Thursday, May 31, 2012

Perspective Gained at a First Grade Lunch Table

Yesterday, I attended the last field trip of the year with my oldest son - a fun time at Central Park with volleyball, bubbles, water balloons, tug-of-war, popsicles, and lunch.

During lunch, I asked the first graders sitting around me what they were going to do this summer.  The conversation quickly turned from what they were going to do (because they didn't know), to who they were going to be with or without.

Little girl R said her Dad was going to pick her up on the last day of school, because he wanted her for one month, since her Mom gets her more than her Dad.

Little boy C, sitting next to her, said he never gets to see his real Dad because he moved far away and his mom lost track of him.  When I told him "I bet your Dad misses you", he looked at me and said, "He's only called me once."  Ugh. 

Little girl D across the table said her Mom is supposed to get out of jail this summer.  She asks if you won't tell anybody then tells you her Mom is in jail for "doing with drugs."

Next to her, sat Little J.  He lives with his grandparents because his Mom is on drugs and his Dad is in jail.  He's a great kid.  Thank God for grandparents who pack his lunch, take him to Tae Kwon Do, and love him in all of the little ways kids need to be loved.

As the weight of our lunch conversations settled in on the drive home, I realized how blessed my children are to live in a home where things are as they should be.  Nothing exceptional, just life as God intended it - with parents who love Him, each other, and their kids.

I generally think of this as a "given".  I don't typically think I am blessing my sons just by showing up and being present.  But, today I am reminded that just showing up can be a blessing.  Not only to my kids, but to those kids who desperately need someone to look at, see, and listen to them.

Later that afternoon, I attended my kindergartner's year end party.  The little boy I was sitting next to didn't have any pictures of his family during the slide show, because his parents are in CPS custody and he lives with his grandma, but she works.  Another little boy pointed to the picture of his family and said "See that guy standing by me?  He's dead."  His Dad was killed a few weeks before when hit by a car on the side of a road.

My own father suffered horribly at the hands of his parents.  With God's grace, he broke the cycle of addiction and abuse and has been nothing to his children, but a positive force - a pillar of strength and unconditional love.  None of his children or grandchildren will ever see the ugliness and selfishness that would have been their inheritance without God's grace and his docility to the Holy Spirit. 
In Apostolate for Holy Motherhood, the Blessed Mother says, "Be kind to your children.  This is of the utmost importance.  They need your undivided attention when they are small...Your children are your jewels, your wealth; guard them as the treasures which they are."

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the opportunity to join my son's First grade class for lunch today and my Kindergartner's year end party.  Please bless them and children everywhere abundantly, Lord.  Preserve them from repeating the mistakes their parents have made with them.   Let them have recourse to You and the Mother we all share.  Send Your grace upon their parents, who are probably repeating their parent's mistakes.  Break the chains of abuse and addiction that bind them, so they may live in the freedom of love and give them the desire to embrace Your holy will.  Please stand in the gap for us with Your Son, His Mother, and all the Saints. Amen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tomorrow - The Last Day of School

Tomorrow is the last day of school.  From all of the conversations I've had, it sounds like this is a bittersweet transition for most of us.  We're excited for the change of pace to a slower one and the freedom that comes with not being bound by the hours of the school day, but it comes with the price of having little or no alone time.  I'm looking forward to reading with my boys, lots of swimming, and day trips.  I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my school boys.  I'm looking forward to not rushing out the door in the morning (and the yelling that has been known to accompany it).  I'm looking forward to challenging them and enjoying them.  I am looking forward to "soaking up the time".

I used to reflect on the days when I would have school-aged children.  Time is really picking up speed.

August 21, 2009 - Friday 7:51am 

I was just thinking about having just 1 more year with all of my kids at home.  This is our last year for leisurely mornings…sitting on the couch watching movies or PBS w/ sippy cups in hand.  Every one says time really starts to fly when your kids start school.  Walker is not going to know what to do with himself when Brayton starts kindergarten!  We have such a beautifully simple life.  Granted, I occasionally feel pressures that I need to be stimulating them more, teaching them more things, cleaning more, etc…, but these feelings have abated considerably since Wyatt was born.  It seems that the pressure was off because I could no longer “do it all.”  Brayton and Wyatt have adapted beautifully.  I am amazed how they are able to entertain themselves, now.  They build Lego guns and forts out of couch cushions and blankets. 
Wyatt is still getting up twice in the middle of the night.  He’s 5 months old now, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.  However, I’m going to have to relearn how to do that because I wake up every few hours whether Wyatt is awake or not.  He is such a happy baby.  He has the most beautiful smile and he uses it constantly.  It is almost loud, it is so big.   
I’ve started walking the dogs after Wyatt goes to bed.  Brayton and Walker go along to ride their bikes.  It feels good to be giving them some love, attention, and exercise.  It has been a really long time. 
I’m reading St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, after reading several books about Mother Teresa.  I have a strong desire to read about the lives of all the saints, especially women.  I don’t desire to suffer, as these saints did.  I suppose when a person is close to sainthood, they see the unmatched beauty and sanctification which takes place in a soul through suffering.
My friend, Kathy, has just experienced my worst fear…watching one of her children die.  I pray that God never sends me this trial.  I wonder if God is going to send me more children, even though Brett would like to be done.  More and more, I understand my vocation to be that of a wife and mother - Providing an environment conducive for cultivating healthy and holy souls. (end)

Mark 10:45 tells us "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Ransom is defined as "The release of property or a person in return for payment of a demanded price."  Christ paid the price of our sins with His life.  My calling is to be as Christ.  My life is to be spent as a downpayment, so that my children may accept Christ's payment for their sins.  If I don't lead them to believe in Him and accept His payment for their sins with my life, who will?  How can they be released from their debt if they don't acknowledge that it has been paid?

Dear God of Summer and All Things Therein, Thank you for the change of seasons.  Thank you for summer and for swimming pools and the opportunity to be home with my children.  Please help me to spend my life joyfully and with great love for them.  They depend on me to do this well.  Please inspire me as to how I can provide the best environment for cultivating healthy and holy souls.  This is time that I will never get back.  Please help me to remember that.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are You Dead, Yet?

I heard this poem several weeks ago on Red-C radio. I googled it this morning and found it on a website called Yahweh's Sword. This ties in perfectly with the "little deaths" I was talking about yesterday.

Dying To Self
When you are forgotten, or neglected,
or purposely set at naught, and you
don't sting or hurt with the insult or
the oversight, but your heart is happy,
being counted worthy to suffer for YAHSHUA,
When your good is evil spoken of,
when your wishes are misunderstood
your advise disregarded, your opinions
ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger
rise in your heart, or even defend
yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence,
When you lovingly and patiently bear
any disorder, any irregularity, any
unpunctuality, or any annoyance; when
you stand face to face with waste, folly,
extravagance, spiritual insensibility-
and endure it as YAHSHUA endured,
When you are content with any food,
any offering, any climate, any society,
any raiment, any interruption
by the will of YAHWEH,
When you never care to refer to your-
self in conversation, or to record your
own good works, or itch after commendations,
when you can truly love to be unknown,
When you can see your brother prosper
and have his needs met and can honestly
rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy,
nor question YAHWEH while your own
needs are greater and in desperate circumstances,
When you can receive correction and
reproof from one of less stature than your-
self and can humbly submit inwardly as
well as outwardly, finding no rebellion
or resentment rising up within your heart,
Are you dead yet?

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving us. Please convict us of your love, so that we may joyfully and willingly die to ourselves daily, as a response to Your love. Amen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Obsession With Self-Survival

On this Memorial Day, the flags are flying all over town and we remember all of those who have died, and sacrificed life or limb in the name of freedom.  My heart goes out to all of those who grieve for their loved ones who died serving their country.  If only honor helped mitigate pain. 

