Montserrat Love

Living in this crazy, instantaneous, social-media-driven, can’t-live-without-a-phone world these days can be distracting, to say the very least.  It can also be wild and wonderful, but let’s talk about that another day.  Taking time to disconnect for a few days – usually in the spring – has become an annual tradition of mine.  It’s both important to me and for me to do this.  The place I’ve headed to nine times now is Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas.

 

A place that is peaceful, tranquil, reflective, joyful, beautiful, and quiet.  It allows me to rest and just be, even if I’m ‘busy’ exploring the grounds, reading, journaling or walking up and down the 1/2 mile long drive.

On the days leading up to this time, the anticipation is always welcome and when I turn onto that long driveway and pass through the gate I can feel the tension beginning to ebb away and almost hear the naps and relaxation calling my name.

 

The retreat leader encourages all of us attending to let go of our expectations and agendas and to just enjoy the time.  Allowing God to lead us where we need to go while resting in his presence is freeing and takes the pressure off of finding the answer to whatever it is on my mind.

This ‘letting go’ has resulted in retreats where I did nothing but rest and other retreats have resulted in realizing things God was trying to tell me but which I couldn’t hear.  You know, because of how often I  allow myself to get caught up in the busyness of life. Either way, I’m enjoying the surrounding landscape beauty – both inside and outside.

My time at Montserrat has allowed me to experience thunderstorms rolling in across the lake as well as basking in the warmth of the sun while gently swinging in a hammock or a porch swing.  I’ve listened to the rain from a rocker on the covered lake-front porch and from an open window in my room as I lay resting while also being treated to an abundance of stunning sunrises in the quiet of a mesmerizing morning. I’ve sat in the dining room and spread notes and books out on the table in front of me while appreciating the view and writing in my journal. I’ve relished the many different varieties of birds as they’ve played, dive-bombed for fish, pecked at the ground and sang from the trees or birdhouses.  I’ve knelt in the chapel and prayed when it was so quiet the stillness was almost heavy. One of my favorites is sitting next to the fountain with the gentle trickle of water that is so soothing you can’t help but relax.  I’ve walked and prayed on the rosary path and sat in front of a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with his arms open. I’ve walked and/or run the driveway and circumference of the property countless times while marveling at the abundance of wildflowers and wildlife.  All of this leads to a reverence for the beauty of creation and appreciation of all that our Creator has given to us.

The retreat sessions or prayer conferences, as they are called, are enlightening and thought-provoking.  Each retreat leader brings a different personality and the ability to help us work through the Spiritual Exercises in a variety of ways.

So many opportunities to pray, reflect, read, write and be still.

It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Trust me, it is.

Full disclosure means I also have to share that this retreat is silent.  While I know that one element is a deal-breaker for most I would love it if more of us could find the time and, I don’t know…courage(?) to experience it.  In all fairness, too, silence doesn’t mean I don’t open my mouth for 3 days – there are opportunities to speak like offering the sign of peace during Mass or signing up to speak with one of the priests or spiritual directors.  I can also speak out loud at any time to God in my prayers – just not where I would be a distraction to those around me.

Montserrat has become an important part of my faith life.  I look forward to more wonderful, soul-refreshing experiences there.

If you would like more information about the facility or making a retreat here see their website Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House

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Sunrise Surprise

There are weeks when it feels like the world is a little too heavy and the news a little too sad.  Last week was like that. The one year anniversary of Guy’s death and reminders that it’s been 10 months since the loss of Maggie (10 years old) and 7 months since Fr. Tim died along with the news of 5 additional deaths – 3 unexpected, 1 expected, 1 suicide – these made my heart hurt in a big way.

Luckily, I had already planned a retreat which offered me focused time to lift up the repose of all these souls and pray for those left behind who are grieving each of these losses.

How I wish I could take their pain away.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough to pray and yet, my faith tells me it is a great starting point.

Prayer – it’s such a powerful tool and being able to spend time with the Lord – disconnected from the pull of a million things that each day brings – praying for those souls and their loved ones, those who are hurting, those who are sick, those who gave me specific intentions and those I love and just want to lift up was a gift.  A gift to myself, to make that connection with Christ and, I hope, a gift to those I prayed for.

