Monday, December 31, 2012

Zero Desire to Please My Children

I woke up with the same feeling I went to bed with last night - I'm frustrated with my kids.  We were given free tickets for the hayride at Santa's Wonderland (A Christmas light display with "over a million lights").  I've been wanting to go for years and haven't because my husband is vehemently opposed.  So, last night, we went with Grandma and a friend of hers.

The lights were awesome and worth the money we would have paid for the tickets.  No doubt about it.  But, a few things along the way crept in and insidiously stole my joy.

Walking the football field-length gravel parking lot, in the dark, carrying a 3-year-old, and trying to get the older two to STOP throwing rocks and playing tag between all of the pedestrians and parked cars, was #1.  It might not have been so bad, if I didn't have to grab my boys by their coats before they heeded my voice.

The gravel-lined path for the hayride waiting line also proved too much temptation for little boys.  They HAD to pick up the rocks and fill the one hood between them, in between trying to kick them a reasonable distance.  No problem, except the aforementioned line is full of people in close proximity.  Fun.  #2.

After a reasonable wait, we happily climbed aboard the hayride on the second trailer, the farthest away from the diesel fumes.  The moment we've all been waiting for...  We were getting ready to go under the first tunnel of lights, but I had to cajole my 3-year-old to look at it, as he was looking at the ground move underneath the back tire.  He was cold, but refused the jackets I brought, and was that "I'm ready to go home" kid about 1/3 of the way through.  #3.

We completed the light tour with many oohs and awes, some musical chairs on the hayride, lots of "I'm ready to go home, now's", and overwhelming appreciation that the entire light display ended with Jesus rising from the tomb (a resurrection/ascension combo, if you will).  Jesus Christ got the most important "spot" and for this I was uplifted.  At least, The reason for the whole production had been remembered, and honored.  I was happy for Jesus.

To make the night complete, we agreed by consensus, that we would drink some hot chocolate by the blazing bonfire, and listen to some live music.  I volunteered to stand in the hot chocolate line and everyone else settled in by the fire.  15 minutes later, I rejoined the group, looking forward to melting away the remnants of the early accumulation of trivial irritations. 

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Oldest is pouting because he needs a straw (#4), youngest is sad because it's too hot to drink (#5), and I can't really relax because I'm holding two cups of hot chocolate (#6).  As comforting as holding one warm drink is, holding two screams, "You cannot relax because things are not as they should be!"  I was officially in my 3-year-old's camp, "I'm ready to go home, now!"  On the way out, my middle son begged for kettle corn because he was so hungry (#7).  Sorry, I just spent $13.50 on hot chocolate.

~After writing the first paragraph, I recognized the problem.  I have been wanting to go to Santa's Wonderland for years.  My expectations were simply to high, from the get-go.  I wish I could have recognized and released myself from those ugly, little things!  That doesn't mean that my kids shouldn't have been better behaved and more appreciative - these are things parents should expect from their children!  But, the fact that they fell short highlights the areas where I've fallen short.  Maybe that's another reason I wasn't able to let go of all the little stuff, like I supposed I should.

I don't ever remember being ungrateful as a child.  Wait.  Would I remember that?  . 

Anyway, I'm sitting here this morning, with zero desire to please my children.  My efforts yesterday proved that they can't be satisfied.  So today, for now, they're on their own.  Maybe I'll feel differently after I offer my prayer...

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the awesome light display at Santa's Wonderland and for the finale, Your Son, Who lives and reigns, forever and ever.  Lord, I am frustrated with my children's lack of obedience and gratitude.  Every morning, I offer you my life, including my boys and my parenting.  I have already done that today, but I am doing it again, now.  Lord, please guide me.  Help me to practice Your mercy and love.  Please give me the wisdom to know when and how to discipline them, so they may be pleasing to You (and to us).  Please forgive my impatience, ingratitude, and failures in charity.  I love you.  Amen.       

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day After Christmas Ponderings

Just chillin' the day after Christmas, listening to a Mariachi Pandora station blare from my nephew's phone, and a fire crackling in the fireplace.  After watching the boys open their presents yesterday morning, I spent the bulk of the day in the kitchen.  Biscuits and gravy for breakfast, caramel corn for snack, turkey, sweet potatoes, and apple pie for dinner (My in-laws brought the rest).  As I was enjoying the solitude of the kitchen while remote control helicopters and Nerf sword fights swirled about, I wondered (for the millionth time) if I should be more "engaged" in the robust activity of my boys.  More and more, their activities stray from my interests and abilities. 

After pondering this throughout the day, I came to the conclusion that my biggest role now, and in the foreseeable future, is to be a positive force in the kitchen.  To be available to listen, welcome, love, and "light up" when my boys enter the room.  Unfortunately, food and its preparation are of the utmost importance to my family, and yet, one of the things I am worst at. 

I hate this irony, but have yet to figure out how to get around it.  I have a friend who is a personal chef and have proposed washing her dishes, just to be in her kitchen and glean some little nugget here and there.  We'll see what comes of that...  Meanwhile, I'll keep trying, and baking, as I can't seem to go wrong when sugar is one of the ingredients.

On a separate note, this Christmas has been one of the best for me.  After my brief self-centeredness episode (as detailed in the Stuff of Life post), this is my first year to feel totally detached from material things come Christmas Day.  There was nothing I wanted, nor expected.  The adults in the family previously agreed that we would buy for kids only this year.   I wasn't expecting to be, but I'm a big fan.  The end result was less pressure, less stuff, more money, and a palpable peace.

To be honest, I don't think I could have imagined being so happy receiving nothing before this year.  One of my continual goals is to detach from all things, and this year, God granted me the best gift of all - the joy and peace of detachment.  I am not going to guess at how long it will stay or presume that I am officially "detached", and can move on to other spiritual pursuits, but I am extremely thankful to have experienced it for at least a couple of days. 

If I needed another reminder that things don't bring lasting happiness, all I had to do was watch one of my sons unwrap all of his presents (a real gun and a telescope in the mix) and stand in the middle of the living room, looking a little sad.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said "I just didn't get to unwrap very many presents this year."  Ugh.  Maybe he would like to try the "Get nothing for Christmas" experiment next year. :)

New Year's Day is around the corner, which always leads me into a review of my life and looking for areas to renew or replace.  I'm sure I'll be writing again soon...

Merry Christmas to You!

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Baby Jesus!!  Thank you for sending us a Baby to adore and love.  Thank you for salvation, Jesus in the Eucharist, time with family, fires in fireplaces, warm houses on cold nights, and grandmas two doors down.  Thank you for grace and peace.  Please teach me how to give my children good things without encouraging them to expect lasting happiness from them. Help me teach them that true happiness and peace come from You and You only. Please help us find You in each moment.  Help us recognize "the point of intersection of the timeless with Time."  Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Marriage

I can easily write about motherhood, because my kids don't care to read what I write about them.  Writing about marriage is a little trickier because there's a husband to consider (and he knows when I've blogged because we're friends on Facebook) :).

But, I had coffee with a friend this morning and our recent (over the past week)marriage experience has been virtually the same, which confirmed something I already knew:  There is an ebb and flow phenomenon in marriage.  Sometimes you're "clicking" like there's no tomorrow and at others, well, you're not. 

I think it's worth writing about because we were extremely surprised that the other's experience so closely mirrored our own.  If we know that the ebb and flow is normal (in theory and in reality), and consequently experienced by most married couples, my hope is that the isolation and temptation to panic during the "ebb" times will be diminished...

A week ago today, my husband took the day off so we could spend the day together Christmas shopping (in lieu of exchanging gifts on Christmas morning).  The day was awesome and I felt like we were newlyweds in a town far away (except for going to his work Christmas luncheon and being at Post Oak Mall). 

All this to say, that we had a "clicking" day just a week ago, but it feels a lot longer than that. 

When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone, they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone."
-George MacDonald

There are simply times when I feel uninteresting to my husband.  Not that there's any problem or conflict, just that "There's just not much going on," in his words.  During these times, I know he isn't mad, but wonder if he's dissatisfied and feel as though he just doesn't like me.

I know I can overthink these things, so two days ago, I asked him, "Are we okay?  I feel like you don't like me."  (I hope it didn't sound as pathetic as what it reads here).  He reassured me that all was well and spent all of yesterday asking lots of questions about my day and making overt gestures to make sure that I knew he "heard" what I was saying. 