This day also makes me think about my own mortality.  Fr. William Joensen turned on a switch in my brain one day when I read the following: "Humans become 'capable of death' by the willing embrace of the Word who helps us overcome obsession with self-survival."  I began to wonder, "Am I obsessed with surviving?"  The answer is yes.  Not just yes to staying alive physically, but to avoiding little deaths, too.  I think every bad personal choice ever made is an attempt to avoid the feeling of dying (suffering) - physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  Drugs, sex, alcohol, food, politics, things, an excess of anything - we use these things to distract us or attempt to overpower whatever it is within ourselves that is languishing.

C.S. Lewis diffuses any attempt to convince ourselves that this approach might work:

"If you have not chosen the kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead! (Law)  Women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science.  Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?"

Today is a good day to take inventory of the little deaths you might be trying to avoid or focus on what you want to do, no matter how much sacrifice is involved.  What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  How do you live with the "End in Mind"?  Miranda Walichowski has an excellent planner and website that encourages this kind of mindset as you live your life.  You can learn more about her and her planner at

Dear God, Thank you for the freedom we have in the United States of America.  Thank you for all of the soldiers and their families who have sacrificed to make it so.  Thank you for your Word.  Please give us the grace to embrace it.  Please help us see clearly the route to the only well, and help us to stay on it.  Protect us from all of the things that lure us away and give us the grace to see them for what they are.  Help us to overcome our obsession with surviving by dying to ourselves at every turn.  It is in these little deaths that we will one day be united to You.  I love you.  Amen.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

We Become What We Celebrate

Happy Birthday, Holy Mother Church!  The Church was born over 2000 years ago when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and Mary.  The Holy Spirit is just as present now as He was on that day!  If we were in a Gospel church right now, you would hear a resounding "Amen!", here. 

Matthew Kelly (same writer of the children's book I recommended two days ago)writes more beautifully and succinctly about the power of celebrating than anyone else I've ever read.  In Rediscovering Catholicism, he writes:

~ "The essence of Catholicism is transformation.  You cannot become more like Jesus Christ and at the same time stay as you are."

~ "We become what we celebrate."
~ "The best way to defend life is to celebrate life.  The best way to defend our faith is to celebrate our faith."
~ "The best way to speak about God is to thrive in the life He calls us to live."

We can best celebrate life and everything it contains by living well - making choices based on things that are important to us:  God, family, all of the people in our lives, and ourselves.
Jesus tells the disciples it is better for them (and us) to have the Holy Spirit as Advocate than Jesus Himself! In John 16:7-11 He says, "But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."

When I think of the greatest gift the world has ever been given, I think of Jesus Christ.  However, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is the gift that He gives us.  The gift that remains.

In today's second reading from Galatians 5:16-25, Paul writes, "Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want...If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit."

Dear Loving and Righteous Father, Thank you for Jesus Christ and sending the Holy Spirit to remain with us after You called Jesus back to Yourself on the day He ascended into Heaven.  You know we can't find our way to You without help.  Thank you for always giving us what we need, long before we ask or even know we need help.  Please give us the grace to celebrate our faith by living as You would have us live.  Thank you for the Church and her wisdom, as received by the Holy Spirit.  Amen! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012


This is sort of Part B to yesterday's post... From time to time, I realize the weight that each choice in my life carries and how unconciously or selfishly I make them most of the time. 

I felt continual pressure and guilt when my kids were younger (before they started school). When I was cooking or cleaning, I felt like I should be spending time with my boys. When I was spending time with my boys, I felt like I should be doing something around the house. I became very occupied with trying to figure out how much of my day was supposed to be spent with my kiddos. I even called and wrote to Focus on the Family. My thinking was that if we know how many hours of sleep the average person needs, surely they can figure out, on average, what percentage of our time needs to be spent engaging our kids. However, they were no help. They just assured me that I was a good mother for even asking the question, said there's no way to know (the same kid can have different needs on different days), and left me to my own devices.

Following is my journal entry from January 16, 2011, which illustrates one of the times when my choices forced me to look at them head-on:

I am wondering how many choices I make in a day's time.  Not about what to eat or what to wear, but about what to do next.  There are things I now do automatically because of choices I made a long time ago.  For example, today is Sunday.  I will go to church at 11.  No brainer.  This no longer registers as a choice in my brain.  Just as, when I wake up every morning, I drink a cup of coffee and read something to feed my spirit and help me live my beliefs.  So today, I'm going to focus on those moments when I am choosing what to do next, not the choices that are made for me, like  making meals to feed my family, changing a diaper, etc...  I want to make choices based on what is important to me.  (end)
For the 7 days that followed, I kept track of how many actual choices I made during a normal work day.  The number of recorded choices I made in a day ranged from 4 to 13.  Anything from playing Legos, sweeping the floor, to reading a book.  The choices can be lumped into three groups:  Spending time with the kids, Cleaning/Cooking/Errands, Doing something for myself.  Out of 39 total choices, the boys got 46% of my time, the house/chores got 33%, and I got 21%.

I am happy to see that my boys got more time than anything else, but I also know it isn't always that way.  I want to give them more of myself, but they are getting older and don't seem very interested most of the time.  They would rather play a video game or play with their friends.  After all, I'm not very good at playing guns or swords (probably because I don't really know what to do and I don't really enjoy it).  Instead, I offer to play Uno, Battleship, but that isn't usually what they have in mind, either.  I think this is a natural progression, but in the poorly lit corner of my mind, I still wonder "Maybe they just gave up on me a long time ago (because I've been too selfish) and they have ruled me out as somebody to play with."

The important thing for me to realize is that it is not about whether or not they take me up on my offer.  It is about seeking them out and offering them my most coveted gift, my time.  If they don't accept, then I can let go of the guilt (at least for a little while).  So, for now, I will make it a point to make myself available to each one of my boys at least once a day, and they can take it or leave it. I'm going to write their names on the white board on my refrigerator.  Once I've offered, I'll put a smiley face by their name.  Accountability is good.

"The diminuitive chains of habit are generally too small to be felt, till they are too strong to be broken."  - Unknown-

Dear Heavenly Father, I am going to have to stand before you one day and give an account for my life.  I am going to see all of the times when I passed up opportunities to love and serve You, my family, and those people you have placed in my life.  Please forgive me where I have fallen short.  Please give me the grace to do better by living more selflessly, starting right now.  Thank you for time, chances, and choices.  You are a loving, generous, and merciful God.  I love you.  Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Becoming the Best-Version-of-Yourself

"Well, Max, if a fish is good at being a fish, and a bird is good at being a bird, then you Max, are good at being Max.  You are not here to be Michael or Hannah or Will, you are here to be you...You are here to become the-best-version-of-yourself." 

 My stepmom (Grandma Meg) just bought this book for my boys and excitedly read it to them a couple of nights in a row at bedtime.  The source of this quote and this idea are already making a huge impact in my family's life. It is entitled Why am I Here? - a story about becoming the-best-version-of-yourself! by Matthew Kelly.

Yesterday, on the way home from school, one of my son's friends fell off of his bike.  His elbow was all bloody and he kept holding one of his shoulders.  My boys jumped into action!  One of them ran home (unbeknownst to me) and came back with a Band-Aid.  My other son walked his friend's bike to his mom.  When we got home, my oldest son said, "I need to call Grandma Meg!!"  "Why?", I asked.  He said, "I need to tell her about being the-best-version-of-myself!!!  She told me to call her when that happens!"  So, he called and I think his Grandma has had few prouder moments.  He got it!

He was so thrilled at having been the-best-version-of-himself that he wanted to find more things to do.  He made a card for his friend and we rode bikes over to his house to hand-deliver it.  His friend wasn't home, so he just left it at the front door, but he was beaming!  He was so proud of himself and I know he is eager to repeat the experience of being the-best-version-of-himself and the wonderful feelings that go with it.

