Chris Lyford

notes from a pilgrim


June 2011

Raise your hand if your marriage has been through the fire!

(continued from 6/24 entry)

The pallets of roofing tiles were still bundled and stacked in the perimeter – even on the unfinished roof. But only a few areas of the roof were completed. The rest of the roof was left open to the birds of the fields. And they did enter in, one and all. Wood weakened by wind, rain and the elements warped with time made up what were to be the floors upon which the discalced Carmelites would walk. You can enter easily now , as the doors were never hung, and inside you find various elements of construction waiting as patiently as a bride whose groom was delayed for 20 years.

Four words spoken by Sr. Jean Marie that day struck me more by the love with which they were spoken, than by their rock solid faith: “It will be completed”.

Many milestones have led Vickie and me to this place, and many “non-coincidences” have confirmed our choice to place ourselves into the lay community that surrounds this work of renewal begun by the sisters. My recent fundraising and development experience have prepared me to “leverage” the vision we so quickly caught as we re-connected with the sisters. From the recent work in helping marriages in the area of empathy and communication, to our new understanding of the urgent need for PTSD programs in every community, our recent past has all been a preparation.

We are thankful that God is continuing to bless us with his financial provision as He has in the past. Our kids are number one, and the people who have helped us get to where we are will be blessed too. We have decided to pour ourselves out for this mission – the mission for healing in marriages and families.

And don’t think for one second that we have chosen to involve ourselves because we have “arrived” or somehow “have it all together”. On the contrary, what we have realized more than anything is that our many imperfections can only be dealt with through the grace of the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ! In fact that grace is the very essence of the “New Life Family Mission”: to invite all couples and families to immerse themselves into the river of mercy that flows out from the Heart of Jesus Christ!

God doesn’t want to shower His torrent of grace on just a few “holy people”on this planet. His love is unending and His heart as a font of Mercy for us all! and I mean ALL! God actually longs to dwell in the heart of the family! It’s like He is actually ‘lonely’ to hang out with us! His generous message of forgiveness and healing is something we have experienced in our own marriage. And since you can’t share what you don’t have, and all we have is His Mercy, that’s all we can share!

                     Every marriage has its trial by fire, and ours is no exception. But one couple Vickie has known from the time she was a teenager living in Sebastopol, CA has had a literal trial by fire. I can’t tell the whole story now, but suffice it to say that Sue and Rusty Lugli were in a horrible motor home accident in the ‘90s in which the vehicle exploded into flames. Rusty was burned over 60 % of his body, and was in a coma for three months. Sue broke her back, but still managed to kick her way out of the burning motor home. Their daughter Nikki was thrown through the front window along with the dog, and landed on a patch of dry grass that ended up being spared miraculously by the ravaging flames.

Sue and Rusty have an incredible story and would admit in an instant that it is the hand of God which has sustained them and continued to remind them that each day is a gift. To meet them is to experience two people who you can easily tell live every day as if it’s their last. They walk joyfully and humbly through the same garbage you and I walk through each day. But there is always a smile in their eyes sparkling, because they have had the gift of immense suffering which puts all of life in it’s correct perspective.

You can read about their story in Sue’s book “Just Get Over It!”, or as the first story in the book “Amazing Grace for Married Couples” by Jeff Cavins, Matthew Pinto, and Patti Armstrong.

In 1999 Sue and Rusty, along with their kids and grandkids moved from Sacramento to Buellton, CA – right across the Santa Ynez River from the Carmelites of St. Joseph. They own 2000 plus acres and share opposite sides of the river with Sr. Jean Marie’s 100 acres.

That’s right, they are right across the river!


Ten years ago my wife and I met a living saint…

Central Coast

Ten years ago, my wife Vickie and I were introduced to Carmelite Sister Jean Marie Kirby, Mother Superior of the Carmelites of St. Joseph in Buellton, CA, who live a life of evangelical intercessory prayer on 100 acres hidden in the Santa Rita hills near the Santa Inez Valley.

The valley itself is known as one of the world’s best appellations for Pinot Noir. The flavor, intensity and complexity of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay come from a combination of unique east-west coastal valleys. Cool weather, fog, wind and the soils yield intense wines.

The theme of the vineyard was not lost on me as 30 years ago I received an invitation from Our Lord to “come and work” in His vineyard for my life’s calling. While I know very little about real life vineyards, 30 years of working as a lay minister in the Catholic Church has produced as many lessons as varieties of wines. One of the earliest ministries I was involved with was as a staff member at the Christian Brother’s Retreat House, in St. Helena, California, on the Northern side of the Napa Valley. It quickly became my dream to work permanently at a retreat house, and as I grew into my own vocation of married life, I began to realize the ever increasing need for a place where whole families can come away and ‘unplug’ from the distractions of the world and re-establish their real connections to God.

I realized the need because of my own experience of desolation that can occur when the lifeline of the Sacrament’s and prayer are cut off through the many machinations of the ‘enemy of souls’. Though I have learned much the hard way, I know I need never go back, all because of the Mercy of God.

