The Army of Love

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My Pilgrimage to Fátima

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to go on a Pilgrimage trip to Fátima in Portugal. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima is one of the world’s largest Catholic pilgrimage sites, attracting between 4 and 5 million visitors every year. Between 13th May and 13th October in 1917, three shepherd children witnessed six apparitions of the Virgin Mary, she gave various messages and predictions about the future. During the last of these apparitions, around 50,000 people witnessed the sun moving around in the sky in a way, which defied the laws of cosmology.

For a while now I have felt a very special bond with Mary. My love grew for her after visiting Lourdes last September. I now lean on her on a daily basis, her strong faith and humility are something we can all learn from. So, as you can imagine I was really looking forward to spending 4 days in this special place.

We set off from Gibraltar on Friday 10th May at 1am. It was great to see some familiar faces from the last pilgrimage trip that we went on to Lourdes. I was excited and could not wait to arrive. However, we had a long journey ahead of us via coach, which was going to take approximately 12 hours. I was dreading sitting down for so long but with a few stops and a little sleep, all in all it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

When we finally arrived, my first impression was “Wow what a massive empty space!” With the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary on one side of the square and across from there the Basilica of the Holy Trinity. In between a huge empty space. I could in no way have imagined how this was going to look in a couple of days time – full of thousands of people.†

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That afternoon we picked out some flowers in preparation for the next day to lay by Mary during the Stations of the Cross. We also went down to the Sanctuary to light some candles. Luckily we did this early on during our visit as when we saw the queues for the candles a few days later they were unbelievable.

The next morning we were up bright and early to go and do the Stations of the Cross. I have done the Stations quite a few times now, however, I have never lived it like I did here in Fátima. The setting was perfect, a path going up surrounded by beautiful trees, plenty of greens and the birds singing in the background. Although we were in the group, I found myself wanting to be alone during this walk. I felt like I was going to walk a mile in Jesus’ shoes and all I could think about was the pain that Mary had gone through watching her son go through it all, her baby boy.

During one of the stations I was asked if I wanted to hold the cross, without hesitation I said yes. When the cross was handed over to me I first noticed how heavy it actually was and it was only a tiny one compared to the cross that Jesus would have carried. So many things came to my mind during those few minutes. I felt like Jesus was asking me directly… who do you want to be? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? He was looking at me and asking me “do you want to help me carry the Cross?” I answered him and said that I wanted to help him.

I could feel myself getting closer to him as my arms started to ache and shake from the weight of the physical cross I was carrying. I knew that he wasn’t ever going to give me more than I could handle and I fully trusted him. We were helping each other carry the cross and it was beautiful. During the rest of the stations I prayed and reflected on the suffering and challenges that both Jesus and Mary endured. I felt connected to them in a way I never have done before, it was very emotional. When we got to the end I felt a sense of relief, a sense of peace. Some of the doubts I had had in my mind before had been cleared up. A bit like I had been part of a spring cleaning session!

Emotionally exhausted from The Stations of the Cross we now had a few hours to spend in Aljustrel; a small village where the children were from. We took a stroll, saw some of the local shops had a nice cool drink and headed back to the hotel for lunch. The rest of the afternoon we had some free time. We went up to the room and had a little siesta before heading back out in the evening to pray the Rosary down at the Sanctuary. It was lovely praying the Rosary with so many people (turns out this was still a quiet night compared to what was coming) lighting the candles and singing to Our Holy Mother.

Sunday morning we were up and out, straight to mass to get a good spot. I’m going to give a bit of background information here…. On this trip I had an absolute stinking cold. I had been to the doctors before leaving and had a bad chest infection, was on antibiotics and also had an inhaler to help. On the Saturday night I had a massive coughing fit to the point that our hotel next door neighbours heard me cough my guts up. The next morning that lovely lady whom I like to call my Tita insisted that I put Vicks on my feet right away to help with this horrid cough. So like a good girl, I did! When we got to the mass early on the Sunday morning I didn’t think of the consequences of having Vicks on my feet, whilst wearing my socks and trainers in the 30 degree heat! Needless to say I was a little distracted during the mass due to the burning flames on my feet. I still laugh now thinking about it! Despite all of this it was still a beautiful mass.

That evening was the big procession. We headed down to the Sanctuary in time to pray the rosary beforehand. It turned out that we got there far too late and we were really far back in a position that we could barely see anything. Even so, we were happy to all be sitting together and it was a lovely rosary with thousands and thousands of people. I was a little worried of all the open flames, and rightly so as I accidentally put my candle out with my hair! Another great giggly moment during our trip. The smell of burning hair still scares me! 

Once the procession started, we all stood up to try and get a better view. I was called over to get up on a stool to see if I could get a better view. You know those moments in life where it feels like someone has hit the slow motion button? Well this was one of those moments. When I positioned my feet safely and raised my head that was when someone hit that button. For seconds everything went quiet and all stood still. I didn’t expect to see so many people. I was genuinely stunned. To see thousands and thousands of candles being held up whilst singing to Our Mother was more than breathtaking. I managed to stay up there for a few seconds more and had to get back down because my legs were shaking! An unforgettable night in Fátima.