If you have children and want them to become the best-version-of-themselves, this book is an awesome way to communicate what that looks like, and they can grasp it!!  It is an awesome way to start the conversation.  It's good for grown-ups, too!

I don't think we can be reminded too often that the sum of our life is simply all of our daily choices added up.  Our choices are important! 

Dear God, Thank you for the idea of becoming the-best-version-of-ourselves.  We know what you want from us, but it is not always easy to put it into words or understand what it is supposed to look like.  Thank you for grandmas and people who want the very best for us and our children, and who know how to love them well.  Thank you for children and so many chances to make the best choice.  I love you.  Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Letter to A Tormented Soul

I have several people whom I love dearly who are tormented souls.  I wrote this letter to one of them in the Adoration chapel last night.  I just removed the names to give them the respect they deserve.  But, I want to share this with you, as well.  These souls in our lives need us tremendously.  Let us do everything in our power to intercede for them...

Good morning. I was praying for you in Adoration last night after I got off the phone with M. She mentioned that you are in a dark place and S told me the same thing a few weeks ago. M told me you stopped receiving Communion. She said you feel unworthy, because that's the message you keep hearing. Anyway, I was just going to pray for you, but I felt like I was supposed to write you instead, so I spent my Holy Hour writing you...
I read a book called Unbound. It talked about understanding strategies of the enemy...What is his plan? What is the foundational lie? What areas of the person's life are being held in bondage? God has a plan for your life, which includes a life of peace, love, and joy. However, satan also has a plan for your life. If this is true, what do you think satan's plan for your life would look like?

I have a guess. You would hate your job. You would hate too little free time. You would hate too much free time. You would hate yourself. You would isolate yourself from everyone who loves you. You would stop receiving the sacraments - Reconciliation and especially Communion. You would believe that your thoughts and sins are greater than God's capacity for love and mercy. You would believe that the devil's power is greater than God's power. You would believe that your life would be better or more fulfilling, if only the circumstances were different. You would feel helpless and hopeless.

If this is true for you, it would seem that satan has the upper hand at the moment. The good news is that his gig is up when you hit the Confessional and receive the Body of Christ!

The devil is a liar. He will do anything in his power to keep you from Jesus' side and trusting in His mercy. "At the heart of satan's attack upon you in his attempt to rob you of your true identity and destiny. satan will do anything he can to keep you from knowing God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (Neal Lozano in Unbound).

If you think you are the worst sinner in the world, Jesus has plenty to say about that, as St. Faustina recorded in her diary:

"Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy...I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify Him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. Before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the door of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the door of My mercy must pass through the door of My justice."

"My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of My goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed Myself to be nailed to the Cross; for you I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. You misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give Me pleasure if you hand over to Me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you treasures of My grace."

"Oh, soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy."

I think you can relate to what Thomas Merton writes of his own experience in The Seven Storey Mountain:

"But now I lay on this bed, full of gangrene, and my soul was rotten with the corruption of my sins. And I did not even care whether I died or lived. The worst thing that can happen to anyone in this life is to lose all sense of these realities...

What is more, there was nothing I could do for myself. There was absolutely no means, no natural means within reach, 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 these 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."

I love you. I am that person praying for you. So is M, D, M, and S. You have lots of someones through which you will be delivered out of that hell where you are already confined without knowing it.

Please go to Confession and receive the Eucharist. We can pray for the rest.

I love you and I want to spend eternity with you, and that means that satan does not get his way.

Peace and Much Love,

Heidi Ann

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Being Held Back

I recently learned that the Spiritual Direction course I've been wanting to take for a year has postponed its start date from this coming September to the Fall of 2013.  I didn't realize how much I was looking forward to this and counting on it as being my next step.  In spiritual direction yesterday, my director told me "You are being held back for some reason."  This has been apparent to me and I know it will make sense looking back, but it's a little stifling moving forward.  I'm embarrassed to admit I feel a little aimless.  When I try to guess at what God is doing (which you are not supposed to do and is proof of my self-love), I can think of a lot of reasons why this might be happening:  to temper my impetuousity, increase my patience, increase my detachment to all things - including things that I believe are His will for me, increase life experience, increase and purify my desire, increase my knowledge of the spiritual life, etc...

I think I must also overcome the subtle temptation to believe I must be doing something that feels like spiritual progress to be making spiritual progress!  Ultimately, I must abandon my will to God's will and wait patiently on Him.  This is a definitive and recurring theme in my life!!

Jean-Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence, has many powerful and illuminating things to say about this:

"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." 

"Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret."

"God makes saints as He pleases, but they are made always according to His plan, and in submission to His will."

"The docile soul will not seek to learn by what road God is conducting it."

"There cannot be anything great in us in the sight of God except our passive endurance.  Therefore let us think of it no more, let us leave the care of our sanctification to God who well knows how to effect it.  It all depends on the watchful care, and particular operation of divine Providence, and is accomplished in a great measure without our knowledge, and even in a way that is unexpected, and disagreeable to us."

"When one loves God, one does not wish to make greater progress than God wills..."

"...for nothing is so opposed to the Spirit of God and to the marks of His grace, than interior distress, produced by a too great eagerness for even the best and holiest things.  Moderate this indiscreet zeal, this too impetuous impulsiveness, and direct all your efforts to the fulfillment of the holy will of God in all things, renouncing your own will however holy and reasonable it may appear to you."

"Now you must seek, in all things, not your own satisfaction however spiritual it may be, but the perfect satisfaction of God."

Today my prayer is a modification from yet another quote in this must-read book:

Dear Heavenly Father, Do not let me think so much of my own interests; my business is to occupy myself simply and quietly with You, to accomplish Your will in all that You require at present.  That is my task, all the rest I leave to You; my progress is Your business, as mine is to busy myself for You and to obey Your orders.  Thank you for loving me.  I love you and trust your plans for my life.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rule of Three

I am sharing today's Catholic Spiritual Direction post. I didn't submit the question, but It is probably pertinent for most of us and the answer is pertinent for all of us!!

I am so grateful for Christ's words to Catherine of Siena (below) regarding the incompleteness of our design. We are not faulty because we need each is the way God made us!

The rule of three in the battle against sin

Q: Dear Dan, I am struggling with a recurring problem with anger that I can’t seem to overcome. I have read books, tried to understand how it surfaces in me, prayed fervently (I am living in a state of grace outside of this problem). But I seem to be making no progress. I am very very very very very very very very frustrated.

A: Yours is a challenging question. Because of the complex issues involved with this issue and my lack of knowledge of anything about you personally, I can’t give you a specific answer. I can however, point you to principals that I have no doubt will in some way help you face and overcome this challenge.

After years of observing intelligent, capable, and committed people work to solve problems, I have come to discover a rule that is almost universally true. Those who use this rule will be significantly more likely to overcome the challenges they face, those who don’t, will likely find themselves frustrated, dejected, and shackled with recurring sin and the debilitating and often disastrous consequences.

The rule itself is simple but it depends on a handful of basic realities that are worth a brief moment of exploration.

Sin clouds the heart and mind. Small sins and imperfections, left unchecked, cause a gradual and often unnoticed degeneration of the mind and will. Thus, when someone is caught in a destructive cycle, they often do not have, within themselves, the necessary faculties to identify the root cause, isolate it, formulate a solution, and then implement that solution.
We humans are finite creatures. We come into this world with blind spots. Even in the garden before our natures were tainted by sin, we had blind spots. In our perfect state, these were merely dependencies on one another to allow the other to see what the other could not see and to serve them in their need. In our fallen state, these blind-spots and dependencies can and do morph into serious realms of spirtiual delusion and dsyfunction. Post fall, with respect to serious emotional, psychological, and spiritual problems, it is very rare that we can effectively identify and overcome them on our own.
What can we do about these limitations and challenges? Well, the traditional means of the sacraments, prayer, spiritual reading, etc. are essential. Even so, many people are still stuck in their spiritual battles even after years of faithful practice of these life-giving disciplines. Other, less commonly used but very powerful tools are the combination of a rule of life coupled with a daily examen. Together these dramatically increase our spiritual peripheral vision by making us more self-aware (these practices consistently utilized can also help to shed light on our root sin). These tools help us to become more cognisant of our blind-spots and delusion not because we begin to see them clearly but because we see the patterns of the outcomes more clearly. Remember, you can never clearly see exactly what it is in your blind-spot.

