When God gave my daughter a cathedral full of light

My mom and I took my daughters to San Antonio this past weekend. My recent New York trip happened to fall during one of my daughters’ birthdays, so to make it up to her I arranged for a special out-of-town trip to the San Antonio zoo with her three sisters.

Since we hadn’t been able to do a big celebrating on her actual birthday, it was important to me that everything go well. A few weeks before the trip, I spent hours planning the Perfect Birthday Weekend Experience to make sure that this trip would be exactly the experience our family needed.

zoo-trip-aquarium

The zoo trip was great. But when we arrived at the hotel, our room wasn’t ready.

When you have just walked four children ages 3, 6, 7, and 8 around a zoo for five hours, this is not what you want to hear.

Not only were the girls overtired and my mom and I in desperate need of a rest, but I had spent a long time picking our room. I had looked at all the hotel’s options and splurged on the only one that would meet our Perfect Birthday Weekend Experience needs.

When they told me the room wouldn’t be ready any time soon, it didn’t occur to me that this could be anything but a disaster. When they offered me another room and listed its benefits, I hardly heard them. Traveling with kids and planning special occasions is overwhelming to me, and the only way I can ever see my way through is to try to control everything to ensure that everyone has the perfect experience. To my mind, the loss of my plans for the hotel room meant the loss of any potential for a good evening.

As I stared at the hotel manager in silent despair, I remembered that I am trying to trust God more this Lent. I have not followed through with a lot of my grand plans for this season, but I have been trying to see the hand of God in each situation, to remember that I am in a living relationship with Someone who is truly with me in each moment.

Given my background of lifelong atheism, it’s easy for me to fall into lukewarm theism, where I see God as a concept rather than a person. When I get lax in my spiritual life, that’s the direction in which my mentality drifts: I believe all the ideas of my religion, but I perceive that the day-to-day business of life is entirely up to me.

There in the checkin line at the hotel I remembered my Lenten commitment, and I forced myself to at least pretend like I believe that Jesus is a real person whom I can lean on, even though I was fatigued and very fixated on the loss of my perfect plans.

“That’s fine. We’ll take the other room, ” I said to the hotel manager.

And then I forced myself to put the situation in God’s hands. Maybe he had a better plan. Maybe it was all a mistake but he could bring good out of it. Maybe — just maybe — something about my vision for the hotel room wasn’t perfect after all.

We stepped into the new room, and the girls screamed with glee as they skipped down the hallway. It was an expansive one-bedroom corner suite, complete with a jacuzzi and a cozy living room.

zoo-cathedral-day

I stepped out on the balcony, which itself was about half the size of a normal hotel room, and I gasped. This room was 10 floors higher and in a different part of the building than our first room, and the view was magnificent. And right outside our window, across the street 15 floors below, was a cathedral. The positioning of the balcony was so perfect, it was as if this hotel room were designed to offer the perfect view of this church.

We left for dinner, and while we were out I asked around and discovered that the church is the San Fernando Cathedral. Opened in 1750, it’s the oldest continually operated parish in Texas, and one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States. I had desperately wanted to see this famous church while we were in town, but I didn’t think I’d have time.

When we arrived back at the hotel, I stepped out onto the balcony to behold this masterpiece of the Church. By now it was dark, and I was caught off guard when I saw a jumble of colored lights where the cathedral should be.

zoo-trip-cathedral

Once my eyes adjusted, I saw that there was an elaborate light show playing out across the cathedral facade. I called to the girls and my mom, and they each stopped in their tracks once they saw it. Vivid colors leapt across the face of the cathedral, sliding together to line up perfectly with the curves of the architecture, then melting away to display the faces of a priest or a saint.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, ” one of my daughters said.

“It’s like they’re putting on the show just for us, ” the birthday girl whispered.

We huddled together to stay warm against the Spring breeze, and as I watched our personal viewing of the cathedral light show play out below, I thought of what we would have missed if I had insisted that everything go according to my plans.

And then I thanked God for giving us exactly the experience we needed.

Comments

  1. says

    “A lukewarm theism, where I see God as a concept rather than a person.” –I am a lifelong Catholic, but that is my temptation too. In fact I have been meditating on this all Lent, avoiding the temptation to abstract or put Him in the 3rd person. To learn to say “You” (to Him) instead of (about) “Him.” (Awkwardly worded but hopefully you get it! :-))

  2. Anne says

    Reminds me of the movie “Room With a View” in which a change of room becomes a pleasant surprise…….

  3. says

    This is the cathedral that my husband and I visited on our honeymoon. It looked deserted on the outside on a Sunday afternoon but inside it was chock full of people and children and they were having an Epiphany play. Satan was one of the major players, as was Jesus, Mary expecting and then holding a newborn, and of course, Joseph. Satan’s best line was “I’ll be back!” This cathedral will always hold very very special memories for my husband and me!

  4. says

    Oh my, this is so me this Lent. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago on a trip to Nashville with my husband. It certainly wasn’t the trip I had carefully planned (not in the least!) but in the end it was the trip God wanted us to have (with a bonus of our hotel rooms being totally covered by credit card bonus points when I thought I only had enough for one meal!). Trusting in God more…that has been the theme of my Lent also. SO hard to do. What a wonderful view you had!! And when it’s all said and done and you see what God really had up His sleeve, don’t you feel stupid for not trusting Him? 🙂 I know I always do! When will we learn?

  5. says

    What a great witness, Jennifer. I am trying to remember this, hour by hour. It is difficult. Oddly, I have been able to do so when it comes to not fretting about what house we will move into when we sell ours.

  6. Brian says

    This is easily my favorite church I have visited. Thank you for sharing! Great story and a great example of how God has something better in store when YOU think something is just not going the way YOU planned!

