, Ebola...everywhere I turned there were roadblocks. Six months ago I wondered if I'd ever make this trip. “I’ve been waiting for more than six years to do an experience with Johnny,” I said in frustration to Albino the Italian gentleman who runs Comunita Cenacolo in America. “Yes,” Albino replied. “And when you go it will be a very good experience!”

I knew Albino was right but the wait tested my patience and my trust. Now-at this moment all those challenging years melted away and I understood the wisdom in the wait. “I have hit the jackpot of experiences,” I thought to myself.

We landed at a small airstrip about 2 hours outside of Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia, in the middle of the “bush.” “I won’t need this sweater,” I mumbled to myself, as I stepped out of the plane into the December heat.

A man directed me to wash my hands at a barrel with a spicket that contained water and chlorine and then a woman pointed a thermometer at my temple to check for fever before allowing me to enter the airport building to retrieve my bags. “Ebola precautions,” I whispered to Grace.

Miraculously my five suitcases arrived along with the luggage of Grace, Joe and Mitch. God had protected our providence and our travels!

“Wow,” that’s a shock, I laughed when I spotted my handsome son Johnny sporting long blonde hair and a beard. “We’re doing a play tomorrow and I’m Jesus,” he laughed as we hugged tightly. “Thank you God for this beautiful gift,” I whispered to myself.

Johnny introduced me to his friend Marlin, the missionary surgeon from Costa Rica who had requested the medical supplies and then we loaded up the SUV with the luggage, and exited the airport down a rocky, winding road to our final destination 2 ½ hours away.

“What’s this?” My heart skipped a beat when I saw the roadblock. Johnny smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry mom you just have to know how to speak to the Liberian people.” He leaned out of the window and said, “Hey man we have no money today, we are just coming from the airport…next time…yes next time.” Johnny was confident, kind and respectful. I was impressed.

The roadblocks were set up by local authorities who were conducting security checks and in some cases by locals who were trying to score money. An Archdiocesan decal on the side of the vehicle gave us instant legitimacy and so we sailed through at least seven different roadblocks with no real problems.

We passed through overgrown shrubs, palm trees and a scattering of small mud homes with tin roofs, through the outskirts of Monrovia and eventually into the mission compound just past midnight.

What a glorious, joyful welcome! The guitar playing missionaries were lined up outside serenading us into the kitchen for cake, pizza and old fashioned fraternity! It was surreal! I have never received such a warm welcome anywhere and my eyes brimmed with tears at this special anointing!

The missionaries and the children sleep bunkhouse style however, as the mom I was given a private room with a private bathroom. A mosquito net covered my bed and screens and bars covered my open windows. There is no air conditioning or hot water but there is filtered water for drinking. None of the sacrifices mattered to me and I made a mental decision to ignore the heat and to concentrate on the gift of this profoundly personal experience.

Before leaving America, I fielded a lot of questions from people who couldn’t understand why I would go to Africa, especially after Ebola and with all the unrest in the world. A close relative warned, “If you disappear I’m not coming to look for you!” “And I wouldn’t," I replied "because you won’t find me.” I honestly did not fear the destination, though I was grateful to be traveling with other people.

Physically exhausted, I lay down on the top of my sheets just before 2 a.m. and as I drifted off to sleep I felt deep within my core that God had personally called me to Liberia and I couldn't wait to experience why!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

DIVINE INTERVENTION: Mercy, Love and Liberia

“We believe that in the darkest night, it is possible to find light again.” -Mother Elvira Petrozzi

Lent is a perfect time for me to reflect on the lessons I learned recently in Liberia West Africa thanks to a living saint, Mother Elvira. In the next few posts I will share excerpts from my daily journal.

December 3, 2015

As United Flight 1140 taxies down the runway in New Orleans, my heart is overflowing with gratitude! Divine intervention is literally leading me to Liberia to spend the next few weeks with my Catholic missionary son Johnny; to walk in his shoes; to learn the Lord’s will for my life. Johnny has been in Liberia for two years so initially I think this trip is about seeing him. However, something is telling me this is a mission of mercy for the benefit of my soul!

Today is the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary Priest who-yes-traveled to Africa to share his contagious love for God by the example of his life. Shivers still run down my spine when I think about the fact that my son traveled to Liberia on this feast day two years ago! God is surprisingly wonderful all the time!

Settling back into my seat, I resolve to ignore the irritating reminder that my broken arm has left me weak and hurting. I stare out of the airplane window and my mind wanders back to the beginning in 2009.

‘I am storming the heavens inside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Francis Xavier Church, begging Jesus to help the oldest of my five sons. Our broken family is a mess and Johnny is sinking deeper into the corrupting darkness of drug addiction. “Are you going to talk to Jesus?!” My son’s sarcasm replays in my head. “This is not my child speaking,” I remind myself. Besides, a tinge of guilt reminds me he comes by his problems honestly.