I really hate to quote Sigmund Freud, but I think he's onto something here, "The need to be looked at with acceptance and the fear of being looked at with disapproval, or not being looked at at all, are two of the most powerful forces in our lives."

I think this explains why it can feel so devastating when we feel uninteresting, overlooked, or disapproved by anyone, but especially by our spouse - the person for whom we've peeled away every layer and exposed our unprotected essence. 

I don't really know where to go from here, except to say that knowledge is power.  I already feel better about my position during the "ebb", knowing that I'm not alone, that it's normal, and that it is short-lived.

My security always needs to come from my relationship with Christ, and that is my life's work.  Second to that, I need to make sure my husband knows I see him, am interested in who I see, and that I approve.  Because, that's the truth.  I suspect that if I do this well, the ebb will disappear into the flow, and I will be wondering if there ever was an ebb at all.

Dear Almighty God and Father, Thank you for the gift of marriage.  Thank you for my husband and his way of reflecting Your Love for me.  Please forgive my temptation to insecurity during the "ebb" times.  Your Love is supreme, help me to rest securely in that.  Please help me communicate my love and zeal for You above all, but also for him.  Please bless our marriage and all marriages, especially those whose who are on the brink of divorce or separation.  Help them to "see" their spouse with Your eyes, to let them know that it is good that they exist.  Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Young, Single Mom

Can you imagine living by this schedule every day or even for one?

*Get yourself, a 2-month-old and 16-month-old fed, dressed (warmly), and out the door to walk a block to the nearest bus stop by 9am.

*Take the bus to the pediatrician's office

*After the appointment, take the bus to drop off your kids at daycare

*Take the bus to H-E-B.  Work from 12pm-8:30pm.

*Take the bus back to the daycare center to pick up your children

*Take the bus home

*Bathe kids and put them to bed

*Repeat tomorrow morning
This past Friday, I picked up this mother and her two kids at the bus stop because they were waiting in the cold.  In the short time between the bus stop and the doctor's office, I learned that she was from Kansas City, MO and moved here to find work.  She moved here with nothing, but her daughter, and lived in a women's shelter upon her arrival.  After moving here, she learned she was pregnant.  She said she has plans to begin school soon.  I didn't ask when or how that would come to pass.

I dropped them off and headed home to my cozy little house to work on sorting some things for the Good Samaritan project.  I couldn't stop thinking about how wonderfully simple and easy my life was compared to this young mother's!  The only things on my schedule for that day were things I volunteered to do!  A few hours later, I visited an elderly friend for lunch.  We were seated around a table with 6 elderly widows.  I relayed my encounter with the young mother.  A lady in a Santa hat quickly replied from across the table, "After you have the first one, you know where they come from after that!"

I was so wrapped up in trying to imagine living that young mother's life, that I didn't have time to blame her for her circumstances.  It hadn't occurred to me that her life didn't have to be so hard.  But, it is.  The choices have been made and they are being "paid for" daily. 

As a mother who unintentionally had 2 children less than a year apart, I know how ignorance works.  I also know how those ignorant and unintentional choices can add beauty and love to the world, beyond all imagination.

I have often thought that if the Lord were to bless me with a vast amount of time and money, I would pour myself into a ministry for single mothers.  No matter the path they took to get there, they are there.  They are trying to do singly, what I sometimes struggle to do with help; help from another who is equally responsible for my children.

Christ continually comes to us in the middle of our self-made messes.  He never says, "You know, it didn't have to be so hard."  "You made your bed.  Now, lie in it."  "Peter, I'm not going to pull you out of the water.  You shouldn't have looked down."

God is a just and merciful God.  His mercy prevails over His Justice!!

"Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul's distrust!  Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness.  Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My Goodness.  My heart rejoices in this title of mercy...the greatest attribute of God."  ~Diary of Sister Faustina 

Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbor's souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbor's needs an not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all...

(Sr. Faustina's prayer)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Stuff of Life

A lot of things have been rolling around in my head lately.  I planned to post something on Friday, but after learning of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, nothing seemed important anymore.  The dead and their families are looming large in my mind, and yet, I shush my own children to watch the news... 

However, as we celebrate this third Sunday of Advent, we are called to be a people of joy.  A people of hope.  A living people.  A people who believe that God can and will redeem all things.  I will continue to pray for those who died and their families who are left behind.  I will also continue to live as a person who believes that Jesus is near, and live my life accordingly.

At the risk of seeming imprudent, I am going to go ahead with what I was going to write on Friday.  Mostly, because I have the time and I would like to clear my head.  None of it really matters, in the face of this or any tragedy, but it is still the stuff of life~

Before Friday, I was reveling in a small victory.  I showed up empty-handed to a cookie exchange.


It was a victory because I spent a good part of the day making, rolling out, and cutting sugar cookies, so I could participate and feel good about the effort I had made to do so.  However, I only had 30 minutes after dinner to decorate 6 dozen cookies and three boys (7 and under) on my decorating team.  Snowman heads were falling off, stars were breaking, and the icing knives were being licked in between jobs.  I was starting to lose my cool (rapidly!) and knew something had to give.  After a brief inspiration from the Holy Spirit, I decided that allowing my kids to enjoy the cookie decorating was way more important than showing up somewhere else with a plate of pretty cookies, so I left them at home.  What my vanity suffered was more than made up for by my children's joy.  I'm just sorry I robbed them of it in the first place.

Prior to that, I have been musing on the irony of Christmas.  I was given a little Christmas money with the stipulation that I had to spend it on myself.  Combine that with the "What do you want for Christmas?" question, and I am suddenly more self-centered than I've been all year!  How do you like that for timing?!  Goodness!  God bless my three-year-old who got to join in on the adventure of deciding what I wanted and then trying to find it!

My first thought was that I would spend my money on some of those tall boots that everyone is wearing these days, since I'm usually struck by how nice they look when I see them.  However, it hadn't really occurred to me that if you can see someone's very tall boots, they are probably wearing skinny jeans!  This is not a jump I am willing to make.  I'm pretty sure I would feel like a "showcase", drawing way too much attention to myself, and yet, everyone else seems to pull it off just fine.  Do you think we could just reverse the trend to regular jeans and loafers, please?  That way, I wouldn't feel like a frumpy prude and we could all be friends.  :)  Scripture says we are not supposed to worry about what to wear, so I'm leaving my fashion dilemmas here.

On a separate note, I found an old-school book at the St. Vincent de Paul store yesterday:  A Woman In Her Home by Ella May Miller.  There's a lady standing on the front wearing an apron, holding a tray of something delectable for her family to consume.  I feel good about the price - It originally cost $.95 and I got it for a quarter.  These kinds of books make me smile and I usually glean something, besides.  I'm 2/3 of the way through and here is the high point so far, "To be a mother is difficult and dangerous, but no one else can replace her.  Will women never see how important they are?  Their power of doing good and doing harm is beyond measure, and it is done in private where no one can stop them, but themselves." - Dr. John Bowlby, Ladies' Home Journal, November 1958

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of life.  Please comfort those who are left behind with empty arms and unanswered questions.  Please give them the grace of Your peace.  You and Mary know the pain of watching Your own Son suffer and die, please help them have recourse to You.  Thank you for Advent.  Thank you for giving us a reason for joy and hope.  Thank you for the stuff of life and for Your Presence throughout it all.  Please help us, those who believe in You, be a beacon of light, hope, and peace for those who need it.  Jesus, I trust in You.  Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Slowing Down To Celebrate Christmas and the Sacrament of the Present Moment

It's Advent.  A season of waiting and preparing our hearts to receive The Infant Jesus on His birthday.  How can I prepare a dusty and cluttered room for a King?!  It seems more than a little bit beyond what I am capable of.  But, I know I can't (or at least shouldn't) do nothing.  So, I need to begin by sweeping it out and letting some fresh air in.  In other words, I need to go to confession.  I need to acknowledge and let go of all that is ugly, selfish, and stained. 

Once I've cleaned His room as much as possible, how can I celebrate His arrival?!  Simply by being with Him.  Slowing down to joyfully receive all that comes, without rushing ahead or lagging behind.  To bear in mind the words and ideas of St. Francis de Sales:

We must attend to the business of life carefully, but without eagerness or overanxiety.  Gently flowing rivers bear barges with rich merchandise.  Make haste slowly.  We are always soon enough when we do well.  Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically one after the other.  Remember the productive honeybee, who quietly goes about its business, while the bumblebee just makes noise.