You might be thinking, why is this post called “The Army of Love”? Well the next day was our final full day in Fátima. That morning was the big 13th May mass to celebrate the occasion of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. We got there nice and early and set up with our stools and umbrellas for sunshade! We were in for a very long hot morning down at the sanctuary but I was really looking forward to this beautiful mass. We were there for about 4 hours in total, which actually felt like half an hour. The time just flew by. One of my favourite moments was watching the procession of the flags go by. Hundreds and hundreds of flags from all around the world all in unity is was lovely to see. 

During the mass itself, I had a very special moment that I will never forget. The choir was in full force, I put my head down and closed my eyes. All I could hear were the angels singing in the distance…. I lifted my head and I was all alone. I was sat in the same spot but there was no-one around me. The bright sun was shining on the empty sanctuary making everything look so wonderfully bright. I looked into the distance to the alter and there they were. Jesus standing right in the middle with his arms wide open, Mary on the right and Our Father standing behind them both looking onto them. I looked at them and they looked at me. My heart was bursting with intense love.

Shortly afterwards, it was time for holy communion and that’s where “The Army of Love” comes into place. There were hundreds of priests and Eucharistic ministers spreading out to give out communion. Watching them march into their locations made me think how they were serving God and spreading God’s Love. They looked like an army as the all headed back to the alter. And that’s when the phrase “The Army of Love” came to me. As the mass concluded I was in awe at how beautiful it all was. It made me reflect on my life and think about the challenges of being a Christian in the world we live in today. 

This pilgrimage to Fátima has made me realise that Mary is the perfect disciple, the role model for each and every one of us. She is the ultimate example of letting go and letting God’s will take over. I have nothing but admiration, respect, and overwhelming love for Our Holy Mother. I can wholeheartedly say I have fallen in love with Fátima. It was everything I expected and so much more and I look forward to returning in the future.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite photos from the trip. This was taken on the final morning before leaving. We headed down to the Sanctuary straight after breakfast, manage to go to confession and then say goodbye to La Mama. As we were walking across the square this was the image we were left with…..

Counseling for the Soul; The Adoration Chapel

Over the past 18 months I have seen Cardiologists, Neurologists, Rheumatologists, Urologists and the list goes on. They still haven’t figured out what is going on inside this body of mine. They agree that something is definitely going on, but at this moment in time it hasn’t been pin pointed. It’s frustrating to say the least and I’m getting to a point now that it’s affecting my mental health. I’m absolutely rubbish at opening up and talking about my feelings. Even to those who are close to me, I shut down and close myself off. People ask me how I am and my answer is usually “yeah I’m ok” or “yeah I’m feeling better thanks” – I’m nearly always lying. I know it’s not healthy and it’s definitely something I need to work on. Starting from now!

Today I went to see my favourite doctor. The doctor of my soul – Jesus himself. Every Thursday from 4-5pm I go to the Adoration Chapel and spend a beautiful hour with him. I went in today after having a slight breakdown yesterday, I didn’t know how the hour was going to go as to be quite honest I was an emotional mess. I knelt before him and asked him what I always do when I first arrive. “Jesus, please let me feel your love”. It was like an instant hit… he plugged his heart straight into mine. For that hour he took all my pain away. I usually wouldn’t be able to kneel down for longer than 5 minutes as it hurts my hips, knees and back but today I couldn’t not kneel. It felt like he was hugging me from behind and holding me close. I was wrapped up in his love.

He is the one who told me to write this post and even gave me the title. I guess writing my feelings down gets it off my chest and ultimately makes me feel better. Another thing which soothes my soul is drawing. It helps me completely disconnect from the world and forget everything. Unfortunately, sometimes I physically can’t draw because of the pain in my hands or the tremors I get some days. That’s why when I can and I’m feeling inspired, I draw. Here’s a drawing I wanted to share that I did a few weeks ago. It’s still a working progress but it’s an image that kept coming to me when I was at the Adoration Chapel. He’s currently stuck up on my dining room wall. I think that’s where I’m going to keep him because when things get a bit too much for me I go over to him touch his face, place my hand on his heart, say a little prayer and carry on with my day.

Jesus understands the human soul better than anyone – He is Our Wonderful Counselor and I know that he is going to help me get through this.

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My Jesus Today

Today I finally realised that it was time to write about being sick and trusting in God. It’s been on my mind for a while but hadn’t found the right moment to put it into words. Until this morning, after being admitted into hospital yesterday and spending a very long painful night alone. Well obviously I wasn’t alone alone as our Amigo was certainly watching over me but you know what I mean.

I’ve been a bit poorly on and off since October 2017. I’ve had periods of being fine, awful, okish and more recently I’ve been a lot better. In between that time I was also knocked off my moped by a car (luckily the bike and I were fine!).