This morning I got up to see the sunrise but my phone said it was ‘mostly cloudy’ so I thought there wouldn’t be much to enjoy.  I decided to go down to the lake anyway just to enjoy the quiet of an early morning.

To my surprise, there was color in the sky.  It was like a little hole was opened in the clouds and I was amazed at how pretty it was.

Then, just like that, the colors exploded and became more brilliant and the oranges and golds turned to pinks and purples.

It was a spectacular display of color and beauty.  I believe it was a gift from God saying – I hear your prayers and I’ve got them. (all those I prayed for by name)

A little bit later the clouds, the wind, and the gray settled in and took over the day.

Thank you, Lord, for your gift.

 

 

Takeaways from a Parish Mission

Our church – St. Jude – concluded a 3 evening Parish Mission on Tuesday night and it was a great way to begin Lent.

Fr. Ron Hoye is an amazing presenter and his joy and passion for life and our faith is contagious. His reminders of what our faith should look like were an inspiration to the packed church he spoke to each night.

A few reminders (in no particular order and not complete)

  1. To be a disciple of Christ I should serve God with joy AND enthusiasm
  2. God wants my heart and my hunger for him
  3. God wants me to be happy!
  4. You’ll never find in the Bible verses that say, “I came so you could barely get by”.
  5. Why did Jesus come? John 10:10 says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
  6. Is what I’m doing putting a smile of the face of Jesus?  Even if I’m not doing it ‘perfectly’?
  7. Gratitude – for 25 days take a moment to write down 3 things and tape them to my bathroom mirror. As the sticky notes increase, marvel at all for which there is to be thankful. (no repeats)
  8. Sunflowers follow the sun throughout the day – always turning towards the light.  Jesus is the sun – keep turning my face towards him.
  9. The longer meat marinates the more flavor it takes on.  It becomes more tender.  Spending more time with Jesus helps to soften me and make me more like Him.
  10. God Moment App – random reminders throughout the day to stop and say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

www.parishmissions.org – serious, funny, inspiring, thought-provoking Vincentian Priests spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all ages.

Mother Teresa

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

The Hope Amid the Darkness

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.                 Corrie Ten Boom

Holy Saturday.

Jesus has been crucified and buried.

His followers are bewildered and afraid.

Darkness prevailed.

Looking back over the past month I have struggled with my own bewilderment and darkness as I’ve attempted to come to grips with the death of the 16-year-old soccer teammate of my son, Ben.

It began on March 8th.

That morning I received a text from my other son, Patrick, “something’s happened at Jesuit”

Me, “what do you mean?  is the school on lockdown? Are there alarms going off? Are there emergency vehicles? Why do you think something has happened?” (It had only been three weeks since the school shootings had happened in Florida – I was feeling a little nervous.)

Son, “I’m not sure but they announced a freshman and sophomore meeting and changed the class schedule for the day.”

A moment later, “a sophomore died.  It was a car crash.  Guy Delaney, he played JV soccer.  Ben probably knows him.”

And, with that news, the day and the ones that followed went dark.

My heart was shattered for Guy, his family, his teammates, friends and, the staff at Jesuit who now had to help the students and each other navigate a second student death this school year.

My heart was also broken for Ben who was devastated and confused and had no idea how to handle the amount of grief he felt. I was overwhelmed, and surprised, by my own sorrow and the anguish I felt for Guy’s family.

Darkness settled in and I struggled through the ensuing days. I tried to choose joy when I woke in the morning and I tried to be thankful for the many blessings each day brings.  I tried.

But the darkness and grief were powerful.

I didn’t question God or why it happened.  I know free will dictated the choice made by the driver who caused the crash.  And, I believe strongly that, even as Jesus welcomed Guy into His kingdom, he also cried for the loss felt so strongly by so many.

My head knew these things but I couldn’t seem to convince my heart that everything was going to be okay.

As funerals often do, it began the process of closure for those outside his immediate family.  Guy’s parents invited the soccer players to honor him by wearing their jerseys, processing in and placing a white rose on his casket.  The service was filled to capacity and the tributes remembering Guy helped everyone laugh through the tears.