If I can slow down, I can begin to celebrate the sacrament of the present moment.  It is a perpetual victory for Christ when one is aware of His presence in all things!  It is foolish to think He is pleased to be an afterthought and that He doesn't mind waiting until I'm finished with everything and everyone else.  If we remain unable to see Him in others and ordinary circumstances, He will always be last.  Reserved until the end of the day, when all of the others climb into bed, and we're too tired to pay Him any worthy attention at all.  

"The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee (Luke 1:35), said the angel to Mary.   This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment."   Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

If I can get his room in shape and slow down enough to spend time with Him there, only one question remains.  How can I bring Him to others?  By taking Him in the love which wraps our daily acts of kindness.  If those who receive them ponder the love, if they question the love, if the love they feel gives them pause, they will find Christ from Whom all love emanates.

If we can accomplish these things (Cleaning the King's room, Slowing down, Living in the present moment, and bringing Him to others),  We will honor Christ's birth and His life.  We will be like His Mother. 

Dear Baby Jesus and Savior King, Help me to prepare a room in my heart that is worthy of You.  Help me to slow down and attempt only one thing at a time.  Please give me eyes to "see" You in every person and circumstance.  Please give me the grace to be more like Your Mother.  I don't want to leave You for the end of the day, when I don't have anything else to give.  I know how I fare without Your Help in this, for that is where I am today.  Thank you for your mercy, patience, and love.  Thank you for trusting humanity enough to come to this world as an infant.  I am in awe of You and I love You.  Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oily Hair, No Make-Up, PJs, A Messy House, and A Visitor

I am babysitting a little boy today, my house is a mess because I haven't been home in the morning for the last couple of days (afternoon is naptime, so I am VERY careful not to clean much, for fear of waking my precious sleeping angel!), I haven't washed my hair in two days (which looks like 10 days for most people), and I am still in my pajamas.  At 8:15, I remembered a friend was going to swing by at 9:00!

My first thought when I remembered she was coming was to shower!, get dressed!, put on make-up!, quickly change the sheets that were peed on last night because the whole room was starting to tell on my son!, and straighten up the house!, in that order.

I knew 45 minutes wasn't enough to make progress on even half of the list, so I began triage of my self and house:  Tend to the critical, Leave the serious and minor injuries... but then something occurred to me.  "It will be good for my friend to see me and my house like this!  She always thinks I have it together, and I never raise my voice, and that I have some secret to life that she doesn't have."  Decision made.  Apart from pulling off the nasty sheets and throwing a few blocks in a tub, I did nothing.  I shoved my vanity into the backyard, made a pot of coffee, and awaited my friend in my messy house with a bare face, in PJs.

This move probably has more to do with the very understanding and non-judgmental nature of my friend, and less to do with any personal growth on my part, but it was still a little victory for me.  Maybe if I keep practicing with my friends, one day I will be comfortable doing the same with anyone who comes to my door, without the reassurance of a proven friendship to bolster my courage.

Thank you to Dr. Laura when she writes, "A spotless, totally organized house is not necessarily the most warm, inviting, enjoyable, or appreciated place on the face of the earth.  The warmth of a home comes from the attitude of the people in it, not the decor or the perfection of every detail."

Dear God of House and Home,  Thank you for little inspirations and opportunities to practice humility.  Thank you for the gift of friendship and the lack of judgment that comes with it.  Please help me to care more what You think of me than what others think of me.  Please give those who feel that everyone else has it figured out, the grace to know that there is always something to be endured, as well as something to be enjoyed.  Please give me the grace to overcome my vanity, so that I may enjoy unexpected visitors and open my home to others without fear.  Oh, and thank you for Dr. Laura.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Children Learn What They Live

The other day, I was at the Church bookstore looking for a little something for my goddaughter and came across this beautiful laminated little card entitled, "Children Learn What They Live".  Interestingly, no author was listed to claim the credit for such an excellent summation.  However, as soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I needed to carry it with me, to remind me of the importance of my role in creating the environment where they "learn what they live".  I wanted to include it in my last post, but it was getting kind of lengthy, so here it is...

Children Learn
What They Live
If a child lives with criticism,
He learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
He learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
He learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
He learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
He learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
He learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise,
He learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness,
He learns justice.
If a child lives with security,
He learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
He learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance &
friendship.  He learns to find
love in the world.

Home - The Place Where One Learns To Love, Or Not

"For most people, the family is the place where one learns to love, or not...We most likely do not learn to love from our school, or from our place of employment, or from our interactions with the government.  Now we might, when we are older, learn a lot about love from our friends or a romantic love.  But at crucial developmental periods prior to adulthood, if we do not come to understand the contents of attentive, secure, sacrificial love from our family, we will likely be impaired in ways difficult, if not impossible, to transcend in the matter of giving and receiving love."  ~Helen Alvare, "The Family and the Values of Human Life"

What kind of environment did you grow up in?  Do you recognize the environment described above, one of attentive, secure, and sacrificial love?  If not, have you (or do you) get stuck playing the "What if?" game?  What if my parents didn't divorce when I was four?  What if my Mom didn't marry a guy who introduced me to life in the country and bought me my first horse?  What if my Dad didn't marry a woman who has prayed for me and guided me spiritually since the moment I met her?  What if my mom didn't have that car accident and become a quadriplegic when I was 16?  What if?  What if?  What if?! 

"An environment is needed for the flourishing of every kind of life...Much more is required; a living environment, circumstances that will allow the person who wishes to live to breathe, grow, and nourish himself. If the environment disappears, so does the life..." ~Fr. Bernard Bro

If we are (at least in part) products of our environment,  how different would you be today if your environment was different, for better or worse?  We can't really know for sure, but we can remember this when we see someone who has done something we would never do.  "If the environment disappears, so does the life..."

Have you noticed that those who were deprived of a loving environment quickly attribute their lack of development, negative attributes, or lack of virtue to it?  They inherently know they didn't receive what was crucial for their development.  And yet, those who were well-loved and provided for, are able to flourish and excel without needing to examine why.  They just know that nothing is holding them back. 

What kind of environment do you create for those around you?  Something like Heaven or closer to Hell? 

"It seems that each one of us creates either heaven or hell on earth for those around us, by what we say and do, by what is in our hearts.  We have the power to bring division and pain, or to bring peace and joy." ~Susan Conroy

The environment we create in our homes is largely unseen by others, and it is all-too-easy to buy into the lie that "there are no achievements where there is no recognition."  "The private world is the world of intimate relationships without which we cannot live fully human or happy lives; it is the realm where the individual is cherished and the memories that give us a sense of self and connection are most readily built." ~Endow study guide

Environment.  Not trees and carbon footprints and global warming.  Your environment.  Think about your space, your home, your life.  Are you creating the environment you intend to create?  Do you like being in the environment you've created?  If you don't, don't worry, because you are the solution!  You can begin changing it as soon as you decide.  Pick one thing and go with it.  Be specific!! 

Being more loving, more kind, less selfish, etc. are nice, but vague!  What does that look like?  Are you going to say more nice things or abstain from saying a few mean things?  Wash the dishes without complaining?  Do one thing at a time?  Spend more time in prayer?  When?  Get up earlier?  Go out (joyfully) when you'd rather stay home, or stay home (joyfully) when you'd rather go out?  Play Legos instead of check email?  The sky is the limit, but keep your feet on the ground and stick with specifics!

Aside from participating in the miraculous creation of another human being, your environment is the most important thing you will ever create.  It is not always easy to see, but it is something that is always felt.

Dear Heavenly Father and Creator of all that is Good,  Thank you for parents who created an environment where learning to love was easy.  Thank you for allowing us to participate in Creation - Creation of bodies and souls, and creation of the environment where we live.  Lord, we lift up those who were left wanting in their childhood, and pray that you send them people who can show them Your love.  Please convict us of the importance of what we are doing in our homes, that which few people ever see.  Help us to reject the notion that what we are doing has no value.  Please fill our hearts with Your love, so that it may spill over onto those with whom our encounters are many and close. Help us to create an environment where love reigns and self serves.  Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Small Crosses Are Still Crosses

Have you ever beat yourself up because you have had a bad day, but it doesn't even begin to compare to someone else's bad day?  How about an example? 