Even with these wise and helpful practices, many people still are stuck in their spiritual growth. Why? It is because they don’t practice this simple rule:

If, with full vigor and commitment, we attempt to overcome a pattern of sin, imperfection, or any other major personal challenge three times without clear success or significant progress, we must seek outside help to properly diagnose and solve the problem.

Here’s an insight to the solution to this problem from God the Father given to St. Catherine of Sienna on the inherent incompleteness of our design and our clear need for others (Dialogue #7):

The same is true of many of my gifts and graces, virtues and other spiritual gifts, and those things necessary for the body and human life. I have distributed them all in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus I have given you reason – necessity, in fact – to practice mutual charity. For I could well have supplied you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another…

So, we are designed with a fundamental need for one another. Humility, mutual dependence and charity, are absolutely necessary for our spiritual growth; they are absolutely necessary for us to overcome serious spiritual challenges. Our culture, fueled by the lies of the enemy, militate against these holy needs and seek to replace them with the anti-virtues of pride, independence, and hyper-individualism. These ant-virtues coupled with fear and vanity have locked up and destroyed many people of good-will who simply would not reach out and get help with the challenges they face.

Jesus said that He came to give us life and that more abundantly. Reach out for that life that he offers to you. Don’t settle for less. Get the help you need.

PS: For more in-depth treatment of these ideas, you can pre-order Dan’s book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. It is scheduled to be available later in 2012.

Dear God, we live in a world that worships independence and individualism. Thank you for your words to St. Catherine of Siena. Our inherent need for one another is part of your solution for avoiding the snare of pride. Thank you for the many helps you give to ensure, as much as possible, our admission into Heaven. Please give us the grace to recognize when we need outside help to live the superabundant life You have called us to. Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts

I'm on my way back to Texas in the back of my parent's RV. Nothing like riding in the back seat to make you feel like a little girl again (in a good way).

I just finished taking the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory by Sherry Weddell - A beginning step in a long process of discernment. It is a set of 120 questions, which you answer from 0=Never to 3=Often. When you finish, you add your totals and see how they correspond to the 24 Spiritual Gifts discussed. They include: administration, celibacy, craftmanship, discernment of spirits, encouragement, evangelism, faith, giving, healing, helps, hospitality, intercessory prayer, knowledge, leadership, mercy, missionary, music, pastoring, prophecy, service, teaching, voluntary poverty, wisdom, and writing.

You identify the areas that you scored most highly in and explore them more deeply. Over time, there are three basic "signs" of a charism (spiritual gift):
1. Effectiveness
2. Your experience (Generally, feel energized, satisfied, and joyful, as though this is where you belong)
3. Response or affirmation from others

In the Called and Gifted Workshop Participant Handbook presented by The Catherine of Siena Institute, they include a great little list of steps among many other lists of steps. It reads:

Identify your general area of call.
Go there and prayerfully "hang out."
Be available to God.
Do the next obvious thing.

I love the simplicity and order here!!

I simply had to share this treasure with you!!

If you want to learn more, you can visit

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving us so many gifts. Thank you for gifts we keep and gifts we give away. Please give us wisdom as we discern the best way to serve You in Your Kingdom for Your Greater Glory! Thank you for the Hope we have because we are an Easter people! Thank you for interceding for us at the right hand of Your Father! Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In the Land of Oz

I flew to Kansas yesterday for my niece's graduation. Why do people ignore each other in the airport and on the tram?! Don't know what to say? Don't care? Not enough return on their 5-minute investment in conversation, because they will likely never see you again? Interesting. Can you tell I don't fly much? I had great plans of reading in uninterrupted bliss, but I couldn't stop watching the people, who didn't care in the least what I was doing.

Today has been a day of many simple pleasures: My sister brought a cup of coffee and cinnamon rolls to my bedside while I was still sleeping. I watched my niece do her last Senior vocal performance, Lunch at Panera, an afternoon walk and chat with my sister, dinner out, ice cream after, and a glass of wine on the patio while watching the fireflies.

Days like these are a wonderful gift. A day with no responsibilities, full of love and an abundance of everything. I am surrounded by people I love and am trying to soak up the time.

Dear God, Thank you for the pleasures that you allow us in this life and for the sweetness of life when it simply needs to be savored.

Thank you for my sister who I look more like every year and whom I laugh exactly like.

Thank you for new chapters in our lives, where we can "start over". Please bless all of those graduating this year and especially those who need a fresh start. Thank you for giving us a fresh slate as often as we need one, as long as we're willing to come to You, with humility and sorrow for dirtying the slate to begin with. You are so merciful, patient, and loving. Help us to be more like You. Thank you for every good and perfect thing. Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ascension of the Lord

"The Ascension contains the great mystery of why Jesus must visibly leave his disciples, thus creating a physical void in their midst...They must now themselves become what they have learned to admire and love."

-Erasmo Leiva-

"May almighty God bless you, for on this day his Only Begotten Son
pierced the heights of heaven
and unlocked for you the way
to ascend to where he is."

-Solemn blessing from Magnificat

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Am I Supposed To Be Doing With My Time?!

Today is my husband's birthday.  Last night, I asked him if he had to entitle the past year, what he would name it.  The year of what???  He never really answered the question (probably because I kept offering suggestions and he couldn't think straight), but just said it has been a really good year. 

What makes a good year?  I think a year is good mostly because we spend our time well and because we've grown in one or several areas: physically (gotten stronger and more fit), spiritually (closer to God), socially (closer to others), and emotionally (less prone to temper tantrums).  It is true that other things can make a year good, like inheriting a bunch of money, a new baby, a promotion, or some other unmerited gift, but my focus is on the more probable and dependable variables:  growth and the gift of time.
Time itself has been very good to me.  Following is a journal entry from 7 years ago.  I no longer wonder how I am supposed to be spending my time; that has become clear for me.  But, it wasn't always that way.

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? (end)

In 7 years, I have learned (with God's grace) what I am supposed to be doing with my time.  I am supposed to spend the first and last wakeful periods of the day in conversation with God.  Spend time in His Word.  Pray always (praise, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition).  Beyond that, I am supposed to love and serve others.  First, my husband, then kids, then everyone else.  I take the opportunities to love and serve as they come to me (as an obvious need or as an inspiration).  I have learned that we can be doing anything that is not morally depraved and still be in the Presence of God. 

I have learned that what we are doing matters much less than how we are doing it.  If you are closer to Heaven (more mindful of God) when you are finished, then it was time well-spent.

I don't know who to attribute the following quote to, but I copied it from one of those inspirational posters.  I love the idea of exchanging a day of our life for something.  It seems to capture the profundity of what we are really doing.

"This is the beginning of a new day.  You have been given this day to use as you will.  You can waste it or use it for good.  What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.  When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind...let it be something good."
In Make Today Count, John Maxwell says:  "The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of those that matter least."  "Have I added value to anyone's life today?"  He also quotes D.L. Moody "Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as you can."

Lastly, the following quote was very freeing for me (especially in the housework arena), so I hope it is the same for you.