And, a sliver of light broke through.

Two weeks after his passing, and playing their first soccer game since the funeral, the JV soccer team was praying before things got underway.  It was a cloudy sky but as the team huddled together a ray of sunshine broke through and shone on the players.  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

(photo cred to Rob Kelton)

The grace of God and our faith tells us this was Guy.

The sliver of light became a bright sunbeam.

The hope amid the darkness.

As Ben and I continued to talk about Guy, and the hardness of losing someone, the days slowly became brighter.  One morning, Ben shared with me that Guy had come to him in a dream during the night.  In the dream, Guy told him he was okay, Ben was able to tell him goodbye and they hugged. Ben felt the hug and he felt the love.  “It was so real”, he said.

Guy is in the arms of Jesus.  And, in a few hours, we will commemorate Jesus’ victory over death.

Bad things happen but, God is good.  Today, he has wrapped his loving arms around Guy’s family and all those who love him and continue to struggle with their grief.

And, long ago, on that Holy Saturday when his followers were baffled and afraid God knew the bigger plan would triumph.

The light is coming.  Hope is on the horizon.  Jesus will rise.  His followers and those of us who believe understand that even amidst all the confusion, grief, and darkness God’s love will prevail.

Thanks be to God.

Guy’s own profound words, written in a memory book and shared by his father, Neil, at the funeral:

“Work hard, be patient, say your prayers and the rest will follow.”

warning:  Love wins.

I did another post right after Guy died when the team played their first game without him.  If you are interested you can read that blog here.

Painted Churches of Texas – Hostyn and Ammansville

Mention Texas and the first things that might come to mind are cowboys, horses, oil wells, Tex-Mex and barbecue. Or maybe it’s our love of all things football and our flare for doing things BIG.  While all of that is true it only describes a portion of who we are here in the Lone Star State.

The reality is Texas is very diverse culturally.  And, one of those cultures I recently experienced is the Czech heritage.  I was born in Dallas and have been back in Texas since 1979 and yet, I had no idea what a strong influence Czechoslovakian immigrants had on Central Texas.

First arriving in Texas in the mid-1800’s they built some of the most beautiful European influenced churches I have ever seen.  Who knew Texas contained such amazing dwellings for worship? Still in active use,today they are known as the Painted Churches of Texas.  My mom, having seen a piece on television about them, encouraged us to take a weekend trip and begin exploring.  A total of eight were in the area of Shulenburg which is off of I10 – smack in the middle between San Antonio and Houston.

We were overwhelmed by their beauty and the heritage which has been preserved so lovingly.  For this piece I bring you the first two churches we saw located in the towns of Hostyn and Ammansville

Our first stop was not actually one of the painted churches.  However, we were in the mood to explore and so we followed the signs to see what was what.

We were not disappointed.

The Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Hostyn had something going on and we did not step inside.  That was okay, though, because the outside was enough to make us say, “wow”.

The Lourdes Grotto was the largest.

Smaller grottos dotted the church property.

The cemeteries at each church were similar and different from a typical American style.

From there we went to St. John The Baptist in Ammansville.

As we pulled up we saw a sweet little country church.

The quaint white building gave no hint as to the beauty inside.

The detail was amazing and intricate.

The back of the church – containing the choir loft – was also pretty.

Wandering around this sweet and holy property we were in awe of the magnificence we were experiencing.  Knowing we were at the beginning of the tour we couldn’t wait to see what other beauties were out there.

Tomorrow – St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption in Praha, The Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in Moravia and St. John’s Catholic Church in St. John, Texas

 

 

 

 

 

WPC: Reflecting

It is wonderful to walk into the church when it is packed with parishioners ready to worship.  It is also amazing to visit when it is completely empty.

I took this picture of the crucifix reflecting  in the baptismal font with my iPhone.

It was just me and Jesus.  The peace was overwhelming and the beauty of the moment wondrous.

Easter Joy

**The Strife is O’er

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The strife is o’er the battle done; now is the Victor’s triumph won; Now be the song of praise begun: Alleluia!