During these testing times I could go in two directions:

1. Why God? Why me? Why now?
2. Thank you God so much for helping me!

I’ve found myself going in both directions. At first I found it really difficult and it was a lot easier to be angry with God than to praise and thank him. I was in pain, unhappy and felt very alone. And I really did ask him.. Why me? Why now? Please give me a break! I really struggled to believe that he had my back.

Then I started to take a different approach (this was around the time I was knocked off my bike). I could have easily been run over by a car in that accident. It was on a road that always has oncoming traffic and I was thrown off my bike and landed head first on the other side of that road. I came out with lots of bruises and a sore body for a couple of days. This was a miracle, my guardian angel must have caught me. I instantly felt closer to God since this accident and thanked him a lot for it.

Moving onto yesterday, I was admitted into hospital in the morning. I have a suspected gallbladder infection. It is the most pain I have ever felt in my life, to the point that I’d rather give birth again! So last night whilst I was trying to get comfy on these horrid hospital beds I started thinking about how much I had experienced Jesus during the course of the day. Here’s the run down:

He was there at 7:30am in the form of my parents coming to look after my children whilst my husband and I headed to the hospital.

He was there all day in the form of my loving, caring husband who was constantly fussing over me all day to make sure I was OK.

He was there in the form of my best friend who came to visit me the day before with a Mocha and a cuddle, again the next morning to see how I was and again in the afternoon to bring me soup.

He was there in the form of the caring nurses who were constantly keeping an eye on me and trying to make me feel better.

He was there in the form of the lovely Surgeon who came and sat next to me on the bed, held my hand and said don’t worry we’ll make you feel better.

He was there in the form of my mother-in-law who came to visit and brushed my hair for me.

He was there in the form of all the friends and family who have called or sent me messages over the last couple of days.

He was there. He is always there. We just need to open the eyes of our heart and see him. He is everywhere and one of my favourite things at the moment is experiencing those special moments, smiling and thinking – that’s him all over!

Some of my friends have recently asked me how I’m so laid back about everything whilst going through this rough health patch. And although I have had a few bad days where I most definitely have not been positive, as a general I’ve been OK about it all and that’s because I stand strong in my faith. I know that my God has got my back! We aren’t promised a life without struggles, we are promised a life with God… and this is definitely what I have and what I will never let go of.

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This was the view from my bed this morning. It might just look like three chairs. To me it looked like three chairs that The Father, Son and Holy Spirit sat in last night to watch over me.

Another Angel

Yesterday our beloved Tita Victoria passed away. She had been poorly for a long time now and had been suffering but at the same time she still had a lot of life left in her.

Today at her funeral, you could see how much love everyone had for her. The youngest sibling out of 9, needless to say there was a lot of family there. The mass was really emotional but at the same time beautiful. At the end, the priest asked us all to pray for her to make her way into the Kingdom of Heaven to be with our Father and live forever in peace.

So I knew that today at adoration this was one of the things I was going to talk to you about.

A wonderful and very clear image came to me of you embracing her and then my abuela holding her younger sister so tightly. Everyone was so happy. No-one was sick or sad. The image was so clear I’d say it was like a vivid dream.

Thank you for sharing that little glimpse of heaven to me.

On the drive home I had this song stuck in my head….

There will be another angel
Around the throne tonight
Your love lives on inside of me,
And I will hold on tight
It’s not my place to question,
Only God knows why
I’m just jealous of the angels
Around the throne tonight
Singin’ hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
I’m just jealous of the angels
Around the throne tonight

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The Day I Realised You Were Truly There

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Today has been a day of realisation. What started off as a good day, which are few and far beyond at the moment, quickly turned into a bad day – you know the type, the dark ones.

I’ve realised that as much as I don’t want it to be real, my body is changing. A few good days made me think that maybe it had all gone away, that maybe it was just a ‘bad patch’, a bad dream and I was hoping and praying to you that this was true. The fact is, it isn’t true. Those good days have made me remember what it was like to not feel pain, to not feel fear and the horrid uncertainty that lies around all of this.

It certainly came down hard on me and it made me feel so angry. Angry with my body – for not doing as it should do. Angry with you – for making me go through this. I feel like I’m mourning my old self and at the same time need to learn how to be this new person. I don’t like this new person, she’s weak and vulnerable. I need to be stronger, to be able to look after my family without fear that something will happen to me.
All these feelings had been building up throughout the day and I knew the second I sat down at the chapel I was going to lay it all on you. And that’s exactly what I did. I couldn’t hold back the tears, the blame, the guilt, the sadness and desperation.

And what did you do? The moment I thought that I couldn’t do this anymore. That it wasn’t helping me sitting there crying to you and that I should just head home; You literally came to me and held me. I felt paralysed in your presence. I couldn’t move, all I could think of was that you were there with me and that I couldn’t leave just yet, we had unfinished business. I still had anger in my heart which I had to let go. Feeling you there with me I knew straight away that I wasn’t alone on this journey, that you are suffering with me, that you are carrying me when I feel like I can’t go on and that you will give me all the strength I need to get through this.

Today I realised that you were truly there. Thank you for giving me the extra help I needed to see the light when I was lost in the darkness.

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

8/3/2018