"Some things need doing better than they've ever been done before. Some just need doing. Others don't need doing at all. Know which is which." - Unknown

Dear Lord, Thank you for the gift of time.  Give us the grace to recognize it.  Thank you for leading us so gently and answering questions that we forgot we asked.  Thank you for making it simple to follow You.  Please give us wisdom to discern what needs to be done well, what just needs to be done, and what doesn't need doing at all.  Help us to pursue all of our activities with the goal of being closer to Heaven when we finish.  We love you.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Making Room for What Is Best, Most Beautiful, and Most Profound

I want to share another life-giving quote from The School of the Holy Spirit, but first, please read my little reflection on transplanting flowers.  (I want you to read mine first, so the last thing you read are his words and not mine). 
March 12, 2011
I was planting flowers yesterday, and as I began to extract one from the 6-pack it was imbedded in, I had to pull the roots apart and break some when necessary.  Feeling the tender plant in my hand and hearing the sound of the roots breaking, I began to think about God.  There was no way the flower could understand (even if it had eyes and a brain like we do) that the painful process it was undergoing, was for its own good.  It was getting ready to be placed in a much bigger pot, with more soil, space, and food than it could begin to imagine (if it could imagine at all).  As I looked at the little flower and how it used all of its resources to make a home in a tiny cell of a 6-pack, I felt like sometimes I do the same.  I think about throwing all of my energy at something because that’s where I am.  I become root bound.  I have trouble imagining life in a bigger pot, where I will be able to grow without limitations. 
God must extract us from our own root-boundedness (probably not a word, but you know what I mean).  His all-knowing hands, no matter how gentle, must break some of the roots we have plunged so deeply in the soil.  What are they?  For today, I’m going to think about the roots I have needlessly bound myself with and try to help God out a little, by separating them and breaking the ones I don’t need.  
Thank you, Jesus, for your example of detachment.  Please show us how to do the same.  Amen.

Now, for the life-giving quote from Jacques Phillipe that incorporates the idea of having a painful process, but for the greater good:

"What is freedom?  It does not mean giving free rein to whim, but rather enabling what is best, most beautiful, and most profound in ourselves to emerge, instead of being stifled by more superficial things such as our fears, selfish attachments, or falsity.  If we submit to God, that submission will in fact strip off a sort of shell that imprisons us, to make room for all that is genuine in us.

If we submit to God's will , it will certainly be opposed to part of ourselves.  But, this part is the negative part of us that limits us and from which God is gradually delivering us.  God's will is never opposed to what is good in us:  our aspiration to truth, life, happiness, and the fullness of love.

Submission to God prunes things in us, but never gets rid of the best that is in us:  our deep, positive aspirations.  Just the opposite:  it awakens and strengthens them, and frees them from obstacles to their fulfillment."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Following Those Little Inspirations

I had a beautiful experience yesterday.  I followed the inspiration I received the day before.  On Saturday morning, I was getting ready for Our Lady's Brunch when a thought flew into my head - "Buy flowers for you neighbor for Mother's Day."  I thought to myself "That's a nice idea." and went about my day.  The thought wouldn't go away and then it dawned on me who the flowers were to be from. 

My neighbor's daughter was killed in a car accident 6 years ago.  She wanted me to give her mother flowers from her for Mother's Day.  When I realized this, I was excited to do this for her, but afraid, too.  What if I was wrong?  What if it would be too painful for her Mom?  What if my neighbors think I'm crazy?

I pondered these questions for most of the day and asked the Holy Spirit to confirm this for me, if I was really supposed to do this.  Nothing concrete came and I knew I had to ask my husband what he thought.  He said, "Theoretically, you could just give her (our neighbor) the flowers and not say anything about your inspiration, but in reality, you won't be able not to tell her everything."  He knows me so well.

So, that was the green light.  I wrote her a card explaining the thought and my revelation about the thought.  After re-reading it several times, I was pleased with the verbiage, but still thought my neighbor might think I was crazy, so when I took the flowers to her, I left the card behind.

She was so surprised to see me and my boys with 6 white roses in hand (I wanted yellow, but my hubby said they were out) and I told her "Happy Mother's Day!"  Then I said, "The truth is, these really aren't from me.  I believe your daughter wanted me to give you these from her on this Mother's Day."  A tear fell down her cheek.

She said "I think you're right."  Then, she proceeded to tell me she had a long cry over her daughter the day before and how Mother's Day was hitting a lot harder this year than in year's past.  I told her I had written a card to go with the flowers and since she didn't think I was crazy after all, that I would go get it."

I did that and when I returned, she invited me in.  She showed me the prayer quilt her daughter's church made for her shortly after her death and she showed me a beautifully framed print entitled "Mother", which described  how a mother shows her children God's love.  This framed tribute stays wrapped up in the prayer blanket.  It was her daughter's final gift to her.  Her daughter ordered it before she died and my neighbor received it after her death.

So, having experienced her daughter's love and thoughtfulness after her death on another occasion, it wasn't so shocking to her that this could happen again.   

What happened to me yesterday is described beautifully In the School of the Holy Spirit by Jacques Phillipe:

"God grants what He commands.  When God inspires us to do something, at the same time, He supplies the ability to do it, even if it is beyond our capacity or scares us at the start.  Every notion that comes from God brings both the light to understand what God intends, and the strength to accomplish it:  light that illuminates the mind, and strength that gives power to the will."

Dear God, Thank you for the Holy Spirit and the Communion of Saints.  Thank you for my neighbor.  Thank you for inspirations and the courage to follow them.  Please console all mothers who long to see their children again one day and bless them abundantly.  Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Motherhood - A Powerful Means for Sanctification

Happy Mother's Day!!!  To all mothers, biological and spiritual, thank you for giving your love to the world!!  As I wrote yesterday, we are all called to this spiritual motherhood - to look for the good in others when they can't see it for themselves.  To love without conditions and without calculating the cost.  Truly, motherhood is the path to holiness for so many of us!

In Apostolate for Holy Motherhood, The Blessed Mother says:

"Some persons think that they must face great trials in order to be made holy, but it is often in the daily duty that the sanctification will take place.  Those who are closest to you will often cause the greatest trials...Great things are accomplished in the secrets of the soul when an individual is willing to cooperate fully with God's grace, and with one who is truly abandoned to the will of God."

"The Christ Child will be your guide in perfecting you in the way of motherhood, such a sublime vocation which has sadly fallen into disregard among many.  He will help you to understand the beauty and wonder of innocent children.  Pray to Him and He will help you.  Children are so special to God.  Their nurturance is of the utmost importance to Him.  He wishes you to do this well."

Following is a letter to my third son, 2 weeks before he was born (He is now 3).  It is proof of a mother's love (and a family's love) - a love that precedes knowledge and  anticipates the needs of another. 

March 1, 2009 - 3:02am
Dear Baby Wyatt, 
I haven’t taken the opportunity to write to you, yet…to let you know how much we love you already, and you aren’t even born.  We cannot wait to meet you!  You are officially due 3 weeks from today, on March 22 (I was starting to think that March was never going to get here).  I have started having more contractions, but not the kind that really hurt, just the kind that make everything tight.  Your Daddy painted your room green today, it was blue before. Your brothers, Brayton and Walker, have been enjoying playing in there, jumping on the bed and playing with all of the toys that I’ve been saving for you.  Walker gave his room up for you back in January, with no problem at all. They can’t wait to meet you and love you and teach you everything they know.  Brayton says he going to change your diaper (even if it’s poopy), feed you, teach you how to stand up and how to walk.  Walker says he’s going to teach you how to play trains and watch TV.  Brayton loves to feel you moving in my tummy, but Walker doesn’t have the patience for it.  They talk to you and kiss you through my tummy. 
I can’t wait to see what you look like, to kiss you, and hold you.  I can’t wait to see how much you weigh and what your personality is like.  I can’t wait to see you in your Daddy’s arms.  I really want to breastfeed you, I hope you’re patient with me.  I didn’t have much luck with your brothers, but I feel like I know a lot more this time. 
Your Grandma Sue lives 2 doors down and your Grandma and Grandpa Zeller are coming to TX, as soon as we think there’s a chance that you’re coming.  They’re hoping to see your birth and stay for a week or so after you join us.  Grandma Jackie will see you soon after you’re born, too, because we’re going to take the computer to the hospital, so she can see you on the WebCam.  Your Daddy is taking a month off of work to be with you, and so am I.  After that, you’re going to go to work with me until you get too bored and then we’ll figure out another arrangement. 
The ladies from the St. Vincent de Paul Society are throwing you (and me) a baby shower tomorrow.  You must be pretty special!   
We live in a house FULL of love and the beautiful thing is that there is only going to be more once you get here.  Love is going to be pouring out of the 4 of us, just for you…plus, all of the love your grandparents are going to bring!  What a gift from God!  
I thank God for you every day. 
I love you, Wyatt Joseph Dixon! 
Your Mommy

Mother Teresa says "Each time anyone comes into contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us.  We must radiate God's love."