Your Bad Day Scenarios:   You woke up late.  One of the kids had a stomach bug.  You stubbed your toe.  You forgot where you parked.  Someone said something mean to you.  You couldn't get anything done.  An important file was deleted from your computer, etc...

Someone else's Worse, Bad day Scenarios:  They threw up from latest round of chemo.  They can't stop crying because they lost someone they loved.  They are paralyzed and waited for someone to get them out of bed, but they didn't come.   They spent the day in the Surgery or ICU waiting room, etc...

If you're like me, you have felt ashamed for being in the first group, especially if you knew of someone in the second group.

However, as hard as I've tried to imagine being in the shoes of those who are suffering in big ways, I cannot stay there;  Not because I don't want to, but because my real life pulls me out.  I still have people who need me (and they let me know by saying my name a lot!), things I have to do, and all of the emotions that come with that.  I have come to the conclusion that you cannot live in someone else's reality (for very long).

Even though we can't stay long, we should enter another's reality as often as possible; especially, if they are suffering in more obvious ways than we are.  We need to love and encourage them.  We also bring their perspective back into our own lives, and gain tremendous gratitude for things we've previously taken for granted.

In the Apostolate for Holy Motherhood, the Christ Child says:  Rejoice in your trials; they are setting you free from the bonds of slavery to sin...All sin must be purified from the soul before a soul can stand before the throne of God in Heaven...Do not fight the cross, rather accept it as the glory it truly is...Fear nothing that unites you to Me, such as your trials and crosses, rather fear only what which separates you from Me, such as pleasures and indulgences of the flesh.  Pray for strength and courage to carry your crosses, not to have them taken away when they are your means of purification or sanctification.  Although the mercy of God indeed includes the cures of many afflictions, it is only in those cases where I deem it as unnecessary for their salvation to carry that particular cross.  If a cross or trial is of great spiritual value, I will not remove it, and you should never wish that it were, for it may be the means of salvation of many, not only the individual soul.

Small crosses are still crosses.  It is important that we acknowledge the little sufferings in our lives, and not discredit them because of their size.  For most of us, carrying these little crosses with faith and love is our path to holiness.  For me, my crosses vary from chasing elusive quiet time, trying to meet the needs of those whose needs only seem to increase with every help given, not being appreciated, being treated with disrespect, moments of insecurity, having to discipline my boys when I'm angry (because I do not do this well), and enduring anything that adds disorder to my life.

I felt tremendous freedom when I realized that interrupted quiet/prayer time and the other things listed were suffering for me.  Small suffering?  Yes, comparatively speaking, but still suffering.  If we can allow ourselves to call our interruptions, disappointments, and delays "suffering", we will be much more likely to use them for good.  If you don't know how, I'm sure it would please Elizabeth Leseur if you used her prayers below:

To give my sufferings and prayers a supernatural intention.

Make of all my trials a work of expiation, reparation, and prayer; help me to practice complete renunciation and to preserve peace of heart.

Purify and transform me by this trial!  Perfect thy humble instrument!  Give me the only grace I desire:  to be Thine apostle with those who are dear to me, with the souls that Thou hast placed in my path, and other souls, too, distant and unknown, for whom my prayers and suffering will obtain from Thee salvation.

Dear God, It is hard even to write it, but thank you for my trials.  They are small in comparison to many, but they are mine.  Show me how to use my trials for good, for eternity.  You give each of us exactly what we need to reach Heaven.  Help us not to minimize our own suffering, lest we overlook it as being useless.  Help us alleviate the suffering of others, according to Your will.  Lord, please give us the strength and courage to carry our crosses, whatever they may be, and open our eyes to the truth that what you've assigned to us, is what is best for our souls.  Please take away our desire to be freed from all crosses at any expense.  Open our hearts and teach us how to be graceful, while uncomfortable under the weight of the cross.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Influence of a Single Soul

If you tried to "read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father had in your regard" (to paraphrase George Weigel), what would that look like for you?  Which parts of your life are closest to what you think He envisions for you, and which parts are the farthest away?  What can you change, today, to inch closer?

If everyone has something to do for God, as Pope John Paul II tells us, what is your "something to do"?  Who are the people you see and interact with in your daily life?  Have you considered that it is likely you are affecting them (hopefully in a positive way), with your mere presence?

The influence exercised by a person is something subtle, penetrating; its strength cannot be measured.  What powerful preaching there can be in simple contact with a soul!  One single soul can change the whole moral atmosphere surrounding it by its solitary light.  ~Elizabeth Leseur

We can lead people (and be led by them) to Christ without any awareness on our part.  According to St. Augustine, this kind of "leading" was a huge part of his conversion.  Regarding Bishop Ambrose, he writes, "To him I was led by you (God) without my knowledge, so that by him I might be led to you (God) in full knowledge."

We can lead each other through our personal encounters and through prayer.  Thomas Merton relays his experience of being delivered from eternal condemnation through the efforts of an unknown soul:  " soul was rotten with the corruption of my sins...What is more, there was nothing I could do for myself.  There was absolutely no means, no natural means for getting me out of that state.  Only God could help me.  Who prayed for me?  One day I shall know.  But, in the economy of God's love, it is through the prayers of other men that those graces were given.  It was through the prayers of someone who loved God that I was, one day, to be delivered out of that hell where I was already confined without knowing it."

We are called to offer sacrifices for ourselves and others, so we can all grow in holiness; our pursuit of God's will.  We can do this in an infinite number of ways, but here are just a few ideas (as discussed in class earlier today) to get the ball rolling:
1.  Praying for our enemies (or anyone who just annoys us and all of those in between)
2.  Being wrongly accused for something without blowing up like a fanatical monster
3.  Taking care of parents and/or young children
4.  Doing things that we can't do well (Hold on pride, this one's going to hurt!)
5.  Doing anything else that you get no (zero, none, zilch) satisfaction out of, whatsoever, for the love of God and your neigbor (everybody you know, but yourself).

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for leading us to yourself through others who have no idea they are doing so.  Thank you, also, for a turn at the lead.  What an incredible gift to assist another in their journey to You!  It is mind-boggling that this awesome "activity for eternity" is so well-hidden!  Amazing to think that one person can be leading, while another is being led, and yet, neither one knows a thing about it!  This must be another component of your mercy.  We could very well be filled up with ourselves if we knew our own influence.  Thank you for your wisdom in not allowing that to happen, because we need room for You!  As Mother Teresa told us, "Even God Himself cannot fill what is already full."  Thank you, Lord, for the emptiness that we must carry in this life, for that is Your home, until we get to the place You have prepared for us.  Amen."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Celebrating 10 Years of Marriage - Lessons Learned

Yesterday was my 10th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated with a delicious, fancy, and romantic dinner out and my husband blessed me with a beautiful bouquet of red roses midday.  Being the practical woman that I am, I would always rather save the money spent on a dozen roses, but it wasn't my call; I love the thoughtfulness and effort, and they sure look pretty on my atrium table. 

Brett has made me a better woman.  He has shown me what "showing up" no matter what looks like.  Through his steadfast example and God's grace, he has helped me overcome myself, my fear of alcohol, and fear of being left behind.  I've learned a lot in 10 years; some things were welcomed at the time, others not.

After reviewing my sporadic journaling for the past decade, I created a list of lessons learned.  This is, a soul laid bare, with the confidence that something of my experience will resonate with you, and that you will be edified.

Lessons Learned

December 6, 1998 - I need to learn to make myself happy and not rely on other people. 

June 2, 2001 - I’ve realized that alcohol is really a problem for me.  I have learned to tolerate it from my family, but, I don’t have to accept it in someone I am choosing to be with. 

June 6, 2002 - One of the greatest travesties in life, is working (and spending a large part of your life) doing something you do not enjoy and for which you are not appreciated!

~Married on November 9, 2002~ 

January 27, 2003 - Married life is different, in that, you start spending more time alone – even though you are together.  I’m still trying to get used to this phenomenon.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with someone else (in my home) and not be interacting with them in some way, on some level.  The only times I remember anything similar is being with Mike W. and getting the silent treatment.  I guess that is partly why when I am mad, I get quiet, and assume the converse is true…when someone else gets quiet, they’re also mad…Oh, the things we have to unlearn… I’m learning more about myself all of the time.  Never before, have I had such a constant “mirror” if you will, held in front of me.  Another person’s attitude and responses resulting from my actions is, sometimes, a startling picture of the range of emotions that I can carry/experience in a very short amount of time.  I assume it has always been this way, the only difference being that I am not the only one I affect.  I have another half now to whom I am affected by and affect in return.  We are the sum of our experiences, as I was told today.  Nothing is going to change that.  Some days, that is a hard fact to live with.  Other days, it just is.