Suddenly a light goes on in my head-Medjugorje! “Johnny is supposed to go to Comunita Cenacolo in Medjugorje!” I recall the TV interview I did there at the end of the Bosnian war with a former heroin addict named Francesco. I couldn’t believe it when he told me he’d been heroin free for two and a half years without the help of doctors or medicine! Francesco said hard work “prayer and the love of his brothers” were healing him. Visionary Viska Ivankovic confirmed, “With God all things are possible.”

Francesco had been living with other troubled youth at the community founded by an Italian nun Mother Elvira Petrozzi. Back then I knew nothing about addiction and so I assumed I had simply stumbled on a great story. Who knew God had planted a seed!

More than a decade after that interview another Medjugorje visionary, Ivan Draicevic, visits New Orleans and prays with my hurting child. “There are two paths for your life. The path you are on which will lead to death and the path that God has designed for you which will lead to a life of peace,” Ivan says. “I will bring you in prayer before the Blessed Mother tonight when I have my apparition and ask her to intercede on your behalf.” As we hug goodbye Ivan whispers, “Do not worry, I will be praying for him.”

Miracle of miracles, soon after Johnny’s 24th birthday he harnesses his free will and enters “Our Lady of Hope,” another community house in St. Augustine Florida. Though it’s a three year program I’m not even thinking that boldly. “Please, just commit to six months. Then it’s between you and God,” I plead looking into his tormented eyes.

Johnny is sequestered from all family contact until the fall family retreat which is six months later. But what a reunion!

I am praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament at an outdoor altar at “Our Lady of Hope” when I see a group of young men walking up the side steps of the altar. As they cross over to the monstrance I can hardly believe my eyes because Johnny ends up kneeling smack dab in front of Jesus! I burst into tears of joy! Later he tells me, “I don’t know how long I will stay…but now it’s between God and me.” Alleluia! The prodigal son returns!'

The airline stewardess’s voice snaps me back into reality. We are landing in New Jersey. A nice man offers to retrieve my overhead bag which is weighed down by a heavy piece of medical equipment that will help in the diagnosis of yellow fever.

A few minutes later I am standing in front of a New Jersey ticket agent silently praying, “Sacred heart of Jesus I trust in you.” Someone canceled the rest of my airline tickets! The agent is able to get me back on the plane to Belgium, but she says the flight to Liberia is now completely full. I place my trust in divine providence knowing full well it is his merciful love that has gotten me this far!

Grace and Joe, two young community missionaries, and Mitch a friend of community meet up with me just in time to board the plane to Belgium. Sitting next to Grace I think about the irony of literally being carried on the wings of grace to see my son and so I continue to trust that “His” amazing grace will also carry me over the obstacles that are sabotaging my journey.

I pray. “Dear Sweet Jesus carry me, caress me, keep me in your loving embrace. I fear not my fate, for you are my peace, my hope my resting place. Wrapped securely in your mercy I am soothed into submission to your holy will.”
---Stay tuned---

Monday, January 25, 2016

MISSION TO LIBERIA


I felt vulnerable and weak. It was an uncomfortable feeling because I generally feel in control and strong. However, in late October I tripped on a hidden vine at the top of a small hill and the next thing I knew, the full weight of my body slammed down onto my left arm and the side of my face. One moment I was standing, and the next moment I lay on the ground in searing pain. “Please don’t be broken,” I whispered. It was.

The x-rays showed not one but two breaks in my upper arm. “I don’t think you’ll need surgery,” the doctor said. Thank you Jesus I thought. However, the doctor told me he couldn’t cast the upper arm, so I would just have to wear a sling and be very careful. “How long will it take to heal?” I asked worried. “I’m going to Liberia West Africa in December to be with my son.” “You won’t be fully healed,” he replied “But you should be able to travel.” I was worried.

Here I had waited six and a half years to do an experience with my son who is in Comunita Cenacolo, and now I was broken and feeling weak. Later that same day my 93 year old friend died. 2015 was ending with quite a bang. I prayed for strength.

Pushing ahead, finishing work projects and securing an airline ticket for my departure I maneuvered through the days with one mobile arm refusing to give in to the despair and throbbing pain that always comes before the healing. At night I could barely sleep and so I cried out to God asking him to help me carry this heavy cross which had certainly cast a glaring light on my own personal poverties.

“What day did you say you are leaving?” my son Johnny asked during a rare phone conversation from Liberia. “December 3rd,” I repeated. “Mom, that’s the exact date I left two years ago, the feast of St. Francis Xavier!” He exclaimed! “Wow, that’s amazing,” I replied in awe, “Especially since St. Francis Xavier Parish is the Catholic parish where you were raised!” God’s guiding hand never ceases to amaze me!