Dear God, Thank you for the precious gift of motherhood, a source of joy, suffering, and most importantly our sanctification.  Lord, I commend to you all the mothers who have lost their children and those who are suffering because of their children's choices.  Help them to remember what You say in Imitation of Christ:  "When I give you something, it is still mine; when I take it back, I am not taking anything of yours, because every good gift, every perfect gift belongs to me."  I lift up all mothers whose children cannot speak to them or return their love.

Dear Jesus, Thank you for giving Your mother to us at the foot of the cross. 

Mary, please rush to the aid of your children - Especially those who were not or are not loved by their mother and those who continue to be hurt by the one who is supposed to love them most.

Finally, Jesus, please bless abundantly the mothers and all people who pour themselves out day after day.  Help them to do it joyfully, as if unto You.  We ask this in Your Precious Name, Amen.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Suffering - The kiss of Jesus

This morning I attended "Our Lady's Brunch".  The most beautiful event I have ever participated in (outside of the sacraments).  Jennifer Fulwiler shared her journey from atheism to Catholicism.  You can learn more about her on her blog,  She also shared that she was the first person on the scene of a horrific, fatal motorcycle accident a week ago and how that experience shattered the box she had placed her motherhood in.  The victim was her neighbor's 21-year-old son.  His mother was so grateful that there was another mother on the scene to pray him into his next journey and look on him with the eyes of a mother.  She has realized during this past week that our motherhood cannot be confined to any box.  All women are called to be spiritual mothers, to every one we meet.  We must offer each person our unconditional love.  This is sometimes painful and requires that we suffer with and for one another. 

Please consider Mother  Teresa's words on suffering:

"Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down - he wants to kiss you - and he has both hands open wide - he wants to embrace you.  He has his heart opened wide to receive you.  Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening.  Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.  Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be?  Suffering, pain, humiliation - this is the kiss of Jesus.  At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.  I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much.  She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me - to stop kissing me."  That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus - it has to come in our life also.  Only never put on a long face.  Suffering is a gift from God.  It is between you and Jesus alone inside."

There are seasons of suffering in our life.  As we know, it is caused by many different things and lasts for different periods of time.  Most of us live in fear of it.  Avoiding it all costs.  Etty Hillesum is quoted in Interior Freedom, "Man suffers most through his fear of suffering."  Jacques Phillipe sums this up well:

"Reality is something one shoulders together with all the suffering that goes with it...But the idea of suffering (which is not the reality, for real suffering is always fruitful and can turn life into a precious thing) must be destroyed.  And if you can destroy the ideas behind which life lies imprisoned as behind bars, then you liberate your true life, its real mainsprings, and you will also have the strength to bear real suffering, your own and the world's."

"Things seldom happen as we expect.  Most of our fears and apprehensions turn out to be completely imaginary.  Difficulties we anticipated become simple in reality; and the real difficulties are things that didn't occur to us.  It's better to accept things as they come, one after another, trusting that we will have the grace to deal with them at the right time, than to invent a host of scenarios about what may happen - scenarios that normally turn out to be wrong."

Dear God, Thank you for people who understand suffering.  Thank you for the example of people in our lives who have suffered tremendously and have responded by drawing nearer to You.  Your own Son suffered everything that is possible for a human to suffer - being misunderstood, abandoned, betrayed, tortured, and death on a cross.  Please give us the grace to understand that suffering is one of the greatest tools we have to know You, and love You, and rely on You more. 

Jesus and Mary, please gather all of the people who were affected by this motorcycle accident and all suffering people into Your arms and console them.  Give them the grace to know that You are near.  Please help us be merciful to those who are hurting and when our time comes, to suffer well.   We love you, Jesus and thank you for suffering for our sins. Amen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Circles of Redemption

I cannot get John 21 out of my head after reading it last week.  Specifically, Jesus is standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after His Resurrection.  He has made a fire with fish on it and bread.  He invites his disciples "Come, have breakfast."  He seeks them, He goes to where they are, He waits for them, and offers to feed them, again.   All of this, after all but one denied and abandoned Him during His Passion and Death on the Cross.

Wow.  For me, this sums up who Jesus is and how He deals with us.  He seeks us.  He meets us.  He waits for us.  He feeds us.  All we have to do is show up and receive what He offers.

Furthermore, He redeems Peter's three denials during His Passion.  He asks Him three times if he loves Him, to which Peter replies "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  All is well. 

Jesus, in His very person, makes things right again.  We see God doing this throughout salvation history.  He brings things full circle.  He redeems our wrongs.  Here are just a few examples:

*  To gain Heaven, we must abandon our own logic and pride, the very thing which satan used to cause Eve to sin.  Full circle.

*  Mary's obedience to God redeemed Eve's disobedience.  Full circle.

*  God used Mary to bring Jesus to us.  He uses her to bring us back to Jesus.  Full     circle.

*  The dead wood of the Cross is transformed into a tree of life.  Full circle.

*  Creation began in a garden.  Christ's agony took place in a garden.  Jesus is buried in a garden.  (Remember Mary Magdalene thought He was the gardener when He appeared after His resurrection?)  Salvation history ends in a garden (Rev. 2:7) "Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God."  Full circle.

*  We are strongest in our weakness, because His strength is ours.  Full circle.

*  We must be last to be first.  Full circle.

*  We must be servant to be king.  Full circle.

*  We must surrender to be free.  Full circle.

People who have more time and know more than I do could probably fill volumes with the many, many, many ways God has redeemed our failures and made them right again. 

Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus.  Thank you for Mary's obedience in bringing Him to us.  Thank you for our salvation history.  Thank you for including us in it.  Thank you for circles of redemption. 

Dear Jesus, Thank you for waiting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Thank you for the fire you created.  Thank you for making your disciples breakfast.  Thank you for seeking us.  Thank you for waiting for us.  Thank you for feeding us.  I love you and want to live my life as a continuous offering of gratitude and love.  Please help me to do that.  Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not Doing Anything Well

I had a beautiful little gathering at my house this morning with a small group of women, trying to grow in our faith, and one of the last conversations I had was about feeling like you're not doing anything well.  I think we all feel this way from time to time and some people feel this way most of the time.  What to do about it?  I suggest following C.S. Lewis' advice in Mere Christianity...Always try again:

In trying to do anything, we must ask for God's help.  "Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given.  Never mind.  After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again.  Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.  For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue)may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still.  It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on  God.  We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.  The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection."