June 6, 2003 - I am continually amazed as I think back over my life about the times when a change has felt imminent or necessary, yet, seems impossible for logistical and financial reasons if nothing else.  And yet, the Lord continues to open the next door at the perfect time and after walking through it, everything just falls into place.

I’m sure this is the next normal phase in a relationship – the lustful, enamored stage has faded away and what’s left is what’s real.  I’m sure this is when some people feel like they are falling out of love.  In fact, I’ve brought that up, too.  In reality, I think love changes and as every married person I’ve known has said “It’s work.”  The little things crop up more and more frequently.  I guess the learning curve is still existent here.  I think that’s why people say the first year is the hardest.  It involves learning to live with someone (whom you are otherwise not related to), what their likes, dislikes, pet peeves, real anger triggers, modes of dealing with unpleasant things/feelings, and intolerances and learning these things about yourself at the same time.  Going to bed together rarely happens it seems and it doesn’t seem to matter.  I guess we’re learning to be independent of one another under the same roof.  This is altogether new and different, but probably for the best.  I miss feeling like I’m his world, but it could not last forever.  I feel as disconnected from him as I have been (except for the moments when I’ve felt distant from the entire world secondary to some perceived wrong).  I’m sure it is natural and probably healthy, but it is still an adjustment.  Time and prayer are my allies.

February 27, 2004 - It’s hard to leave yourself at someone else’s mercy, even if he is your unfailing husband.  I guess, much like everything else that is uncomfortable at the time we are experiencing it – is character building.

June 7, 2004 - I guess the point that needs to be realized if someone is asking (if you mind if they do such and such), they want to hear yes and in order to avoid conflict, a 100% yes is the only smooth road…Otherwise, I guess it is best to be true about feelings and if anyone feels slighted by the end results, it won’t be because your feelings weren’t known…“Above all else, to thine own self be true”, immediately comes to mind, but, I don’t think this philosophy has a place in Christian marriage:  sacrificing for one another, putting your spouse first, etc…

April 16, 2005 - I have a very strong primeval instinct about Brett being in the company of other women who are within 10 years or so, on either side of him; essentially breeding age, I guess.  I wonder if most women have this instinct, only to a lesser degree?  I don’t think most women are like me in this regard…  However, I know it is the thing I hate most about myself and do not admit to it easily – to myself, much less to others.  So, in the future, until this instinct dies (God willing), I am going to admit to myself what it is and admit it to Brett (he already knows anyway).

May 16, 2005 - It’s Monday and I’m wondering what I’m supposed to be doing.  The only thing I feel 100% certain of is that time spent with my son is time well-spent.  Not a moment is lost or untreasured.  If God were in the driver’s seat – Where would he be taking us?  What would he be doing in his free time?  I hardly think he would be reading a murder mystery and catching some rays.  What’s really important?  How can I have a whole day and not know what I am supposed to do?!  Our time here on earth is supposed to be spent getting ready to go to heaven…What am I supposed to do?  Spend the days with the lonely, poor, disadvantaged lot?  Where are they?  Who are they?  Am I supposed to study the Word all day long – looking for the answers to these questions?  God – Please let your will be done in my life…May I be your light in the world.  Please shine through me, Lord.  I Love You!  Fixing fences, mowing lawns, cleaning house…Are we wasting precious time?

August 5, 2005 – Friday Night 

I want to say how unspecial he makes me feel

My thoughts can be fleeting, but they still feel so real. 

I didn’t know that dullness

Could be sharper than a spear

Thank God for my baby and motherhood

To keep my heart in a working gear.
November 10th, 2012 - Dear God, Creator of earthly and eternal covenants, Thank you for the gift of marriage, and specifically, my husband.  Thank you for the times that my cup has overflowed with joy, contentment, attention, and a sense of all being right with the world.  Thank you, also, for the Friday night on August 5th, for all the times I ached for love, and times when I have been burdened with a sense of confusion or betrayal.  Thank you for the hurts and hard truths that harvest more fruit than anything that feels good at the time (specifically not being needed, but wanted).
Please help me be the wife that Brett needs, to encourage him to be the godly man that you envisioned, before you knit him in his mother's womb.  He has made me a better woman through his love and fidelity.  He, more than any other, helps me to believe in Your love for me.  Please bless him abundantly for his faithfulness and love.  Amen. 




Thursday, November 8, 2012

Being "Hot" Lacks A LOT

To love God is to love the attributes of God Himself:  Truth, beauty, and goodness.  He is "The Ultimate Good".  Fr. Scott Reilly describes everything that exists as having these qualities.  He calls them the "3-legged-stool".  When an idea, something, or someone is whole/complete, it has "proportion, harmony, clarity, and brilliance."  However, if one of the legs is missing, the stool is broken and cannot stand unaided.

Let me share his real-life example of a broken stool with you, because it was the impetus for this post and a recent class discussion of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty jogged my memory about it... 

There is an accepted standard of beauty, which is called "hot".  "That's hot."  "She's hot."  "He's hot."  If you care anything about what people think about you, you may feel this pressure to be "hot".  (By the way, if you care more about what people think about you than what God thinks about you, that is the sin of vanity:  placing your security and self-esteem in others).  I'm guilty of this and always have to guard against pleasing others as my motivation. 

Have you felt this pressure?  Do you feel it?  I do.  It seems to me that if you are "hot" in our culture, everything else is way secondary or doesn't matter at all.  If you don't have sex appeal, you have NO appeal.  As with every ill-behaved child that ever lived, it seems that getting attention for the "wrong" reason is still better than getting no attention at all.

So, what's wrong with it?  Why should this not be our goal?  What does being "hot" lack?    Fr. Scott says, "Being hot lacks goodness and truth."  Is there a woman out there who wants her beauty to be separated from her goodness and her truth?!  If there is, I haven't met her.

St. Augustine wrestled with lust and attachment to people more openly than most.  He writes in his ConfessionsIf physical objects please you, praise God for them, but turn back your love to their Creator, lest, in those things which please you, you displease Him.

For I had my back toward the light, and my face toward the things on which the light falls, so that my face, which looked toward the illuminated things, was not itself illuminated.

Our souls...may lean on those things which you have created and pass through them to you, who created them in marvelous ways.

So, I want to encourage you (and myself) to resist the pressure to be "hot" and use your beauty to lead others to their Creator, not to yourself.  In other words, to pass through you, to God.  This is not most effectively done with cleavage and a mini skirt.

In a discussion with a male friend the other day, he gave this analogy:  When women dress in such a way to accentuate their breasts and butts, they are taking the necessary steps to turn a man on sexually.  Men are visual creatures and women know this.  If a man did the same thing to a woman (took whatever steps were necessary to turn her on),  it would be ridiculously insulting and she could, by rights, slap him.

All this to say, that beauty has its place, but it is not something that should be manipulated into a word, "hot".  Beauty is a gift from God Himself and should be used to lead others to Him. 

In view of a greater good and for a higher purpose, even to watch over my bearing and my dress; to make myself attractive for our good God's sake.  

Great and holy ideas and profound convictions often reach souls only through the personal charm and attraction of those who present them.  "By their fruits you shall know them..(Matt 7:16)...devotion, charity, radiant faith, and also by those flowers that first strike the eye and precede the fruit; those flowers are called sweetness, charm, nobility and exterior distinction of manners and ways, serenity, equanimity, friendliness, smiles, and simplicity.    ~Elizabeth Leseur

Dear True, Good, and Beautiful God,  Thank you for another gorgeous day and many opportunities to enjoy the beauty of your creation.  Thank you for allowing the beauty of your Creation, including your creatures, to lead us to You.  Please help us to use our beauty to this end.  Do not allow us to lead people to the dead-end of ourselves.  We can't give them what they're looking for.  Lord, help us to learn how to "use" everything in this life to know and love You more, and to remove those things that are obstacles to our love for You.  Thank you for forgiving our weakness and inclination to cling to the good opinions of others.  As long as we know we need your help, we are getting closer to the Truth.  Amen. 


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aversion to Being the "helper"

After reviewing the two accounts of Creation in Genesis in Chapter 5 of our Endow study, we know that God created humanity (male and female) in His image and likeness.  We are called to embody His authority, which rules in, by, and for love, here on earth.  According to an Encyclopedia of Theology, true authority is "always in the service of others and their freedom."

