Lead On

Bonnie Shaw provides our December reflection and shares how three special friends have drawn her closer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Bonnie Shaw is wife to Chris, mother of four perpetually hungry offspring, and in continual anticipation of summer and hot weather. An educator by degree and lifelong learner by habit, she consumes stacks of books, inhabiting both her imagination and contemplation as she seeks connection with truth, ideas, and the laughter of friends traveling the same road. In relentless pursuit of more perfectly trusting in the Lord’s divine mercy, she is so very thankful for His grace and the peace and shelter of His presence as well as the example of others who love Him.

The season of Advent is certainly a time for following and a time for leading. The Magi followed a star and found a newborn king. Shepherds led the worship of the tiny babe, according to scripture. Who might lead us closer to Our Lord? Whose posts or social media accounts might we follow trying to make our efforts this season just right?

I have found that I am perfectly placed in the midst of those who can best lead me to a closer relationship with the Lord. Each personality reflects a degree of perfection of the Creator, after all He formed humankind in His likeness, and each one bears the mark of this Maker. Each reflects His gifts in a unique way and reflects them back to me with a growth-mindset invitation.

Along my journey, three special friends, with whom I share a unique relationship, have drawn me closer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For several years I taught an English Language Learning class which encompassed family literacy, parenting classes, childcare and more to adults from around the world. These men and women were my students, but they were also my peers. We were all transplants to the winter world of Minnesota and parents of similarly aged children within the public school district.

When my husband accepted a job in Arkansas, my heart was saddened to leave my classroom of eager learners, their families, and my community behind. Unbeknownst to me, several classes of my students planned a surprise party for my farewell. A cacophony of laughter and English greeted my ears as I returned to my classroom after being called to the office: SURPRISE!

Aromas and flavors spoke heady volumes of love, handwritten farewells spoke of our journey and treasured gifts were offered. They adorn my home in various rooms and remind me of my dear students and their growing families, embarking on new adventures even as my own does in yet another state. I hear from some of them from time to time via international phone calls, e-mail, Skype and social media. Each interaction is a glorious reunion, and my heart rejoices when they reach out for connection.

One student gifted me a beautiful glass votive candleholder painted with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I unpacked it for a second move and set it upon my dresser, when I noticed for the first time a prayer that had been written for me, carefully typed and affixed to the back of the image. Another gift from another time, yet it continues to encourage me daily as it sits there still. My dear student had made the introduction.

Image credit: Bonnie Shaw

Living in Iowa, I had the chance to attend the Christ Our Life event in 2012 where I was transfixed by Fr. Michael Gaitley sharing about St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary and his publication of said volume. My mom and I bought his book, and it has firmly become my favorite bedtime devotion.

Soon after, my mother ordered me a beautiful canvas image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She purchased it from the National Shrine of Divine Mercy which we would later realize was where Fr. Gaitley served. Besides my votive candleholder, I did not possess this image. Our Lady of Guadalupe was a lesser known image to me, and yet perhaps she is familiar to many. After all, she is the Patroness of the Diocese of Des Moines. The longer I live here, the more I learn.

I undertook the 33 days of preparation to consecrate myself to Jesus in this manner the following year. I started the plan to finish in mid-December, reading and praying in a special way that Advent.

It was a special blessing that my mother and I made our consecration on the same feast day, December 12! While she was living in Texas at the time, I attended a beautiful Feast Day mass, procession, and reenactment at Sacred Heart Parish in West Des Moines. There were traditional dancers and a line for tamales and ponche that rivaled any I have ever seen. I even tasted my first pineapple tamale- it was exquisite!

It was a sacred evening and holy meeting for me, one I felt had somehow been arranged by my mother and father. You see, as Spanish songs were sung at mass, I was transported back in time.

As a child in Oklahoma, my father felt it was very important that my sister and I learn Spanish, as that is part of our heritage. Though my father wasn’t Catholic at the time, he had heard of a Spanish choir at a local Catholic church, albeit not the one my family attended. While my sister and I were part of the music ministry at our church, he committed the three of us to be a part of the Spanish adult choir as well. Yes, he joined too!

For 2 years we sang in Spanish weekly and at some masses around the Diocese of Tulsa with our dad. My sister and I hadn’t learned much Spanish yet, but we could sing many songs in the language. “La Guadalupana” was one of my very favorites.

At mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Sacred Heart, I could sing that song. I knew it, and this time I knew the meaning of the words that were coming out of my mouth. Since those long ago days singing with the adult Spanish choir, I had acquired a minor in Spanish and become a Spanish teacher, an on-call interpreter at Mayo Clinic among other places, and had used my language skills to help others navigate English. My parents had orchestrated my divine appointment!

Fast forward to this past year and a deadline to select blog post topics for The Well. I had been praying about the decision, and I sensed I should write about Our Lady of Guadalupe. My decision made, a dear friend stopped by, confirming my choice. She told me she had a belated gift for me, apologizing for having had it since her trip back home. The gift? A beautiful close-up image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from the Shrine in Mexico, her home country! All three of these women: my fellow student-parent, my mother (and my father), and my friend in Iowa walked with me gently as they invited me to meet a new friend, the mother of Our Lord, the Patroness of the Americas, the Patroness of our Diocese of Des Moines.

Just as we are made in His image, this woman’s ‘Yes,’ her fiat, allowed each of us to behold the image of her son. He was formed in her likeness also, a woman of earth. As we may have had the opportunity to intimately know those with whom we have shared a womb: both our mothers and perhaps, our children, she invites us to more intimately know her son. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe covers His existence with her heavenly mantle; it is commonly known that this image reveals an expectant woman, a pregnant form as indicated by the black Aztec maternity belt.

The rays of the sun seem to surround her, as she stands in front of it, spoke an important message to the native peoples of Mexico. My eye also sees a radiant crown as Our Lady was also a Queen, but to them an Aztec Princess as indicated by the royal color of her robe. A great deal of symbolism is included in this pictograph, indelibly marked upon the cactus fiber tilma of Juan Diego of Tepeyac Hill. Look closer, and you too will find more to know about this woman and her son!

Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe! I’ll be dreaming of Pineapple Tamales, my students from long ago and far away, and singing in Spanish with my father; and I have no doubt that while praying at mass, I will give thanks for those who have led me here!

Copyright 2018 Bonnie Shaw