Death’s mightiest pow’rs have done their worst, and Jesus has his foes dispersed; Let shouts of praise and triumph tell: Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell; the bars from heav’n’s high portals fell; Let hymns of praise his triumph tell: Alleluia!

On the third morn he rose again, glorious in majesty to reign; O let us swell the joyful strain: Alleluia!

Feeling discouraged on Friday our hope is given new life when he overcomes death and the temple is raised on Sunday.  We thought he was destroyed but he conquers and triumphs.  Hope prevails!!

All Glory and Honor and Praise be to our KING!

HE IS RISEN!

ALLELUIA!!

Psalm 30: 5-6, 12-13

Sing praise to the LORD, you faithful;
give thanks to his holy memory.

For his anger lasts but a moment;
his favor a lifetime.
At dusk weeping comes for the night;
but at dawn there is rejoicing.

You changed my mourning into dancing;
you took off my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness.c

So that my glory may praise you
and not be silent.
O LORD, my God,
forever will I give you thanks.

*The Strife is O’er – Text by Francis Pott. Tune : VICTORY

The Sacred In My Life

Jesus said to him,“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me  John 14:6

Groom, TX

My faith is more than just Sunday Mass.  It’s keeping sacred every single day the realization of how Jesus suffered and died for me.

Groom, Tx

Along with remembering and rejoicing in His triumphant victory over that death.

Groom, TX

These pictures were taken in the Panhandle of Texas in a town called Groom. The Stations of the Cross are depicted in life like bronze sculptures with a 190 foot tall cross which can be see from 20 miles away.

Forgiveness

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I found this picture on Facebook several years ago and, for me; it is one of those profound statements with an impact.  And, it’s been true several times in my life – when I finally found the courage to let go of something I may not have found immediate happiness, but I found a sense of peace.   And, with peace, happiness will follow.

Let me back up a little bit.

It’s been five years since my dad died.  He was an alcoholic, and this piece is about our relationship.

From time to time,  I have the opportunity to share my life story with groups of women.   Each time I’m asked to do it I pull up the written version to re-read it and make any updates that may be needed.   This, inevitably,  always leads to a bit of reflection on my part as I go over the events that have brought me to where I am today.  And, today, I am in a good place.  Healthy in both mind and body having long since left the wounded child behind.

One of the last times I shared my story I was asked a bunch of questions.  Questions about forgiveness and overcoming difficult situations.  The next day, while taking a walk, I continued to reflect on the conversations my story had sparked and, on life with dad.  When I returned home, I went to my mom and asked her if she thought it would be okay if I shared my story in a blog.   After all, I do want to share this, but I didn’t want to cause her any undue pain or make her uncomfortable so we chatted about it for a bit and she gave me her blessing.  Thanks, Mom.

Okay here goes – my dad was a Secret Service agent.  The reality of his job wasn’t as glamorous as portrayed by the media.  He worked long hours, traveled a lot and some months we hardly saw him at all.  Protecting President’s and Dignitaries and working serious counterfeiting cases was stressful and took a toll.  In 1979,  a particularly difficult Trans-Atlantic move combined with a demanding work schedule became too much for my father, and he was at a breaking point.   Let me note here that in 1979 programs had not been implemented to deal with the effects of job burnout and high levels of stress.  You were expected to man up and deal with it.   When my dad went to his boss and said he needed some time away from the job he was told exactly that – suck it up and get over it.  My father’s response?  Well, feeling trapped, needing a break and finding no support he abruptly resigned his position.

And with that, the career he loved so much was finished and a hellish life began. I was 16 years old, and up until then, I had had a pretty good childhood.

My dad always enjoyed his beer and wine and did his fair share of partying but after he left the Secret Service his drinking took on a whole new intensity.  I’m going to skip a lot of the details of living with an alcoholic.  Let’s just say life was not fun or happy at my house.  He was drunk most of the time, and in that drunkenness, he began to abuse my mom and us kids emotionally and verbally.