Men and women are called to live their complementary differences out through self-giving love.  This seems easy enough to accept, but, as women, we may still find ourselves bristling when we read, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 1:26)  Generally, no one wants to be a helper unless you're working for Santa.  The word has a negative connotation.  When we think "helper", we think of someone with less to offer and consequently, less value.  No one rushes in to be unappreciated, unseen, and undervalued!  Most of the time, we want to avoid being the "helper" at all costs.

However, we looked a little deeper into that powerful little word today and found that it is the English translation of the Hebrew word ezer.  Of the 19 times the word is used in the Old Testament, 15 refer to Divine aid.  "So, for the woman to be called a helper to man is not at all pejorative or degrading since this description is also used at other times to describe God Himself." (Endow study guide)  According to Pope John Paul II, "It should not be interepreted as meaning that the woman is man's servant - "helper" is not the equivalent of "servant"; the psalmist says to God:  "You are my help"; rather the whole statement means that woman is able to collaborate with man because she complements him perfectly..." 

In a discussion question from the previous chapter, we were encouraged to think of the progress that could be made in respect for women if men were seen always as partners, not adversaries...

If we could use all of the energy we are using (and have used) to avoid being the "helper" into helping (doing for another without self-seeking), our marriages, our families, and our society would be unrecognizable as we know them.  The power struggles would disappear and true authority (in the service of others and their freedom) would re-emerge. 

Perhaps you think it sounds like a tall order, and how it would be much easier just to let things remain as they are. But, if it is as simple as embracing a new concept of what it means to be a "helper", from servant to perfectly complementary collaborator, I'm willing to give it a shot.  There is never a loss of dignity in serving another in love. 

For most of us, there will not be a huge visible transformation.  We will continue to pick up dirty socks, make dinner, do the laundry, and all of the other things that we do.  However, if we have been doing it as though something assigned or imposed, instead of something freely chosen, our heart will know all the difference.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for this gorgeous afternoon.  Thank you for all of the ways You lead us to Yourself.  Thank you for creating us male and female.  Thank you for the gift of marriage and the presence of another who continually sharpens, encourages, and loves us.  Please give us the grace to love our spouse the way they need to be loved, and perhaps respected above all.  Help us to understand and embrace the eternal truths you imparted to us upon Creation.  You put us here for each other.  Please give us a glimpse of what that should look like, so we may know what direction to turn in every moment that includes another.  I trust in You.  Amen. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Not Measuring Up

All women have "feminine genius".  A phrase coined by Pope John Paul II, which "speaks to woman's capacity to make room for 'the other'.  This capacity manifests itself in four different areas:  receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity." (as summarized in Endow study guide).  As woman, we are more naturally others-focused than our male counterparts.  If this seems unfair, consider for a moment, who sends birthday cards in your house?  I realize there are exceptions, as there always are, but we'll focus on the majority.

This beautiful gift of receptivity, sensitivity, and making room for the other, however, can sometimes morph into something very ugly.  Comparison.  It should be listed with the seven deadly sins.  Why?  Because the two fruits of comparing ourselves to another are rotten and result in many spiritual deaths!  If we compare ourselves to another, and find that we come up short, we focus on those things in ourselves which are deficient for way too long, and consequently squelch what is good in us.  Anytime we turn our back on our Creator to focus on the created (ourselves), we are sinning!  We are turning from the Greatest Good to a lesser good. 

The other rotten fruit born of comparison is pride.  With a clear "comparison victory" in hand, we rest easy, knowing that at least we're "better" than so and so, at least in doing or being "such and such".

I don't remember who said it, but I'm pretty sure she was a saint, "If only we had faith, we would show goodwill to all creatures; we should cherish them and be interiorly grateful to them as serving, by God's will, for our perfection."

So, what are we supposed to do if we compare ourselves to others without being aware of it?  I'm glad you asked, because we're all in this group!

We need to become aware of it.  When you realize you are doing it, STOP.  If your tendency is to focus on what is good in another (and bad in yourself), make a mental list of your own good qualities.  If your tendency is to focus on what is bad in another (and what is good in yourself), make a list of their good qualities.

If looking at Facebook, or People magazine, or ___________, leads you into the comparison trap, cut it out of your life.  It's not worth it! 

There will always be things in ourselves that need to be worked on.  It is by God's design.  These things bring humility - The golden ticket for admission into Heaven.  We must balance acceptance of self and our need for change carefully.  Matthew Kelly says it well, "We must approach this place of balance between accepting ourselves for who we are and challenging ourselves to be all we are capable of being like one would approach a high-spirited animal - calmly and slowly.

In order for us promote woman and her God-given dignity, we must make a conscious effort to stop tearing her down.  And that includes yourself, too!

Please forward this to your women friends!  We are in this together!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the beautiful gift of woman!  Thank you for her feminine genius!  Lord, please guard her against the temptation of comparing herself negatively or advantageously to others.  Please give us eyes to see and hearts to know when we are doing this.  Help us look to You only and embrace all others as a help on our journey.  Help us only to see what is good in others and also what is good in ourselves.  Help us to approach those things that need improvement, calmly and slowly.  We cannot carry our confidence in you too far.  Thank you.  Amen. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The New Feminism

I've been facilitating a class at my Church for the last four weeks and today, we reached the halfway point.  We are studying John Paul II's Letter to Women.  I usually write a "recap" for my own processing, for those who missed, and those who want to revisit a boiled down version of what we covered.  I have repeatedly thought about sharing those recaps with you, but today I'm actually doing it.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section, if I didn't include enough information for you to get something out of it... 

Today we discussed the progress of the women's liberation movement and what is left for us to do. We were affirmed in our activity of promoting feminity and womanhood, but not at the sake of it, or of our male counterparts. We are reminded that we have the same dignity and value as men, but that does not mean we are the same.  We aren't.  As Gabrield Kuby writes in Gender Mainstreaming - The Secret Revolution, if we say that there are no essential or innate differences between men and women, we are repressing and ignoring the results of brain research, medicine, psychology, and sociology, which prove the different identities of men and women in their brain structure, hormonal balance, psychological structure, and social behavior.  

As women, we are called to do "some things better than they've ever been done before" and to know which things "don't need doing at all". We are asked to consider which things in our lives build up women, men, and the Kingdom of God, and which aren't? We are elevating these issues in our consciousness, so we may form convictions and take action accordingly.

It is easy to feel like the movement toward radical feminisim and "gender ideology" is bigger than we are. However, we must remember that "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and what I should do and can do, I will do."  It seems that the world's voice is very loud and doesn't mind getting in your face. We are called to speak the truth in love, where we are. We are called to be woman (with the beauty, dignity, and room for the other that she contains) where we are. We do not need to be invited to the Beijing Conference or start a women's rally in the Brazos valley (unless, of course, you feel called...). We will never know the influence that we have on the lives of those around us, and of those around them, and so on. It is so by God's design.
Elizabeth Leseur writes in her diary, "Through suffering and in silence I want to pray, love, and act. It is best for God alone to dispose of what we offer Him; if we knew the result of our efforts, if the mysterious influence worked by our sacrifice and prayer were revealed to us, pride, always near, would have its way."
Secondly, we discussed the "undoing of gender" and the deconstruction of society that necessarily follows. We must remain compassionate toward those whose instincts or learned behaviors are not what is acceptable to the Church. We must follow Pope John Paul II's example, and "answer" with love when talking to those who do not hold our views. When challenged, we must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us words, especially when we want to lash out or retreat in silence. The "fluidity" of gender and the "rights" that follow are creeping into our schools and leaving parents feeling helpless and overwhelmed. We must remember that "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control." (2Timothy 1:7)  We are called to embrace the "Theology of the Body" and transmit these important truths to our children and those entrusted to us.
When we began this class, we embarked on this "effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women", the new feminism. I'm proud to be with you and praise God that He has given us the Holy Spirit and the tools we need to continue sailing confidently.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for opportunities to gather with other women and to grow in faith.  Thank you for giving us everything we need to get ourselves, our children, and those we love to Heaven.  Thank you for giving us a spirit of power and love and self-control.  When we see things going contrary to Your will, on an ever-increasing scale, please infuse us with an ever-greater confidence and trust in You.  Thank you for loving us enough to create and redeem us.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Angels - Are They Real and What Do They Do?