Departure day I arrived at the airport with five suitcases bulging with medical supplies and other donations and two pieces of carry-on luggage one of which contained a very heavy centrifuge that would help diagnose diseases like yellow fever. I knew I couldn’t lift the suitcase into the overhead bin and so I’d have to ask for help which is not my best attribute.

Much to my surprise the airline clerk announced that I had been rerouted and would fly from New Orleans to Washington instead of to New Jersey. “The plane is overbooked,” he said. “Well I’m sorry about that, but you cannot change my ticket,” I stammered. “I am meeting three other people in New Jersey who will be flying with me to Africa.”

Obviously embarrassed, the ticket agent apologized and scrambled to get me back on my original flight. However, when I landed in New Jersey I discovered my ticket to Brussels had been canceled along with my ticket from Brussels to Liberia. Mother Mary…this is going to be a powerful spiritual trip I thought to myself.

The New Jersey airline agent also apologized for the mess up and said the best she could do was to get me back on the plane to Brussels. “But the flight to Liberia is now full, so you may get stuck in Belgium,” she warned. “Just get me to Brussels,” I responded holding my emotions in check.

Last year the Ebola epidemic thwarted my travel plans and now human error was the culprit. My mind wandered to my son who would be so disappointed if I didn’t show up. As you can imagine, I prayed my way across the ocean, surrendering all the obstacles and the mind games to God and knowing full well that I would arrive in Liberia at the anointed time.

Why should my missionary voyage be any different than anyone elses?! St. Francis Xavier faced tremendous obstacles but he never lost his missionary zeal and as a result he performed amazing miracles while inspiring vast numbers of lost souls who were eventually converted to Catholicism.

In Brussels I stood before an unhappy airline agent who could not believe he had to juggle the mess someone else had made. After a lot of head shaking, complaining and phone calls he issued me a new ticket and away I went on the final leg of a long anticipated journey of the soul.

That’s exactly what I experienced during my nearly month long visit; an inward journey up and over the often perilous terrain of my humanity through the sacred space of the soul where the holy spirit illuminates God’s will for our lives.

The spiritual journey like my physical journey to Liberia was at times painfully challenging, scattered with thorns and roadblocks; and exhaustingly unnerving. I kept pushing myself anyway and with an open heart I asked the Lord to place his sovereign hand at my back.

I am pleased to tell you this, through my cooperation and his guidance I arrived at a beautiful, anointed destination that has forever changed my life. Thank you God!

---Stay Tuned ---

Sunday, October 4, 2015

ZACHARY'S MIRACLE MOMENT! GO JESUIT BLUE JAYS!

The crowd roared as my son Zachary dove through the air, caught the football and clutched it tightly to his chest before his 200 pound body hit the ground! As you can imagine, I flew out of my seat, jumping with excitement and shouting for joy as the surprise and the gratitude poured through me and my eyes welled with tears! I was exhilaratingly happy for my youngest child because I knew in my heart that this hard earned miracle moment would make all the hours of practice and pain worthwhile!

A natural born athlete, Zack has been playing sports from the moment he could walk and his steely determination and resiliency has gotten him through some grueling training sessions in the punishing Louisiana humidity and scorching heat. However, there's much more at play because Zack does not stand alone.

He is part of a team of young leaders many of whom have become his closest friends and strongest allies. Through football he’s developed a consistent camaraderie and brotherhood that is soulfully supportive, life giving and deeply satisfying. Kids need that kind of human connection, especially during the challenging years of adolescence. My youngest son Zachary really benefits since he has been raised for the last ten years by a single mom.

I was thinking this football season how very much I have enjoyed the game and the gifted moms and dads who are behind the scenes supporting their own kids while supplying everyone’s children with unconditional love and lots of delicious treats! This kind of human bonding dilates the human heart and inspires a generous pride that pushes our young people to excel beyond their own expectations.

Yes, I am well aware of the dangers of football because there are inevitable injuries to heads and limbs and sometimes those injuries have long term consequences. For years I’ve had mixed feelings about the game. My dad sat glued to the TV during football season while my German mom clearly did not approve. “Those crazy American men pushing each other down for a football!”

What’s a mom to do but pray...and believe me-I spend countless hours storming the heavens imploring God to protect Zack and his teammates!

Today however, I am simply grateful for Zachary’s victory and I continue to marvel at his desire to honor his teammates and his coaches by placing his human will into their guiding hands so they can mold him into a winner who is willing to sacrifice a piece of himself so others may triumph.

That's the makings of a great leader and as we all witnessed Friday night, that kind of self sacrifice and surrender also stretches us so that every once in a while we "catch" a rare glimpse of our exceptional abilities and the level of success we can achieve!

AWESOME JOB ZACHARY!
I LOVE YOU!
MOM
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