Each of us in my family handled it differently, and I cannot speak for anyone else but, for me, I turned to Ronald – my then boyfriend and eventually my husband.  I spent as much time as possible with him and away from my house.   As my home life deteriorated and my dad wasn’t able to find or hold onto a job the financial picture became grim.  My parents ultimately had their house foreclosed and ended up returning to the town where they both grew up.  This occurred just after Ronald and I married – at the tender age of 19.  After they had moved, I believed that, with my father in another city, and me married, that all my troubles were over and I would indeed live happily ever after from that point on.

I can almost laugh at how naïve I was.  I had no idea how much I had been affected and the work it would ultimately take to overcome.  I thought all the problems were with my dad and did not realize that living with him and his addiction had created a whole set of problems for me too.  It wasn’t long after they moved that my issues began to surface.  Again, I could give you all the sordid details about what I mess I was and all the mistakes I made, but I would rather get to the better bits.  Let’s just put it this way:  I had anger issues and felt like I could never get a grip on life.  I was happy one moment and despairing the next.  I wondered if I was crazy because I couldn’t control my emotions.  Eventually, I learned that much of what I went through was typical for a kid with an alcoholic parent.  But at the time I had no clue.  Overall I could have been the poster child for a troubled young adult.

I don’t want you to think that I was a complete raving lunatic all that time.  There were wonderful aspects to my life… two beautiful children, a beautiful house we built, good friends and a church I adored.  I don’t think outwardly I displayed too much of the confusion that I was experiencing.  I think most of my craziness happened behind closed doors and out of earshot of anyone but Ronald and maybe a few confidants.

Over the years I did a lot of counseling while trying to deal with this.  I would go for a while, hear blah blah blah and surprisingly (not) I continued to deteriorate.  I would stop my sessions but then would decide I needed to continue so I would find someone new and start again. Eventually, I found a therapist that was awesome and amazing and helped me to turn my life around.  It also happened around that same time that I began working with this great company.  They were pretty forward thinking and were constantly making us read positive books like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People,  do affirmation exercises and encouraged us to live our lives in gratitude and appreciation.  The timing of this was incredible and instrumental in helping me begin to turn my life around.

Don’t ever try to tell me that God’s timing isn’t perfect.

With these elements in place, and taking root in my life, I headed off one day to see my counselor.  During this appointment I began, yet again, whining about how my dad wasn’t who I wanted him to be and how he was wreaking havoc in my life when my counselor stopped me, looked at me and said….

“You have to let go of this fight.  Your dad is who he is.  You will NOT change him.  He is an alcoholic. You can either accept this and love him where he is at or you can leave this relationship and have nothing to do with him.”

Wow.  Was that ever a breakthrough moment.  The light bulb lit up, the proverbial slap on the forehead occurred, the big Aha…..well you get it.  Right then and there my life changed.  I guess maybe I was in a place that I was finally able to absorb those words – whatever the reason I finally got it into my head that I was who I was and he was who he was.  I wasn’t going to change him, and I wasn’t going to be able to make him stop drinking.  I could only change myself.  I made the decision to stop fighting the fight of trying to make my dad be who I wanted – and thought – he should be.  I took a huge breath and at that moment began healing myself.

Was it easy? No.  Did I find success overnight?  No.  Did I do it perfectly? I wish!  It was a process where you take two steps forward and one step back.  Sometimes it was one step forward and two steps back!  And as much as I would like to say that things were rosy and happy between my dad and me from that moment on anybody who has experienced ‘real’ life knows that isn’t realistic.  But on the other hand, it wasn’t all bad either.  I have some very sweet memories of my father mixed in with the tough ones.  As I healed and found more success in letting his words and actions bounce off me, I was able to find more objectivity in my dealings with him.

How did I do it?  First and foremost through my faith.  God is so amazing and when I stopped trying to mold my dad into what I wanted I also turned my attention more fully back to Him.  The grace He will flood you with is astounding when you finally say – and mean – I cannot do this on my own – I need You.  In letting go of my need to control I was able to open my heart more fully to Christ and by doing that I was able to take a step back and see the bigger picture more clearly and deal with our relationship more effectively.  I’m not kidding.