Today, the Catholic Church remembers and celebrates one of God's eternal gifts, the Holy Guardian Angels.

I have prayed the Guardian Angel prayer since I was a child, but over the years have lost my conviction about the need for or efficacy of those prayers, until this morning.

Just a few angel references from Scripture and a couple of sentences from a meditation were enough to rekindle my awareness of their actual presence and their activity binding Heaven and earth.

Thus says the Lord:  "See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.  Be attentive to him and heed his voice.  Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin.  My authority resides in him.  If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I wil be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes..."  Exodus 23:20-22

The Lord has put angels in charge of you, to guard you in all your ways.  Psalm 91:11

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."  Matthew 18:10

In today's Magnificat meditation, Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey quotes Fr. Olier and has the following to say about our guardian angel's commission:

"Because we are his children, he appoints to us as tutors the princes of his realm, who hold it an honor to have us in their charge. (Fr. Olier)

"Because we are his temples in which he himself dwells, he wills that angels hover about us as they do about our churches, so that bowed down in worship before him they may offer a perpetual homage to his glory, supplying for our neglect and making reparation for our irreverence."

"he sends this mysterious host of angels in order that they may by uniting themselves to us and binding us to themselves form one body of the Church of heaven and the Church of earth." (Fr. Olier) 

"Our guardian angel keeps us in constant touch with heaven."

What an incredible gift!  And why wouldn't it be true?  God offers every possible help to ensure our arrival at the place He has prepared for us.

My spiritual director believes so much in her guardian angel that she asks him to go and comfort those she sees in distress.  (I love this idea and have used it a time or two myself).

I know great angel stories abound...My brother installs and repairs industrial heating and air equipment.  He was working on a unit one day and when he was finished, realized it had full power the entire time.  He should have been dead.  I'm pretty sure he owes his life to his guardian angel for that day.

Do you have a story you can share here? It would be a great tribute to our heavenly advocates!

I heard that if you ask your guardian angel their name, they will reveal it to you.  I know several people who have "heard" an answer.  I have asked repeatedly, but am still waiting.  I also had my boys ask, but they always said names like "Anakin" and "Thomas the Train".  I decided we might try again, later

Angel sent by God to guide me
Be my light and walk beside me
Be my guardian and protect me
On the paths of life direct me.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Innumerable Actions of Very Little Importance

I haven't written in a while, because I haven't encountered anything that could inspire more than a sentence or two.  That hasn't really changed, but enough time has passed that a many "sentence or two" can turn out to be something worth reading. 

I read my favorite book ever, Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade a year ago on my Kindle.  I highlighted the book in its entirety (practically).  Normally, when I read a paper book, I handwrite the things I want to remember in another book for easier reference.  However, I used the lazy Kindle highlighting function, so I am just now going back and writing all of the quotes I loved, basically the whole thing.

"Review your life.  Is it not composed of innumerable actions of very little importance?  Well, God is quite satisfied with these.  They are the share that the soul must take in the work of its perfection."

Lately, my share in the work of my soul's perfection has consisted of cancelling my gym membership, cleaning the house, and facilitating a class for women at my Church.

I cancelled my gym membership because I would have to drag my 3-year-old out of the house 5 days a week to get 3 workouts in.  I'm already committed the other two.  It's not fair to him and it frees us up, alot.  I can work out while he's playing on the jungle gym or "walk the street" in front of my house while he's napping.  So far so good.

As for housecleaning, I dusted off a cleaning chart I made some years ago and am putting it back to work!  My husband helped me arrive at this resolution by reminding me (after several weeks of stewing on it) that he goes to work everyday; That's his job.  My "job" is to care for the kiddos that are home and take care of the house.  That's the deal.

Before I could admit that he was right, I had to remind him that he works for a paycheck.  I work to please him (Lord knows the kids don't care about whether the blinds are dusted!!).  For a while, it seemed like there wasn't much I could do to please him, so it was killing my motivation a little (read: a lot).  I told him that even though he likes his job, if he stopped getting paid, he might be inclined to quit showing up.  Same here.

To make a short story long, He was right and I had to spend a few days figuring out how to work cleaning back in the schedule, but we're back to good and the house is happy. 

By the way, one of my most invaluable tools for planning my time, is my Miranous planner.  Miranda Walichowski designed it and illustrates on every page what our priorities should be.  All you have to do is fill in the space to put in the specifics from your life:  God, Family, S.E.L.F. (Social, Emotional, Leisure, Fitness), Home, and Work.  You can check out her stuff at  I stopped using my planner over the summer and could have avoided the "housecleaning issue" with my husband if I would not have done that!

Lastly, a word about the power of the spoken word...

I talked to an old friend from KS a couple of weeks ago.  After a little catching up, he asked me how my family was doing.  I said, "Great."  He said, "I heard you were getting a divorce.  It really upset me to hear that."  I asked who he heard that from and he said "Oh, I think it went through just about everybody (all of the people we used to work with)".I said, "Frank, that's not true.  Everything is fine.  There isn't a bit of truth to that."  He was relieved and so was I! 

I didn't expect that weird conversation to hang with me, but it did.  I texted my husband about the conversation and my phone rang as soon as I hit "Send".  "What?  Who said that?  Who told him that?"  and so on...  I was amused at first that someone still cared enough about me to start a rumor 10 years after working with me, but then it just unsettled me.  Thoughts like, "Is everything okay in my marriage?  Is there something I don't know? After all, I live with my husband and he seemed just as shocked as I was, so surely there's nothing to it."  It sounds ridiculous even to write this, but that is the power of the word!  A great reminder to only speak truth and life!     

Dear Creator and Redeemer, Thank you for giving us the Word made flesh.  Thank you for teaching us about the power of our words, through your Son.  Thank you for planners (and the people who make them) that begin and end the day with You.  Thank you for marriage and the way it makes us better people.  Thank you for housecleaning charts and all of the other ways we can be held accountable.  Thank you for giving us Your grace when we ask for it, as we continue each day with innumberable actions of very little importance.  I hope You really are satisfied with those.  I love you.  Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Loving Myself For Your Benefit

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking to a beautiful group of wives and mothers who gather to pray and fellowship.  The time I spent with them clarified and deepened a conviction about our need to love ourselves.  I am embracing an "I love me for your benefit" philosophy.  However, it needs to be understood in the context of the proper "love order" (as reviewed by Fr. Michael Sullivan). We should love:
          1. God (above all else)
          2. Our soul (Love your neighbor as yourself)
          3. Our neighbor (yes, this includes our kids)
          4. Our body

I want to share this with you because our culture screams "Love yourself!  Love yourself!  Love yourself!"  Our culture says it's okay if your love begins and ends with yourself. 

As a person who would like to be "in the world, but not of the world", a.k.a. "counter-cultural", it would be easy to dismiss this "Love yourself" concept altogether, throw on the penances, don the hairshirt, and work on loving everyone but myself.  Meanwhile, making sure to feel very selfish for the smallest indulgence.  (Are you nodding your head in agreement?)  I think Christian women may lean a little too far in this direction (myself included).  Not for the sake of martyrdom, but because we fail to see the line between ordered and disordered love.

The truth (as usual) is not to be found in either extreme.  We cannot love our neighbor as ourself, if we do not love ourself in the first place.

"I love me for your benefit." - A person operating at this level says:  "I love me, work on me, and build myself up so that I can come to you from a position of wholeness, a position of fullness.  I take care of me so that you don't have to.  From fullness I can then empty myself, my gifts, my love, my actions, for your ultimate benefit.  I am the only one in charge of me, and I am the one ultimately responsible for me and my well-being.  Therefore, as a steward of my greatest gift, my life, I need to take steps to ensure my health, my calmness of mind, my sanity, and my own validation as a person in the world.  Thus, I can free you from having to provide those things for me.  Thus, I can truly serve you without needing you to serve me."

Hal Runkel, author of Scream-Free Parenting

Dear Lover of Body and Soul, Creator and Redeemer,  Thank you for loving us.  Thank you for summarizing the ten commandments in only two.  "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."  "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Please help us to know what this looks like.  The world's voice is so loud, please help us to hear You.  I don't want to love myself more than I should, but I don't want to burden others for my part, either.  Please show me where the balance is in all things.  I love you and I trust You to reveal to me what I need to know.  I love you.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fake It 'Til You Make It

What a super night!  A great combination of hilarity and pride (not the kind that says you're better than everybody else, but the kind you feel for your kids when they exceed your expectations).