Following is a journal entry from one of those "not doing anything well" times:
October 19, 2010 - 3:52pm 
I don’t feel like I’m doing anything well…I feel like I’m floating from one thing to another (not with grace, just getting from A to B).  Even now, I have a half-made corn casserole on the counter.  I feel like I’m always waiting for Wyatt to wake up, so I can clean something or put clothes away or cook dinner or whatever. I feel like he’s the only person who really needs me and he drives me so crazy sometimes, when he says my name over and over and over or cries all the way to school wanting his “bear, bear, bear, bear, bear, bear…”.  I look around and constantly see things that need to be done.  I think I feel unimportant at BMan’s school because I would really like to be involved with his class, but his Daddy is the one with the cool job who gets invited to school.  I’m so happy for BMan that his Dad gets to come, but I feel like a tagalong. I know investing time in my children is the most important thing on the planet, but I don’t feel like I’m doing that well.  I can hold their attention for such a short time.  I have a hard time staying “present” when we do spend time together. Sometimes, I feel like they would be better off spending their days with someone else.  I have struggled with the balance between spending QT with the kids and getting everything else done…I feel like I’ve lost it for the time being. I may still be recovering from keeping J after school for the last two weeks when dinner was late every night, and the house was dirty…I think I am also waiting for word from my brother, that he received my letter about his drinking.  What else?  RE on Wednesday nights – I feel totally inept teaching kindergartners (and I think about that a lot), music practice…Ugh, Church commitment every other Friday. My peace is gone and I’m not really sure why.  The tension in my back is off the chart and I can’t really put my finger on it. Spiritual warfare?  I cast any freeloading demons off today in Jesus’ name, but I didn’t feel any differently afterward.  Maybe God is trying to get me to take my own advice, which is C.S. Lewis’ – always trying again.  Clearly, I’m thinking too much about myself here.    (end)

Something to keep in mind about feelings from George MacDonald:

"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."

Feelings aren't always (and often aren't) based in truth.  They are prone to exaggeration.  Some good advice was shared today...Don't lose the perspective of time.  For example, you are not a bad mother, boss, wife, friend, etc...  You are very likely just having a bad/off day.  It has not been like X your whole life, nor will it continue this way for the remainder of your life.  The only thing consistent enough to remain the same for our entire lives, is the Love, Goodness, and Mercy of our Creator.

Dear God, thank you for fellow Christians.  Thank you for the freedom to practice and share our faith without fear of persecution.  Thank you for always being the same.  Thank you for inviting us to remain with You, in your constancy.  You gave us feelings to guide us in our lives.  Help us to know when they are ruling or misleading us.  Lord, let us feel Your Presence when we don't feel like we're doing anything well.  Give us the grace to lean on You, for You make all burdens light.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Equation for Holiness

According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, achieving holiness is as simple as the following equation:

W + w = S

W (God's will) united to w (your will) = Sanctity (holiness)

Dear God, please help me to give you my little w.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Surrendered Soul Has Found Paradise on Earth

My brain feels pretty empty this morning after my "purge" yesterday.  So, I'm sharing my New Year's Resolution for 2010, which has been the same for 2011, and 2012.  To grow in holiness.  Daily:  Begin with a morning offering, feeding my soul with the Word, spiritual reading, and prayer first thing in the morning (This has become an indispensable habit.  Sometimes, I even roll out of bed early on the weekends to get this time.  It's amazing how 30 minutes can change an entire day).  Trying to live a "surrendered" life - not needing to have my own way (plenty of room for improvement, here).  Trying to see God's Providence in everything (lots of opportunities for growth, here).  Praying the Rosary, Angelus, and Divine Mercy Chaplet daily (I get 2 out of 3 on a good day).  Doing an examination of conscience at night.  Weekly:  Adoration.  Monthly:  Confession (I make it every 2 months, at best). 

December 31, 2009 - Thursday, 11:53am

It’s the last day of 2009. It has been a wonderful year. Namely, Wyatt was born and we’ve all been healthy and happy. I feel like God is really blessing our family. I pray that some financial blessings will follow as our family grows bigger. My biggest goal for 2010 is to grow in holiness. I also need to give my children more undivided attention and get back to having my quiet/prayer/meditation times in the mornings. Wyatt has been getting up so early - 5:00 or before, I couldn’t make myself get up before that. However, since we’ve been on Christmas break, Brett and I decided we would not get him up before 6am. This morning he slept until 7:50…the latest ever. So, if he continues to sleep until 7, I will start getting up at 6 for “my time”. I am trying to “surrender” my will in every situation, so I can live freely, without hesitation, bitterness, or selfishness, with Brett and the boys. I have periodically felt that“freedom” of not needing or wanting to have my own way…"The surrendered soul has found Paradise on earth." (The end)

All of these things are good, but I have learned the hard way that it is very easy to become attached to these things because of their goodness.  (ie. yelling at my kids when they interrupt my prayer time to find the remote - I shudder at the example I was for them, being so easily irritated and unholy during my prayer time).  Jacques Phillipe nails the description of what I was doing in Searching for and Maintaining Peace, "Because the thing we want is good, even seen as desired by God, we feel justified in wanting it with that much more impatience and displeasure if not realized.  The more a thing seems good to us, the more we are agitated and preoccupied to realize it!"  "We are no longer among those who want bad things that are contrary to God.  Instead, we want things that are in conformity with God's will, but in a manner that is still not "God's way" (the way of the Holy Spirit), which is caring, peaceful, and patient."  "The devil is crafty and uses the desire we have to do God's will to disturb us." 

So, I am thankful for Fr. Caussade's reminder in Abandonment to Divine Providence:  "Without the divine action all things are as nothing, and with it the veriest nothing can be turned to account.  Whether it be meditation, contemplation, vocal prayer, interior silence, or the active use of any of the faculties, either sensible and distinct, or almost imperceptible; quiet retreat, or active employment, whatever it may be in itself, even if very desirable, that which God wills for the present moment is best and all else must be regarded by the soul as being nothing at all."  

Dear Patient and Gentle Father, Thank you for the present moment.  Help us to see You in whatever (or whoever) comes to us, moment by moment.  Help us to dwell in the moment and not think about if time is going fast or slow.  Help us to do your will in your way, Lord.  With care, peacefulness, and patience.  Help us to form holy habits, so that me may find you more easily in every moment you give us.  Jesus, Make my heart meek and humble like your heart.  Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Insecurity - The "I" word

Today's topic is my least favorite of all because it is the thing I dislike the most about myself.  Insecurity.  The "I" word.  It should be a 4-letter word, really.  I'm not sure where it comes from (and believe me I've spent a lot of time trying to figure it out).  Being a child of divorce?  Being hurt by others?  Original sin?  Jacques Phillipe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace:  We come into the world marked with distrust.  This is original sin.  All our spiritual life consists precisely in a long process of reeducation, with a view to regaining that lost confidence, by the grace of the Holy Spirit Who makes us say anew to God:  Abba, Father!" 

The insecurity or lack of confidence I feel, thankfully for you, (not-so-much for my husband) seems to be restricted to my marriage.  It used to be a constant struggle for me in my early married life.  I will be married 10 years in November.  By God's grace and my husband's fidelity and patience, this surfaces much more seldomly.  At any rate, it is exacerbated when my husband travels or works a lot (which he has been lately).  His job requires that he works, trains, and deploys with many women who are unknown to me.  This is my achilles heel and I never feel more powerless or at-his-mercy than these times.  It is compounded by our inability to discuss it (He gets too frustrated) and his inability to comprehend it (He is the most secure person I have ever met).

Why am I sharing this with you?  For several reasons.  #1.  To let you know that you are not alone.  #2.  Things that are painful in the dark (kept as secrets) lose their power in the light.  #3.  To encourage you to share the thing(s) that you dislike the most about yourself or things you are afraid of (with a spiritual director or someone you trust)  #4.  It is good for humility. #5.  As Margaret Guenther suggests in Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction, "I must be willing to be the needy, vulnerable, weary traveler as well as the generous host."  #6.  It tells the truth about who I am without God - powerless.