As Junipero Serra often said “always forward, never back”, we still look back in terms of the debt of love we owe so many people in our lives. We also look back in terms of the real debts, struggles, woundedness, and flaws we ‘drag along’ with us as we seek the freedom of complete dependence on Jesus Christ, immersed in a life of gratitude for the many truly beautiful friends we have met along the way.

As we first approached the monastery, we see what appears to be a retreat center with 1000’s of square feet of space sitting majestically atop one of the Santa Rita hills and surrounded by vineyards. I see a sign that says Mt. Carmel Vineyards. You would have never guessed this sprawling complex was there had someone not led you through the many twists and turns of the private road that brings you there.

It was only when we pulled up to the magnificent structure that I began to see the reality of what Sr. Jean Marie had only described to me verbally. And as with anything, the reality of the fact pales in comparison to any description however detailed.

I was looking at a huge monastery / retreat house which had been abandoned for 20 years.

We are on a pilgrimage as a family…Join us!

Well, since I left Immaculate Heart Radio and stepped out into the palm of the Fathers’ hand, we Lyfords have not been a closer lot. Starting each day with Mass and the rosary, and praying the chaplet at 3:00. And each day the graces are almost too abundant to count!

We are still “house-less” and yet we have found our home in every Catholic church we happen to be near – in daily Mass. The presence of grace is more profound as we continue to be made more aware of our complete dependence on the Father for everything.

Our work with the Carmelite sisters in Buelton-Lompoc has officially begun as of yesterday when we began a 33 day preparation for total consecration – of ourselves and of the work of healing marriages and families – to Jesus the incarnate word through Mary.

The day of consecration will be Saturday, July 16th (the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) when we will be having a family retreat literally camping on the property (on the hill) where the work will begin to take place.

We are asking all who would like to join us in this work to either come to the property for the weekend of prayer and family camping, or to join us in the Spirit to pray for the healing of all marriages and families, and for the world to accept the message of Jesus’ Divine Mercy as soon as possible. Send an email to if you would like to join the pilgrimage in spirit or in person! This is going to be a powerful work of God (I know because the Carmelites’ intercessory prayer will be in full force!).

Watch this Blog for updates!

the other lung

The Catholic radio movement has made great strides in the last 16 years. I know because my wife and I were there when it all began to change. When I was program director in 1994 for KBVM (88.3  FM) in Portland Oregon, I marveled at the connection between the pastoral works of the local church and the radio station. There were only a few parishes that took advantage of the “heavy equipment” of the powerful FM that covered the Portland Vancouver Salem area, but for the parishes who did, each one saw the fruits of converstion in the initiatives that began to sprout up: adoration, more frequent confession, theology of the body talks, prayer groups, apologetics classes, more RCIA members each year, etc. Those are the fruits by which you judge a catholic apostolate.

My wife Vickie and I didn’t start the Catholic radio movement, Mary the Mother of the Returning King did. Yes we were there, along with a handful of others when it experienced the beginnings of a new time of growth and expansion. In the words of thom Price of EWTN  at the Catholic Radio Institute, after he received the “Max” award for best Catholic radio network on behalf of EWTN global Catholic radio in 1995, we helped bring Catholic radio “to the next level”.  But the actual movement itself traces its beginning back almost 2000 years ago to an upper room where Mary herself was deep in prayer surrounded by the apostles and disciples.

As I look to this Pentecost 2011 I am aware that some of us are gathered around our Mother, praying in the same way for the final Pentecost to fall, yet having experienced the trials and personal hardships of the last 18 years, though hearing in faith the words of the Holy Spirit “Prepare for My final outpouring; for which all heaven awaits and is actively preparing, and which will make the first seem small in comparison”.

It is time for the “next” level.
It’s time for the sleeping giant to breath with BOTH lungs: Catholic radio stations with a fully active pastoral plan for evangelization working much much closer with the local Bishops!

 I am thinking about a husband who struggles with pornography…

 A son of a friend who just got back from serving in Afghanistan and is dealing with PTSD and is not sure he wants to open up the heavy ‘can of worms’ he carries around….

A friend who has great faith and who has served the church in a national role in the new evangelization but who is struggling with the need for inner healing so much that he is on the verge of taking his own life…

I am thinking of you…..

All these I am thinking about need a real place within an hour’s drive to go to: where healing, deliverance, therapy, friendship, and REAL People will greet them and journey with them UNTIL they are healed!

For those of us who have been involved in Catholic radio for any number of years, or have even just been listeners, we need to foster the development of the ‘other lung’, or the sleeping giant will continue to slumber as the enemy of souls pillages the church.

time is very short

I share an exerpt from my bio page:

As the producer and host of a unique Catholic radio show covering one of the largest markets in the United States, I have seen the power of the ‘multiple media model’ to create or support powerful, life changing events for a distinct region. With the convergence of the power of radio, social media, and geographically accessible venues, the potential outcome in objective numbers served has proven to be 50% higher when I interview the organizers weeks prior to an event. There are many heroic, yet unsung laborers in our society who do not have the means to ‘broadcast’ their charism’s active ministry of presence in the world.  As Church, we need to avail ourselves of the modern means of communication to bring the timeless truths of our faith to a world in ever more need of the Gospel message of faith, hope and love.

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