  7. Lynne says

    Jennifer, thank you. This brought tears to my eyes. I’ve reached a point of brokenness in my life where I feel all I can do is say, over and over again, “My Jesus I trust in you.” And yet I forget to say it. I freak out and worry about everything over which I have NO control. Thank you, thank you, for such a tangible reminder that I need to trust that His plan is better than mine, even though I can’t for the life of me see the logic of it all. A blessed Easter to your family.

  8. Tracy says

    I love the following comment/observation you made: “Given my background of lifelong atheism, it’s easy for me to fall into lukewarm theism, where I see God as a concept rather than a person. When I get lax in my spiritual life, that’s the direction in which my mentality drifts: I believe all the ideas of my religion, but I perceive that the day-to-day business of life is entirely up to me.” Even though I was never an atheist I can totally relate to this..actually I struggle with this on a regular basis and I’m glad I’m not the only one! Well said Jennifer! Everyone should pray the Novena by Fr. Dolindo, the main prayer is “Jesus I surrender myself to you, take care of everything”.

    • tt14 says

      I have also never been an atheist, and yet I could have written this: “it’s easy for me to fall into lukewarm theism, where I see God as a concept rather than a person. When I get lax in my spiritual life, that’s the direction in which my mentality drifts: I believe all the ideas of my religion, but I perceive that the day-to-day business of life is entirely up to me.”

      My tendency is to try to handle everything in my life by myself, not only with God but with people as well. I like helping others, but the more anxious I am the harder I have to fight myself to ask for help or accept help when given or show weakness or vulnerability. With people and with God. And lately this has been affecting my spiritual life in a stronger way. Mass is no longer a joy, but something that I do because I promised I would do it, and I rarely pray more than a quick word occasionally (outside of Mass).

      I do not want to be the downer in the comments. So I want to thank you all that have shared that you also have this issue. And, in a more positive note: anything that any of you have found helpful to develop more trust in God?

      • says

        tt14 — It sounds like you are suffering from “spiritual dryness.” Every so often, we tend to have periods when God removes the happy consolation feelings and basically makes us grow in faith by just keeping going. And then later, the dryness goes away; God waters us, so to speak. And then in a few years, you may feel spiritually dry again, until God waters you again. It’s a sort of natural prayer life thing.

        Of course, you don’t want to confuse depression with spiritual dryness, and yet they do sometimes go together. Spiritual dryness is natural and fine (even though it feels terrible!), but depression is not fine and you can do something about that.

        The basic rules for dealing with spiritual dryness are that you shouldn’t change your prayer life. Go to Mass, follow whatever prayer routine you have, and just keep going. You may feel abandoned by God, but He is right there. Think of Him as your exercise coach, making you lift all that weight yourself even though it feels terrible! But He is right there all the time.

        You can probably look up a lot of good advice about this, if it’s what is bothering you!

  9. Rebecca says

    Thank you for the inspirational story. Sometimes the hardest thing really is stepping back and trusting God.

    I loved the zoo and aquariums when I was a kid. It was a great way to step out of your everyday world and remember the beauty of creation.

  10. Marisa Cadena says

    Jennifer, this story is a prefect example of a Christ-incident! It brought tears to my eyes! I love how you express so honestly how you (and we are all guilty) drift toward a I’m in control of my life attitude from time to time. Thank you for revealing you’re humanness and how continue to run back into God’s arms!

  11. Pat J61 says

    Beautiful! If we call the hotel and ask for the Jennifer Fulwiler room will they know what we’re talking about? 😉

  12. el-e-e says

    My jaw DROPPED when I saw the last picture! What a gift. And thank you for writing this. I want to say without pressure, I miss your blog posts! You have such a gift for writing. Wishing you all a beautiful, colorful Triduum and Easter!

  13. says

    I went to that Cathedral in Nov during a work trip that was otherwise abysmaland like you it blessed me.

    Im in a professional org that has meetings every 2 years that include weekend time. At our meeting 4 years ago, a few of us were asked to think of fun Saturday night activities and invite other conference goers. Sat evening would be the only chance to get to Mass so I stood in front of 300 people and invited them to go to Mass with me. No one came and I walked there alone feeling dejected.

    4 years later our meeting was in San Antonio and a stranger came up to me and said “aren’t you the one who went to Mass do you want to go together?” how sweet is that?

  14. says

    I have quote from Saint Francis de Sales that helps me through issues that I face.

    “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

    Today I was struggling with this, but after reading your story, the view out my “window” suddenly became brighter.

  15. says

    Love this. And its so hard to let go and trust when your big plans dont go, well, according to plan! What a beautiful cathedral! And what an amazing light show!

  16. says

    I loved this post. As someone who had no real consistent religious upbringing, it was the intellectual integrity of Catholicism that drew me in. I listen to the converts from evangelical backgrounds talk about a “personal” relationship with Jesus Christ and I think that would be awesome. But it’s not something that comes easily for me. So your words resonated as I found much I could relate to. And what a great Lenten exercise to learn to trust more in a personal God … a great exercise not only for Lent but for the whole year. I’m going to let that be a focus for me. Thanks!

  17. GiannaT says

    If you ever have the time and inclination, the mission churches are well worth a look, especially Concepcion mission. Really cool part of the history of the Catholic Church in America, and a big part of Texas history. The Alamo was actually originally one of these churches.

  18. Terry Weaver says

    Thank you for sharing this story! My lent sounds just like yours. We just got back from Disney World and I was constantly reminding myself that God’s plan is so much better than mine. This was even after the airlines altered our seating arrangement,never a good thing when traveling with small children. I am happy to hear your trip turned out so well. Happy Easter!