In Unbound, Neal Lozano writes, "We have all internalized lies from the master of deception.  They may serve as faulty foundations upon which we build our lives.  This system of thinking is built like a bird nest:  one straw at a time (one damaging thought at a time).  As this pattern of thinking is built, he finds a place to dwell and exerts greater influence on our emotions and will."  "At the heart of satan's attack upon you is his attempt to rob you of your true identity and destiny.  satan will do anything he can to keep you from knowing God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Satan has used my insecurity very well in his plan.  It changes the rock of confidence into the sludge of insecurity.  It changes my loving and nurturing self into a distant and cold one.  It takes a considerate person and turns her into a self-centered person.  It changes a God-filled vessel into an empty pot.  It takes something beautiful and turns it into something ugly.  Yes, satan loves using the wrench of insecurity; it fits every nut and bolt I have.   

The following entry is from almost 3 years ago. 
August 9, 2009
8:42pm – Sunday
I turned 32 years old today.  Brett is reading to Brayton and Walker.  Wyatt went to bed around 7:20pm.  Today I am feeling so blessed.  Blessed to be in a great marriage and have 3 beautiful, healthy, intelligent, loving boys.  Even though I’ve been “pretty good” most of my life, I can’t begin to imagine deserving all that God has given to me.  The Bible says He blesses us beyond what we can even imagine and I believe that.   
Brett and I went to First Friday.  Our first real date without the baby.  Then we went to Luigi’s Patio Ristorante last night for supper.  Live music, excellent food, and even better atmosphere.  It was the perfect place to go for a date.  It felt like we were in a town far, far away from here. 
I am trying to figure something out about myself.  It seems like some of my insecurities are showing up a little more lately.  I think it’s because we’re starting to be more socially active again.  I always feel a little insecure when Brett seems to connect with/enjoy another female.  I have felt this way multiple times in the last several months – anytime we have been with another couple.  I think it is because I haven’t seen him really interact with other women since we’ve been together.  I guess the solution is just to be in those situations more often, so I will realize they are innocuous and part of life, and to pray about it. 

I wonder if other people feel this way or if I’m more sensitive since I came into the relationship with trust issues.  He’s not doing anything wrong or inappropriate, so I know all of the growing/changing needs to happen on my end.  I’m going to scoot this up on my priority list!  Feels good to write it down…I also want to work on not comparing myself to other women.  We were at the pool the other day and I saw the most beautiful girl in this town.  I felt so badly about myself the rest of the day.  I wonder if I make people feel badly about themselves – I never want to do that…It’s a terrible feeling. 
I’m going to make my 32nd year a year of increased selflessness and gratitude.  I am going to pour even more energy into my family and less into what (I think) I’m missing out on.  Of all the other things I would like to be doing (traveling, playing the guitar, swimming, riding horses, etc…) none of it would mean a thing without the love I have for my boys and my husband.  They give meaning to everything else I do. (The end)

So, satan can use my insecurity as a wrench, but he's not the only one.  God can use it, too.  I LOVE the following quote by Fr. Bede Jarrett:

"God allows our faults and temptations.  But, surely God cannot want me to have such a weakness, temptation?  Oh, yes.  He does.  He made each of us with our individual character and its difficulties.  If we look back we can see how through all our lives it has been the same thing - so we can't help it can we?  For some reason, God has given these things to us to carry out His will.  We must rememer that circumstances are ALWAYS favorable to God's plan, always, always.  To our own, no, very fortunately for us...what seems to us so unfortunate is the best possible thing in God's plan, and so we must never look back."

Thank you, God for my insecurity, if that's the way you want it.  It is terribly uncomfortable and I think I would rather carry a different cross.  But, all crosses are uncomfortable and I know that You use all things for my good because I love you.  Lord, help me to rebuild the nest of my thinking so that only You may enter and satan must remain outside.  Jesus, I trust in You.  Amen.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Purity of Intention

As I mentioned yesterday, purity of intention is key for those of us who struggle with vanity and very important for everyone else.  In Apostolate for Holy Motherhood, Jesus says "Never fear when your intentions are good.  I judge you by your intentions when doing a deed..."

In 33 Days to Morning Glory, Michael Gaitley describes purity of intention:  "A person practices purity of intention when he directs his thoughts, words, and actions not to himself or another creature but to a divine purpose or mission, and ultimately to God."

In Imitation of Christ, Jesus says "What you must do, then, is to purify your intention, to make it simple and unswerving, so that you may aim it straight at me, passing over all the various things that come between us."  "This is what you must desire:  that in you, whether by your life or by your death, God may always be glorified."

If we believe that God judges us by our intention, as He says, the implications for this in our lives are huge!  It means if something turns out horribly, but our intention was good in the beginning, it is as if it turned out well.  We do not need to lose our peace because of the outcome.  If we began our morning prayer, or the Rosary, or anything else for God's glory, but didn't finish because we were interrupted, it is as if we did finish.  We do not need to lose our peace because of the outcome.

In order to practice purity of intention, we have to be honest about our impure intentions.  Are we (at least in part) doing X to be acknowledged or praised?  To have someone return our love or effort?  If you've ever been disappointed in your life, it is because you were expecting something that you did not receive.

Jacques Phillipe tells us in Searching for and Maintaining Peace, "It is necessary to want and desire, but in a free and detached way, in abandoning to God the realization of these desires, as He desires, and when He wishes." 

Let us take heart!  We are imperfect and even when we begin with pure intention, it is easy to be sidetracked the first time someone acknowledges our effort or feeds our self-love with a compliment.  God knows we are weak and the devil does, too.  The devil would love nothing more than to render us ineffective in our love for Christ - To have us stop doing things for God because we can't maintain a pure intention for very long! 

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for holy desires.  Thank you for love that must push itself into action.  Fortify and strengthen our goodwill.  You see our hearts, Lord.  Give us eyes to see and understand our own intentions and help us purify them with your grace.  We can do nothing without you.  Amen.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Swimsuit Season

Swimsuit Season – May 5, 2012

I spent a good part of the last two days looking for a new swimming suit.  I’m frustrated and disgusted at the many, many skimpy choices and the almost non-existent selection of suits that you don’t have to worry about falling out of or waxing your bikini line.  I want to be comfortable in the water and toting my kids around.  I want to be able to bend over, or sit, or lie down without worrying about what somebody is going to see if they’re sitting at the right angle.   

Men are visual creatures.  I do not want to lead a man into the sin of lust because he can see me in my bra and underwear (basically).  Nor do I want other women leading my husband into this sin.  Out of respect for God, myself, my husband, other wives and their husbands, I don’t want to wear a swimming suit that screams “Look at me!”  Granted, I don’t want to be frumpy, either.  But, where is the happy medium here?! 

I am basically happy with my body size and shape, but the lack of modesty in swimming suits is becoming a cross for me.  For women who struggle with their weight or body image, I can only imagine.  We can’t keep our eyes closed (we have kids to watch, after all).  Should we just stay home?  A hot Texas summer with kids and no pool?  This option is too hot to even think about.  

If you’re with me on this, I propose we take a minute to inventory what we’ve got for swimwear.  Ask yourself, “What message am I sending by wearing this?”  If it’s not the message you want to send, maybe you can throw a t-shirt and some board shorts on over it.  In the meantime, I’ll be looking for the perfect modest (but, sporty) suit. 

Dear God, please help us understand the need for modesty.  Please give us the desire for it.  It is hard, Lord.  We want to be attractive because we want to be loved.  Please convict us of your love, that we may not clamor for it in unsuitable ways.  We are surrounded by a world that worships the human body.  It is one of your most awesome creations.  You have made it the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Help us to treat it with the respect it deserves, not as if it is a commodity or something to flaunt.  We are more than our bodies.  As Blessed Pope John Paul II says, “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the human person, it shows too little.”  

Thank you for our bodies, Lord.  Thank you for allowing us to use them to express our souls; To make visible what is invisible.  Please help us to honor You by respecting them.  Amen.