Sunday, February 19, 2017

The end...finally

Wow, this recounting has taken longer than the actual trip! Promise, this is the last post.

We headed out of Florida early and straight North toward our evening lodging. We were all pretty exhausted so, when we got to Montgomery, home of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, and little man was out cold, I couldn't wake him. Not because Civil Rights are unimportant but because he is a misery when forced awake and too heavy to carry any distance. Just to say we were there, we stopped by Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA affiliate of the the Tampa Bay Rays).
I jumped out of the car to snap this...two kids were sleeping by then. The little guy on the left is the "Biscuit" - so cute.
From there north to Birmingham there is a lot of not much. Unless, of course, you count the slowly blowing white stuff in the air and gathered on the side of the road. No, not snow...COTTON! Yes, there were cotton fields everywhere and, yes, I made DH jump out of the car and retrieve a piece or two for a souvenir (lest you think we were the only ones, there were two women who stopped further down the road and went into the field to actually pick a plant...perhaps the ones at Magnolia were too pricey ;0))
Cotton fields

Giant bales of cotton
Finally, we reached our nest for the night...the Saint Michael Guest House just beyond the grounds of The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

I suggested the guest house to DH before our trip...fairly inexpensive and excellent proximity to the Shrine. He called (they don't do online booking...they like to get to know the people renting the rooms). He had a wonderful conversation with the woman who regretted that the "house" part was unavailable but would we be interested in the room downstairs? It had 3 beds and a couch and would fit all of us nicely. I was skeptical that, at the end of our long journey, we would really all want to be in the equivalent of someone's basement for the night. Then he told me it's referred to as "St. Bernadette's room". Ahem. Well, of course it would be the perfect ending to an amazing family trip.

It turned out to be just that, actually, because it allowed the Holy Spirit to enter even more deeply into our journey. We knew, logistically, we wouldn't be able to make it to the Nuns' Mass at 7 AM and waiting until the 10 AM would be too late. So, we opted for Vigil Mass, two towns over.

Cullman, Alabama. I'm not sure what it is about this place. Maybe it reminds me of the place where I grew up...
Well, the street is similar but the church was nowhere near that big!
Perhaps it was the fact that we had one of the most incredible Masses of the entire Year of Divine Mercy at the town church, Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pastor read directly from St. Faustina's Diary during the homily and instructed us on Mercy and how it works with the teaching of the Catholic Church. A traditional, incense-filled, reverent Mass, complete with gloved altar servers and Communion patens! (swoon)
Terrible picture, beautiful church
Then, everyone in the church (maybe 100 people?) all waited in line to greet the priest outside the church. I heard him ask for updates on sick loved ones and ask where missing members of the family might be instead of Mass. This is the beauty of the small-town parish. The priest is respected as a leader...he spends most of his time shepherding the sheep. The worries of finances and schools and buildings are still there but they are not overwhelming; the people of the parish make everything run. It was nice, even for a while, to go back to that time.

Then it was our turn. Of course the pastor recognized we were not "from here" and when we told him our story, he told us his. He retired as a Colonel in the United States Army and then began to study for the priesthood, ultimately Ordained in 2009. He is a Benedictine and studied at the Monastery of St. Vincent to the school where we spend 20 Fridays a year. I love, love, love when the Holy Spirit makes the connections. It gives me that deep unspeakable joy (and it is a fantastic lesson for the little people!)

He gave us a wonderful blessing for travel and we headed two streets over to a wonderful Italian restaurant to fill our bellies as we discussed the end of the Year of Mercy. The night "bunking together" was better than I had expected and we rose to greet the day.

Of course we couldn't just skip out on the last official day so, dressed in our Sunday best, and headed up the road to close out the Jubilee Year with Adoration at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament 😍⛪.

I love this place and it scares me...but I'm working through it. This is the side where the regular people sit...can I brag a minute and say, when we were there Adoring in the 3rd pew, none other than
Fr. Joseph Mary!!!
was sitting in the front pew! Fr. Joseph Mary leads the rosary we watch on EWTN and, for our Catholic nerdy kids, it was difficult to keep them composed. He is, after all, a television star to us. I know we're weird. It makes my heart happy.

Anyway, we sit on this side and behind the opaque windows is where the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration pray and sing sometimes (it is like being in Heaven). They are a cloistered order and when you are in the Shrine, you can walk past the enclosure. This is like my fear-of-heights-college-psych-prof putting her head out of a 100th story window. I guess, in my way, it's desensitization. I know there is some chance that God will call one of my girls to serve Him within a cloister and I need to be ready with my unequivocal "yes!". Every time I walk by that door, a slight amount of the panic goes away but I'm definitely still a work in progress!

The next morning we headed through Louisville and then home to reflect on our amazing journey! How blessed we were by the opportunity to share the people, places and God-sent lessons with one another during this trip. I am so very grateful.

We are blessed.

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