Most days this is my mantra – Philippians 4:13 – I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.  And on those days I forget to repeat my mantra – I tend to struggle more.

I also made the effort to start turning my negative thoughts into positives one.  Living a life that is thankful and appreciative does make a difference.  It is remarkable the change that occurs when you stop focusing on the pessimistic and celebrate the good things happening in your life.

The last thing I did was continue in therapy.  I buckled down and dealt with the issues that had plagued me for years.  I learned how my dad’s alcoholism had adversely affected me and I wanted to overcome that and put it behind me.  It would have been very easy to stay in that negative world and blame him for all that was wrong in my life.  But that is dangerous.   Once I learned the impact that alcoholism had on me, then it became my responsibility to overcome those negatives and find my happiness.  Yes, it is true that I had a rough start, but ultimately my peace of mind and joy is up to me.

What else contributes to peace of mind?  Forgiveness. Which is not forgetting.  Forgiving my dad for his shortcomings never, for even one moment, meant that I was okay with his drinking and the way he treated us.  I think Matthew West said it beautifully in his song appropriately titled “Forgiveness”:

There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Yep – it’s true.  In giving up the need to control and finding a way to forgive my dad the one who was set free was me.

Am I a happier person overall since I began the healing journey? Without a doubt. Do I, at times, still struggle with a short fuse and say or do things that I wish I could take back?  Oh for sure.  Do I have moments where I slide back into the needy, whiny 20-year-old and wish the world would just do what I want it to do?  Probably more often than I realize.  But here’s the thing….. I have the skills now to overcome the negatives and the desire to live a happy life with Christ at the very center of it.  With God, the most amazing thing is that I can start every day new and fresh.  A lot of times I have forgotten that – sometimes for days or weeks at a time – but once I manage to get myself re-focused I find that starting point and begin again.

My dad did stop drinking eventually, but our relationship remained tricky.  We butted heads until the end.   The years of drinking took a toll on my dad’s health, and he suffered from many different ailments.  Before he died, he needed to be on dialysis three times per week.  This is hard on a body, and he was tired of the toll it took and decided that he wanted to discontinue his treatments.  He sent my mom and us kids an email one morning outlining his decision.  I was at home at the time and took a few moments to sit and reflect on this.  I knew without the dialysis he could not live long and felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to walk over and see him. (I know I said earlier that they moved back to their hometown but they ended up moving back this way to be closer to their grandchildren.) I asked if he was sure this is what he wanted to do.  He told me it was.  So I told him that I would support his decision and support whatever he needed to make his remaining time as comfortable as possible.  I also took the opportunity to tell him that although he and I had a very difficult relationship, I considered my young childhood to be one of the best.  I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me, and we hugged.  I was glad for the opportunity to share that moment with just the two of us as the coming weeks were constantly filled with people.   He died 16 days later, peacefully at home.  I am very aware of the gift I received –  knowing my father was dying, God, in all of his graciousness helped me to put aside my hard feelings to make sure his last days were tranquil and not filled with discourse.  I am so humbled by God’s love and the grace that He gave me not only to be able to give this gift to my dad but also to be on the receiving end of it.  In the end, I have no regrets about how things were between us when he passed from this world. That in itself brings me a great measure of peace.

I don’t think I would be where I am today if those words about letting go hadn’t been spoken to me so many years ago.  It IS a happy moment when you can find the courage to stop trying to change what you cannot control.  And like I said earlier – the peace to be found in forgiveness is unparalleled.  And never would I forget to give credit to God for working on my heart all these many years and, in the end,  giving me the courage to put aside my feelings.

1 Peter 4:8  Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Christ Mirrored

At Mass the community atmosphere is warm and welcoming and it’s always good to see the House of God filled with people.

But, every once in a while I get the opportunity to walk into the sanctuary when no one else is around.  The feeling I get at that moment is indescribable.  Surrounded by beauty that is both simple and refined I am often overwhelmed by the gift of Jesus in my life.  And, I am thankful for the quiet moment to enjoy His presence.

Taken on my IPhone  I didn’t even realize the mirror of Christ was part of the baptismal font.  I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered ‘my’ clever skills.

St. Jude