My husband and I decided to let the 6 and 7-year-old boys try out for the local swim club.  They love to swim.  Their Daddy loves to swim.  I love to swim.  Their 3-year-old brother loves to swim.  And our 17-year-old-neighbor-idol-superhero-rockstar loves to swim.  If being surrounded by awesome swimmers makes them awesome swimmers, they are in!

We showed up with 25 other first-timers, grabbed the necessary form on the way in and took our seat at the end of the bleachers to await instruction.  I returned the form and reclaimed my seat.  "Where are the boys?" I ask my husband.  He says, "I thought they were with you."  We quickly scan the bleachers and then the pool, where the current team members are practicing on the far end.

I say, "That looks like B-Man!" (in a lane with a bunch of other swimmers with kickboards).  He says, "There's Walker right behind him!"  Sure enough.  They came to swim, so they just grabbed a kickboard and jumped in!  I guess they figured the only reason to ever wait to get in the water at the swimming pool was for sunscreen, and since we were indoors, there was no reason to wait!  The coach didn't even seem to notice a couple of extra swimmers, except when they were going the wrong way.  Hopefully, this isn't a "You had to be there" kind of story, because it was hilarious.

I think "Fake It Til You Make It" really is a more legitimate approach than it sounds.  Tonight was a great illustration of "If it looks like an Aggie Club swimmer, acts like an Aggie Club swimmer, and smells like an Aggie Club Swimmer, it must be an Aggie Club Swimmer!" The coach who evaluated them when their turn finally came loved their enthusiasm and he didn't even know about their unauthorized warm-up.  We loved their enthusiasm, too, and hope it continues, especially when they realize there is way more to learn than what they already know!

Dear God, Thank you for tonight.  Amen.

Do-It-Yourself, Answering Your Own Prayer

Have you ever had the same thing/idea/theme come up repeatedly over a short period of time in your life?  And the repetition gets you thinking, "Lord, are you trying to tell me something?!" 

In the past couple of weeks, I keep coming across similar references to prayer in different sources.  So, as a continual effort to share what I've been given, I wanted to share these overlapping sentiments with you. The statements are simple and straightforward, but the implications are far-reaching.

I don't want to be the reason God can't answer my prayer!  I'm sure you don't either, so here's the gist, according to William Barclay* in A Book of Everyday Prayers:

1.  Be honest in prayer.  "Don't lie to God." (Luther) "We cannot pray for that which we do not desire with our whole hearts.  If there is something which we know we ought to desire, and we do not desire it, then our first step must not be to pray for it; that would be dishonest; but to confess that the holy desire is not there, and to ask God by His Spirit to put it there."

2.  We must be very definite in prayer and there can be no real prayer without self-examination.

3.  God cannot grant a selfish request.  Anything that we do necessarily affects other people.

4.  God will not do for us that which we can do for ourselves.  Prayer is the cooperation of our effort with the grace of God. 

~"There is little point in praying to be enabled to overcome some temptation, and then in flirting with that temptation, in playing with fire, and in putting oneself in the very position in which the temptation can exert all its fascination." 

~"There is little point in praying for our home and for our loved ones, and in going on being as selfish and inconsiderate as we have been." 

~"There is little point in praying that the sorrowing may be comforted and the lonely cheered, unless we ourselves set out to bring comfort and cheer to the sad and the neglected in our own sphere."

~"Prayer would be an evil rather than a blessing, if it were only a way of getting God to do what we ourselves will not make the effort to do."

Prayer is not primarily a means of escape, it is a means of conquest.  "Prayer does not normally promise or achieve release from some situation; it brings power and endurance to meet and to overcome that situation."

In a brief Wikipedia search on William Barclay, I learned that he was a minister, skeptical concerning the Trinity, a universalist, and a pacifist. I don't know much else about him, nor generally align my beliefs with his, but I believe what he says here regarding prayer.

Several days after reading William Barclay's thoughts on prayer, I read this in a daily Magnificat meditation:

"You say, 'he hasn't worked the miracle.' 'he hasn't given me the courage I need.'  Well the answer usually is: 'you  have not given him anything to work the miracle with.'  Of course, he can do some miracles without, but usually he asks us to give something, and if the miracle you ask is personal transubstantiation - that you may be changed into him - then clearly, unless you offer yourself - all of yourself - he can't do it, for what has he got to change?" - Caryll Houselander

Dear Creator and Redeemer,  Thank you for people who teach us how to talk to and relate to You.  Thank you for gentle reminders that get us back on track with a broader perspective of prayer and our role in it.  Lord, help me to "show up", but get out of the way, too.  I give you the desires of my heart.  For the things that You will for my life that I do not yet desire, please give me the desire.  For the things that I desire that have no place in my life, please remove them.  Lord, I am too short-sighted to even know what I am asking, but You know, and I trust in You.  Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Waiting In Line at the Salvation Army

This morning I took a friend to the Salvation Army to get food.  You can get free food there once a month if you qualify financially.  Today was our third attempt.  Last week, they were closed.  Yesterday, the line was too long.  And today, she forgot her ID.  She stood in line for almost an hour anyway, confident that they would recognize her or look at her file.  No such luck.  We left empty-handed.  Fortunately, I brought her a few things from my freezer, so I know she won't be going totally without.  But, this whole scenario has me thinking about the differences in our lives.

I've never had to wait in line to get food unless I was at a really popular restaurant.  I've never had to wait for a ride, to wait in line for food.  When you don't have financial means, you have to wait for just about everything.  Food and rides.  A ride to pick up your check.  A ride to cash the check.  A ride to the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul.  A ride to the grocery store.  Add a physical and/or mental disability and you've got a very difficult life, full of waiting.

As I was waiting on the front lawn of the Salvation Army, playing hide-and-seek with my three-year-old, I watched a couple sitting on the step, looking through their grocery bags and smoking a cigarette while they waited for their ride to come pick them up. Then, I started thinking about the price of cigarettes.  I asked my friend, who also smokes, how much she spends on cigarettes per month.  She said probably around $40, and those are the cheap ones.  She wasn't sure of the value of the food she gets at Salvation Army, but I venture to say it is not more than $40 worth.

So, if these people didn't smoke, they could buy their own groceries instead of waiting in line to get them for free.  It would be easy to stop here.  "Don't give free food to people who smoke!"  Done.  But, as I sat there trying to squeeze my foot into one of their shoes, I realize that those forbidden cigarettes are probably the single source of pleasure in their life.  Aside from killing them slowly, cigarettes are the closest thing to an "escape" as they've got.  If they don't have transportation, they are probably stuck at home more often than not.  They are probably living in subsidized housing where pretty things are few and green grass is something of a myth.  There is no summer vacation or Spring Break.  There is no eating out if you don't feel like cooking.  It says something to me, when you can breathe easiest when you are inhaling something that will eventually kill you.

"Assistance to the unfortunate honors when it treats the poor man with respect, not only as an equal, but as a superior - since he is suffering perhaps we are incapable of suffering; since he is a messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and our charity..." 

"God did not make the poor.  He sends few human creatures into this world without providing them with those two basic sources of riches - intelligence and will.  But, we allow intelligence to be quenched in ignorance and will to be weakened by vice." 

"And let no one say that in treating poverty...we aim at perpetuating it.  The Authority that tells us we shall always have the poor amongst us is the same that commands us to do all that we can that poverty may cease to be."  -Frederic Ozanam, one of the founders of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society

I worked for the St. Vincent de Paul Society for a year and a half.  For me, working with the poor is a constant tottering between frustration and compassion.  It doesn't seem like things have to be so hard for these people, but they are.  I hope one day I will only have compassion and my frustration will be swallowed up by it.

"God does not value what the poor have, but what they do not have:  self-sufficiency, a closed attitude, a presumption of being able to save themselves." - Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa

Dear Father of the Poor,  Thank you for the privelege of participating in the lives of the poor.  Thank you for their humility and trust in you.  Thank you for the ways you have blessed me so abundantly in my life.  Lord, please help me and all of those who serve your poor, to do so with a generous, compassionate, and loving heart.  Please remove any judgment that creeps in.  Thank you for teaching us in Your Word that we will be measured by the cup we measure with.  You always give us everything we need.  Help us to remember that we may be the hands you use to deliver it.  Amen.